With increasingly sophisticated facilities and amenities in Seattle and the surrounding region, one of the Pacific Northwest's favorite metro areas continues to lure groups with its interesting mix of urban flair, natural beauty and outdoor adventure.
The city that begat Starbucks, Bill Gates and grunge rock offers a wide scope of activities, ranging from culturally filled days enjoying the Seattle Museum of Art and the Seattle Symphony to hiking in the nearby Olympic Mountains and boating around the Puget Sound.
And although the city is compact, it's still expanding.
"The residential base in Seattle is growing downtown," says Tom Norwalk, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Seattle's CVB. "New condo developments are fueling the growth, including more restaurant development and entertainment."
New hotels and additional guest units are also part of the expanding landscape.
Sheraton Seattle Hotel and Towers is undergoing a $130 million expansion that will include a new 415-room tower and extensive upgrades to meeting facilities. Upon completion of the project in 2007, the hotel will feature 1,253 guest rooms and 75,000 square feet of function space in 47 meeting rooms.
Other major upcoming developments include the 160-room Pan Pacific Seattle, scheduled to open this fall with 5,400 square feet of function space, 39,000 square feet of retail space and a spa; the 120-room Hotel 1000, a luxury boutique hotel slated to be unveiled this June with 6,300 square feet of meeting space; the 210-room Silver Cloud Hotel Seattle-Stadium, set to open in mid-2006 with 3,700 square feet of conference space; and a Four Seasons hotel, scheduled for a 2008 debut.
Based on recent statistics, there seems to be enough demand to fuel all of the growth. Through November 2005, the occupancy rate in downtown Seattle sat at about 76 percent, up roughly 10 percent over the previous year.
Convention business is also on the upswing. Seattle hosted 47 citywide conventions in 2005, and Norwalk says Seattle's CVB is estimating 50 citywide conventions for 2006 and close to 600 non-convention center meetings, an increase of 520 compared to 2005.
"The health and medical fields continue to be our strongest industry segments, and another market that seems to be growing is the corporate market," Norwalk says, adding that in the past few years, many of Seattle's large corporations, such as Starbucks, Washington Mutual, Costco, and Microsoft, have held meetings in the area.
According to Norwalk, Seattle's CVB has improved its ability to facilitate meeting planners' needs.
"We have a lot of former hotel people on our team who understand the corporate market-what they need and how quickly they need it," he says.
Seattle's main convention venue, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, offers 54 meeting rooms and ballrooms totaling approximately 105,000 square feet of space, and exhibit space totaling 205,700 square feet, while another option is the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, with 100,000 square feet of function space.
Seattle's hotel scene spans the spectrum, with major meetings-friendly properties such as the Renaissance Seattle, the Grand Hyatt Seattle, the Sheraton Seattle Hotel and Towers, the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, the W Seattle, and the Westin Seattle, as well as a unique collection of boutique properties, such as the Mayflower Park Hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, Alexis Hotel, Hotel Monaco, and Hotel Max.
Seattle also offers plenty of interesting off-site venues, such as the Experience Music Project (EMP) at the Seattle Center, a music museum featuring interactive exhibits and live performances.
"EMP hosts many opening night receptions," Norwalk says. "Attendees can participate in the interactive portion, playing instruments and creating their own rock bands."
The newly opened Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame shares space with the same structure.
Another popular off-site option, the Seattle Art Museum, is midway through a 300,000-square-foot expansion that is slated for completion in 2007.
Location is one of Bellevue's charms. Bellevue is a few miles east of Seattle, between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, and just 10 miles west of the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Aside from excursions to Seattle, Bellevue offers quick access to local wineries, golf courses and hiking trails, and the ski slopes are only 40 minutes away.
"I think what's great is that Bellevue is a new, clean and safe city still close to Seattle without all the downtown hubbub," says Stacy Graven, executive director of Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue's main group venue. "We have all the urban attributes, but groups can be comfortable."
Bellevue and Meydenbauer Center pride themselves on offering smaller groups the attention of a citywide convention and the amenities of a major market. The ideal group size for Bellevue is between 300 and 3,000 people, and although Bellevue does not have a traditional CVB, the Bellevue Convention Sales Group works to attract meetings.
Despite its small-town feel, Bellevue is also expanding. A large condo component is a major part of the growth, which has also attracted additional restaurants, retail establishments and hotels.
Last year, Lincoln Square, a mixed-use hotel, condo and retail project, became part of the Bellevue Collection, which also features Bellevue Square and Bellevue Place. The 337-room Westin Bellevue, with 25,000 square feet of meeting space, opened late last year as part of Lincoln Square.
Another newcomer is the meetings-ready Courtyard Seattle-Bellevue Downtown, situated across the street from Meydenbauer Center.
Other hotels within walking distance of Meydenbauer Center include The Coast Bellevue Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, the Doubletree Hotel Bellevue, and the Red Lion Bellevue Inn.
Meanwhile, Meydenbauer Center is planning an expansion, although there is no projected completion date, according to Graven. The center currently features a 36,000-square-foot exhibition hall, 12,000 square feet of additional meeting space and a 410-seat theater.
The area dubbed Seattle Southside encompasses the communities of SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, and Des Moines, as well as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Seattle Southside offers just about everything within a two-hour radius, including day tours to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, or excursions to Seattle, located about a half-hour away.
"Southside has everything the big city has-museums, gardens, fine dining, and outdoor spaces for bird watching and hiking," says Karla Lindula, marketing communications coordinator for Seattle Southside Visitor Information, a program offered jointly by the cities of Tukwila, SeaTac and Kent.
Through the collaborative effort, an online hotel reservation system that can access up-to-the-minute hotel inventory is now available.
The biggest news in Seattle Southside is an upcoming light rail system that will link Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Seattle's Westlake Center shopping district. The project, which is set for completion in 2009, entails building a light rail station at the airport, which recently forced the closure of the Radisson Hotel.
Meanwhile, the airport debuted the SeaTac Airport Conference Center, featuring 6,000 square feet of meeting space, at the south end of the main terminal last summer.
"It's a unique approach to meetings," Lindula says. "If a company has a number of people from different areas working on the same project, they can fly into Sea-Tac, have their meeting, and fly right back."
The airport also opened a new central terminal last May as part of an ongoing $4.2 billion upgrade that includes the construction of a third runway.
The community of SeaTac offers most of the larger meeting spaces in the Seattle Southside area, including the Doubletree Seattle Airport, the Seattle Marriott at SeaTac and the Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center, while smaller options include the Red Lion Hotel Seattle Airport.
Convenience is a primary selling point for SeaTac, as well as hotel rates that are 30 percent to 40 percent less expensive than Seattle.
Tukwila, just east of the airport, is known for the Museum of Flight, one of the largest aviation museums in the country. The museum can hold 3,500 people, and it is available for meetings and banquets.
Tukwila's Westfield South Center shopping mall is also planning to expand to more than 2.2 million square feet. Included in the project, the first phase of which will be finished by the end of the year, are movie theaters, restaurants, retail space, and a hotel development.
Kent, which was officially added as a Southside city in early 2005, recently completed the first phase of the Kent Station Development, a rail stop along the Seattle Tacoma line. The pedestrian-friendly station area features restaurants, movie theaters and retail establishments.
Other Seattle Southside options include dinner at the Des Moines marina, where groups can charter private boats, while in Renton groups can hop aboard the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train or take advantage of the new 10,000-square-foot Spirit of Washington Events Center.
Following a complete cultural overhaul in the past few years and the addition of new facilities for groups, Tacoma has become a meetings destination of its own.
"The downtown Tacoma revitalization is awesome, with new restaurants, museums and a light rail," says Kathy Ono, convention sales manager for the Tacoma Regional CVB.
One of Tacoma's highlights is its downtown Museum District, composed of the Washington State History Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass, and the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which, as its name suggests, showcases the work of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. Chihuly's work is also a centerpiece of Tacoma's Union Station train depot. All three museums as well as Union Station are available for group events.
Mt. Rainier is a popular excursion option, and groups can also arrange outings to Tillicum Village, a Native American center where attendees can watch traditional dancing and take part in salmon bakes.
Day trips to Seattle can also be arranged, and access is easy with Sounder Commuter Rail, which runs from the Tacoma Dome Station to Seattle. The Tacoma Link light rail system connects downtown Tacoma with the Tacoma Dome Station.
Tacoma's main group facilities include the Tacoma Dome, with more than 160,000 square feet of exhibition space, and the recently opened Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, which features a 51,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Courtyard by Marriott Tacoma opened adjacent to the center last year, and another new property in town is the Red Lion Hotel Tacoma (formerly the Best Western Emerald Hotel), which debuted last year after a guest room renovation.
In addition, the Puyallup Fairgrounds, located nine miles southwest of Tacoma, recently unveiled the $16 million ShowPlex, offering 122,000 square feet of exhibition and conference space.
With its waterfront access and an intimate community setting, Snohomish County provides a serene environment for meetings.
"There is a lot less hustle and bustle here than in Seattle and it's easy to get around," says Tracy Banfield, group sales and media manager for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.
Snohomish County includes the towns of Everett, Lynnwood, Snohomish, Edmonds, and Marysville, as well as the smaller communities of Silver Lake and Lake Stevens.
The Lynnwood Convention Center opened last year with 53,000 square feet of space, and the Everett Events Center, including the Everett Conference Center and a 10,000-seat arena, offers more than 57,000 square feet of exhibit space and more than 12,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space.
Everett is also home to two new meetings-friendly hotels: the Hilton Garden Inn Seattle North-Everett and the Holiday Inn Everett.
The area's largest new attraction is the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour, an interactive space that lets visitors digitally design and test their own jet, ride in a flight simulator and tour the Boeing assembly facility. The center offers conference space accommodating 250 people, special event space for groups of up to 750 people and a 240-seat theater.
Everett also recently introduced the Imagine Children's Museum, which can host groups.
Popular day trip options include Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Leavenworth, a central Washington hamlet that in the '60s was designed as a re-creation of a Bavarian village.
Shopping is a primary attraction of the region, with upscale malls such as Seattle Premium Outlets near Marysville. The town of Snohomish is the self-proclaimed antique capital of the Pacific Northwest, with 400 antique dealers within a five-block walking area. The artist community of Edmonds also offers a collection of specialty shops and restaurants along its waterfront.
For outdoor adventure, attendees can take a whale-watching excursion from the Everett waterfront between April and October, spend an afternoon river rafting, or go bird watching, hiking, skydiving, or hot-air ballooning.
Just south of Snohomish in King County, the town of Woodinville, set in Western Washington's wine country, is home to the Willows Lodge, an ideal corporate retreat with meeting space, a spa and a high ropes challenge course.
For More Info
Bellevue Convention Sales Group 425.450.3721 www.meydenbauer.com/conventions
Seattle's CVB 206.461.5800 www.seeseattle.org
Seattle Southside Visitor Information 206.575.2489 www.seattlesouthside.com
Snohomish County Tourism Bureau 425.348.5802 www.snohomish.org
Tacoma Regional CVB 253.627.2836 www.traveltacoma.com