Boston is the original American city. Founded in 1630, it was the most important colonial city in North America for nearly 150 years before it witnessed many of the most formative events in America’s move toward independence. Home to the nation’s first public school, Boston today claims precedence as a foremost center in the nation for education and medical research.
Despite these claims of history, Boston’s most important tradition is progress. It’s the same spirit of self-improvement that has driven $500 million in hotel inventory renovations in 2009, the ideal that has inspired dozens of vital transportation improvements and upgrades to important attractions over the past year.
The city’s commitment to new and improved offerings ensures that when you bring a group back to Boston, although it’s a nearly-400-year-old city with deep roots and fascinating historical sites, it’s never the same old Boston.
The "Cradle of Liberty" is still rocking after four centuries. Boston makes room for what’s next without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
"Boston mixes the new and the old," says Beth Stehley, vice president of sales and convention services at the Greater Boston CVB. "We are a city that embraces change but cherishes our historical roots. A group can experience the history of the American Revolution, take advantage of the best education and medical facilities in the world, enjoy some of the best culinary delights in the country from our renowned chefs, as well as meet in world-class convention facilities and hotels."
With an array of projects under way designed to funnel even more amenities into its prime convention neighborhoods, Boston is finding new ways to take the best and make it even better. The travel and meetings markets are taking notice; 2010 looks to be a record year for the city for cruise ship port calls and a high percentage of medical and healthcare conventions.
"The continued development of the South Boston waterfront area around the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) with new restaurants, new cultural attractions and retail adds to the overall attractiveness of what we offer in Boston," Stehley says. "The new Institute of Contemporary Art is very popular, the HarborWalk links the waterfront cafes, museums and historic sites. Steps from the BCEC, the new Liberty Wharf will contain two new seafood restaurants, a waterfront welcome center and a water taxi stop when it opens next summer."
Between its two convention centers and waterfront World Trade Center, Boston can handle almost any size meeting. In the Seaport District, the 1.3 million-square-foot BCEC offers 516,000 square feet of continuous exhibit space. Westin Boston Waterfront is attached to the center, and Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel is nearby. Seaport Hotel and Seaport World Trade Center offer a 118,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 200,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Langham Boston, a historic city treasure housed in the old Federal Reserve Bank, is a top meetings hotel located in the nearby Financial District.
John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, located in the Back Bay, offers 176,000 square feet with 41 meeting rooms. A new fine dining restaurant, Georges Bank, will open on the ground level of the center in March 2010 with private dining for up to 80 people.
Nearby meetings hotels include The Boston Park Plaza, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Fairmont Copley Plaza, Hilton Boston Back Bay, Sheraton Boston, Westin Copley Place and Mandarin Oriental Boston.
Another group favorite in the area is the venerable Taj Boston, which has welcomed guests since 1927 when it opened. The hotel has more than 18,000 square feet of function space, including standout venues such as the 1927 Roof, boasting panoramic city views.
Meanwhile, there are new developments on the attractions front. A new House of Blues opened next to Fenway Park last February. The legendary music venue can accommodate 2,300 for events or 40 for plated banquets. In autumn 2010, the new Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts will open. The facility will be able to accommodate receptions as large as 600.
Unfortunately, not all the changes are cause for celebration. Planners should take note that effective October 2009, Boston and Cambridge hotel tax increased by 2 percent to 14.45 percent, and meals tax increased by .75 percent to 7 percent. The CVB is quick to point out that Boston still ranks lower than San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C, and New York for hotel taxes.
It’s easier than ever to get to Boston. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Porter Airlines (out of Toronto) all initiated service to Logan International Airport in 2009. Logan is only three miles from the city center and two miles from the BCEC.
It’s also far quicker and easier to get to Cambridge, that stronghold of learning across the Charles River, since the completion of the I-93 underground tunnel through Boston and the Ted Williams Tunnel connection to I-90. Cambridge is now just minutes away from the airport.
Apart from its intellectual powerhouse status as home to Harvard and MIT Universities, Cambridge offers a bohemian nightlife scene and a number of additional hotels just across the bridge from the Back Bay and Hynes Convention Center.
"Cambridge is a city that is always on the cutting edge," says Robyn Bell, executive director at the Cambridge Office for Tourism. "With breathtaking views of Boston, the unique energy that pulsates through Cambridge will inspire your next meeting. Creativity and bright ideas thrive on ‘Boston’s Left Bank.’"
The Cambridge Conference Collection, a group of eight meeting hotels within a two-mile radius, provides a combined total of over 2,500 rooms and 109,000 square feet of meeting space. The collection includes Doubletree Guest Suites; Hotel Marlowe; Hyatt Regency Cambridge, Overlooking Boston; Le Meridien Cambridge (formerly the Hotel@MIT); Marriott Cambridge Center; Royal Sonesta Hotel; Sheraton Commander; and The Charles Hotel.
Planners can break the ice and create memories with a reception at one of Greater Boston’s stellar museums. An event at the Museum of Science Boston allows groups to enjoy cocktails with dinosaurs or dine beneath an Apollo spacecraft, and each space overlooks the Charles River. The museum can accommodate groups as large as 4,500.
Planners might also consider taking groups to see Shear Madness for a true Boston cultural experience. A comedy who-dunnit, this longest-running nonmusical play in U.S. history will mark 30 years at the Charles Playhouse in January 2010. The historic theater, built in 1839, seats 199, and group bookings are very welcome.
Essex County, 18 miles north of Boston, boasts more than 3,500 hotel rooms and meeting space suitable for groups of 1,200. Its roughly 30 communities include Salem, home of the infamous witch trials, and Marblehead, a mecca for yachting enthusiasts. With 200 miles of shoreline, the area offers water activities, including fishing and whale-watching, as well as top-notch golf and seafood restaurants.
"The North Shore’s proximity to downtown Boston and Logan International Airport, coupled with an array of activities and cultural venues, makes North of Boston a very appealing destination for planners," says Susan Middleton Campbell, convention sales manager at the North of Boston CVB. "Partnered with the various types of accommodations and a variety of function and meeting facilities, ranging from intimate to midsize conference or retreat centers, this makes the region a true winner and a must-see among New England destinations."
Sheraton Colonial Boston North Hotel & Conference Center in Wakefield offers nearly 19,000 square feet of meeting space. The IACC-certified Wylie Inn & Conference Center in Beverly offers more than 17,500 square feet of meeting space and 26 meeting rooms. Cruiseport Gloucester in Cape Ann offers a spacious 6,000-square-foot ballroom.
Just 30 minutes north and west of Boston, the Merrimack River winds through a valley filled with history and culture. The communities of Merrimack Valley feature 230,000 square feet of meeting space at prices that are often lower than Boston, while the area remains within easy reach of the city.
"Our rich history, cultural diversity, big-city amenities and value pricing give us an edge over other cities," says Deborah Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley CVB. "There is an increasing trend in meeting professionals seeking out value destinations, and the Greater Merrimack Valley fits that need."
The 30,000-square-foot Tsongas Arena and historic Lowell Memorial Auditorium, with 20,000 square feet, are two of the largest meeting spaces in the area.
The region offers two national historic parks, numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, including skiing, and a buzzing arts community with a number of galleries.
—Kelly Crumrin is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. For an elementary school genealogy project, she once asked her French-Cherokee grandmother when her family arrived in America. She replied, "If you ever meet someone who brags that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, tell ‘em we were there to meet ‘em!"