It’s hard to find a metropolitan area more equally blessed by nature and human innovation than Greater Seattle. Within easy reach of sophisticated downtown centers and high-tech campuses are mountain wilderness trails, forested islands and pristine waters that are habitats for salmon, orcas and seals.
For meeting attendees, it means the chance to brainstorm at a state-of-the-art conference facility in the morning, engage in a lunchtime culinary challenge led by a celebrated local chef, kayak in the afternoon and then network at a reception against a backdrop of Chihuly glass and sparkling vistas of Puget Sound.
In a destination known for ingenuity, the array of options just keeps on evolving. The region that embraced the Space Age 50 years ago with the Seattle World’s Fair and fostered the likes of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks continues on its forward path.
Seattle is looking better than ever these days, thanks to a spate of stylish new hotels, a spiffed-up convention center and exciting cultural exhibitions in the works. At the same time, the city is also seeing an upward trend in meeting attendance, says Jerri Lane, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Seattle’s CVB.
“Like everyone, we had a tough couple of years, but things are rebounding well since 2010,” she says. “Attendance is up by 8 percent this year and 2013 looks really great, with room nights up by 25 percent.”
Seattle’s downtown hotel package has gotten a boost during the past several years, with the openings of Hotel FIVE, a boutique property with an urban industrial theme; Courtyard Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square, located in the historic 1904 Alaska Building; Hyatt at Olive 8; and Four Seasons Seattle. In addition, the Maxwell Hotel, Hyatt Place Seattle and Four Points Sheraton Seattle Center debuted within walking distance of Seattle Center and the Space Needle.
Although no new hotels are in the forecast, the Red Lion Hotel Seattle plans to finish a $25 million renovation in 2014 that will double the amount of its meeting space. The city’s major downtown group hotels include Sheraton, Westin, Grand Hyatt and Hilton properties.
“We are blessed with some wonderful hotels, all within a compact downtown area that is really conducive for meetings,” Lane says. “It’s easy for attendees to walk from hotels to restaurants, attractions and the convention center.”
Seattle’s main venue, the Washington State Convention Center, recently launched a $20 million refurbishment that will include new carpeting and other updates. The facility received Silver LEED certification last year for its 71,000-square-foot conference center addition that opened in 2010.
“The new conference center is a beautiful, high-end space with fireplaces that has helped us retain some groups that were outgrowing our space,” Lane says. “It can accommodate a separate meeting for 500 or can be combined with the rest of the convention center to augment the space.”
New cultural attractions are also under way in Seattle, including Chihuly Garden and Glass, an exhibition on the grounds of Seattle Center that will showcase a large assemblage of glass art by Washington state native Dale Chihuly. Expected to open by this summer, the attraction will include a soaring, event-ready glass house structure.
In November, the Museum of History and Industry will move to an expanded location at Lake Union Park near Amazon.com’s new South Lake Union campus. Aided by a hefty donation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it will include the Center for Innovation, featuring interactive exhibits and guest appearances by local entrepreneurs.
Located 20 miles east of Seattle, Bellevue has “come alive” as a meetings destination during the past few years, according to Brenda Dotson, director of sales for Visit Bellevue Washington.
“When we meet planners at trade shows who haven’t been here recently, they are amazed when we show them images of our skyline,” she says. “In the past four years we’ve added new hotels, upgraded meeting spaces and a huge retail shopping center.”
In particular, the addition of a second tower for the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in 2009, which included 43,000 square feet of additional meeting space, has diversified the city’s meetings market.
“We’re now attracting regional and national groups,” Dotson says. “With the expanded Hyatt, used in combination with the Meydenbauer Convention Center, we can draw larger meetings than ever before.”
While Bellevue, which has downtown properties that also include a Hilton, Westin and Courtyard, can accommodate groups of 3,000 or so, Dotson says the “sweet spot” is those in the range of 500 to 1,500.
“We’re ideal for the group that wants to be a big fish in a small pond,” she says. “We’ve got the shops and restaurants of a larger city, but we’re compact and walkable. When you’re at the convention center, your group is the only one there.”
Dotson describes the Meydenbauer Convention Center, which has 54,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, as a “boutique” facility that works equally well for corporate and association groups.
“We’re not a concrete exhibition hall,” she says. “We offer beautiful banquet space that still works well for exhibitions. Plus it has a theater and an executive conference suite.”
Bellevue offers plenty of off-session options, including team-building activities. Among the many choices are rock climbing at Stone Gardens, go-kart racing at K1 Speed and guided canoe trips on Mercer Slough.
North of Seattle, Snohomish County combines stunning scenery, aviation-related attractions and a diverse array of meeting venues.
The county’s standout property is the AAA Four Diamond Tulalip Resort Casino, which offers 370 guest rooms and suites, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a full-service spa, a 3,000-seat amphitheater and an outlet shopping mall. Tulalip Resort Casino’s 2012 Summer Concert Series kicks off in July at the Tulalip Amphitheatre. The series will spotlight artists such as Darius Rucker, Buddy Guy & Johnny Lang, Foreigner and Joe Walsh.
Other group-friendly hotels are the Holiday Inn Downtown Everett and Embassy Suites Hotel in Lynnwood.
Venue options include the 34,000-square-foot Lynnwood Convention Center, Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at the Comcast Arena, the Schack Art Center and Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Center.
Positioning itself as an affordable and convenient choice for meetings in the Greater Seattle area, Seattle Southside encompasses the cities of Des Moines, Tukwila, SeaTac and Kent. The area offers almost 9,000 hotel rooms and 30 venues totaling more than 850,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle Airport/28th Ave. is set to open in June with 1,900 square feet of meeting space, while the Seattle Airport Marriott recently refurbished its meeting space.
“One of the main reasons that groups like us is our location,” says Ashley Comer, marketing communications manager for Seattle Southside Visitor Services. “We’re right near the airport and the main traffic corner, just 15 miles south of Seattle and north of Tacoma. You can go out from here and explore the whole Puget Sound area.”
While offering proximity to Seattle, hotel rates are typically 20 to 30 percent less, she adds.
Team-building options abound in the area, including culinary competitions at the Albert Lee Culinary Event Center, which hosts group of up to 120. Among the newest choices is iFly Seattle, offering indoor skydiving, banquet facilities and packages for groups.
The birthplace of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, Tacoma is winning a reputation as one of the country’s best places to view and appreciate glass art. Its Museum of Glass, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and the Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio—where attendees can engage in glass-blowing team building—are indicative of the art form’s impact on Tacoma.
But glass art is just one intriguing aspect of this city, featuring commanding views of Puget Sound and a growing wealth of distinctive hotels and attractions.
“Meeting planners are taking note of all the changes happening here,” says Sharon Lunde, director of sales and marketing for the Tacoma Regional CVB. “People really like the diversity of what we offer. Whether people love art or outdoor pursuits, or everything from snowshoeing to paddle boarding, we’ve got it here.”
Tacoma’s newest attraction, the LeMay Car Museum, is officially opening in early June but has already hosted private events.
“It has beautiful waterfront views and people fall in love with the vintage cars,” Lunde says.
Tacoma’s compact downtown features the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, which is anchored by the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hotel Murano, a property that reflects the city’s glass theme. Downtown also encompasses the Museum District, which in addition to the Museum of Glass also includes the Tacoma Art Museum and Washington State History Museum.
Tacoma’s hotel inventory is on the rise, including a 164-room Holiday Inn Express opening in December in the former Heidelberg Brewery. Another conversion of a historic building is taking place at the Tacoma Elks Building by Oregon-based McMenamins; it will open as a boutique hotel, brewpub and entertainment venue in 2014. Upcoming properties near Tacoma include a Hampton Inn in DuPont and Silver Cloud Inn in Point Rustin.
Maria Lenhart, a former Meetings Focus
editor, has been writing about the travel
industry for more than 20 years.