Best in Show

2013 Best in Show

For our second-annual Best in Show awards issue, we asked readers to nominate their favorites in 10 categories. We reviewed the nominations and picked five outstanding honorees in each. Your job? Enjoy.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, one of fifty winners.
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, one of fifty winners.


To determine our second-annual Best in Show honorees, we first asked readers to nominate their favorites in the following 10 categories. We then reviewed the nominations and picked five outstanding honorees in each.

Best Technology Tools


Streampoint Solutions’ event-management software offers a full range of features, from online and on-site registration services to email marketing, surveys, and lead retrieval. And while Brian Allain, business development manager for Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA), enthused about Streampoint’s customer service and on-site performance, he gave his highest marks for the company’s drive to innovate. After watching Allain wrestle with outside booth-mapping software, Streampoint developed its own solution, incorporating Allain’s feedback. The resulting interface, launched as the Exhibitor Booth Mapping & Management tool, looks and works like a Google Maps product. Allain was able to use it not only to sell booth space and sponsorships, but as a digital directory for meeting attendees. The company is developing a mobile app, Allain said, and he has no doubt that he will use that, too.


We’ve all seen them, or maybe have even been them: meeting attendees who hold up their iPads during sessions to take photos that capture key information on a slide. The eventScribe app makes that unnecessary, allowing attendees to download presentation slides in advance onto mobile devices and to annotate them by drawing on the slides with their fingers or taking notes that can be saved with the slide. It’s been a home run with attendees at American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) meetings, said Martie Spath, ACG’s vice president for marketing. Doctors appreciate that they can share slides and their own notes with others later, she said. The attendees are “real science geeks” who are very engaged with the research, and the app, created by CadmiumCD, can accommodate the large amounts of information that commonly are found in scientific abstracts. Another plus: CadmiumCD staff come to ACG meetings and connect with speakers to make any needed updates, Spath said, so the app’s slides are the latest versions of the presentations. 


All Our Ideas is an open-source platform that began as a project at Prince-ton’s Department of Sociology as a way to record and prioritize the ideas of Princeton students. “Think of it as crowdsourcing made easy,” suggested Erin Stewart, director of conferences for the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASPPA), which is currently using All Our Ideas to create the agenda for a 2014 meeting.A conference committee began the process by presenting a list of topics that ASPPA members could vote on; the platform also allows members to submit their own ideas. As the voting period drew to an end, nearly 10,000 votes had been cast, and not only were 15 of the top 20 ideas from members, Stewart said, but 13 of the bottom ideas, out of a list of 76, were those presented by the committee. Said Stewart: “That’s pretty astonishing.” As far as she knows, ASPPA is the first association to use the software, although it has had some high-profile commercial and governmental uses, including by the mayor’s office in New York City (and by the website Kitten Wars).CVENTCvent is the world’s largest event-management software company — it has 10,000 clients in 90 countries — and got lots of love from our nominators, who praised its RFP capabilities as well as its event-management tools. Cvent offers online event registration, meeting-site selection, event management, mobile apps, email marketing, and Web surveys. Headquartered outside Washington, D.C., it gets bonus points for being named to the Washington Business Journal’s 2013 list of the “Best Places to Work in Greater Washington.”


Every minute, 100 hours of video are loaded onto YouTube, and new tools are popping up to make it easier to record and share yours. Some, like Tout, allow users to send 15-second videos to platforms including Facebook and Twitter, and to organize them in online channels. A more recent comer, Instagram Video, also sticks with a 15-second format — five million Instagram videos were posted in the first 24 hours of the app’s release.

It’s too soon to tell whether super-short videos will become a communications mainstay or quickly fade away. But given the price of entry — the apps are free and easy to use — why wouldn’t you try sharing some pithy clip from one of your top speakers or high-energy highlights of your opening reception?

Best Destination Videos


“What do you know about Holland?” the narrator asks, then name-checks everything classically Dutch under the Van Gogh-inflected sun: “flowers, windmills, picturesque canals, cheese, wooden shoes, master paintings from the golden age.” From there we’re off on a whirlwind tour of cool, contemporary Amsterdam and its environs, from dining and shopping to bicycling. It’s a fun, bright, and cheeky look at a country that’s secure enough in its past to fit it seamlessly into its present and future. Said Kristin M. Mirabal, CMP, director of global programs for The Optical Society. “It is a creative and edgy look at what us non- Dutch view as Holland!”


The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) goes big with a whole series on the ATL — a preview trailer followed by four episodes that look at Atlanta’s accessibility, walkability, dining, and nightlife. The tone is strictly mockbuster, following the exploits of two sharp-suited, dark-sunglassed agents who have been “hired to find out why one city has risen above the rest.” “What a cool take on how to show off your city!” said Shannon Burke, CMP, associate director of conference and meetings for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “By making a city’s promo into an adventurous and intriguing vignette, they’ve definitely caught my interest and made a memorable impact.” Which was the whole point. “The ‘ATL Files’ was created as an attendance-driving tool for ASAE’s Annual Meeting & Exposition, which will be held in Atlanta [this month], but it has grown to encompass much more,” said ACVB President and CEO William Pate. “We are able to use the ‘ATL Files’ to show meeting planners and attendees alike what has changed since they were last in Atlanta, and do so in a creative, entertaining medium that holds the viewer’s attention.”


That’s a bold statement, and to back it up, Boston draws on the full breadth of its hometown resources, with testimonials from Mayor Thomas M. Menino; Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops; Doc Rivers, head coach of the Boston Celtics; Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University; and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Together they paint a nuanced portrait of a city with brains, beauty, heart and soul. The video was “developed to promote Boston as the host of PCMA Convening Leaders 2014,” said Caryn Izhar, director of convention center marketing for the Boston Convention Marketing Center. “Home to innovators and revolutionary thinkers, Boston has a long track record of making history — from the beginnings of the American Revolution to the beginnings of the Internet and Facebook — and our conventions are no different.”


How do you let the world know that your city is full of young, infectiously creative talent? You let the talent speak — or sing — for itself. Calgary’s entire destination video is scored to “Right Here,” a song by local duo Jocelyn & Lisa, whose voices flutter and soar above beautifully shot scenes of the city, the countryside around it, and the people who live, work, and play in both. Said Jenna McLeod, manager of marketing and communication for the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre: “From our perspective, the video is an excellent collaboration which allows us to have a united message and stronger voice when we promote Calgary anywhere in the world. We want to tell more people in more places that Calgary is a vibrant and energetic city to visit, meet, and work.”


There’s nothing like the truth. To dispel some of the misperceptions that visitors might have, Phoenix follows an uninformed traveler as he lands at the airport, takes a cab downtown, and wanders around the city. Along the way, he shares his negative assumptions about the city — and each time he does, he’s corrected by “Pop-Up Video”-style facts. When he says, “Welcome to Phoenix, where it is always hot,” we learn this: “Phoenix average yearly temperature: 73°.” In response to the observation that “Downtown Phoenix is just a brown, dusty, concrete jungle of buildings,” we get this: “Wrong again. Civic Space Park opened 2008.” And on and on, playfully refuting stereotypes about Phoenix’s food, culture, walkability, and more. “Humor was the best approach, given that most of the obstacles in the selling process originate from misperceptions about heat and sprawl,” said Melissa Gogel, marketing director for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Once the myths are dispelled — and we agreed to hit them head on — it’s much easier to get to the task of booking business.”

Best Places for Small Meetings


On their first world tour in 1964, The Beatles stayed at The Edgewater Hotel, just two years after it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. In their honor, the property today has a 750-square-foot Beatles Suite. “To me, it’s a landmark,” said Gary Schirmacher, senior vice president of strategic account services at Experient, who has attended several small meetings at the property. With breathtaking waterfront views, the Edgewater offers 10,000 square feet of meeting space. “It’s a really unique space,” Schirmacher said. “It has the most beautiful rooms and great meeting space. It’s a one-of-a-kind place with great service.”


When Ame Petry, director of meeting planning at Hempstead and Associates, LLC, was searching for an intimate, flexible venue for a client’s new leadership program, which would draw about 50-100 attendees, she came upon the beautiful, historic, 119-room Tremont House in Galveston, Texas. There are eight meeting rooms on the property with more than 15,500 square feet of flexible space in total, not to mention state-of-the-art facilities and a committed staff. “We chose this venue,” Petry said, “primarily because of their dedication to helping us provide a meaningful and affordable experience. We have also encouraged our attendees to make this a family event, and The Tremont House staff, in addition to the Galveston CVB, has really helped us to create that environment.”


From a waterfront cottage suite, where she stayed during a board of directors meeting, Murielle DiDomenicantonio had a clear view of the glistening Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia, and the small island where Captain Hook is rumored to have buried hidden treasure. “People have been going there for years trying to dig up Captain Hook’s treasure,” said DiDomenicantonio, board liaison officer at Co-op Atlantic, a Canadian consumers’ cooperative dedicated to local food and agriculture.While it might seem like you’ve been dropped in the middle of a fairy tale, the 105-room Atlantica Hotel & Marina Oak Island resort is only a 45-minute drive from Halifax, Canada, and offers 13,000 square feet of modern meeting and event space. It was perfect for DiDomenicantonio’s 45-person meeting, held in 2009. Aside from breathtaking views, the resort offers top-notch service. “The service was second to none,” DiDomenicantonio said. “It was almost like going on a vacation rather than working. They just made my job so easy.”


Nestled in the heart of Old Quebec in Quebec City, the sophisticated and modern Hotel Le Germain-Dominion is within walking distance of some impressive historic sites, including Montmorency Park, and numerous restaurants, bars, and retailers. If attendees have trouble choosing a spot, the dedicated staff at the boutique hotel can offer must-see recommendations throughout their stay. And for meeting organizers, an on-site planning team can assist at any time, ensuring that every event runs as smoothly as possible. The property offers spacious meeting rooms, accommodating anywhere from eight to 80 guests, and with amenities like a lobby lounge with a fireplace and full bar, and an espresso bar on the top floor, it’s hard to compare Hotel Le Germain-Dominion to anyplace else.


While the thrill of the Vegas Strip can be enticing, it can also be tiring. For a luxurious venue right near the excitement of downtown Vegas, while still far enough away to be relaxing, the Westin Lake Las Vegas provides a comfortable haven for attendees. “It’s only 30 minutes from The Strip,” said Detra Page, Global Experience Specialists’ public-relations manager, “but at the same time it feels like you’re far, far away from Vegas — just a completely different atmosphere.” The 493-room waterfront property offers 50,000 square feet of lush, outdoor meeting space, including sprawling gardens and a terrace that overlooks the 320-acre artificial lake. Attendees can enjoy a round of golf at the resort’s Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, try paddleboarding, or indulge in a hot-stone and aromatherapy massage at the resort’s Spa Moulay.

Best High-Tech Facilities


At this 14,000-square-foot conference center in downtown Chicago, a 36-inch Vista Systems video wall greets conference attendees with promotion, branding, and sponsor information. Other tech goodies: a Dusk-to-Dawn LED lights systems, and built-in, high-res video and sound, and programmable lighting, controlled from a tablet.


The University of Texas at Austin’s new hotel and conference center offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space with 37 rooms, including a multimedia amphitheater with a video wall, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, HD projectors, webcasting capabilities, a telepresence room, and more.


The first in Canada to offer free wireless, wall-to-wall high-speed Internet access, the center partners with its AV supplier, AVW-Telav, to provide SocialLive, a social-network platform that allows attendees, present or not, to post text, photos, and video via Twitter, Facebook, and email.


At this Manhattan convention center, Wi-Fi  throughout the facility is a key benefit for planners and exhibitors, plus stations to print out boarding passes, and improved cell-phone reception.


The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) offers free Wi-Fi throughout the facility, and teleconferencing and videoconferencing services in all exhibit halls and in 82 meeting rooms.

Best Hotel Spaces


The Opera Ballroom at the InterContinetal Paris – Le Grand Hotel (which opened its doors in 1862) is one of the most renowned ballrooms in the City of Light. Able to accommodate 450 guests for a seated dinner, conferences of up to 600, and cocktail receptions for up to 700, the space is often used for evening galas, product launches, and fashion shows.

Suspended from the room’s 45-foot-high ceiling is a huge chandelier and circle of mirrors, adding to the grandeur of a room that is on the supplementary inventory list of historical monuments in Paris.


Spread over three floors, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ meeting and convention space, designed by The Friedmutter Group, allows attendees to easily move through the space by escalator, with direct access from the hotel’s West Tower. “The vertical design allows our convention attendees to move from their sleeping rooms to the meeting space by the touch of an elevator button,” said Doug Gennardo, The Cosmopolitan’s vice president of sales. “The ease of access has been a common positive thread in our meeting-planner surveys.”

With room to accommodate up to 4,000 for receptions and seven ballrooms, meeting spaces are named after European, Latin, and North American neighborhoods and feature design inspired by architect and designer David Rockwell’s work — including small conversational gathering areas for attendees.


“The Fairmont San Jose has been one of my favorite hotels ever since I went there for a site visit in 2010,” said Marie Fredlake, global conference director at ConferenceDirect. Fredlake managed the 2010 Annual Conference of the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS), which held several receptions and meetings at The Fairmont. With suites that offer privacy as well as a “VIP feel” for the small meetings of RAPS’ executive team, the property is located just two blocks from the San Jose Convention Center for an easy commute for attendees. Fredlake also liked the hotel’s lobby. “After a long day, relaxing on a couch with a cocktail was just what I needed,” she said, “in addition to having one of the best sushi restaurants in the city located in the hotel!”


The Delta Beauséjour Hotel, located in downtown Moncton, New Brunswick, in the Petitcodiac River Valley, has more than 23,000 square feet of meeting space, making it the largest venue in New Brunswick for events. The hotel’s facilities include a ballroom of 8,540 square feet, the Shediac and the Petitcodiac meeting rooms, and boardroom space for executive meetings on site. Wi-Fi on the conference level plus on-site audiovisual, décor, and convention services — or “Meeting Maestros” — help ensure that every event is a success.


Although it’s a ski resort located in the Chugach Mountains about 40 miles south of Anchorage, The Hotel Alyeska also provides 9,000 square feet of dedicated meeting and event space and 15,000 square feet of special-event space that includes the three-section Columbia Ballroom.

Aerial tram provides the only access to the Glacier Express & Patio, a mountain-top venue at 2,300 feet above sea level, a casual venue for large receptions. For small-to-medium-sized groups, Seven Glaciers Restaurant, also located at the top of the mountain, affords panoramic views of the area’s hanging glaciers and the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.


Best Examples of Social Media


More than 2,000 preservationists and history buffs flooded Spokane, Wash., last fall for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Preservation Conference, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Spokane Convention Center. “During the conference,” said attendee Raina Regan, “using Twitter and the hashtag #presconf was a great way to follow along with tours and education sessions I was unable to attend. This also gave me a clue [to] places I might not have discovered yet and I should check out.

“I also used Twitter to connect with attendees I might not have met in random passing at the conference,” Regan said. “I participate in the monthly #builtheritage Twitter chats, but there was a real-life tweetup the first night of the conference that was great for connecting with the social-media-savvy group. I had a few people reach out to me during the conference and wanted to meet face-to-face because of the tweets I posted.”


From London to San Diego to Melbourne, #iStrategy is a hashtag with which marketers are familiar. GDS International’s biannual iStrategy events — one- to two-day digital-marketing conferences — allow senior marketing executives to collaborate and stay on the bleeding edge of innovation in their field. Using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, GDS engages audiences both on- and off-site. A tweet wall livestreams attendees’ tweets, so everyone can be included in the online conversations.

In addition, there’s a major incentive to participate and use social media as much as possible at iStrategy: the iScars, the Oscars of digital marketing, given in categories including, “best picture, best answer to the question of the day, and most retweeted tweet.”  With only hundreds in attendance at the live event,  social-media activity reaches around 18 million people.


Social Roulette, anyone? Between the social-media concierges who addressed attendees’ social-media needs and the livestreaming Instagram walls, there was nothing ordinary about the social-media strategy at IBM Pulse, held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, March 3-6.

For newbies to the social-media scene, IBM hosted a game of Social Roulette, where first-timers earned points for participation and got to spin a roulette wheel for prizes on the last day of the conference. “We work to create a 360-degree experience that’s fully integrated with the conference, with their messaging, and the experience,” said Jill Drury, CEO of Drury Design Dynamics, who works with IBM to establish social-media-engagement strategies at its events.


At CiscoLive!, no tweet goes unanswered. Dedicated social-media monitors respond within one minute. “We’ve had all kinds of responses, like ‘There’s these wizards behind CiscoLive!,’ said Kathy Doyle, director of global customer conferences at Cisco Systems Inc.

One key to their success is the Social Media Hub, a program which began as a customer-service initiative, where social-media monitors would watch all the conversations happening online and address attendees’ needs. “We found that the customers were getting so interested and engaged with it that we brought it out to public areas.”

Now CiscoLive!’s sleek Social Media Hub broadcasts all tweets onto large screens. “They can see their own tweet on all the monitors throughout the convention center,” Doyle said. “It’s actually created more and more conversation amongst the attendees. We also have tweetups in the social-media lounge, so it’s a great way to network with their peers, not only in a virtual environment, but also face-to-face.”


When hundreds of people need to come to one final agreement, it’s difficult for every voice to be heard. John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming, a company that creates team-building treasure hunts using GPS technology, engages attendees by having them text or tweet answers to questions projected on screens, promoting collaboration.

“In a recent conference,” Chen said, “we gained a general idea [of what attendees were interested in] from an open-ended question, then I modified a poll on the fly using the largest categories that were given, and allowed a whole room to set the priority for the year for an association. We did it all in 30 minutes or less, and it was based off of the group’s information, not just one person deciding, ‘This is what we should do.’”

Chen also uses text and Twitter response with Geoteaming’s GooseChase app, which he employed with 1,800 participants at the 2012 MPI World Education Congress, held in St. Louis last July. GooseChase’s photo scavenger hunt connected to attendees’ Twitter accounts, sharing photos of the event. “All these other networks of people are learning about the conference,” Chen said. “It’s a great way to create interaction with your audience without it having to cost a lot.”

Best Off-Site Venues


More than 37,100 acres of untouched wildlife await at the Ngala Private Game Reserve in South Africa, the first to be incorporated into the renowned Kruger National Park. Guests can venture out in search for the Big Five animals (rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and lion) via game drives or walking safaris, and “rough it” in style at the property’s two luxury game lodges: Ngala Safari Lodge, offering 20 thatched cottages under a canopy of tamboti trees, and Ngala Tented Camp.

After a long day of safaris in the hot sun, lavish, private accommodations provide respite for attendees. They can lounge among the breathtaking scenery on the veranda overlooking the waterhole at the Safari Lounge, or experience lavish dinners al fresco under the African sky.


Chinese, Guatemalan, Cantonese — there’s no end to the variety of food SoMa StrEat Food Park serves up daily. Working with more than 80 vendors in the Bay Area, the outdoor food-truck park offers 13 new, different food trucks every day. The park is located in the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood of San Francisco, the “sunniest neighborhood” in the city according to the food park’s owner, Carlos Muela, and in “the hub of tech companies in San Francisco,” he said.

Not only is the location ideal, the park itself offers a variety of one-of-a-kind event spaces, including a permanent beer garden; a covered, heated barn; and a converted bus with a large deck and outdoor seating. And there’s also free Wi-Fi, a full PA system, projection screens, TVs, and music playing around the clock.


Formerly an imperial palace and presidential residence, the Chapultepec Castle sits atop Chapultepec Hill, more than 7,600 feet above sea level, affording visitors awe-inducing views of Mexico City. The sophisticated and opulent property, in Chapultapec Park, is also home to the country’s National History Museum. “Chapultepec Castle is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Mexico City,” said Alma Lopez, CHME, corporate director of sales at Marquis Reforma Hotel & Spa.

The castle lies in close proximity to a zoo, several more museums and the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, lined with luxury hotels and shopping centers.

Chapultepec Castle spreads out over more than 100,000 square feet, with gorgeous historic meeting rooms inside. Lopez said: “When you invite anyone to a dinner in this place, they know it has to be something of relevance.”


 A National Historic Landmark, The Greenbrier has been hosting distinguished guests from around the world since 1778 — from President Woodrow Wilson to Rose Kennedy. With 710 guest rooms, this award-winning property is nestled in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., surrounded by the picturesque Allegheny Mountains. The resort provides more than 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including 40 breakout rooms with audiovisual presentation aids, and a 16,500-square-foot exhibit hall.

For team-building activities, groups can partake in a trust-building climb of the Alpine Tower or suit up for whitewater rafting. Indoor fun includes bowling, laser tag, and the new, 103,000-square-foot Casino Club, with plentiful food and entertainment options. Southern hospitality and home cooking abound at The Greenbrier. At any one of the resort’s 14 distinctive restaurants, guests can indulge in fresh-from-the-farm cuisine, including 23 varieties of vegetables harvested from the all-natural Greenbrier Farm nearby. After a busy day of meetings, attendees can take a sulphur-spring soak at the Five-Star mineral spa.


From the South Pole to the Amazon rainforest, no part of the planet is off limits at the Shedd Aquarium. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the aquarium houses more than 32,500 animals, including beluga whales and zebra sharks. “This museum is near and dear to Chicagoans and visitors alike,” said Danielle Oviatt, senior sales manager at Hyatt Regency Chicago. “Its location is ideal to any of the downtown hotels, making it convenient for attendees. My clients are always so pleased by the service and their specific attention to detail.” Not only are the services and underwater views amazing, “the food rivals any great Chicago restaurant,” Oviatt said. Terraces with lovely lakefront views, and exhibits like the 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef habitat give guests plenty to feast their eyes on.

Best Venue Initiatives


When it comes to sustainability, the Denver Zoo has some heavyweight credentials: It was the first zoo in the country to achieve Platinum LEED certification for a large-animal exhibit, the Toyota Elephant Passage. The Passage, which is only one of multiple sites available for rental, includes a preserve that is home to Asian elephants and other animals.

For meeting attendees, sustainability translates into F&B practices that rely on locally sourced produce, sustainable seafood, and recyclable dinnerware. (A program that turns zoo waste into energy aims to make the zoo a zero-waste facility by 2025.) Meeting planners also appreciate the role the zoo plays in preserving wildlife, said Felise Buckhart, corporate events manager for the zoo. “Planners love how the fees go directly to the zoo,” she said. “It’s a giveback.


For the right meetings, the “Red Tag” Meeting Space Special at the Ottawa Convention Centre in Ottawa was one red-hot deal: It offered half off the price of meeting space, Wi-Fi, and AV services for qualifying meetings. To be eligible, events had to be booked after June 5, 2012, and be held in one of two periods — one in late summer and one in the winter — over the next nine months.

The offer, which resulted in 79 bookings, was restricted to smallish meetings, defined as 250 people meeting for less than three days. Designed to fill out the center’s schedule, it was “mostly promoted locally,” said Zoe Lomer, sales and marketing associate for the center, since local organizations were more likely to be able to take advantage of the short booking window. And since Ottawa is the capital of Canada — and a budget-conscious destination, according to Lomer — it was a slam-dunk for government meeting planners, as well as organizations like Canadian Labour Congress, which is headquartered in Ottawa and took advantage of the promotion to hold a leadership meeting at the center.


When Herbalife, the global nutrition company, wanted to throw a party for 10,000 people during its North American Extravaganza in Long Beach, Calif., last October at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, the CVB had an interesting suggestion: “They said, ‘Well, we have a rooftop parking lot that we can use as a space,’’’ said Adolfo Romero, an Herbalife corporate alliance manager. Can concrete be chic? Herbalife has a reputation for throwing great parties, and the Long Beach bash “turned out to be one of the most successful parties in our company’s history,” Romero said. The downtown parking lot roof offered panoramic views of the beach and the city skyline, with the Herbalife logo projected onto a nearby hotel, and went from functional to fabulous by way of lighting, portable bars, cabanas, and two dance floors.


By offering “free Wi-Fi,” Nicole Burrows, a sourcing manager at Experient who is based in Seattle, knew that the Austin Convention Center wasn’t offering to provide all of the wireless access that her meeting client — which happens to be Microsoft — could use. But the center’s complimentary Wi-Fi provides good basic coverage, Burrows said, for high-tech meeting attendees, who expect to travel from free networks in their hotels to a free network in the convention center. Access to free Wi-Fi “is very important,” Burrows said. “It’s one of the top things we look at.” In addition to Austin, our survey respondents had good words for the free Wi-Fi offered by the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, and the Quebec City Convention Centre.


Since the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) develops its own mobile app for its annual meeting, there’s some overlap with the features of MyBCEC, the mobile app developed by the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, said Jim Donovan, ISSCR’s director for membership and meeting services. But the MyBCEC app is so useful and well done, Donovan said, that ISSCR promoted its use to members in the final program. One of the things that the convention-center app did best at the ISSCR Annual Meeting in June was to help the more than 4,000 attendees make their way out of the center and into the city, he said. In addition to listings of nearby restaurants, entertainment, and retail options, with maps, the MyBCEC app helped users — including Donovan — navigate the local public-transportation system, opening up even more of Boston to attendees.

Best CSR Initiatives


Launched less than a year ago, American Forests’ Meeting ReLeaf is a carbon-offsetting program for meetings with 1,000 or more attendees. The idea is simple: The hosting organization agrees to pay American Forests one dollar per attendee to plant one tree per attendee.Thanks to Meeting ReLeaf, more than 20,000 trees have taken root in various American Forests restoration projects, including a program to replant forests affected by devastating fires in California and one to repair wind-damaged forests in Minnesota. “Meeting ReLeaf makes sense for associations for a lot of reasons,” said Scott Steen, American Forests’ CEO. “It is turnkey for the meeting planner, meaningful for the attendee, because they get a tree planted in their honor, and makes a real difference to a threatened ecosystem.”


Every year at its REALTORS Conference & Expo, the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) gives attendees a chance to move from sales to manufacturing — by participating in the Volunteer Build program. During NAR’s 2012 conference, held in Orlando, about 100 attendees, working with Habitat for Humanity, built three homes for families in need of affordable housing.Dana L. Gurnsey, an administrative assistant with the Illinois Association of REALTORS, said: “Being associated with the real-estate industry, I think we sometimes take the homes we live in for granted. When you work on a Habitat for Humanity build, frequently you get to meet the owner or owners and occasionally you attend the dedication. When you see the smile on the face of those owners, it’s like seeing one of the things that make this a great nation, and then you understand how important this really is. You’ve helped someone change their life.”


It’s one thing to green a single meeting or even a building. But how about an entire presidency? That was the goal of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ logistics team when the country assumed the 2012 presidency of the European Union. Denmark committed itself to making the entire administration — its events and other operations — as sustainable as possible. That included energy provided by Danish wind turbines, waste sorted into 16 different categories of recyclables, eco-certified hotel rooms, CO2-neutral freight, no conference handouts, and no cut flowers or bottled water. Indeed, the administration came to be known as “the Tap Water Presidency.”

RED CROSS AT DREAMFORCE’s annual Dreamforce conference offers a variety of local volunteer opportunities — and at last year’s event, held on Sept. 18-21 in San Francisco, they included helping the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter assemble emergency-preparedness kits, each was packed with food and water, first-aid supplies, batteries, blankets, duct tape, and more.At least one attendee was struck by the ease of it all. “American Red Cross emergency-bag fill at Dreamforce 2012 showed that a program is never too big to engage attendees in a personal CSR experience that does not involve a large amount of time from their schedule,” said Eve Schmitt, CMP, CEM, senior manager of global meeting sourcing and vendor relations for VMware. “Less than four minutes and the aha moment was achieved.”


Here’s how Stop Hunger Now describes its meal-packaging program: “an immensely fun, hands-on, and rewarding experience for anyone of any age. A group of 40-50 volunteers can package 10,000 meals in just two hours.” Just imagine how many of those meals — “Every dehydrated rice/soy meal is fortified with 21 essential vitamins and nutrients” — a good-sized conference can handle. Terri Crovato, CMP, manager of meetings and events for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), brought Stop Hunger now to USCCB’s General Assembly in Baltimore last November. “This process worked well within our allowable time frame and made it very convenient for everyone to participate,” Crovato said. “We were able to involve local archdiocesan youth groups to work with the bishops toward a common goal. As a result, many bishops have planned Stop Hunger Now programs in their local dioceses.”

Best Food and Beverage


“Kelber Catering is so creative and the food is always fantastic,” said Kathleen Hedlund, director of global accounts with HelmsBriscoe’s Presidents Club, which has held several of its client and internal events at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC), where the family-owned company is the exclusive caterer. Kelber is also committed to practices that are an important part of MCC’s sustainability program — donating unused food to local charities and using locally sourced food when possible with organic menu options for groups. “I have clients who I help with their meetings all over the world,” Hedlund said. “Kelber is clearly the best!”


At the Colorado Convention Center (CCC), the yummy food and beverage also reflects a commitment to the environment and the local community. “I have always felt Denver was ahead of its time in environmental issues,” said Debbie Richardt, CMP, who held her annual meeting at CCC in 2011 when she worked for the American Thoracic Society. “This is [an] area that makes them stand out and be recognized by meeting planners that take these issues seriously.”

CCC’s hospitality partner Centerplate started the Blue Bear Farm, a 5,000-square-foot urban farm that supplies the center’s kitchen with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey. “They are setting a good example of providing healthy foods and helping the environment at the same time,” Richardt said, “and at no additional cost to the meeting planner.”


For an Amway Japan group that held an incentive program for 300 people in 2012, the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai — which specializes in themed events for groups — rolled out an impressive gala dinner. The theme was “Full Moon Party: Gazing Up at the Sky,” and guests enjoyed a five-course, Italian-fusion dinner, including an exclusive dessert created for the group called “Otsukimi Fantasy” — a reference to a Japanese festival that honors the autumn moon.

“The chef made an Oriental mango dessert with rice cake and a chocolate rabbit on the plate,” said Takami Yoshida, who is with Amway Japan’s company events group. “All factors combined and made a fantastic night!”


When Jennifer Porro, program coordinator with the Florida Chiropractic Association, was looking to spice up a reception during the annual Spring Convention and Expo at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, she was alerted by the staff that the price for a few carving stations would be the same as what the group was spending on cheese and crudités displays.

“This was very important to me, as our reception was fading in attendance over the past few years,” she said. The hotel provided some additional seating along with the carving stations, exhibitors were pleased, and the attendees appreciated the upgraded reception option, which drew the largest group in the event’s history, according to Porro.


The Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s (MTCC) Local Food and Beverage Program, launched in 2011, helps serve more than one million attendees each year locally sourced seasonal fruits and vegetables, pastured meats, artisanal cheeses, and wines.

“The MTCC [has] a fantastic F&B team and is always willing to work with planners on unique menus within any budget,” said Jacqui Sullivan, CMP, association manager with Absolute Conferences & Events. Sullivan held a large international event at MTCC for several years, along with more recent PCMA Canada East Chapter events. “[They] dazzled us with high-end food and beverage!” she said.


Convene Editors