• Organizing a Great Conference Colorado Style

     
    POSTED October 30, 2017
     
    Photo credit: Photos by Deb Brannon and Beth Buehler.

I’ve been attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism for more than a decade and have learned from watching my editorial advisory board member Deb Brannon, owner of Arvada-based Altitude Events, skillfully coordinate the three most recent gatherings for the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO).

The past two years, I’ve been part of the on-site team that makes sure the conference goes off as smoothly as possible. Here are five things that made the 2017 conference, held Oct. 25-27 in Grand Junction and attended by more than 460 representatives from the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, stand out.

Localize the Conference – Visit Grand Junction did a superb job making sure attendees experienced their area at every turn. I like how the Two Rivers Convention Center is located at one end of Main Street with three name-brand hotels and the walkability to the historic Avalon Theatre for a reception and the Twisted Turtle for a post-awards party and dance. Volunteers staffed a table throughout the conference to answer questions and handed out sachets made with area lavender; there was a local farmer’s market set up in the sunny convention center rotunda on Friday morning; peaches were integrated into several of the meals; and fun post-conference tours were offered.

Sustainability Can Be Cool – The CTO put a heavy emphasis on sustainability at this year’s conference. A couple of the approaches I really liked were providing colorful Silipint glasses for people to put their water and hot beverages in throughout the conference and take home (none were left over or left behind!) and offering unique conference bags made out of burlap. Instead of spending a half day stuffing bags and seeing materials thrown away, two self-fill tables with swag and brochures were set up so people could take only what they wanted, saving many items from the landfill.

Maximize the Reception Venue –  Built in 1923 and recently renovated, Avalon Theatre worked extremely well for showcasing three area communities: Grand Junction, Palisade and Fruita. Each town took a section to showcase local attractions, activities, foods, beer, wine and spirits. It helped move people throughout the venue and created a festive atmosphere.

Great Speakers Make a Difference – You can have the neatest swag and venues on the planet and great activities but good learning is at the core of any successful conference. Keynote addresses by Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and Rick Steves, guidebook author and travel TV host, were among my favorites. I also enjoyed a panel discussion about influencers and found the mix of representatives from two social media agencies, the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau and the local REI store very informative for this discussion.

Give People Reasons to Attend Annually – Most people in the travel industry know that it is much easier to recruit return guests than start from scratch with potential new travelers. The same is true for conferences. In this case, not only is the education valuable, it’s fun to experience the hosting destination, important to recognize and celebrate accomplishments, valuable to network and a huge treat to see friends from the industry. Don’t miss the 2018 conference on Oct. 29-31 at the Hotel Talisa in Vail.

 

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Meetings today must be fun and memorable and have little resemblance to the old-style format.