Anchorage is a city like none other—making it a popular choice for hosting meetings and events.
Through the tall windows of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, meeting attendees can gaze out toward Cook Inlet, which stretches all the way to the Gulf of Alaska and toward mountains—some snow-capped—representing several ranges. They may even see an eagle fly by or see one of the 1,500 moose that are said to roam Alaska’s largest city. It’s easy to see why it’s said that Anchorage is a city like none other in the United States.
“Alaska and Anchorage are bucket-list destinations,” says Kathy Dunn, vice president for communications for Visit Anchorage. “When planners are considering cities for conventions and meetings, throwing Alaska into the mix gets the reaction, ‘Oh, I want to go to that one!’”
Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, has been bringing groups to Anchorage for a dozen years. “Our organization cares for the surviving families of our fallen military, and the grandeur and beauty of Alaska [creates] such a healing environment,” she says. “It allows our families to gain a new perspective.”
Pattie Kempka, director of national meetings and conferences for Ducks Unlimited, the world’s leading wetlands conservation organization, has chosen Anchorage as the setting for the nonprofit’s annual conferences (which are attended by some 1,000 members) several times. “Our people love the outdoors,” she says. “They don’t want to be stuck in a conference room, and the ability to experience a pristine wilderness just minutes from our hotel makes Anchorage an ideal location.”
With two convention centers, more than 8,700 hotel rooms, including popular global brands, a bevy of unique off-site venues, and Alaska’s calling card—the great outdoors—the city of 291,247 can claim status as a prime meeting spot for groups from 50 to 1,000 and more.
The Botanical Society of America, the American Bar Association, and the Western Telecommunications Conference Alliance are among meeting groups coming to Anchorage this year, Dunn says. This summer, the city will host its first-ever United States Golf Association (USGA) event: the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Golf Championship.
When they are not in meetings—or golfing—conference and meeting attendees can easily find ways to get outdoors, even within the city. The 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail along Cook Inlet starts right downtown and is a popular spot for running, hiking, and biking. In winter, the groomed trails of Kincaid Park and Hillside trail systems are a perfect place for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat-tire biking.
But there is also a huge wilderness to explore beyond Anchorage. “Once you get to Anchorage, you can go see wildlife, get out in the Chugach Mountains, [or] take a flightseeing trip and see glaciers,” says Dunn.
Where to Meet
In a city where the tap water flows from a nearby glacial lake, it’s likely not surprising the air is some of the freshest in the country. Restaurants serve Alaska king salmon, halibut, and king crab, often accompanied by locally brewed beer. There are two convention centers that are only a five-minute trek apart in a very walkable downtown.
The 200,000-square-foot Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, opened in 2008, is the biggest meeting facility in the state, boasting the largest exhibit hall in Alaska—large enough for 274 trade-show booths. The flexible event space works for national conventions, as well as smaller meetings and seminars.
The 85,000-square-foot William
A. Egan Civic & Convention Center, with city and mountain views, has easily configurable meeting and exhibit space, including the 19,306-square-foot Explorers Hall. Located between two city parks, it offers green space that’s perfect for group picnic lunches.
Unique off-site venues are a source of pride for Anchorage. A favorite is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a world-class cultural center, where groups can take a break from meetings to explore six life-sized Alaska Native village sites encircling tranquil Lake Tiulana.
About an hour south of Anchorage, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is an animal sanctuary and research center with meeting facilities. Delegates on breaks might come face to face with lynx, moose, musk oxen, bears, wood bison, reindeer, and wolves. The venue can accommodate 100 guests for dinner gatherings. The drive here from Anchorage is along spectacular Cook Inlet, adding to the venue’s allure.
Back in downtown Anchorage, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts is the largest performance venue in the state of Alaska, with four performance halls and a spacious lobby and reception areas. It’s connected by a skybridge to the Egan Center.
Where to Stay
Well-established group hotel choices in Anchorage are the Hilton Anchorage, locally owned Hotel Captain Cook (the only Alaska member of Preferred Hotels
and Resorts Worldwide), Marriott Anchorage Downtown, Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa, The Lakefront Anchorage, and the Westmark Anchorage Hotel, all
with meeting space.
Also worth considering is the new 146-room Aloft Anchorage, which opened this spring and is touting its status as one of the most modern hotels in Alaska’s largest city. Two meeting spaces offer nearly 3,000 square feet of event space, accommodating up to 240 people.
About 40 minutes south of downtown Anchorage, the Alyeska Resort is a premier year-round destination resort, with 301 elegant guestrooms and more than 23,000 square feet of meeting space. Located amid views of lush forests, hanging glaciers, and Mount Alyeska’s famous double black diamond ski trails, the resort’s newest attraction is its 50,000-square-foot Nordic Spa with hot and cold pools, which complements facilities that include an indoor saltwater pool.
Where to Play
When visiting Anchorage, meeting attendees can easily embrace once-in-a-lifetime experiences, whether hiking in a boreal forest, dogsledding, or reeling in “the big one.”
Some of those activities are right in the city. For instance, head to Ship Creek, only steps from downtown hotels and the Egan Center, and you might be able to brag about landing a king salmon at the popular fishing spot.
One group activity Carroll always includes is a scavenger hunt around Anchorage. “We divide the group into teams,” she says, “and give them a list of things that they need to go and get a picture with, like Star the Reindeer (who can be found in a pen right downtown), a veteran at the Anchorage Veterans’ Memorial, and something related to a moose.”
On a group trip in March, Carroll arranged for her attendees to go dog mush-ing with Alaska Husky Adventures. “It was incredible,” she says. “Plus, on the bus ride there and back, I’ve never in all my years in Alaska seen as many moose.”
Flightseeing tours via helicopter or floatplane soar over 60 nearby glaciers and circle Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, with glimpses of wildlife along the way. Convention-goers who golf can play at midnight, with tee times as late as 10 p.m. in summer at Anchorage’s one nine-hole or three 18-hole golf courses.
For those who want to explore more of Alaska either pre- or post-meeting, the historic Alaska Railroad, with its high trestles and wilderness views, runs south from Anchorage to Seward and north from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The southern route traces the coast of the scenic Kenai Peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park, and the northern route passes through Denali National Park & Preserve.
Nearby hiking options in wilderness areas abound, whether you book a tour or head off on your own. “Instead of doing two half-day business sessions, we do a one-day session that runs roughly from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” she says. “Then, on the next day, attendees can go out and do full-day tours, like glacier tours, wildlife-viewing tours, [or] boat tours.”
For attendees and guests who want to extend the trip, Kempka typically reserves 100 state rooms on a cruise ship departing from Washington state. “They’ll do a weeklong cruise up to Anchorage, attend the conference from Wednesday to Sunday, and then fly home after the weekend,” she says.
“When you can see the waters of Cook Inlet and the mountains surrounding the city right from a conference room,” Dunn says, “it energizes you to get outside once the convention or meetings end. You just want to be outdoors and experience it all.