I have put up this web page in the hopes that others with my issues will share their knowledge of conference centers and conference suites geared toward small meetings. Send your ideas and I will post them here. Please link to this page so others will find it and contribute.
I put on my Survey Design and Survey Data Analysis Workshops a half dozen times each year in various locations in the US (and abroad). These are smaller, more intimate workshops with no more than 15 attendees. The challenge is finding a good meeting venue. My criteria are: comfortable meeting space, good access to an airport, reasonable food (and prices), reasonable cancellation policies, and a good value all around. Lest I forget, good service from the event folks. By default, those of us in this situation choose the airport hotel, which usually misses several of those criteria. Smaller hotels (e.g., Courtyards or Hampton Inns) are preferable over larger hotels since the larger hotels will treat small events with disdain and will bump you in a heartbeat if a bigger event falls into their lap. I look for boardrooms since they are generally nicely appointed with "8-hour chairs" and frequently built in screens.
I am always search for the "hidden gem" -- the great meeting space that meets all my criteria. For example, country clubs can be a fantastic venue. They're handsome, have good chefs, and generally view their meeting space as needed for members' weekend functions. Museums may have excellent meeting room. I also look for "conference suites," that is, hotel rooms with an adjoining meeting room. These can be cancelled with 24-hour notice since they're a hotel room, and they get you off of the catering groups' outlandish food costs. But try to find them! Many of Hilton's Embassy Suites and Doubletrees have them but you won't find the descriptions until you go to the room descriptions as if you're making a reservation.
Maybe some bright hotel chain will focus on this market and publish a nationwide directory!
I've listed mine below. Please help all of us by adding to the list.
Arizona -- Phoenix
Chaparral Suites Resort, Scottsdale. This is located about one mile north of Old Town Scottsdale, a walkable distance to this great area with loads of shops and restaurants. The Resort has complimentary airport shuttle service, the only place in Old Town that does. The hotel sprawls a city block. Complimentary breakfast and cocktail hour for guests. For small meetings you can bring the group to the on-site restaurant and order off the menu. The meeting rooms are fine. They finally renovated what they call a "boardroom." The term is still a misnomer -- no granite countertop serving area -- but a huge improvement over what they looked like in 2007 . In the other meetings rooms, you may need to keep the doors to the outside closed, which is too bad on lovely days. If the staff is doing a set up outside the meeting area, they just don't know how to do it quietly.
Hilton Garden Inn, Old Town Scottsdale. We have used this place several times since 2009. Great location, right next to Old Town, literally. No complimentary airport shuttle, but easy walking once you're there to the shops and restaurants. The Old Town trolley stop is next to the hotel. They were renovating while we were there in 2009, so it's all brand new. Our meeting room was just fine. Good size for 10-12 people. Comes with flip charts and white board. Great service. They have a day meeting package that is a ridiculously phenomenal value. Ask for it.
California - Silicon Valley.
Network Meeting Center at the Techmart building in Santa Clara is THE place to use in the Valley. Close to SJC, next to the convention center. Excellent central location for anyone in Silicon Valley. Excellent service from the staff. They normally will sell you a Day Meeting Package, which is a decent valley, but you can also go a la carte. I have used Quadrus up on Menlo Park and was disappointed. I will only use NMC.
California -- San Diego
Gaslamp Plaza Suites. In the Gaslamp district, not surprisingly. I have not used it yet, but they have a nice size and handsome meeting room that holds 14.
Park Manor Suites. This is an older, quaint hotel across from Balboa Park. The Balboa Room has a 400 sq ft meeting room and includes a bedroom - a good value. Can take the group to their restaurant and order off the menu. I have not used this place either.
Florida -- Orlando
Embassy Suites, Airport. right next to the airport with a shuttle. Room 204 is a conference suite with a nice boardroom table with 10 nice chairs. The room has a white board and (dirty) screen in one of those wall mounted units, but I moved the 42" LCD TV to the other end of the table and hooked my Mac up to it. Worked great. I had 9 people in it, plus me, and it was perfectly comfortable. Staff was quite helpful. Let us pre-order lunch in the restaurant off a limited menu. I'm nitpicking, but I would have liked more variety on that menu. Also, there's no coffee service onsite after breakfast ends at 9:30. The bar/restaurant doesn't serve coffee, and there's no coffee shop walking distance to it.
Illinois -- Chicago area
Indian Lakes Resort. I just got burned badly using the catering services of this Chicago conference hotel, but the hotel side of the operation has 2 types of conference suites. The hospitality suite (~$350/night) is basically 2 good size adjoining rooms, one your bedroom and the second a "living room." (They're shaped as hexagons 16 foot across.) The suite has a separate bath and entrance, a coach, 2 chairs. The staff told me they'd bring in more chairs gratis. Here's a big plus. They added in October 2008 large flat screen TVs which have ports for everything. I hooked my Mac to the TV. No need for a projector or screen! Several good restaurants on site. Having used this place once now, it worked okay. The one big drawback is attendees don't have a work table. I bought everyone a clipboard as a writing surface, which was fine with everyone, but one. The business suite (~$275/night) has a bedroom and a smaller adjoining room, which has a round table that seats 6-8. It looked like an awkward space if you're setting up a projector.
Massachusetts -- Boston area
Forefront Conference Center, Waltham, Mass. Very good central location for Boston area folks. (Not so great for people flying in, but nothing is except for Boston proper.) They have many meeting rooms, including a very nice board room -- looks like a Star Trek bridge. The one downside: no windows in the rooms. They do a DMP that's reasonable. Best of the all, the staff delivers a high level of customer service.
The International Golf Club, Bolton, Mass. World-renowned golf club set deep in the woods, but only about 3 miles off of Interstate 495 -- about one hour to 3 airports, BOS, MHT, and PVD. This is a hidden gem since no one knows about its conference center. Elegant and handsome are the best words for the ballroom.
MIT Endicott House, Dedham, Mass. Lovely, interesting converted mansion. Excellent food. The DMP was very reasonable when I used it for a conference.
North Carolina -- Charlotte
The Morehead Inn is a nicely appointed southern inn located about a mile from Uptown (which is what Charlotte calls its downtown) on the edge of a lovely residential neighborhood. Morning or evening walks were a joy. The staff was delightful and hospitable. Food is excellent. They have a number of small meeting rooms. It is affiliated with the nearby Van Landingham Estate.
Texas -- Dallas Area
Hackberry Creek Country Club is about 10-15 minutes from DFW and nearby hotels will do shuttle service. Very nice. Good food. Excellent value. But snow storms do throw them into a tizzy. All bets are off about the service you'll receive if it snows.
Washington State -- Seattle
Doubletree Guest Suites Seattle Airport/Southcenter is down the hill from the airport with a complimentary shuttle. They have 4 conference suites that have a meeting room that comfortably seats 12 and could squeeze in 14. It has leather seats and a long serving counter with sink, refrigerator, and coffee maker. Add in the bedroom, and it's a great value. I used it in 2007 and it worked well. It's on the edge of a very large shopping area where you can buy supplies. Target is next door; Costco is about a mile away.
Washington, DC area
Embassy Suites, Crystal City. They have a handful of conference suites at a very reasonable price. Free shuttle to DCA. Close to Metro. The meeting room is small. I have had 8 people in there for a meeting. Cozy but workable. Restaurant on premises okay. Costco literally one block away. Pharmacy a short 5-minute walk to the Crystal City underground where the Metro station is located. However, the AC is substandard for the heat of the summer. The conference suites are on the top floor, and it was toasty in there in August. I never got a straight story about what the situation. I have been able to do very late check out. Want photos?
Embassy Suites, Old Town Alexandria. This place also has several executive conference suites, and it is located right next to the King Street Metro stop, 2 stops from DCA. King Street has loads of restaurants and nice shops. Meeting room is good size, but a bit awkward. The table sits 6 comfortably and could squeeze in 8 at the table. Could seat a few more in back spaces. Chairs are 8-hour chairs. The sleeper coach is terribly uncomfortable and very heavy to move out of the way. No real coffee pot, just one of those 2 cuppers. The LCD TV is an old one without a VGA port, only RGB ports. There may be a VGA port behind a plastic covering, but I didn't have a phillips head screwdriver with me. I used my projector and projected on the way, which was a very pale yellow. This worked fine. Since breakfast is part of the package, it's easy to get morning coffee for attendees. Bottom line: this place works fine for a workshop with 6 attendees and you could probably handle more.
Hilton, Old Town Alexandria. This Hilton is almost ext to the Embassy Suites. They have some conference suites and a presidential suite, but the names you'll see on their site are not accurate. Last time I checked, they still hadn't fixed this. Presidential suite is large and $$$$ and not well suited for a workshop. The conference suites have a room next to a bedroom -- separate entrance -- with a round table and 6 chairs. LCD TV there as well with VGA and I think HDMI ports.
Hampton Inn, Old Town Alexandria is just down King Street from the Embassy Suites and the Hilton. Their conference room is very reasonably priced and can handle 10 people comfortably in a U-shape. The bone-headed architect took a small corner of the room to give the lobby on the opposite side some character, and this really compromises the room. Without that cutout, you could put 12-14 people in the room.
Have any to add?
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