by Linda Hayes | August 01, 2016

It’s hard to say what leaves more of an impression on attendees visiting the Centennial State of Colorado: the amount of spectacular nature on display or the generous nature of locals who are eager to share their insights on the best places to bike or hike or eat.

No need to ponder. Both add up to an enhanced experience for groups. The potential for grand agendas is great in Colorado. Depending on the likes of attendees and focus of the association, groups can explore archaeological wonders, enjoy contemporary cuisine or take advantage of slopeside resorts and conference centers that permit a morning’s worth of skiing. There’s really no limit to the possibilities, especially where the outdoors is concerned.

Greater Denver: Ready for its Close-up

The Mile High City of Denver continues to be a highly appealing destination. According to an annual visitor-profile study by Longwoods International, the capital city set new tourism records in 2015, with 1 million more visitors than the previous year. Business traveler numbers alone reached 2.6 million last year, an increase of 9 percent.

With nonstop flights to more than 170 destinations worldwide, Denver International Airport easily welcomes a global audience, and its domestic network ranks as the nation’s third-largest. In November, the 519-room Westin/Denver International Airport opened with connection to Jeppeson Terminal. It offers 37,500 square feet of conference space and a 10,000-square-foot foyer with views toward the Rockies. And April saw the debut of the A Line rail service between the airport and downtown Denver’s Union Station, which was recently awarded LEED certification.

The historic Union Station has been extensively renovated and now features an abundance of restaurants, shops, five different event spaces and the Crawford Hotel. “The arrival of the train and renovation of Denver Union Station has also brought with it significant downtown development projects to meet the anticipated increase in occupancy,” said Richard Scharf, CEO of Visit Denver.

The Colorado Convention Center itself is undergoing a major renovation. Plans call for 80,000 square feet of new, flexible meeting and ballroom space and more than 100,000 square feet of new pre-function and service space, including a 50,000-square-foot rooftop terrace that will allow attendees to enjoy Denver’s average 300 days of sunshine.

Denver currently offers 44,000 hotel rooms citywide. New hotels include the Hyatt Place & Hyatt House Denver/Downtown, which offers a combined 361 guest rooms and 4,884 square feet of shared meeting space. A few blocks north, the Magnolia Hotel Denver recently completed a renovation of its guest rooms. Halcyon, a 155-room hotel with meeting space for up to 300, is scheduled to open this month in the Cherry Creek neighborhood. The Fairfield Inn & Suites/Downtown Denver will follow with a September opening; features will include 87 guest rooms and a small boardroom. A block from Union Station, a 180-room Hotel Indigo is part of the mixed-use Union Tower West, scheduled to open in December.

In development is a dual-branded Le Méridien/AC Hotel with a total of 495 guest rooms and 8,100 square feet of meeting space. Other city hotels with meeting space expected to open in 2017 include the 100-room Source Hotel, the 172-room Maven Hotel and the 170-room Moxy/Denver-Cherry Creek.

Last year, the American Academy of Family Physicians held its Family Medicine Experience in Denver to great enthusiasm, said Tom Pellet, its division director of meetings and conventions. “Our success was because of the city itself and the great service we received from the CVB and the convention center,” he said, praising the affordability of the hotel package within a 10-minute walk of the convention center. He also commented positively on the variety of local restaurants and entertainment, the cleanliness of downtown and the convention center’s easy layout.

The city offers all kinds of unique venues that welcome group functions. The National Western Complex has nine major spaces, including the 7,277-seat Events Center and the Hall of Education. The 1882 City Park Pavilion is available mid-April to mid-October for up to 350 people. And the Denver Mart, north of downtown, features 275,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and exhibit space. Sports-affiliated spaces are also popular, notably Pepsi Center, Sports Authority Field at Mile High and Coors Field. Cultural venues that offer stunning backdrops for gatherings include the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Denver Art Museum.

In Morrison, 15 miles west of Denver, the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016. This National Historic Landmark offers more than 30,000 square feet of special-event space for up to 2,000.

Boulder: Flat-out Fabulous

Nestled against dramatic sandstone slabs called the Flatirons, Boulder is a community that appreciates challenging recreational pursuits. At the University of Colorado, Folsom Field recently completed a $166 million expansion. Off-campus options include the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery & Event Center and the Avery Brewing Company.

On the hotel front, the Boulderado has completed the first phase of a renovation project, which included the update of 114 of its 160 guest rooms, its 10,000 square feet of event space and the outdoor plaza; the second phase, which will renovate the mezzanine and lobby, is expected to commence in 2017. Guest rooms and common areas have also been renovated at the Homewood Suites by Hilton, and the Boulder Marriott updated its main lobby and plans to begin a guest-room improvement this winter. And a pair of hotels is going up at 28th Street and Canyon Boulevard: a 203-room Embassy Suites and a 172-room Hilton Garden Inn.

Groups that have held meetings in Boulder recently include the American Library Association, the Colorado Translators Association and the Universities Space Research Association.

Colorado Springs: Attractive Sites & Stays

In the eastern foothills of the Rockies, Colorado Springs is known for outstanding scenery and attractions, including Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. The Christian Meeting & Convention Association held the largest event in its 16-year history in Colorado Springs this year, according to Jayne Kuryluk, the group’s director. “We had to extend our show for those wanting more information on the area because we could not come close to featuring all that Colorado Springs has to offer,” said Kuryluk.

The group held its meeting at the Broadmoor, which in addition to its main campus also offers a variety of off-site venues for groups, including Cloud Camp, which recently added a new meeting space called the Overlook; the 10-cabin Ranch at Emerald Valley; the seven-cabin Colorado Fishing Camp; and the year-old Seven Falls, with activities such as the Broadmoor Soaring Adventure and Restaurant 1858.

The Forest Resources Association and the Colorado Funeral Directors Association have also held events in Colorado Springs over the past year; both utilized the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

The state’s first indoor water-park resort, the Great Wolf Lodge, is set to open in early 2017 with meeting space. The Garden of the Gods Club & Resort has redesigned guest rooms and public spaces and the Lodge at Flying Horse is now open with 10,000 square feet of meeting space. The Embassy Suites by Hilton/Colorado Springs recently completed a guest-room renovation, and The Antlers (formerly the Antlers Hilton) is undergoing a renovation.

Aspen & Snowmass: Scenes to Remember

Be it glitter and glam or rugged outdoor adventure, Aspen is a well-rounded destination that can cater to either scene with incomparable meeting spaces and renowned resorts. High-end hotels with indoor-outdoor meeting spaces include the Little Nell, the St. Regis Aspen Resort and the historic Hotel Jerome. Other properties with gathering space include the eco-friendly Gant, whose conference center is newly expanded. At the Aspen Meadows Resort, venues include the gold LEED–certified Doerr-Hosier Center.

Nine miles from Aspen, Snowmass Village offers 70,000 square feet of gathering space, including mountainside conference rooms at the gold LEED–certified Viceroy/Snowmass and the Westin Snowmass Resort.

In the town of Basalt, northwest of Aspen, the Element/Basalt-Aspen recently opened with 113 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 104.

Grand Junction & Glenwood Springs: Naturally Attractive

Meeting planners will find Grand Junction full of group opportunities that take in the outdoors, from golf to wine tasting, from float trips down the Colorado River to exploring the rocky landscape of Colorado National Monument.

Key meeting venues include the downtown Two Rivers Convention Center, which offers space for upwards of 2,000 people. Gatherings can also be held at the historic, 1,090-seat Avalon Theatre. Three hotels with meeting space completed guest-room renovations this spring: the Hampton Inn, Courtyard/Grand Junction and Residence Inn. Groups holding meetings in the area include the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute, the Colorado Association of Realtors and the Colorado Chiropractic Association.

Glenwood Springs, located at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, is 90 miles east of Grand Junction. The destination offers the world’s largest hot-springs pool, found at the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. The year-old Iron Mountain Hot Springs features 16 thermal soaking pools and a freshwater family pool. The grand Hotel Colorado, established in 1893, welcomes groups of up to 350.

Vail Valley & Summit County: Spreading the Wealth

World-class ski slopes that transform into green hillsides fit for biking or hiking keep active attendees in Vail occupied. Up on Vail Mountain, the 10th Restaurant is open to groups in the summer. Eco-conscious meetings can be organized at Arrabelle at Vail Square and the Lodge at Vail, or groups can head to Beaver Creek, where the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch recently added new outdoor event space. At the Sonnenalp Club in Edwards, the new Harvest Restaurant recently opened with event space.

To the east, in Breckenridge, Breckenridge Hospitality offers 40,000 square feet of conference space. In nearby Keystone, the Keystone Resort & Conference Center is considered the largest meeting venue in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, with 60,000 square feet of on-site space.

Higher Standards

Colorful Colorado lives up to—and regularly surpasses—the expectations of planners and groups alike. Business opportunities mix with cultural events and outdoor adventures beckon at every turn of the road. It’s little wonder so many enjoy meeting in the state.