by Rachel Juarez-Carr | October 01, 2015

Whether your group aims to get down to business or get away from it all, New England has a destination that will hit the mark. The region's varied offerings include landscapes that have inspired writers and artists for centuries and meeting venues with the space and technological capabilities to pack in convention-goers.

Time and again, these Northeastern states stand ready to host association events exactly as planners envision them.

Massachusetts: Ready to Impress

Think of Boston, and you'll probably picture historic architecture and heritage sites. But for something off the beaten path, the 34 Boston Harbor Islands are a nearby option, just minutes from downtown and home to abundant birdlife, beaches and the nation's oldest lighthouse. Three islands can host private group events, including Thompson Island, which has a conference center and outdoor tented space for up to 2,000.

Of course, the city's biggest convention facilities continue to be some of its most frequently used. The 2.1 million-square-foot Boston Convention & Exhibition Center has 516,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 40,020-square-foot ballroom. A highly anticipated, $1 billion expansion of the center was approved by the state legislature last year but bonds must still be approved by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has put the project on hold until Massachusetts Convention Center Authority board members can analyze the project's viability in the marketplace.

Also making recent headlines was the spring opening of the 68,000-square-foot Edward M. Kennedy Institute on the University of Massachusetts/Boston campus. The new facility boasts three classrooms, a lobby for up to 800 people and, its centerpiece, a full-scale representation of the U.S. Senate chamber in Washington, D.C. Next door, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum offers event space for up to 1,000 people, and the nearby Commonwealth Museum, home to one of the original copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, welcomes special events of up to 1,100.

Other event venues include the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in the Back Bay and the Seaport Boston Hotel & World Trade Center.

Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, home to Major League Baseball's Red Sox and the NFL's Patriots, respectively, both offer special-event space and group tours. Other spaces include the historic Boston Public Library's McKim Building in Copley Square or the Legoland Discovery Center, which opened last year in the suburb of Somerville.

New hotels include the 178-room Hilton Garden Inn/Boston Logan Airport, with event space for up to 265; the 238-room Godfrey/Boston, scheduled to open this fall off of Boston Common with an executive meeting room; the 180-room Element/Boston Seaport, scheduled to open January 14 with 850 square feet of function space; and the 330-room Aloft/Boston Waterfront, expected to open February 4 with 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

In Kenmore Square, Hotel Commonwealth is undergoing an expansion project that is adding a new wing with 96 guest rooms; the existing 149 guest rooms were all updated last year and three new suites were added. In addition, the property is adding 6,000 square feet of new meeting space. The project is expected to wrap up this fall. The Loews/Boston and the Boston Park Plaza both recently completed significant, multimillion-dollar renovations, while guest rooms at the Hyatt/Boston Harbor and the Hyatt Regency/Downtown have all recently been updated.

Many large groups each year choose Boston to host their events. Recent organizations to visit have included the American Diabetes Association (booking 49,115 room nights), the Heart Rhythm Society (26,520 room nights) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (25,080 room nights). In March, the United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology brought more than 5,000 attendees to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center for its annual meeting. According to Nancy West, the group's meeting planner, Boston scores highly as a host city thanks to its location and availability of flights, as well as being a walkable destination. Boston's restaurants and shopping were also popular with attendees, she said.

Even more recently, in July the city welcomed the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual convention, which attracted more than 9,000 attendees. Sessions were held at the BCEC, and the adjacent Westin/Boston Waterfront served as convention headquarters, with 15 hotels used for overflow. "We had various alumni receptions off-site, and our incoming president had a party for his friends and family off-site, but the biggest event was our Beach Boys concert at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. It was a super event, and we rocked with almost 3,000 people," said Deidre Ross, the group's convention and meeting director.

Other parts of the greater metro area have added or improved their meeting-hotel properties. Just across the Charles River, in Cambridge, the 75-room Porter Square Hotel is expected to open this fall, and the 150-room AC/Cambridge plans to debut next summer. The Sheraton Commander Hotel has remodeled its public spaces and is currently improving guest rooms, and the Hyatt Regency/Cambridge is undergoing a $3.5 million lobby and meeting-space renovation, expected to finish this fall. Another 15 miles southwest, in Needham, the Sheraton/Needham completed a substantial renovation in 2013, which included its indoor event space. And in Framingham, the Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center can accommodate up to 1,200 in its renovated event space.

Northwest of Boston, in Burlington, the Boston Marriott Burlington has benefited from a major renovation, and another 20 miles northeast, in Danvers, the DoubleTree by Hilton/Boston-North Shore features upgraded meeting space that can host gatherings of up to 1,400.

Just 40 miles south of Boston, planners are casting a new eye on historic Plymouth for retreats and conferences. The Mirbeau Inn & Spa at The Pinehills opened last summer with 50 guest rooms and event space for up to 250. Attendees can experience 17th-century living history-both Native and English-at the Plimoth Plantation, which organizes themed events for up to 220. Bigger groups (up to 500) can turn to the Radisson/Plymouth Harbor, the largest venue in the area. About 15 miles inland, in Wareham, the TownPlace Suites by Marriott/Wareham-Buzzards Bay opened in April with 85 guest rooms and event space for up to 400 people.

It's not much farther to the vacation hub of Cape Cod. Notable venues include the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club in Harwich and the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis, which is adding a water park, expected to open next summer. An up-and-coming option is the 125-room Fairfield Inn & Suites/Cape Cod-Hyannis, expected to open in January with event space for up to 60.

On Martha's Vineyard, the Harbor View Hotel has several indoor meeting rooms as well as well as outdoor, oceanview space and can host groups of up to 200. Also local is the Winnetu Oceanside Resort, whose renovated restaurant, now called the Dunes, can host up to 145. It also offers a free ferry service to and from its sister resort on Nantucket, the Nantucket Hotel & Resort.

In central Massachusetts, Worcester is not only one of the largest cities in the state but in the region. Its DCU Convention Center has more than 150,000 square feet of space, or groups can head to historic Mechanics Hall, a cultural venue that can host up to 1,600 people.

Fifty miles west, in Springfield, the major event space is the 100,000-square-foot MassMutual Center, which began a $3.2 million technology upgrade this summer that will update the facility, in part, with new LED signage. Events that were recently held at MassMutual were the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium and the National Square Dance Convention. Down the block is the updated Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place. And construction recently began downtown on the $800 million MGM/Springfield entertainment complex, scheduled for completion in 2017; plans include a 250-room hotel, gaming space and 15 restaurants and shops. Late this month, the 87-room Hampton Inn/Downtown is scheduled to open with a 550-square-foot conference room.

Springfield has several attractions that double as event venues. Examples include the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the center of the Springfield Museums campus. Large conventions and trade shows are regularly held in West Springfield at the Eastern States Exposition. Not far away, the Comfort Inn and Clarion have undergone renovations.

Rhode Island: Open-air Events

The smallest of states is big on the great outdoors, with more than 400 miles of coastline and plenty of natural spaces for events. Fancy a clambake? In Bristol, overlooking Narragansett Bay, the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum has 33 acres of space that can host outdoor parties of up to 225.

Equally attractive is the state capital, Providence, half an hour to the north. First choice for many meeting planners is the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex. The vast facility includes the Rhode Island Convention Center, the Dunkin' Donuts Center and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, home to the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Festival Ballet Providence. Additional local options include the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, which can host groups of up to 250, and the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, with space for up to 5,000 people.

The city has hosted several organizations of late including a conference of SMART: the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers, which drew 1,100 attendees. In addition to making use of the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Omni and Biltmore hotels during their stay, the group also held a golf tournament at the Cranston Country Club and a clambake on the Rhode Island State House lawn.

"It's a very friendly and walkable town, with many options for dining, shopping and entertainment," said Daniel Lough, director of meeting management, education and training for the SMART Union Transportation Division. "I'd love to bring our group back to Providence."

Another group that came to Providence was the Society of Wetland Scientists, which held its annual meeting in town in June at the convention center and Omni with 675 members. "The convention center was a nice fit for the size of this meeting, and it was also convenient that the convention center and Omni were downtown near a variety of shops and restaurants or just a short drive to local wetlands," said Brittany Marsala Olson, its meetings and events manager. "Many of our members enjoy exploring the local wetlands, and a number of field trips were organized." Other off-site functions included a welcome reception at the Dorrance restaurant, a college-student mixer at the Union Station Brewery and, for its closing, an excursion to visit art galleries in Bristol and Warren.

The American Orthopaedic Association also enjoyed its visit to Providence. The group held its 128th annual meeting in town with about 1,000 attendees. "Providence and Newport are both very beautiful and historic," said Kathy Sinnen, meetings and fellowships coordinator. "The atmosphere, paired with many wonderful dining options, was very appealing, and there's a lot to do."

Two local hotels have undergone significant upgrades recently: The Providence Biltmore, now part of Hilton's Curio Collection, was updated with a $14 million renovation, and the Renaissance/Providence offers improved public spaces and guest rooms.

Down in Rhode Island's southwestern South County, the Ocean House in Westerly has a private beach for events of up to 800 and a new, all-suite villa, the Watch Hill Inn. There's 5,000 square feet of event space at its 31-room sister property, the Weekapaug Inn, too.

Connecticut: The Center of Things

When it comes to getting together, Connecticut is convenient for many: More than 23.5 million people live within a two-hour drive of Hartford, the state capital. Or planners can take their pick from a variety of landscapes-the ocean or the mountains-both of which are also within easy reach of the masses.

The state's cultural landscape attracts groups, too. The National Indian Education Association named Hartford the host city for its 2018 annual convention and trade show, an event that is expected to bring more than 1,200 attendees and 100 exhibitors to town for at least three days. The state's Native American communities played a major part in attracting the event, according to Ahniwake Rose, the group's executive director: "Home to the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Nation, Connecticut will provide the NIEA an exciting opportunity to partner with local tribes and with the larger tribal community of the United South and Eastern Tribes." Other groups that have recently met in town include the Museum Store Association and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

The 540,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center is in Hartford, as is the 16,000-seat XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center). Other event spaces include the Connecticut Science Center and Marquee Events & Catering. In hotel news, the Marriott Hartford Downtown, connected to the convention center, is currently being renovated, the Residence Inn/Hartford Downtown was renovated last year and the former Holiday Inn Express is now a Best Western.

In Bristol, to the southwest, the amusement park Lake Compounce has event space for up to 10,000. In nearby Southington, a Homewood Suites by Hilton opened last winter with 110 guest rooms and 1,000 square feet of meeting space. Farther west, in Washington, groups can hide away at the Mayflower Grace, which is set on 58 acres and offers a 20,000-square-foot spa, a renovated dining room and tap room, and event space for up to 50 people.

East of Bristol, near Portland, is the 12,000-square-foot St. Clements Castle. Smaller groups can be accommodated in nearby Cromwell at the recently renovated Courtyard by Marriott.

In Mystic, an historic seaport awaits groups with a maritime museum with space for up to 500 and a 75-passenger steamboat that heads down to Fishers Island Sound. Mystic Aquarium also welcomes special events-up to 350 indoors or up to 700 outdoors-and across the street, the Mystic Hilton completed a guest-room renovation this summer. Nearby, the Foxwoods Resort Casino recently gained a new neighbor, the $129 million, 315,000-square-foot Tanger Outlets mall (conveniently connected to the casino).

About 18 miles inland, near Uncasville, the Mohegan Sun casino resort is planning a $120 million expansion, with a new, 400-room hotel tower expected to be completed by next fall.

In coastal Old Saybrook, the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa can host groups of up to 300. Thirty miles west, Yale University in New Haven offers numerous campus event venues. In Norwalk, InterContinental's new wellness-focused Even hotel brand debuted last year with the 129-room Even/Norwalk. Twenty miles north, in Danbury, renovations have been completed at the Ethan Allen Hotel, and construction is expected to begin soon on a new Hotel Zero Degrees with 111 guest rooms, a 100-seat restaurant and a 120-seat banquet facility.

Vermont: Bringing Back Focus

An abundance of greenery and sense of seclusion are just two of the main reasons groups hightail it to Vermont for their meetings and retreats. Organizations who have been drawn recently to the nation's second-least populous state include the New England Water Works Association and the Northeast Food & Drug Officials Association, whose annual education conference was held in May at the Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center in Burlington. "The site was chosen because it's centrally located for attendees from participating Northeastern states," said Patricia Kaczynski, its executive director, "but also, the state of Vermont at that time of season is absolutely beautiful, which might prompt conference participants to consider it as a future vacation destination."

As the state's biggest city, Burlington has a plethora of spaces for special events including the LEED-certified ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center. Two major meeting hotels have both benefited from multimillion-dollar renovations in recent years: the aforementioned Sheraton/Burlington, which is located close to the University of Vermont, and the Hilton/Burlington, which overlooks Lake Champlain. If attendees are planning to get out and explore, they can take to the 14-mile Island Line Trail, which skirts the lakefront.

Vermont's mountain resort towns are also ideal for group getaways. In the village of Stowe, popular meeting resorts include the Stowe Mountain Resort, the Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa and the Topnotch Resort.

The National Association of State Budget Officers held its 70th annual meeting in August in Stowe with 200 attendees and guests. "While flights can be a little pricey, (members from) lots of states can easily drive to the area, and many of Vermont's great attractions are within a short distance of the meeting venues, making networking excursions a breeze," said Lauren Cummings, its director of member relations and conferences. "If I had to pick one thing that stood out, though, it was the food. Attendees continually remarked about how fresh the ingredients were, from the hotel to restaurants to off-site caterers."

Head south about 70 miles and you'll reach the state's highest slopes, at Killington. At the base of the resort is the Killington Grand Resort Hotel. Southeast of Killington, in Woodstock, the Woodstock Inn & Resort has conference space for up to 300. About half an hour's drive south of Woodstock is Brownsville, where the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Ascutney Mountain Resort has a movie theater, common areas, villas and two meeting rooms.

New Hampshire: Into the Woods

The Granite State is the nation's second-most forested (after Maine), which means that you're never far from natural respite, even in city settings like Concord, the state capital, or Manchester, which dominates the meetings scene with some of New Hampshire's largest venues. Notable are the Radisson/Manchester Downtown, the Verizon Wireless Arena and the SEE Science Center.

A hundred miles to the north, in Bretton Woods, is the Omni Mount Washington Resort, set on more than 450 acres. Fifteen miles northwest, in Whitefield, is the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa.

Farther northwest, in Bartlett, the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel sits at the base of Bear Peak. Carry on 10 miles more and you'll reach North Conway, where the White Mountain Hotel and the Red Jacket Mountain View Grand Hotel can host special events for groups of up to 120 and 400, respectively.

Groups that prefer waterfront destinations have a few notable options. In Portsmouth, on the Atlantic Coast, the Sheraton/Portsmouth Harborside offers views of the Piscataqua River. In the central Lakes Region is the Margate Resort in Laconia. Ten miles north, on Meredith Bay, the Inns & Spa at Mill Falls in the town of Meredith also caters to groups.

An hour west, the town of Hanover is home to Dartmouth College. On campus, the Hanover Inn has meeting space, including a 3,933-square-foot ballroom.

Maine: Mother Nature's Marvels

From the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay to Acadia National Park, Maine is packed with magnificent examples of natural beauty. Portland, the state's largest city, is home to the downtown Cross Insurance Arena (formerly the Cumberland Civic Center, and recently the recipient of $30 million in upgrades) and the nearby Westin/Portland Harborview, which reopened in 2013 after a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion. A newcomer is the 110-room Press Hotel, which opened in June in the former home of the Portland Press Herald newspaper; the property has a 65-seat restaurant and five meeting spaces, the largest of which can accommodate up to 130 people.

Ten miles off the coast, the award-winning Chebeague Island Inn on Chebeague Island is a historic choice; the property has been welcoming guests since the 1880s and today it can host board meetings of up to 20. Less than an hour north of Portland is Lewiston, where a new 93-room Hampton Inn has event space for up to 40 people. For off-site functions, the Franco Center for Heritage & the Performing Arts has space for up to 500.

Head north up the coast to Bangor, and you'll find the Cross Insurance Center, with 18 meeting rooms, an 8,000-seat arena and 4,500 square feet of pre-function space. Forty miles south, overlooking Penobscot Bay, is the 387-acre Point Lookout Resort & Conference Center in Northport.

Near Acadia National Park, the top Bar Harbor meeting spot is the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Conference Center, with event facilities for up to 400, while a new seasonal option (open from May 1 through October 31) is the 103-room Hampton Inn, with a 545-square-foot boardroom. Over at Winter Harbor, connected to Bar Harbor by a free ferry in summer, the Schoodic Institute can host special events of up to 300 and has overnight accommodations for up to 100.

Setting New Standards

If your association is looking to change up the traditional meeting in which all that attendees see are the four walls of the conference room, New England offers a chance to mix things up and change the standard. Give attendees the chance to experience a summer sunset on Cape Cod or in historic Newport, the changing fall leaves of the Connecticut Berkshires, a winter ski getaway at a Vermont or New Hampshire resort, or spring near a rushing Maine river, and they'll see meetings in a whole new light.