by Linda Hayes | June 01, 2017

Amid the stunning natural settings of Utah, associations will find it easy to enjoy mindful meetings in which their attendees are focused on the present, contemplating pressing objectives, generating new ideas and getting to know colleagues.

This is facilitated by thoughtfully designed conference centers and the help of savvy local destination management organizations, to be sure, but the grandeur of red-rock desert formations and snow-covered mountains also has a way of keeping everyone in the here and now. As event planners will attest, potential is great in the Beehive State.

Salt Lake City & Northern Utah: Energizing Events

Utah’s high-elevation capital, Salt Lake City, offers groups the ultimate combination of top meeting venues, accommodations for all tastes and budgets, and a wealth of outdoor activities ranging from biking around town to hiking and skiing in the nearby mountains. The culturally inclined can take advantage of a number of options, such as theatrical events, musical performances, arts festivals and historical museum exhibitions. And of course, the Great Salt Lake is a wonder to behold, this year with elevated water levels (and, as a result, more boating possibilities) thanks to above-average snowfall this winter.

Organizations that have held gatherings in the area of late include the National Association of College Stores, the Association for Computing Machinery and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which held its annual meeting at the LEED-certified Salt Palace Convention Center, which offers 679,000 square feet of space.

Deb Hanson, director of meetings and exhibits for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, noted the downtown center’s proximity to all kinds of hotels and restaurants. She also found the city to be “full of friendly, vibrant people eager to share their lifestyle and appreciation for the great outdoors with you.”

Other major event venues in Salt Lake City include the 20,000-seat Vivint Smart Home Arena, which recently began a $125 million renovation; the Gallivan Center, with space for up to 10,000 people; and the Salt Lake Center for the Arts, which now operates four venues including the 2,700-seat Abravanel Hall and the George S. & Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, which debuted in October with a 2,500-seat hall, a grand lobby, a restaurant and smaller lounge and studio spaces. At the University of Utah, the gold LEED–certified Natural History Museum of Utah can accommodate up to 1,500 people.

Within the city’s convention district, there are more than 7,500 hotel rooms. Adjacent to the Salt Palace is the Holiday Inn Express, which benefited from a $10 million renovation two years ago, and just down the block is the historic Peery Hotel, which wrapped up its own major renovation in the fall. Looking forward to 2018, a 164-room AC Hotel is expected to open a few blocks southwest of the convention center with meeting space. Groups can also head east of the center to the newly redeveloped Regent Street, now featuring restaurants, shops and a public plaza.

Four miles west of downtown, Salt Lake City International Airport is undergoing a $2.9 billion expansion and improvement project. From the airport, attendees can hop the TRAX light rail for direct service to the city center in 20 minutes. And once in town, wheeling around the city is easy and affordable thanks to the nonprofit GREENbike share program, now a year-round service with more than two dozen stations downtown and a $7 day pass.

Just 30 miles southeast of the airport, the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort is a picturesque place for retreats, nestled between the granite peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The resort’s latest is the year-old Summit at Snowbird, a 23,000-square-foot restaurant located atop the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak.

North of Salt Lake, the fast-growing city of Ogden features a strong, diversified economy and a rich “mountain-to-metro” culture that balances shopping and nightlife with outdoor adventures. Top downtown meeting venues include the connected Eccles Conference Center & Peery’s Egyptian Theater, which offer space for up to 1,500 and 800, respectively. Two blocks away, a mixed-use development called The Junction is home to the 125,000-square-foot Salomon Center, a recreation facility with team-building activities and a 13-screen megaplex theater that welcomes groups.

Park City & Deer Valley: Great Escapes

About 35 miles east of Salt Lake City International Airport, Park City earned its reputation as a world-class host during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Its capabilities were further reinforced with Vail Resorts’ $50 million merger of the Park City Mountain and Canyons resorts two years ago to form the nation’s largest ski resort, now called the Park City Mountain Resort. The annual Sundance Film Festival is still going strong after three decades, and with some 125,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 4,000 guest rooms, association events are easily accommodated.

The Association of Credit & Collection Professionals International Leadership Symposium was held in town early this year. Other groups that have held events recently in Park City include the Rocky Mountain Vascular Society, the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies and the American Network of Community Options & Resources.

In hotel news, the Grand Summit Hotel, located in Canyons Village, closed in April to undergo a $15 million renovation that will remodel all guest suites and public and conference spaces; upon completion, scheduled for July, it will be reflagged as a RockResorts property. The Park City Peaks Hotel is undergoing a complete refurbishment of its guest rooms and meeting space and a new restaurant opened in January. On Main Street, the intimate Imperial Hotel (formerly the Imperial House), which dates back to 1904, has been refurbished and now welcomes meetings. To the north, near Wanship, the Lodge at Blue Sky is scheduled to open in late 2018 as an Auberge Resort; plans include 46 guest rooms, additional luxury tents, a restaurant and a spa.

Just south of Park City, the mountain resort area of Deer Valley welcomes groups with skiing, hiking, mountain biking, concerts at its Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater and a variety of upscale accommodations and meeting space. The Stein Eriksen Lodge has been lauded for its superb customer service and high-end, slopeside accommodation. It offers event space for upwards of 1,000 people and is undergoing an enhancement project expected to wrap up in November. Also popular is the Montage/Deer Valley, where more unique gathering options include a luxe slopeside yurt, a pub with a bowling alley or around an interactive chef’s table.

The Utah Valley: Possibilities Aplenty

Thirty miles south of Salt Lake City, the Utah Valley is a growing meetings destination, beloved for its backdrop against the Wasatch Range, its plentitude of recreational options, a full year-round calendar of programing and restaurant debuts that can be easily incorporated into a group’s agenda.

In Lehi, the nonprofit Thanksgiving Point continues to be a popular pick. It offers indoor meeting space for up to 1,000 and outdoor space for up to 5,000 as well as themed gardens, museums, a shopping emporium and one of the state’s biggest golf clubs.

Farther south, in Orem, Utah Valley University’s campus options include the UCCU Center, with seating for up to 8,500 people and 65,000 square feet of arena space, and the Sorensen Student Center, with a 10,384-square-foot ballroom. In the mountains to the northeast, Robert Redford’s 5,000-acre Sundance Mountain Resort in Sundance offers fine rustic accommodations for groups as well as 12,000 square feet of event space in a striking canyon setting.

In Provo, business and pleasure are both highly valued; in fact, in national polls, the metro area is often ranked as one of the most desirable places to live, work and play. Top meeting venues include the 160,000-square-foot Provo Recreation Center; the silver LEED–certified Utah Valley Convention Center, with 52,000 square feet of space; and Brigham Young University’s BYU Conference Center, with 29 meeting rooms.

St. George & Cedar City: Monumental Meccas

Few attendees will want to turn down a visit to the iconic Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, known for their red-rock splendor. Both are easily accessed via St. George, the hub of southern Utah and a destination in its own right.

Event planners will find that the all-inclusive Dixie Convention Center meets the needs of most groups (it can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees). Features include a 46,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall and some 32,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. Ten miles south of downtown, St. George Regional Airport serves visitors with nonstop flights to Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix.

Cedar City, 50 miles to the northeast, is also ideally located amid the area’s natural attractions, notably Zion’s Kolob Canyons and Cedar Breaks National Monument. June through October, the famed Utah Shakespeare Festival at Southern Utah University features both Elizabethan and contemporary productions as well as literary seminars, classes and backstage tours. It’s quite the well-rounded package when paired with the area’s signature biking and hiking trails.

Moab: Active Retreat Grounds

A year-round, high-desert destination, the central Utah playground that is Moab tends to draw athletic-minded crowds. Those same attributes also make the area a popular active retreat destination for groups, which take advantage of the trip to enjoy nearby national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park and the Colorado River. Downtown, the Moab Adventure Center organizes guided hiking, horseback, Jeep and flight tours and offers gear, equipment and clothing rentals. Northwest of town, Canyonlands Field is the closest airport, with direct flights from Salt Lake City and Denver.

Singular meeting venues in town include the Old Spanish Trail Arena, with 24,000 square feet of indoor space; the Moab Arts & Recreation Center, with five spaces, the largest of which can host up to 100 people; and the historic, 289-seat Star Hall. Additionally, tour operator Canyonlands by Night & Day has a 4,140-square-foot building that can be used for group events. In September, a 99-room SpringHill Suites Marriott is scheduled to open with meeting space for up to 175 people.

Greater Expectations

No matter what your association aspires to at its next meeting, arriving at a wondrously scenic site ensures that an event gets off to a good start. Full of destinations that both inspire individuals and promote group growth, few states reward everyone’s great expectations as consistently and naturally as Utah.