When eyeing sites for their next business event and incentive programme, companies inevitably pick a destination with a “zing” that will spark excitement and anticipation among the participants.
The Golden State looms so large in popular culture that – no matter how tenuous – nearly everyone on the planet has an emotional connection to it. California exudes so much of the zeitgeist of contemporary life that it never goes out of fashion. No wonder an invitation to the land of eternal sunshine always attracts a good attendance.
Imbibing the spirit of the times in two of the great cities of the US West Coast could inspire new ideas for your company’s next big thing, or could generate a wellspring of goodwill from your VIP clients. With the weak dollar, this is perhaps one of the best times to plan a business event in California.
As the the world’s entertainment mecca, Los Angeles is an irresistible draw for millions of visitors who are eager to see where the celluloid world comes to life.
“LA has that extra cache of being a destination that everyone wants to visit,” says Carol Martinez, associate vice-president of the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau – popularly known as LA Inc – which promotes the city as a destination for business meetings and conventions both locally and abroad.
Meeting planners and corporate event organisers are offered a treasure-chest of unique venues, attractions and activities, as well as complete custom-made itineraries designed to inspire a company’s team spirit and enhance its brand image.
When in LA, it is difficult to frame events that do not tap to the built-in lustre provided by its tinsel town roots. And indeed, companies – particularly those hosting events in the city for the first time – are expected, even by their guests, to host an event that has a Hollywood connection.
“Parties can be arranged on backlots of television and movie studios such as Universal, Sony, Warner Brothers, NBC and Paramount. At the LA Center Studios, the terrace views are of the famed Downtown LA skyline,” Martinez says. “As home of the entertainment industry, we know how to put on spectacular special events and parties to suit a company’s needs – whether it be lavish, elegant or wacky. Experts at all major hotels and attractions will do all the hard work. What’s more, Wolfgang Puck and other celebrity chefs have catering divisions that can be engaged to cater for meetings and corporate events.”
Ed Curry, director of sales and marketing, The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena, which is located just 24km from Hollywood, observes that the lure of the movies is simply irresistible to many corporate clients.
“Recently, our team turned the top of our parking structure into a drive-in movie theme reception, complete with a red carpet, classic cars and a movie showing.”
Events can be timed around the awards season when you can treat your delegates to live presentations of award ceremonies like the Emmys or Grammys.
“Downtown LA and Hollywood have undergone recent and major improvements that make them excellent choices for groups,” Martinez says.
The 368,000 square-metre LA Live, which is adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center and STAPLES Center, is bringing new life to downtown LA. Opened last October, the complex’s 7,100-seater Nokia Theatre is already a top performance venue with sold-out shows. Aside from other soon-to-open facilities such as an ESPN broadcast studio, a 15-screen theatre, Club Nokia and the Grammy Museum, LA Live will be the site of the new JW Marriott and Ritz- Carlton hotels, the combined 1,000-room capacity of which is expected to draw more business meetings and events into the once neglected city centre.
Meanwhile, Hollywood is not the only thing that can lend a corporate event with celebrity wattage. International sports connection can give any teambuilding and incentive activity the requisite excitement and adrenaline booster.
“The Rose Bowl, which was the site of the 1984 Olympics and home of the annual Rose Bowl Game, is a unique venue. Groups can take over this amazing stadium, using the scoreboards, lights and fireworks to create once in a lifetime experiences,” Curry says.
If scouring the movie theme and amusement parks (Universal Studios and Disneyland spring to mind), strolling down the Walk of Fame and shopping in Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are not an option, watching a major league baseball game at the Dodger Stadium or a Galaxy soccer match at the Home Depot Center might make the cut.
At the STAPLES Center, companies can get tickets to live NBA games and see the Lakers, Clippers and Sparks in action. Company-hosted dinners for 500 and cocktails for 100 while watching games from private skyboxes can be arranged.
Los Angeles has more to offer than the usual suspects. It is a multi-faceted place with a rich cultural, historical, natural and culinary heritage to explore. There is the tour at the Mission San Fernando Rey De Espana, founded in 1797, which was one of the chain of outposts built by Spain to convert native peoples to Christianity. The coastlines of LA and San Francisco are dotted with these landmarks. Or visit Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the US, which features museums like Travel Town and Autry National Center, golf courses, pony and train rides as well as hiking trails. On its grounds is the Griffith Observatory that has recently completed a US$93-million major renovation.
Another non-Hollywood option is an event or a visit at the San Antonio Winery & Restaurant, one of LA’s largest operating wineries and restaurants. Business meetings and corporate parties can include a tour, wine tasting, Italian- or California-style lunch or dinner. And the beach cities of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey offer the opportunities for sailing and other water sports.
LA has quaint, less-obvious choices for themes, activities and venues for companies to put together unique and memorable events.
The city by the bay has so captivated modern American artists that it has been immortalised in music and canvas film. Much like Los Angeles, it has a diverse, multiracial community, but the city known for the Golden Gate Bridge has its own unique charm and rhythm.
Companies in search of iconic backdrops for their events can certainly find them here. Landmarks abound from Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf to its famous cable car.
According to Kathryn Horton, senior director of convention events and services at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, many of these landmarks remain very popular among visiting companies that plan their offsite meetings. Must-do activities usually include a cruise by the bay on a powerboat, a sailboat, a catamaran, or a kayak; a day in the wine country arriving by boat or by helicopter; a walk across the Golden Bridge; and an eating tour around the Ferry Building.
Unusual and creative programmes have also been seen in recent years such as a tasting tour of San Francisco’s chocolate factories and retail shops and the behind-the-scene baseball tours of AT&T Park.
“We are actually encouraging people to look at areas beyond the Bridge. There are the various San Francisco neighbourhoods – no two neighbourhoods are alike and each deserves a closer look,” she says.
Indeed, to name a few, the county’s Chinatown is the oldest and one of the largest in the US, Haight-Ashbury is famous as a Victorian district and for its bohemian culture, and Silicon Valley is renowned as the capital of the IT revolution.
Also, the wine country offers activities for both leisure and corporate travellers beyond the traditional wine tasting.
The city of Napa hosts the Napa Valley Wine Train and Copia, a combination of wine museum, gallery and café. Sonoma is equally appealing with its winery tours, vintage California Mission and roadside fruit stands. Santa Rosa is the region’s largest town.
Bicycling past the vineyards or ballooning over them adds a nicely rounded quality to a visit. Lake County to the north boasts majestic Clear Lake as its centerpiece and Mendocino offers wine country by the sea.
“Event organisers will see that we also have exciting new venues such as Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Filmore Jazz District and the California Academy of Sciences. And as we become a foremost green destination, we offer ‘green itineraries’ and other tools and ideas to help companies who want to create a green experience in San Francisco,” says Horton.
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The Los Angeles International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport serve as the main gateways to the US West Coast.
Major international airlines link both American cities to destinations worldwide while US domestic carriers provide connecting flights that take visitors to other US states and cities.
California, in general, enjoys Mediterranean-type weather – warm, dry summers, and mild, wet winters.
Los Angeles is a land of sunshine blessed by clear blue skies for around 325 days a year. Average high temperature runs from 15.6°C in the winter months to 26.7 °C in summer. Rainstorms come through from November to March, dropping roughly two to four inches per month.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, late summer and early fall are typically the warmest and driest, with highs in the 21.1 °C and 26.7 °C.
November through April brings rain and cooler temperatures. Days in May, June and July often begin and end with fog, which can clear mid-day.
While English is the national language, both cities are melting pots of different races. Multilingual speakers abound in these parts.
Spanish is widely spoken due to a large Hispanic population. Asian languages are also spoken prominently with the strong presence of native speakers from China, South Korea, the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam among others.
A valid US visa is a requirement. Citizens of certain countries visiting the US for 90 days or less can enter the country without a visa under the Visa Waiver Programme.
Check www.unitedstatesvisas.gov for more information.
LOS ANGELES 3 DAY ITINERARY
• A tour of Our Lady of Angels Cathedral, the largest Cathedral in the US
• A tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Even better – attend an LA Philharmonic concert there
• Lunch or dinner at Ciudad
• Hollywood & Highland complex
• A backstage tour of Kodak Theatre
• Grauman’s Chinese footprints and behind-the-scenes tour
• Special walking tour of Hollywood and Hollywood Museum
• In season – special seats at Hollywood Bowl
• One or more world-class museums: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Getty Center, Getty Villa, Hammer Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum
• Lunch at Farmers Market (near LACMA) with shopping at adjacent Grove. The Grove has valet parking, concierge and other special treats.
• Finish at a day spa such as Aqua Star Spa, Bliss LA, Luxe Spa – dozens to choose from
Prepared by LA Inc
Mix looks at a small selection of properties that each offer a special feature event planners can integrate into their programme
Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens
The former New Otani Hotel & Gardens, features a 2,023sqm rooftop “Japanese Garden in the Sky” to offer guests a truly Zen experience. Soaring 21 stories into the Downtown LA skyline, the hotel continues to maintain its status as a Little Tokyo favourite.
The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena
Sitting at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, the hotel is surrounded by a spectacular landscape. When the Langham hotel group bought the hotel in 2007, US$25 million went toward renovation of the property. The hotel has 380 guestrooms and suites, including Cottages situated throughout the grounds, outdoor pool and whirlpool, three lighted tennis courts, bike riding and nearby golf, a full-service spa and fitness centre, and more than 4.645sqm of indoor and outdoor event space.
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
The soon-to-be-opened hotel has a sleek and cosmopolitan look that is the hallmark of its designer Phillip Starck. The hotel promises a luxurious and sophisticated hospitality in all its 297 guestrooms, 32 of which are non-allergen “pure” rooms.
Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate
Opened in June, this 142-room property is the new kid on the block. Set within the Golden Gate National Parks at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge near Sausalito, Cavallo Point is San Francisco Bay’s first national park lodge. There is 1,301sqm of indoor meeting space, 1,394sqm of outdoor meeting space and a full-service 1,022sqm Healing Arts Center & Spa.
Twain shall meet
Hotel Mark Twain
Remodeling of the 118 guestrooms and public areas began in January 2007 and will continue through spring 2009. Completed remodeling includes all new carpeting in guestrooms, new bedding, ceiling fans, iPod docking stations, flat panel TVs, wireless internet and a new digital entertainment system. Fish & Farm, specialising in local new American seafood and artisan meats, opened in the autumn of 2007. Two private event rooms are now completely renovated and can accommodate small meetings or private dining.
San Francisco Marriott
A stone’s throw away from the Moscone Center, the 1,500 room hotel has a new look with the complete redesign of all of the public spaces on the lobby level to create a warm and inviting atmosphere ready for intimateimpromptu business meetings and social appointments. A stylish yet casual lobby bar is now open to serve guests. The second floor (Atrium level) will also be renovated and ten small meeting rooms will be added.
The Stanford Court, A Renaissance Hotel
This historic 393-room property sits on the site where Leland Stanford, governor of California and founder of Stanford University, built his grand mansion in 1876. A major element of the hotel’s transformation is the conversion of much of the first floor to a 140-seat restaurant, Aurea. The re-designed sixth floor will become a full-service Club Lounge, available to guests staying on the designated Club Levels on floors six through eight.
Hotel Whitcomb – San Francisco
This 1910 South of Market (SOMA) building served as City Hall in the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire and has a rich historical and architectural legacy. Lobby and public space adornments include Tiffany glass, Italian marble and Austrian crystal chandeliers. It has 1,579sqm of meeting space.