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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

A Change of Seasons

One destination’s peak season is another city’s offseason. Scorching summer is a slow time in a desert destination, but peak season for seaside cities and tourist towns near national parks.

No matter the destination, holding a meeting during the offseason means more availability and more flexibility, lower hotel rates and higher interest from properties. Here are seven destinations to consider for an offseason event.

Whitefish, Montana

As both the western gateway to Glacier National Park and a popular ski destination, Whitefish, Montana, has a peak season, a medium season and two slow seasons. The busiest time of year is typically mid-June through mid-September as visitors pack roads, parking lots and the park itself. In winter, the slopes at Whitefish Mountain Resort bring in snow devotees.

“We pick up a little bit in the winter, but nothing like in the summer,” said Dan Hansen, sales and marketing manager for the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That means the slow seasons are late September and October, as well as April and early May. In addition to being the most cost-effective, those times offer planners more flexibility to reserve large room blocks and book meeting space at properties like the Lodge at Whitefish Lake and Grouse Mountain Lodge, which have about 25,000 square feet of function space between them.

Fall and spring also offer more flexibility for activities. Groups can go on hikes to view the golden larch in the fall or arrange for guided mountain bike trips at Whitefish Bike Retreat, including fat biking in the snow. At Bar W Guest Ranch, attendees can go horseback riding, learn barrel racing, try skeet shooting, enjoy a Western-style barbecue dinner or take sleigh rides in the winter.

Before snow carpets the Big Mountain, Whitefish Mountain Resort is open and available for events. Attendees can ride the chairlift to the newly renovated Summit House for a meeting with views of Canada. Snow Bear Chalets — three new luxury, slope-side treehouses — work well for corporate retreats, and the same developers are building the Residences at Snow Bear next door, with several condominiums that will offer even more space. The resort also has mountaintop zip lines, an aerial adventure park and two alpine slides.

Scottsdale, Arizona

In Scottsdale, Arizona, slow season is “definitely in the summertime, but when temperatures go up, rates go down,” said Kelli Blubaum, vice president of convention sales and services for Experience Scottsdale.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, planners and their attendees can take advantage of Scottsdale’s resort product and “have a five-diamond experience at a three-diamond price.”

Planners find more availability and more flexibility in the summer. More properties are able to bid, more off-site venues are available, and planners have their pick of transportation options. Hotel properties are also more flexible on terms and concessions, Blubaum said.

From the 180-room Mountain Shadows Resort to the 645-room Phoenician, Scottsdale has plenty of properties that allow planners to host a program without ever interacting with the elements and still offer views of the desert, with air-conditioned meeting spaces, guest rooms and dining options all under one roof.

In summer, resorts also amp up their creative programming with dive-in movies, boozy snow cones and live entertainment by the pool, which meeting planners can use to their advantage.

In May 2018, Experience Scottsdale launched a rebate program that offers planners up to a $5,000 rebate if they book a summer meeting.

“It’s still really new, but it’s moving the needle on getting groups to book in the summertime,” Blubaum said. “Sometimes it’s just getting them to think about three weeks earlier or three weeks later.”

Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean everyone has to stay inside. Groups can go for sunrise hikes or sunup tee times, try morning paddleboarding or yoga in the pool, or head out for stargazing and off-road adventures after sunset.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Fronting Frenchman Bay on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, the town of Bar Harbor sits on the doorstep of Acadia National Park. In the summer, the scenic town draws flocks of nature lovers, bird-watchers and whale watchers, and in autumn, visitors crowd the park to take in fall foliage.

But as the fall colors wind down, so does the season, usually starting in late October until mid-April, said Alf Anderson, director of membership sales and marketing for the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a great time to live like a local, experience Bar Harbor like a local,” Anderson said. “It’s quieter, the crowds aren’t here; but there are still plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and have hot chocolate in front of the fire.”

Offseason is also a great time to get out in the park, where groups can try cross-country skiing, fat tire biking and ice skating on frozen ponds. Though the licensed park concessionaires close during the offseason, in-town vendors and tour companies can rent bikes and outdoor gear to groups and offer guide services.

Some hotels shutter during the slow season, so there are fewer choices. But those that stay open discount their rates, so planners get a better deal and “have a great experience of holding your meeting outside a national park,” he said.

The Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Event Center is a waterfront property that stays open year-round. The property has six guest buildings where each room features an oceanfront patio or balcony. The hotel’s event center can accommodate meetings for up to 300 people, and its low season officially runs November 1 through April 30.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Summer is the busiest time in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the busyness continues through fall. The city’s slow season runs from November to March, which means planners find both better rates and more availability in those winter months.

Eau Claire’s sweet spot is 300- to 500-person events, “and we do them in a really special way” with meeting facilities that reflect Eau Claire’s independent, creative, artsy spirit, said Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire.

The Pablo Center at the Confluence is a performing arts facility with a 1,200-seat theater and a 400-seat flexible theater. On the first floor of the center, Visit Eau Claire opened its new 2,500-square-foot Experience Center this past year, and it can be customized for any group.

In January, software company Jamf, which was founded in Eau Claire, held its annual all-company meeting for some 800 people at the Pablo Center. In the Experience Center, Visit Eau Claire set up indoor pitches for attendees to play Kubb, a Swedish lawn game and local love affair.

One block away, the 112-room Lismore Hotel has 14,000 square feet of event space, including two ballrooms that can each seat about 440 for meals. The Oxbow Hotel in downtown is arguably the city’s most unusual property, a former seedy spot that was turned into a 30-room chic boutique by a creative powerhouse ownership group that includes Justin Vernon, frontman for the band Bon Iver. The Oxbow’s restaurant, the Lakeley, can be used for private lunches for 60 people, and the Gallery is a 700-square-foot private space for smaller meetings.

Groups can also gather at Artisan Forge Studios for receptions and hands-on maker experiences, or at Forage, a culinary incubator, commercial kitchen and industrial event space for up to 130 guests in the repurposed Uniroyal Tire Factory.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Though Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is becoming more of a year-round destination, its slow season is still pretty traditional for a beach town — anytime not between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The shoulder season, September and October, still draws visitors because the water is still warm, but January and February are Myrtle Beach’s two slowest months.

“It’s warm enough that you can still get outside and do things here,” said Bob Harris, executive vice president of sales at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s not blizzards and snow and ice all over the place like it is in a lot of destinations.”

During the slow season, groups won’t have to fight crowds on the beach to take a stroll or do a yoga class, and the city’s abundant attractions, like Brookgreen Gardens and Ripley’s Aquarium, are still open. The mild temperatures also mean attendees can golf year-round at nearly 100 courses in the area.

During nonpeak times, hotels lower their rates and offer incentives like pick-your-perks or other discounts. The CVB’s rebate program may also offset some costs, although it’s on a case-by-case basis and depends on factors like dates, demand and number of nights.

All of the city’s major conference hotels are open throughout the year, including oceanfront resorts like the 407-room Marriott, with 45,000 square feet of meeting space; the 750-room Embassy Suites, with 38,000 square feet; and the 565-room Hilton, with 35,000 square feet.

And, with dolphin tours, gambling cruises and fishing charters, getting groups onto the water is never seasonal.

“If it can be found on the water, we have someone that can do it here,” Harris said.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

When people think of Colorado, they often think of snow-covered mountains and powdery ski slopes. But lower elevations along the Front Range enjoy sunny winters with surprising stretches of warm weather.

Colorado Springs is an hour south of Denver, nestled at the base of the foothills just east of the Rocky Mountains.

“One of the things we have to overcome is [that] a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the area assume everywhere in Colorado is ski country and snowy and cold,” said Chelsy Offutt, director of communications for Visit Colorado Springs. “They’re pleasantly surprised that we have mild temperatures, lots of sunshine and so much to do year-round.”

From November through March, the area has a variety of lodging opportunities that have more availability and lower rates. The vast majority of the city’s 60-plus attractions and tours are open year-round, including  the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, the Space Discovery Science Center and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and there are opportunities for golf almost any time of year.

In fall and winter, meeting attendees can enjoy harvest festivals and holiday celebrations, including an outdoor ice rink downtown. At M Lazy C Guest Ranch, groups can take sleigh rides and enjoy winter chuck-wagon dinners, even if they’re not staying on the property.

The sprawling Broadmoor resort “goes all out” for holiday decorations and, in October, starts putting up over 1 million holiday lights. There, surrounded by mountain views, planners will find 185,000 square feet of event space and the 8,000-seat Broadmoor World Arena.

Macon, Georgia

Generally speaking, summer in the South is a slower season for meetings and groups, and the same holds true for Macon, Georgia.

June through August is the city’s offseason, but it’s also when planners and attendees can take advantage of Macon’s Bragg Jam music festival in July and the Macon Film Festival in August.

“A lot of groups are extending their time to experience cities, sort of that leisure idea of getting your work done and spending your time really experiencing the destination,” said Heather Wydock, director of sales and services for Visit Macon. The slow summer months are a better time to negotiate pricing, plus Visit Macon offers a sponsorship program to help offset any costs planners may incur, Wydock said. Visit Macon’s new partnership with G&G Services also means discounted rates to and from the airport.

Macon Centreplex, which includes the historic 1925 Macon City Auditorium and the 9,000-seat Macon Coliseum for a total of about 120,000 square feet of meeting space, is undergoing a refresh that will be complete by year’s end.

Around the corner from the convention center, downtown is undergoing its own revitalization. There, meeting attendees can explore restaurants and bars, including an Irish pub, a wine and tapas bar and a rooftop oyster bar, and can easily find live music almost every summer night.

Groups can also gather at the Anderson Conference Center, which offers 15,000 square feet of meeting space, or off-site venues like the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Tubman Museum and the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which is currently building an outdoor amphitheater.