Seasonal travel often makes sense: cooling off at the beach in the summer, hitting the slopes in the winter or getting out of the chill to somewhere warm. But areas known for their seasonality are crowded and charge top prices during their peak seasons. For groups, the high cost of meeting during this time can be off-putting. For the destinations, the slow season can damage the local economy because no visitors means no work.
Many locations are still great for meetings during the low or shoulder seasons, however, offering discounts and plush amenities. This makes booking off-season a boon for meeting and event planners. Plus, discovering a place without all the crowds is a benefit all its own; visitors get the insider’s perspective and the chance to discover some hidden gems.
Here are four popular seasonal destinations that offer a lot of value during off-peak times.
Aspen, Colorado, is often touted as a world-class ski destination and celebrity playground. And while it is those things, it’s also a fantastic destination for smaller meetings. Mid-May to mid-June is what locals call the secret season, a great time to get more favorable rates. Similar discounts are available after Labor Day through mid-October.
“Groups can get better rates with Sunday to Wednesday dates instead of Thursday to Sunday,” said Sarah Reynolds Lasser, director of business development at the Aspen Chamber and Resort Association. “Those shoulder seasons tend to have gorgeous weather, so they’re really a best-kept secret.”
Aspen and the outdoors go hand in hand. Guests can hike, bike, climb, kayak, fly fish, raft, ride horseback and paraglide in the spring and fall. Reynolds Lasser suggests checking out the Grottos Trail in lieu of the overly popular Maroon Bells, using e-bikes — trending for their ability to equalize all athletic abilities despite the altitude — and, for a local’s experience, doing yoga al fresco atop the mountain.
Aspen is also known for its dining scene; it has more than 80 restaurants and bars, many of which have an option for outdoor dining, and great options for more affordable buyouts. “The Aspen Historical Society or the Holden-Marolt Mining Museum are great for cocktail hour, and the Wheeler Opera House, our historic Victorian-era opera house, is available for groups to rent for meetings and presentations,” said Reynolds Lasser. “The Theatre Aspen Hurst Theatre at John Denver Park is another great outdoor venue for both presentations and cocktails, and the Doerr Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows is a beautiful flexible space that works for meetings as well as for parties.”
As for hotels, there are many in Aspen that cater to groups, like the Gant, the historic Hotel Jerome, the St. Regis, the W Hotel and Limelight, but you don’t have to stay there to get the perks. The group sales associates can help arrange citywide meetings using all the different hotels in town.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is made up of 15 towns, plus islands Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, along a 75-mile-long peninsula surrounded by 559 miles of coastline. It’s roughly 60 miles from Boston and 80 miles from Providence, Rhode Island, accessible by road, ferry or plane. And though it’s a popular destination during the summer, spring and fall, especially midweek, are excellent times for groups to take advantage of lower prices and fewer crowds without losing any of the area’s charm.
“We have a year-round population of about 212,000, and that becomes 2 million in the summer, so April, May [and] June, and September, October and November, are good months to meet here,” said Patti Lloyd, vice president of group sales at the Cape Cod Chamber. “We have conference centers that can accommodate groups of up to 500 depending on where you want to be. The rates are certainly different outside of the summer months.”
Groups will want to take the time to play tourist for a day, visiting some of the Cape’s museums and the National Seashore — groups can do a unique excursion with Art’s Dune Tours — and doing a day trip to the islands or climbing the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.
“We have it all: amazing seafood, wineries, breweries, farm-to-table restaurants,” said Lloyd. “For meetings and groups, we can do evening clambakes on the beach, whale watching or sunset cruises.”
Each town on Cape Cod offers a wide range of options for all types of groups, from boutique hotels to sprawling resorts.
“The rates in the summer are higher,” said Lloyd. “But at other times of the year, the amenities are the same, the service is the same — we’re happy to see the meeting world coming back.”
With its proximity to Lake Tahoe and everything a metropolitan area has to offer, Reno, Nevada, is a noteworthy choice for groups. Surrounded by the Tahoe National Forest, highways 80 and 395 provide easy driving access, and the Reno-Tahoe Airport currently offers a record number of direct flights with expanded capacity servicing 26 domestic destinations.
“Reno offers an authentic place to have some time outdoors,” said Charles Harris, Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority president and CEO. “We want to work with meeting planners on custom solutions to meet their needs. Midweek is the ideal time for meetings because there’s so much to do. Traditionally, March, April and November are the months we see as having opportunities for groups to travel when it’s not the high season, but people right now are making up for lost time.”
Reno offers facilities that can host groups, as well as a vast number of things to do and events in which attendees can participate. It has rodeo; hot-air balloon festivals; a well-known barbecue cookoff; AAA baseball; world-class golf, hiking and biking trails outdoors; the Nevada Art Museum, with a rooftop lounge; hotels with climbing walls; and the automobile museum, to scratch the surface.
“We’ve got multiple facilities that can host events or conferences, from places that have 600,000 square feet of space to a 78-lane bowling alley,” said Harris. “We have events all year long. That’s something that we’re uniquely known for and that really enhances the meeting experience.”
Santa Barbara, California
For many groups, especially those in California, Santa Barbara is a beautiful coastal destination that welcomes those who want to escape city life and get away. According to Beth Olson, director of sales at Visit Santa Barbara, roughly 70% of visitors are from within driving distance — the city is just 90 miles north of Los Angeles — but the other 30% are an infusion of people from everywhere, seeking mild weather and sandy beaches.
“The weather is pretty amazing here year-round,” says Olson. “Our high season is typically when kids are out of school, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but shoulder seasons are February through May and then September through November, when we really look for meetings to fill those spots because it’s not a big leisure travel time.”
Prices can vary about 25% for both accommodations and activities during off-peak times and are even better on weekdays. Additional incentives and rebates are available too, working to the planner’s advantage.
Another trend Olson is seeing is families joining the meeting attendee and tacking on some vacation days. For leisure activities, the area’s museums; wine country, which offers great options like tastings in a barrel room; beaches; and water activities — think sunset cruises — are all appealing for meeting-goers. Olson and her staff work with meeting planners to create unusual and memorable experiences for attendees of meetings of all sizes.