They live in a rooftop penthouse. They spend their days preening and paddling in a private pool. They walk — make that waddle — the red carpet, twice a day. Hefty Hollywood starlets? No, “they” are the Peabody Ducks, the VIPs (Very Important Poultry) that serve as the ambassadors of the Peabody Little Rock Hotel.
The march of the Peabody Ducks — a twice daily tradition that began at the Peabody Memphis almost 70 years ago — will kick off the second-annual Small Market Meetings Conference on Sept. 26. The Peabody is the conference’s headquarters hotel.
One meeting planner in attendance will be chosen to serve as an honorary duck master and help lead the five ducks — a drake and his four female companions — along the red carpet from their fountain pool in the hotel lobby to the glass elevator that will deliver them to their penthouse duck digs.
The march of the Peabody Ducks is among the ways Little Rock is adding local flavor to the SMM Conference Sept. 26-28. Conference attendees will also dine at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, spend part of an afternoon touring meeting and event venues in the city and party in the River Market District in downtown Little Rock.
Here’s what Little Rock has in store for conference goers.
Monday, Sept. 26
Peabody Little Rock
There’s nothing like some tail-feather swishing ducks, John Phillip Sousa’s “King Cotton March,” red carpet and a red-jacketed “duck master” to get a conference quacking.
Seeing the ducks peer out of the glass elevator as they are whisked to the lobby from their rooftop pad “drives the crowd crazy, every time,” said Todd Scholl, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
The Peabody Little Rock doesn’t hold back when it comes to bragging on its duck troupe and duck master Lloyd Withrow.
“Our duck fountain is the largest of the three Peabody Hotels,” said Scholl. “And Lloyd is a showman. I think he fell off a circus truck somewhere.”
Monday, Sept. 26
Opening reception, dinner and tour
William J. Clinton Presidential Library
After the red carpet is rolled up and the ducks are off to bed, attendees will be whisked seven blocks to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, “one of Little Rock’s premier venues,” said Gretchen Hall, interim CEO of the Little Rock CVB.
Like most presidential libraries, the Clinton is “more museum than regular library,” said Hall. But the Clinton Library one-ups its peers in several ways.
“Its special events space is much larger than that at most presidential libraries. It also has a lot of hands-on, interactive activities. And there is a gallery for traveling shows, so there is always something new to see,” said Hall.
The SMM Conference dinner will be in the library’s great hall.
“It is a beautiful space with floor-to-ceiling glass and a patio that can be used for receptions,” she said.
“Sometimes, in order to attract a group to the city, we will offer the library as an event space and pay for the rental and the transportation,” said Sherrise Stephens, director of special market development for the CVB.
In addition to dinner, conference attendees will have time for docent-led tours. In addition to authentic replicas of Clinton’s Oval Office and Cabinet Room, Stephens recommends the third floor, where gifts to the president are housed including Lance Armstrong’s bike from a Tour de France ride, a saxophone from Louie Armstrong and a 24-carat sword from the rulers of Dubai.
The library is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum and many planners will be interested in seeing the environmental features that gave it that status.
If it’s a nice evening, attendees might want to step out and look out over the protected wetlands and refuge, part of the 30-acre park on the riverfront of which the library is a part.
Tuesday, Sept. 27
Afternoon tours of Little Rock
After a half day of one-to-one meetings between meeting planners and suppliers and an education session, the Little Rock CVB and Arkansas Tourism will host tours of the city’s various meeting venues.
Planners will be grouped according to the meeting segment they represent. Each of three groups will take tours tailored to their interests with a sales director from the CVB who handles the market segments the group represents.
“We are aligning them with the proper sales director who will be able to answer their questions,” said Stephens.
Among the stops is the Capital Hotel, a boutique 94-room property known for its history and for its ability to handle small, high-end meetings.
At a reception there, attendees will taste the local, Southern foods that are the hotel’s specialty and enjoy another Southern tradition, mint juleps.
Tuesday, Sept. 27
River Market District
For their final night in Little Rock, attendees will head to the River Market entertainment district, three blocks from the host Peabody Hotel and the adjacent Statehouse Convention Center.
There, they will dine in the Market House, a downtown take on a food court with 15 purveyors selling specialities that range from Thai to barbecue. Almost all are local.
Outside the Market Hall, attendees will explore the River Market, which, 15 years ago, was a decrepit warehouse district. Now it is home to a pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater, shops, restaurants, bars and parks, including a sculpture garden and a splash park.
“Most meetings and conventions want to get out of the hotel and convention facility and have an offsite event and take in some local atmosphere,” said Hall.
For more information or to register for the conference, call 800-628-0993 or visit www.smallmarketmeetingsconferene.com.