Let’s face it, winter months in some parts of the U.S. can be brutal: gray skies, frigid temperatures, unrelenting snow. But just like snowbirds, meeting planners can migrate their winter events in search of warmer weather.
Holding events in the Sun Belt during the winter gives attendees a break from the snow and cold, and gives them an incentive to attend. These winter destinations offer meeting groups a reprieve from harsh winters and give attendees their day in the sun.
Sarasota sits on Florida’s Gulf Coast, straddling Sarasota Bay to include both the mainland coastline and the barrier islands. Temperatures average in the 70s during the dead of winter, “so even if you’re here in January or February, you may not want to get in the water, but it’s nice to be on the water,” said Britney Guertin, communications and content manager for Visit Sarasota County.
Major meeting hotels include the Westin, the Hyatt Regency and the bayfront Ritz-Carlton, which has a private beach club, a golf course and 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space.
Resorts on Sarasota’s barrier islands, or “keys,” provide a summer retreat during a winter meeting. The all-inclusive Resort at Longboat Key Club recently renovated its 223 guest rooms and has 12,000 square feet of function space. The Lido Beach Resort’s updated 6,000 square feet of meeting space on the eighth floor delivers dramatic views.
But the city offers more than beaches and bays. Sarasota is known as Florida’s Cultural Coast and is home to dozens of art museums and performing arts venues.
The new Sarasota Art Museum opened in December 2019 in the historic Sarasota High School after a 16-year initiative to transform the building.
John and Mable Ringling’s Ca’ d’Zan mansion is located on Sarasota Bay, and groups can tour the 1920s Venetian-style mansion, along with its art galleries, grounds and gardens, or visit the Ringling Circus Museum and Ringling Museum of Art.
The Art Ovation Hotel gives guests a gallery experience with original artwork all around the hotel, including in its 6,100 square feet of meeting space.
Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana
In Louisiana, the biggest winter attraction isn’t the weather, although the weather is a big attraction. It’s Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is typically takes place in February. But Shreveport and Bossier City’s celebrations always begin in January.
“We have many large, major parades, and they’re all very family friendly,” said Aly Velasquez, marketing associate for the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.
Some of the parades begin just steps from the Shreveport Convention Center in downtown, and all are free to the public, providing built-in entertainment and local culture for meeting attendees. The Hilton Shreveport adjacent to the convention center recently underwent a major facelift, and the cities’ five riverboat casinos offer plenty of entertainment as well as plentiful meeting space.
In downtown, the Remington is an all-suite boutique hotel with a rooftop ballroom that connects to an open-air rooftop venue with views of downtown.
Winter also means holiday attractions, like “Christmas in Roseland” at the American Rose Center, where the gardens become a winter wonderland of holiday lights. There, groups can reserve Klima Rose Hall, which seats 200 for meals, or a reception hall that seats 125.
At Shreveport Aquarium, groups can gather under the historic arboretum’s glass dome or book an indoor-outdoor event room that opens onto the riverfront patio, complete with a fire pit.
On the Bossier City side of the river, Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets dresses up for Christmas and has one of the region’s largest outdoor Christmas trees.
Beaumont, Texas, sits just a few miles from the Gulf Coast and a few miles from the Louisiana border, so “sometimes for Christmas, we have our shorts and flip-flops on,” said Freddie Willard, director of sales for the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In downtown, the Beaumont Civic Center fronts the Neches River and Riverfront Park. The center offers over 41,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a courtyard, and sits only steps away from other downtown venues.
The Julie Rogers Theatre across the street is a 1928 theater where the ornate auditorium and stage is great for speakers; several other spaces offer “a backdrop of chandeliers” for breakouts and smaller events. The theater also has a courtyard area shaded by live oak trees.
The Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the Texas Energy Museum each offer event space and facility rentals within a block of the Civic Center.
A few blocks over, the Downtown Event Centre features a 16,000-square-foot event hall, platform stage and catering area. The center’s covered patio fronts a lake, and floor-to-ceiling windows deliver views of the Great Lawn, which can be used for festivals and picnics.
The MCM Eleganté Hotel and the Holiday Inn and Suites each have over 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
To get some local flair, groups can meet American alligators, crocodiles and snakes at Gator Country Adventure Park, and outfitters and group charters are available for fishing, crabbing and swamp tours.
When people think of Arizona, they think of deserts and cacti, but the mountain city of Prescott gets the best of all worlds: The area enjoys all four seasons, but winter is moderate, with average highs in the 50s and 60s.
The 160-room Prescott Resort and Conference Center overlooks the historic city from its mountainside perch and offers about 17,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. In Prescott’s downtown historic district, the 1927 Hassayampa Inn has 12,000 square feet of function space, including the inn’s adjoining 2,100-square-foot Marina Ballroom, which opens onto a wraparound patio and has a rooftop terrace.
Downtown just got its first new hotel in 10 years: a Hilton Garden Inn that opened in November with 5,400 square feet of event space, an on-site restaurant and a pool.
Because Prescott is “all about the outdoors,” groups often visit for board retreats or teambuilding, said Ann Steward, sales and marketing coordinator for Visit Prescott. Attendees stay at historic or boutique hotels or other small properties, like Prescott Pines Inn B&B or Forest Villas Hotel, and connect with one of several outdoor youth camps to use their ropes courses, zip lines and archery ranges.
At the Highlands Center for Natural History, planners often reserve the covered, open-air ramada in the James Family Discovery Gardens, with its views of the surrounding woodlands. The Sharlot Hall Museum just opened a 10,000-square-foot education center where groups can pair hands-on learning experiences like how to cook in a Dutch oven with their conferences.
Mobile, Alabama, sits on the shores of Mobile Bay, just north of the Gulf of Mexico. With its location and temperate climate — winter days see average highs in the 60s and 70s — planners can escape the cold and hold outdoor events year-round.
Mobile is the birthplace of America’s Mardi Gras, when Joe Cain led an impromptu parade down city streets in 1703. The city’s celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday with massive parades, elaborate floats and fun-filled throws.
The Mobile Convention Center takes advantage of its waterfront setting on the banks of the Mobile River with outdoor terraces, river walks and walls of windows that deliver river views. A skybridge connects to the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, which has 373 guest rooms and over 44,000 square feet of its own function space.
Down the block, the 238-room Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa is half historic hotel, half modern. The 1908 hotel connects to the modern, 35-story RSA Battle House Tower, which has meeting spaces and four floors of additional guest rooms.
Visit Mobile can easily set up a crawfish boil or a shrimp boil for groups or bring in oyster shuckers to shuck and serve oysters during an event. The CVB can also arrange for groups to go out on the Gulf on a working shrimp trawler or oyster boat, then dock at Bayou La Batre, the town featured in the film “Forrest Gump,” where they can tour a shrimp- or oyster-processing facility.