Laredo, Texas, doesn’t dwell on what it doesn’t have. Instead, the city of 250,000 on the Rio Grande River within sight of Mexico, delivers experiences that make it easy to forget the city doesn’t have a convention center.
“Without a convention center, we get very creative with how and where we host conventions,” says Visit Laredo’s director Aileen Ramos.
A good example is the signature drink Visit Laredo often mixes up for welcome receptions. The blend of Southern Comfort, rum, fruit juices and Grenadine is called Ojo Rojo (Spanish for red eye) for a reason. “That’s how we’ll know you had too many; you will have red eyes the next morning,” says Ramos. Like Laredo, the drink is not easily forgotten, and some later recreate it, including an Austin meeting planner who had the drink served at her daughter’s wedding reception. Ojo Rojo became the wedding’s “something borrowed.”
Getting groups out in the city
Two hotels, the La Posada and the Embassy Suites by Hilton Laredo, host many conferences.
“When we host meetings in our hotels, we definitely try to get them out to enjoy our local experiences,” says Ramos.
La Posada is Laredo’s only AAA Four Diamond hotel, a Southwest-style beauty with 206 rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. For meetings there, Visit Laredo has arranged off-site events at the Laredo Center for the Arts, two blocks away in a building that was once a marketplace. Local Mexican import shops will set up booths for evening events, giving guests a chance to grab souvenirs. La Posada is also within two blocks of the Outlet Shoppes of Laredo, which has event spaces.
For a conference at the Embassy Suites, Visit Laredo organized a barbecue at a ranch, with fishing, skeet shooting and karaoke. The hotel, 10 minutes from downtown, has 154 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of meeting space, and is just across the street from Mall del Norte.
Laredo is a city that likes to celebrate, and its calendar is dotted with annual festivals. By planning meetings that coincide with some of those festivals, attendees can enjoy fun events that are inexpensive and sometimes even free.
For example, on the third weekend of July each year, some 200 exhibitors from Laredo’s sister cities set up in Sames Auto Arena — a popular tradeshow venue — for the Laredo International Sister Cities Festival. The free event is popular for its music; inexpensive, homemade foods; and merchandise ranging from cowboy boots and jewelry to embroidered dresses and pottery.
And for almost a month, starting in mid-January, there’s the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, which warms up wintertime, with parades, balls, comedy shows, wine and tequila tastings, a jalapeno eating contest, a barbecue, air show and fireworks.
The festival began 125 years ago after Laredo, which had tried for a time to be its own country, decided to demonstrate, just how proud it was to be part of the U.S. The theme it chose for its celebration makes good sense. After all, says Ramos, “What’s more American than George Washington?”
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