How Meetings Can Leverage California's Tech Leadership

John Hutar of the San Francisco Peninsula discusses why the state remains a leader in innovative events.

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Considering the fact that many people call California the world’s tech capital, it’s no surprise that meetings and events in the Golden State are at an advantage when it comes to making use of cutting-edge technology. 

Technology is big in California. The segment, in fact, contributes $520 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. As the home base of an array of innovative tech giants, tech incubators and startups, California offers a forward-thinking environment where meeting planners can tap into the state’s vast knowledge base.

In a fast-changing world where the MICE industry has had to adjust to new expectations and an ever-changing “new normal,” technology has continued to play an increasingly important role. Whether it’s a robust event app, hybrid event planning, data gathering and analysis or a variety of other elements that are crucial to meetings and event planners, working with the right partners, venues and technology can pave the way for a smoother and more effective event. 

To learn more about California’s tech capabilities, we spoke with John Hutar, president and CEO of The San Francisco Peninsula — formerly the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, which represents some of the most important MICE destinations in the San Francisco Bay area. His insight about one of the state’s most tech-forward regions is especially enlightening as he explains how a destination like California can help meeting planners apply today’s technology to tomorrow’s meetings. 

California has long been associated with technological innovation. How does that translate into making California noteworthy for the MICE market?  

John Hutar, president and CEO of the San Francisco Peninsula
John Hutar, president and CEO of the San Francisco Peninsula

California, and The San Francisco Peninsula, specifically, is where big ideas are made, and it’s inspiring for attendees to be in that presence. With our proximity to San Francisco International Airport, we are the most accessible and engaging meeting hub in California for attendees from all over the world to bring their diverse and unique ideas here to collaborate and create magic together. 

While no one liked being reduced to a one-inch square on a computer screen, can you imagine how isolating the lockdown period would have been without a virtual meeting option? Technology and innovation made meeting during the “Covid Era” possible. Meeting organizers got creative — attendees started to receive packages with gourmet foods to enjoy during a virtual coffee break or a nice wine to sip during the group happy hour. Food and beverage can be a be a tool to win attendees over — even in a virtual setting. Now, as in-person meetings have returned, the creative solutions we found with virtual and hybrid events continues to inform how we're planning events.

What should meeting planners look for in terms of technology when they’re considering destinations in San Mateo County and California?

It’s important to select an experienced technology vendor. Give yourself ample time well ahead of event day to practice. The unexpected will happen, so be prepared with a contingency plan. I have always found the tech staff to be very patient and eager produce flawless events. Don’t get overly anxious if you yourself are not tech savvy — a well-trained team will make you look good and create a memorable experience for your attendees, in a most positive way.

Capitalize on the fact that every attendee will arrive with a cell phone. Take advantage of this and implement all the useful event apps or destination information you can have piped into your guests’ hand-held devices. It’s a great way to engage attendees, easy to implement and makes the lives of your guests (and not to mention the event planner) so much easier.

Can you provide examples of how planners can make good use of technology in a variety of destinations around the state, large and small?  

In the Spring of 2021, a client came to us looking for a space they could host a large event for over 5,000 people without being in a “large city”. Many lesser-known or smaller destinations have hidden gems that will thrill your attendees without breaking the bank. For this event, technology played a very important role in regards to on-site testing and creating virtual attendance options for international attendees (international travel was still closed at the time).

The selected venue’s outdoor space gave attendees a chance to experience the amazing, beautiful weather we have year-round here on the San Francisco Peninsula. Proving options to meeting planners to produce a safe and successful event is what we are here to do.

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