Demand for unconventional meeting venues is growing. Rather than the traditional ballroom, today’s attendees expect a unique, Instagram-worthy experience.
“When it comes to venue selections, meeting planners must take an out-of-the-box approach," said Loren Simpson, director of digital communications for the Long Beach (Calif.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, in a recent Successful Meetings story. "Conventional, four-walled venues are outdated.”
In fact, Social Tables reports that 92 percent of planners and property professionals say events are more likely to be booked outside of a hotel today than they were five years ago. Venues on the rise, according to Eventbrite, include urban art galleries, picturesque rooftops and rustic vineyards.
But what about holding your event in a room surrounded by shark tanks and marine animals, or hosting a corporate meeting in a restaurant 20 feet below the ocean surface? Read on for five properties that will take your attendees’ breath away.
Meeting space: 5,000 people
The recently opened Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science sits on four acres along the downtown Miami waterfront. The museum, which is LEED Gold certified, includes a 250-seat planetarium, as well as a 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream Aquarium.
Hammerhead sharks, devil rays and Mahi-Mahi cavort in the three-story-tall aquarium. The top level of the facility, known as the Vista, can accommodate gatherings of up to 700 people. Here, guests can take in the Miami skyline and reach into the top of the aquarium to touch stingrays. The next level down, known as the Dive, offers visitors a peek into the water tank and can hold up to 400 people. A 30-foot oculus on the lowest level, known as The Deep, provides striking views into the bottom of the aquarium. Groups of up to 300 can gather in the lowest level, with tuna and sharks swimming above them. The entire museum can accommodate events of up to 5,000 people.
Meeting space: 750 people
Just across the pond is another expansive aquarium perfect for large-scale events with an underwater twist. The Sea Life London Aquarium can hold up to 750 guests and offers a dedicated events manager to help with the planning process.
Attendees must walk through a glass tunnel surrounded by marine animals to reach the main events room, which is outfitted with an audio system and LED lighting. Also on site are professional divers who can wave to attendees from inside the aquarium tank, or walk around and answer any questions they may have. The Sea Life London Aquarium was a finalist in the most unusual or unique venue category for the 2019 London Venue Awards.
Sentosa Island, Singapore
Meeting space: Seating for 300 people or 480 people for a reception
Singapore ranks supreme as the top meetings destination in Asia, according to tech giant Cvent's 2019 ranking. The island nation is home to 262 meeting hotels, as well as the more than one-million-square-foot Singapore EXPO Convention and Exhibition Center. But meeting planners looking for an off-the-beaten path venue in Asia might want to consider the S.E.A. Aquarium on Sentosa Island.
The Resorts World Sentosa venue is home to more than 100,000 marine animals, including leopard sharks and goliath groupers. Three connected event rooms can accommodate to up to 480 people for a cocktail reception or 300 guests for a seated event. Groups of 40 can sit banquet-style in the Ocean Dome, with a 180-degree panoramic view of the aquarium and a glass dome centered above. The three-tiered Ocean Gallery offers a unique event space for 200 seated guests, while the Ocean Restaurant serves Mediterranean-Californian cuisine for up to 60 people at a time.
Kihavah Huravalhi Island, Maldives
Meeting space: 20 people
The Maldives is more than just a blissful beach getaway for leisure travel. Groups can gather at luxury hotels set along white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, or at underwater venues such as Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas' Sea Restaurant, which was named the World's Leading Underwater Hotel Restaurant in 2017.
Guests must walk through an underwater wine cellar to reach the octagonal-shaped restaurant, which is surrounded by coral reefs and schools of fishes. Menu highlights include a soft poached lobster salad with coriander lime dressing, pan-seared salmon fillet with red quinoa risotto, and a chocolate ganache and mascarpone parfait topped with warm caramel sauce.
Meeting space: 18 people
Dine among the fishes at Subsix, a clam-inspired bar and restaurant that sits 20 feet under the sea. The restaurant from the Niyama Maldives resort describes itself as an "underwater playground" for champagne breakfasts, subaquatic lunches and gourmet dinners. The space can also be rented out for intimate corporate meetings of up to 18 people and has hosted a number of high-profile board meetings, according to Paul Counihan, director of sales and marketing at the resort.
Subsix promises a memorable meeting space with a capiz-shell inspired ceiling and anemone chairs. Getting to the restaurant is an adventure in and of itself: Visitors must take a speed boat from the resort and then descend a three-tier staircase. Seared scallops with peas and zucchini, creamy crab ravioli soup and white sand sangria await for groups willing to make the trek to this underwater playground.