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A breath of fresh air is always a good thing, especially as the meetings and events industry returns to live gatherings. And the state of California, with its diverse geography and attractive range of comfortable climates, is decidedly well positioned to take advantage of the desire for wide-open spaces, according to several industry insiders.
Including open-air activities in meeting and event programs has long been popular, to be sure. But the challenges of the pandemic cast a spotlight on the many benefits of heading outdoors, and even today, many attendees and stakeholders continue to seek unique natural settings that can help to create more memorable and engaging experiences.
A 2021 PULSE Survey by Northstar Meetings Group confirms the overwhelming popularity of the concept, as 91 percent of planner respondents confirmed their intention to include outdoor group activities in their next program. In addition, an impressive 88 percent intended to stage outdoor meal functions.
California, of course, is known for its geographic diversity and natural beauty. So how do meeting planners find the best outdoor options for their groups? For an overview of the many possibilities, we turned to Michelle Donahue,
senior vice president of sales for Visit Newport Beach Inc, the convention and visitors bureau for the sun-soaked coastal city in Southern California.
As live events continue to return, how important is the concept of "indoor/outdoor" events?
While access to a multitude of indoor/outdoor venues has always been a draw for groups, due to the pandemic, that has become far more important — and a major selling point for our destination. As corporations navigate coming back toward live events, amazing outdoor venues and year-round weather is certainly a draw to the area. We've seen the space being used beyond the normal receptions and dinners to more creative uses like breakouts, teambuilding and even informal meetings for networking.
Dining alfresco, cruising the harbor, even opening Nana Wall doors to a spacious venue to let in a coastal breeze; these are all experiences that are catching the eyes of meeting planners. An added bonus: The more fresh air and sunshine attendees experience during their meeting, the more productive and memorable their time with us seems to become.
How do the natural surroundings of Newport Beach, and California more broadly, make it an ideal destination for groups year round?
Our coastal boutique destination's key attribute is our recreational boat harbor — one of the largest on the West Coast. This protected water space is perfect for a peaceful sunset cruise aboard a yacht or a playful excursion aboard a 10-person electric Duffy boat. You'll often see paddleboarders and kayakers navigating the Back Bay Estuary year-round, and our open-air waterfront venues are a favorite choice for groups no matter what the season.
Hiking or biking through trails dotted with wildflowers and stunning views of Crystal Cove Beach or the Back Bay are always accessible. Add a speedy adventure along the Peninsula riding electric Pedego bikes and you'll be enjoying the neighborhood just as our locals often do.
California, more broadly, is rich with destinations that enjoy great weather throughout the year, particularly along the coast, and which makes this state one of the best for groups looking to get outdoors.
What are some best practices you'd recommend for groups holding events outdoors?
Above all, embrace the opportunity to host an unforgettable event that takes advantage of the sunny California weather. For daytime gatherings, create comfortable vignettes with creative cover: festive umbrellas, portable pergolas, draping fabric above, etc. Should your event be an evening affair, our coastal location can sometimes be cool at night.
Ensure that space heaters are accessible to guests or provide a staple the locals always have on hand: a stylish pashmina or an assortment of cozy throw blankets draped across seating areas. Consider the comfort of your guests by providing attire suggestions in advance to suit the time of day.
How can planners incorporate safe social distancing concepts with fun and engaging outdoor activities in California?
As mentioned earlier, electric Pedego bike tours are a great way to engage in wellness, enjoy time as a group and create space for attendees to feel comfortable. Duffy boat scavenger hunts are a fun, creative way to be out in the open coastal air, and boats can accommodate smaller teams to create enough distance to be together with ease. Take to the shore and test your group's strength with a teambuilding game on the sand. For those groups looking for an active evening adventure, Glow SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) provides a uniquely singular experience gliding across peaceful waters on an illuminated board. Finally, groups can get in touch with their green thumbs with an outdoor crafting class at Rogers Gardens, [where groups can] make a stunning floral centerpiece at individual workstations then retire to the quaint garden setting of their restaurant, Farmhouse.
What are some examples of unique and interesting meetings that can take place using outdoor settings in California?
The spacious grounds of Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina offer so many options for unique outdoor events. We've hosted group drive-in experiences with food trucks and the view of the lagoon beyond the screen or host a luau on the sand with the soft sound of waves lapping the shore. At Crystal Cove beach, groups can enjoy a cocktail with their crew on the same cottage porch that Bette Midler shared with her bestie in the movie Beaches.
Groups can surround themselves with greenery at an elegant luncheon at Sherman Library and Gardens, or host a dinner perched on the rolling greens of the golf course at Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, complete with views of the Back Bay at sunset.