Texas Meetings + Events Spring 2024

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Challenge Accepted Rebecca Hackl tackles planning obstacles with enthusiasm MEETINGSMAGS.COM

Lone Star Vistas

Venues with stunning views boost mood & spark conversation

Rustic Relaxation

True Western retreats o er unforgettable experiences



// SPRING 2024

Where boardrooms, business suits, and bathing suits all mee t

Bring your team to a place where innovation meets relaxation, where business suits and bathing suits are equally at home. Kalahari Resorts & Conventions is a state-of-the-art facility that seamlessly blends business sophistication with the largest indoor water park in America. With close proximity to four of the nation’s largest cities, Round Rock, Texas is the ideal destination for your next big meeting!


9 Meeting Notes Take your next meeting from drab to fab with the help of these products, places, and inspiring ideas

16 Destination Enjoy warm weather and scenic venues along the Gulf Coast

22 Venue Report

Add Western flair to meetings by hosting in rustic locations

2 TX M+E » SPRING 2024 PHOTOS (FROM ABOVE) Ruby Hotel & Bar, Visit Galveston Feature // Spectacular Vistas BY AMY DURHAM Venues with a view elevate events and help attendees stay focused Contents SPRING 2024
Every Issue // 4
Section // 35 Convention Resorts & Hotels Check out this showcase of Texas hot spots to meet, stay, and play On the Cover Stunning shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico on South Padre Island PHOTO COURTESY SOUTH PADRE ISLAND CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU 16 Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center in Galveston Ruby Hotel & Bar in Round Rock 30 54 Feature // The New Frontier BY JULIE KENDRICK Artificial intelligence is creating a whole new world for meetings and
26 Trend Report Green up gatherings with sustainable requests for proposal 58 Industry Update Discover the latest updates through our Meetings + Events infographic and Texas news 64 People Profile Rebecca Hackl faces challenges head-on at Trifecta Events Management



Meetings and events take on a special energy at The Broadmoor. Our magnificent Colorado setting will inspire your people. Our world-class golf, spa, dining and more will refresh them. The unique venues and activities of our Broadmoor Wilderness Experience properties will challenge them and change their perspectives. With the addition of Bartolin Hall, our over 315,000 square feet of meeting space, is flexible enough to meet your most demanding requirements. And amidst it all, The Broadmoor’s legendary tradition of quality and service will ensure your event is a success. Contact us today and start planning your meeting now at broadmoor.com. 1


Texas Past & Present

» EARLIER THIS MONTH, I TOOK a day trip to see the state capital and stopped at the nearby Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Texas history is a required subject in grade school, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on what went down in our state’s past. Let me tell you: I did not know the half of it.

The Bullock Museum showcases 16,000-year-old evidence of Central Texas’ first inhabitants, a shipwreck from a 17th-century European explorer, handwritten documents dating to the formation of the Republic of Texas, and shackles from the antebellum cotton years and the state’s dependence on enslaved labor. From oil boom to space exploration, contemporary exhibits brought to life periods of history both deeply painful and dramatically hopeful.

I left the museum that day moved beyond what I had expected, and I was proud to be Texan. Not because I turn a blind eye to the harms done in our state’s past or because I agree with every other Texan in the present, but because above all else, as Texans, we persevere.

Whether you’re meeting new friends at conventions, listening to coworkers in a seminar, or toasting together when the day’s agenda concludes, the long history of our state infuses locations in both large and small cities. Hosting meetings in other Texas cities is an easy way to learn about our history, meet others who live a bit differently than we do, and experience all the beauty and grit that our state has to offer.

As you look ahead to bookings and agendas for this year and beyond, I hope you will join me in looking back for a moment of gratitude for how far we have come. Here’s lookin’ at you, Texas.

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PHOTO Maggie Kirkland
AMY DURHAM Editor adurham@greenspring.com meetingsmags.com/texas meetingsmags


With 16 unique beach neighborhoods along 26 miles of sugar-white sand and turquoise water, South Walton is the ultimate event destination. Luxurious amenities meet small-town charm for getaways that feel like coming home, no ma er where you’re from. With convenient airport access and easy driving from Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans, you’ll spend less time en route and more time in good company.

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South Walton meetings always feel more personal. Truly unique venues and accommodations blend effortlessly with incredible dining, nightlife, and natural beauty, making teambuilding a pleasure.

Discover all the amenities and start planning at MeetInSouthWalton.com.

8 TX M+E » SPRING 2024 Believe it Reboot A Place to Waxahachie Waxahachie A Place in Your Heart, Texas A Place in Your Heart, Texas visitwaxahachie.com | 469-309-4040 visitwaxahachie.com | 469-309-4040


A social media campaign for your event is a no-brainer, and there are some easy things you can do to jazz attendees

» PLANNERS CONSIDER IT ESSENTIAL TO USE social media to promote an event—before, during, and after a gathering. Consistently posting engaging and informative content—plus breaking news from your event—is crucial. Doing things to get attendees, keynoters, and influencers posting about your event will build buzz, create excitement, and keep participants thinking fondly about your gathering long after it concludes.


Hashtags tie both your messaging and content by others to your event and enable you to promote it further by making use of what people say. The most effective hashtags highlight your industry, event, and target audience in a fun and simple way. Once you come up with a hashtag, tell everyone about it. It needs to be in all social media posts, marketing materials, email signature lines, the event homepage, the gathering’s app, and prominently on display at the event. A jumbo hashtag at the venue can become a selfie station, such as those made by FrontSigns in Burbank, California. frontsigns.com


With almost any event topic, there are social media influencers discussing your meeting focus. Social media users are more likely to act on messages through personal recommendations rather than through a brand’s messaging, and a trusted influencer is an extension of the personal. (Keep in mind your keynoters might well be influencers.) A micro-influencer with a small but engaged, passionate following might be best. Research influencers on social media and reach out early, establish a relationship built on trust, and motivate them to want to promote your event using your hashtag.


At the event, it is often challenging for planners to inspire people to post about your event with your hashtag. This is critical—as attendees posting positive things about your event turns them into microinfluencers. One way to make it fun to post is to have a live social wall at the event that gathers and instantly displays posts with the event’s hashtag to a large video wall. Some programs can turn the aggregated posts into a collaged image about your event. Companies such as CrowdApps create memorable, interactive social walls that excite participants to post. crowdapps.co


The Value of Mentorship and Shadowing

Meeting planning is a field where experience is just as valuable—if not more valuable— than theoretical knowledge. For those aspiring to build a career in this dynamic and multifaceted industry, shadowing a seasoned planner can be a game-changer. One can significantly enhance their planning skills and pave the way for a successful career with the right mentorship.

A mentor or shadowing opportunity can be found through networking at industry events, professional associations, and online forums. Volunteering for events can also show an eagerness to learn and contribute, qualities that mentors appreciate.

Don’t hesitate to reach out directly to event planners to inquire about opportunities. A polite and concise email expressing interest in learning from them can be effective. In the end, the benefits far outweigh the risk of someone saying no.


Mentorship offers a unique opportunity to learn from someone who has navigated the complexities of meeting planning. A mentor can provide insights that are rarely found in textbooks or classrooms. This knowledge is invaluable in understanding the nuances of the industry.

Mentors also often introduce their mentees to a wide network of industry professionals. This exposure can open doors to new opportunities, partnerships, and collaborations, which are crucial for career growth.

In addition, a mentor provides personalized advice and gives support tailored to each mentee’s needs and goals. This one-to-one guidance can prove extremely useful for overcoming challenges, refining skills, and developing a clearer career path.


Shadowing allows for the observation of a professional at work, providing a firsthand look at how they handle the demands of meeting planning. This experience can be extremely helpful in understanding the practical aspects of the job, such as time management, client interaction, and crisis management.

While shadowing, the opportunity might arise to assist in tasks, offering a safe environment to apply knowledge and skills. This hands-on experience is critical in building confidence and competence in the meetings and events field.

Shadowing different planners can mean exposure to various types of events, from corporate conferences to post-session social gatherings. This diversity in experience can help the mentee identify their interests and broaden their skill set.

To make the most of a mentorship or shadowing, mentees should be both proactive and curious. Ask questions, seek feedback, and take initiative to show the mentor or planner being shadowed that the mentee is eager to learn and grow. After each experience, taking time to reflect on learned information is important, along with finding ways to apply these insights in future endeavors. Nurturing the relationships built during this period and staying in touch with mentors and other professionals can provide a future full of possibilities. By taking advantage of these experiences, new and aspiring planners can gain the skills, confidence, and network needed to thrive.

10 TX M+E » SPRING 2024 MEETING NOTES Products, Places & Inspiring Ideas
IMAGES (FROM ABOVE LEFT) Lahoma Dade, Adobe/Vitalii Vodolazskyi, Viva Beaumont Lahoma Dade is the founder of Events Unleashed, a corporate and nonprofit event-planning company based in Austin.


» THE BEAUMONT Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched a Spanish-language version of its website. Vivabeaumont.com highlights the area’s Latino community and engages bilingual visitors. Supporting the city’s diverse and multilingual population could promote the addition of more international events, as well as increased meeting attendance from residents of other cities in Texas. The website gives similar information to its English-language counterpart but also showcases Latino businesses and events. The CVB says the site will grow consistently over the coming months as new content is created.


Host your event at Natural Bridge Caverns’ newest event venue, The Cavern Ballroom.

UNIQUE Spaces Above and Below the Surface

Variety of On-Site Catering Options

Multiple Attractions

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From down home BBQ to Hill Country elegance, the caverns is the perfect place for your next event. NaturalBridgeCaverns.com/group-events

Sunset over Beaumont

Beyond the Border: New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana, a city loaded with history and buzzing with music, is an easy (by Texas standards) fivehour drive from Houston. Here, planners will find 26,000 hotel rooms within 2 1/2 miles of downtown. Attendees can enjoy the distinct culture and musical traditions of The Big Easy all within walking distance of their hotel.

T he New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center boasts 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space, making it the sixth-largest convention center in the country. Nearby, the New Orleans Marriott Warehouse Arts District offers 24,000 square feet of contemporary meeting space and 192 guest rooms. For historic ambience, book a block of rooms at the new Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, where planners will find 12,000 square feet of stylish meeting space, a French brasserie, and the Peacock Room lounge for post-session cocktails. Or, host

a smaller meeting for up to 88 attendees at the New Orleans African American Museum, complete with two terraces and a catering kitchen.

N amed “ Best Food Destination ” in the U.S. in the TripAdvisor 2024 Travelers’ Choice Awards Best of the Best, New Orleans boasts more than 500 restaurants within walking distance of downtown. Serving up food rooted in traditions and cultures from around the world, New Orleans cuisine is a robust reflection of the diverse neighborhoods that populate the city. Of course, no visit is complete without a bowl of gumbo and a basket of hot beignets.





12 TX M+E » SPRING 2024 MEETING NOTES Products, Places & Inspiring Ideas
PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants/Cris Molina, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts Peacock Room at Kimpton Hotel Fontenot


» STEP ASIDE, dream team, Hyatt is deploying a “green team” in San Antonio. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk is allocating resources to create a group of dedicated professionals to help planners put together eco-friendly meetings. The on-site team works with planners to develop a sustainability plan for each event customized to their needs.

From individual recycling plans with bins in every meeting room to scheduled lighting and climate-control systems, the hotel offers programs with a flexible menu of options for meetings to keep sustainability a priority. The green team works closely with the planner, banquet managers, and chefs to calculate the proper amount of food necessary for each meal and thus lessen food waste. The hotel also coordinates outside food donation programs for leftovers.

Directly connected to Alamo Plaza, the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk recently completed a $38 million renovation to all 630 guest rooms, corridors, and waiting areas that includes the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows and updated layouts. The property offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space with 21 individual meeting rooms, including a 10,700-square-foot ballroom.

Just a 10-minute walk down the river, another of Hyatt’s hotels—the Grand Hyatt San Antonio River Walk—also has implemented sustainable practices to reduce the carbon footprint of meetings and events. The hotel is adjacent to the Henry B. González Convention Center and offers 1,003 guest rooms along with 115,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

To reduce the hotel’s dependence on plastics, keyless mobile check-in and entry is available through the World of Hyatt app, and meeting information is distributed digitally. High-efficiency lighting-control systems monitor energy consumption and prevent overuse, and windows are treated with window film that reduces the heat transfer indoors to cut down on air-conditioning costs.

Water-refill stations encourage use of refillable water bottles, and single-use straws and plastic containers provided by the hotel are made of biodegradable materials. Like the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk, the Grand Hyatt San Antonio River Walk restaurants use locally sourced ingredients from nearby farms.


Grand Hyatt San Antonio River Walk

The Essential Keynoter Survival Kit

Lots of things can go wrong when you bring a keynoter into your event: forgotten equipment, coffee spills—you name it. Taking a little time to put together a keynoter survival kit to address the most common issues can ensure the presentation will progress smoothly with minimal behind-the-scenes headaches. Here are a few essential things to have on hand to keep your keynoters comfortable, well-hydrated, smooth talking, and on their game.


It is always a sigh of relief when these are available for those who

Comfort is key.


Nobody wants remnants of breakfast in their teeth.


This is essential everywhere for a clean and healthy environment.


Get those hairs or other hangers-on off of pantsuits.

Have some in your pocket to tide over hungry keynoters when there isn’t time for a larger meal.


Clean up the chicken cacciatore that ends up dripping on a keynoter’s white shirt.


Practice sessions and extended speeches can make for scratchy throats.


From drippy noses to makeup touchups, a

little Kleenex goes a long way.


There is little that is more annoying than not having the tools to write things down when you need to.



Bring backup charging cables for Apple and Android phones/tablets and for Apple and Windows laptops.


sure to bring a printout

Bring a backup copy of the presentation on a USB drive. Save multiple versions to the cloud in different formats, and make sure to bring a printout of the presentation in case technology fails.


Speaking makes one thirsty—have several bottles on hand.

For a mouse, laser

Stress, travel, and eating unfamiliar foods can cause internal wiring and plumbing to go haywire.



Bring a VGA cable, miniport/Thunderbolt/ USB-C to VGA adapter, and HDMI cable.

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MEETING NOTES Products, Places & Inspiring Ideas
Adobe/Framestock ILLUSTRATIONS
Caroline Royce

Gather on the Gulf Coast

With year-round good weather, the Texas coast beckons attendees

» CACTUSES AND tumbleweeds might be typical of Texas, but in one region, attendees can trade boots for flip-flops. The stunning Gulf Coast is a 367-mile stretch of beach along the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 counties along the coast, home to several cities that allow attendees to enjoy the sea breeze year-round. Barrier islands stretch for 113 miles, creating a line of land that looks like a peninsula along the coast. Bays and lakes dot the landscape inland from the beach.

Sunny and fair, the weather on the Gulf Coast is warm and clear most of the time. Even in the summer heat, the wind over the ocean keeps the shoreline more temperate than many other parts of the state.

Planning a meeting in the Gulf Coast region might increase turnout, as attendees see the opportunity to relax on the beach and enjoy some downtime islandstyle. From early Texas history to modern meeting amenities, the coastal cities have something for everyone to enjoy.


In 1839, Galveston Island was founded as a port city in the Republic of Texas, and it has seen its share of tragedy since then. In 1865, a fire destroyed entire city blocks of the Strand Historic District, or “the Strand,” requiring extensive rebuilding. Then, in 1900, The Great Galveston Hurricane, considered the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, left the island in ruins. It took decades to rebuild the city— but rebuild it they did.

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PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) Visit Galveston, Visit Corpus Christi, Margaritaville Hotels & Resorts Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier in Galveston

Today, in the Strand, ornate 1800sera buildings that survived the disasters, museums, art galleries, and shops line the streets of Galveston. With more than 8 million visitors a year to a city with 53,000 residents, the city is all about tourism. “We are a prominent meetings destination in Texas, welcoming over 175 events and over 120,000 attendees annually for meetings, conventions, and sports groups representing a variety of markets,” says Bryan Kunz, director of sales and services at Visit Galveston. The city is about an hour from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and serves as a port for international cruises.

A variety of venues gives planners choices, from small historical sites to the city’s large convention center. “Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis Resort’s dramatic beachfront setting offers breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico,” Kunz says. The venue offers 43,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space and a 15,000-square-foot ballroom. The pre-function space is lined with floorto-ceiling windows that allow sunlight to stream in and attendees to look out toward the Gulf of Mexico over the Seawall.

The San Luis features 700 rooms, but Kunz says there are 1,400 rooms within a 2-mile radius of the convention center. Two new hotels, Home2 Suites by Hilton Galveston and Tru by Hilton Galveston, opened last year. The pair shares a building to create a combined 196 rooms in a laidback atmosphere.

Island relaxation is elevated at The Tremont House, which was built in 1839, the same year that Galveston was founded. As the oldest hotel in the city, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. “It was built to be the grandest hotel in the South, and it continues to this day to be the host of prestigious events and iconic guests,” says Jacque Stilwell, certified meeting professional and director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

A get-together on McGee Beach in Corpus Christi; Below: The lobby at Margaritaville Beach Resort South Padre Island

With room for up to 500 attendees, the 17,000 square feet of flexible meeting space at The Tremont House offers an elegant neutral palette that can be customized to match any event’s needs. “All meeting rooms have natural light and high ceilings with lots of character, which is perfect for a unique event or meeting experience,” says Stilwell. Spaces from the rooftop lounge to the nearly 8,000-square-foot ballroom give planners a range of choices.

For historic opulence, book space at the 220-room Grand Galvez Resort, Autograph Collection, a AAA Four Diamond property. The newly renovated hotel will transport attendees back to a bygone era, complete with black-and-white tiled floors and decadent decor reminiscent of the building’s beginnings in 1911. The terrace and veranda are separated by French doors and combine to create a 5,000-square-foot ballroom with views of the Gulf; the Music Hall offers another 5,000 square feet in a sky-blue room with crystal chandeliers. For outdoor events in the ocean breeze, 11,000 square feet of space is available and spread across two gardens.


Temperatures at the southern tip of Texas remain in the 60s and 70s throughout the winter, so cities along the coast are viable warm-weather destinations. Snowbirds escaping the cold flock to Corpus Christi, the eighth-largest city in Texas with a population of 317,000 and 300 days of sunshine a year.

Conference attendees at the American Bank Center are steps away from the beach, where flip-flops and sunnies rule in this laid-back city. “Attendees will enjoy the beach-town feel, while planners will appreciate amenities that are comparable to those in larger cities,” says America Segura, director of communications at Visit Corpus Christi. The American Bank Center boasts a 138,000-square-foot convention center that is split into two ballrooms and eight breakout rooms, a 10,500-seat arena, and the 2,600-seat Selena Auditorium.

“Having nine beaches in Corpus Christi makes it easy to explore the outdoors with activities like horses on the beach, paddleboarding, beach yoga, glow-in-the-dark kayaking, and cook-and-catch fishing experiences.”

Nearby, the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel gives attendees sky-high views of Corpus Christi Bay from 475 guest room balconies and the Republic of Texas Bar and Grill, the only AAA Four Diamond restaurant in South Texas, with a spectacular 20th-floor overlook. The hotel boasts 24,000 square feet of meeting space and a wine room with 160 wines from

around the world.

For meetings closer to the harbor, the 345-room Holiday Inn Corpus Christi Downtown Marina can host 500 attendees across nine meeting rooms. On the other side of the bay, the DoubleTree Corpus Christi Beachfront, with 4,250 square feet of meeting space, has 139 guest rooms and direct access to the sand and surf behind the hotel.

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Gulf Coast
PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) Visit Corpus Christi, Visit Galveston Omni Corpus Christi Hotel


Outside the meeting rooms, there are water-related activities for everyone.

“Having nine beaches in Corpus Christi makes it easy to explore the outdoors with activities like horses on the beach, paddleboarding, beach yoga, glow-in-thedark kayaking, and cook-and-catch fishing experiences,” says Segura. Popular beaches include North Beach, adjacent to the boardwalk, and McGee Beach, with umbrella and beach chair rentals.

Attendees in Corpus Christi can also visit the Texas State Aquarium, the fourthlargest aquarium in the nation, and the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay to learn more about World War II-era vessels. Meeting space is available at both attractions.

Immerse your attendees in the ocean or the rainforest when you meet at Moody

Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center in Galveston. The Expo Hall at the convention center spans 60,000 square feet and seats 7,000 attendees. AAA Four Diamond accommodations provide relaxation in between sessions and on-site entertainment in the exhibit pyramids, indoor and outdoor pools, and boat marina. All along the coast, deep-sea fishing charters depart regularly to bring anglers closer to mahimahi, king mackerel, and blacktip shark.

Fishing at Padre Island National Seashore gives attendees a small, yet gorgeous glimpse of the 66 miles of protected wild coastline. South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center, and Alligator Sanctuary includes a bayfront boardwalk and bird blinds along with a gator pond, all on 50 acres of wetland. Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island aids in the protection and

care of sea turtles through conservation and research. Every year, volunteers, researchers, and students gather on the beach to save hatchlings on their perilous walk to the water.

Margaritaville Beach Resort South Padre Island offers laid-back luxury throughout its nearly 3,500 square feet of meeting space with natural light. Islandinspired guest rooms, suites, and condos are close to the action with available Jet Skis, snorkeling equipment, and sandcastle buckets. An additional Margaritaville location in Galveston is in development.


The coast is dotted with scenic towns waiting to host attendees with a warm Texas welcome. In what locals call Brazosport, the area where the Brazos River empties

The Cove Pool at San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center in Galveston

into the Gulf of Mexico, attendees can shop local crafts in Surfside and enjoy saltwater fishing in Freeport. The RiverPlace Event Center provides sunlit space for 400 attendees on the banks of the Brazos River. Freeport is also the departure point for Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, a popular scuba-diving destination 100 miles off the coast.

Near Galveston, Texas City’s Charles T. Doyle Convention Center offers 14,000 square feet of meeting space, and the Springhill Suites Texas City has room for 50 in a 1,000-square-foot meeting room. On an 18-mile stretch of beach called Mustang Island, the Port Aransas Civic Center has space for 1,100 attendees. Nearby Portland provides 13,000 square feet of meeting space in the recently renovated

Portland Community Center. Attendees can stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites with its 91 guest rooms.

Famous as a spring break destination, South Padre Island is much more than just a fun place to party. The South Padre Island Convention Center boasts 45,000 square feet of meeting space and 1,200 nearby hotel rooms.

Between Houston and Galveston lies the Bay Area, a region that surrounds the Galveston Bay Estuary. Cities include Baytown, where a recently opened Hyatt







Regency Baytown-Houston provides a new convention center and 18,000 square feet of modern meeting space; and League City, where the 230-room South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center sits on the edge of Clear Lake and offers 25,000 square feet of meeting space. The nearby town of Webster is soon to be home to a 27-acre Great Wolf Lodge, a family-friendly option for meetings expected to open this fall.

No matter the season, the Gulf Coast region of Texas offers attendees a meeting and a getaway in one.

omnihotels.com portaransas.org portlandtx.com sanluisresort.com







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PHOTO Visit Corpus Christi DoubleTree by Hilton Corpus Christi Beachfront

Rustic Retreats

A venue with Western surroundings takes a meeting beyond the boardroom and into the open range

» FROM REPLICAS of Old West towns to barns converted into banquet halls, Texas has no shortage of rustic venues. The state’s unique history includes barn dances and rodeos, so it makes sense that locals and visitors alike still enjoy gathering in places that act as reminders of life on the range.

Being in a space that sits on acres of land is a different experience than being in the conference room of a hotel. While each type of venue has its place and purpose, the benefit of a rustic venue—whether in the country or a country oasis in the city— is its ability to make a big impression on

attendees and create a truly Texas experience they will remember for years.

“One of the most impactful trends we have seen, and continue to see, is a focus on providing unique experiences for event attendees,” says Lindsay Barker, director of Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The days of attending a convention or meeting, sitting in a room for eight hours of class and speeches, and then being finished for the day are long gone.”

So put on those boots and jeans and go all-in on Western-style fun. These rustic venues are sure to have planners and attendees tipping their hats to Texas.


Re-creating a Texas town from the early 1900s, Star Hill Ranch comprises 22 historic buildings that were relocated and restored on the property. The ranch is 30 minutes from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and has capacity for up to 2,000 people in its indoor and outdoor spaces. Attendees can stroll the main street in the evening under the glow of twinkle lights, and planners can host outdoor events in the plaza. Gather in the banquet hall—which is a converted schoolhouse—or the Fitzhugh Building, a 1914 chapel and community center

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VENUE R EPO R T Rustic Retreats
Lazy S
Hacienda/Wiley Photo Film Lazy S Hacienda in Weatherford
MEETINGSMAGS.COM/TEXAS 23 Shop. Unwind. Dine. Come for the hospitali . Stay for the experience. submit Scan to your RFP. . gtmsales@greenspring.com 150,000+ Tours Are Taken By Our Operators Get on their itinerary. Advertise with Group Tour magazine! In print and online, there’s no greater audience of group tour operators.

that seats 300 attendees. Don’t forget drinks at the saloon when the day is done.

For some attendees, a real rustic retreat in Texas might not be complete without a hunt. Joshua Creek Ranch offers outdoor sporting adventures in a luxury resort setting located 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio. With over 7,500 square feet of indoor space, the ranch can host 250 attendees. On-site lodging in private ranch houses offers single occupancy for 30 but can accommodate up to 100 overnight guests. Ranch chefs specialize in wildgame recipes during hunting season and local Texas fare the rest of the year.

“A custom itinerary including private venues, food service, overnight accommodations, and outdoor sporting activities combined with our spectacular location in the beautiful Texas Hill Country makes Joshua Creek Ranch a truly unique destination for hosting events and special occasions for groups of all sizes,” says Kevin Welborn, managing director.


For large groups, venues with maximum space combine with Western charm to create an inspiring event. River Ranch Stockyards has indoor and outdoor space for 1,000 attendees. Located in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, the venue is versatile for both casual and formal events. Three indoor spaces include the Old Town Room, with replica wooden fronts of a saloon, mercantile, chapel, and jail lining the walls; the Trophy Room with a rustic stage; and the Westfork Room with a stone fireplace and adjacent patio. Book activities outdoors and give attendees a mechanical bull ride, photo ops with a live longhorn, and even a bull-riding show in the on-site rodeo pen.

Circle R Ranch sits on 60 acres in Flower Mound, a suburb of Dallas. Two large facilities on the property look like big red barns, and the surrounding land is ideal for large outdoor events like company picnics or field days. The Western Pavilion offers

27,000 square feet of enclosed space for up to 1,000 attendees. A 5,000-squarefoot patio, stage, two game rooms, and four main bars give planners flexible setups. For a homier setting, the Chisolm Ranch House offers 5,000 square feet across the main area with a fireplace and stage, and the sunroom features views of the ranch. The on-site rodeo arena can be booked for live rodeo shows.


For a serene setting, Rustic Hart Ranch and Venue sits on 14 acres just south of Wichita Falls. The barn, complete with wood floors and a Western bar with a painted-on Texas flag, seats up to 150 banquet-style. Mesquite trees grow throughout

the property and offer multiple outdoor green spaces for meetings under the blue sky, creating a relaxing place to learn and connect. “Planners have transformed the typical convention or meeting into an informative and enjoyable experience for attendees,” says Barker.

For an elevated event, Lazy S Hacienda offers an elegant aesthetic in Weatherford. The 5,500-square-foot building, modeled after a Spanish hacienda (a style of large estate), has rustic wooden ceilings and an open floor plan resembling the inside of a barn. Attendees also have access to 2,000 square feet of outdoor meeting space. The venue is set on 40 secluded acres but is just three minutes off Interstate 20 outside of Fort Worth. The property adheres to sustainability standards with water conservation fixtures, solar panels, and energyefficient HVAC and electrical systems. A rooftop deck provides attendees with unobstructed views of the sunset over the plains, and a helipad makes for a quick getaway or a surprise adventure for attendees.

Cowboy culture extends to every corner of the state, so you won’t have to look too far to find the right rustic retreat for your next meeting.







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VENUE R EPO R T Rustic Retreats
Star Hill Ranch; Below: Branch Haus Lodge and Conference Facility at Joshua Creek Ranch PHOTOS (FROM ABOVE) Amanda Pomilla Photography, Joshua Creek Ranch

WVisit Colorado Springs

719-635-7506 | visitcos.com

elcome to Olympic City, USA, where wide-open spaces, 300 days of endless blue skies, and stunning scenery serve as the backdrop to Rocky Mountain meetings and events. Discover historic properties, unique venues, and value-priced, first-tier amenities. Places like the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, Weidner Field, the Flying W Ranch, and the Colorado Springs Convention Center at The Broadmoor offer unparalleled options for meetings and events of all sizes.

Explore new meeting spaces at Chamonix Casino Hotel in Cripple Creek and Hotel Polaris at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Chamonix offers elegant meeting and convention space with enough room

Colorado Sp ngs

to accommodate groups from five to 500. With 26,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, 11,000 square feet of pre-function space, a 6,000-square-foot junior ballroom, and nine meeting rooms, Hotel Polaris has options for events of all sizes. There are also outdoor spaces, including a 4,000-square-foot event lawn and 5,500-square-foot plaza.

At this beautiful destination, planners and attendees will find room to inspire, innovate, connect, and re-energize. The Visit Colorado Springs team is ready to help with complimentary services like leads to hotels and service providers, personalized site inspections, and promotional materials.

Meet in the middle.

Halfway to just about anywhere and tucked into the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs is the backdrop to thousands of meetings and events each year. You handle the agenda and we’ll take care of after-hours “breakout sessions’ at local breweries and rooftop patios.

You’ll never compromise when you meet in the middle.

PHOTOS Visit Colorado Springs

Green From the Get-Go

Sustainable requests for proposal move environmental consciousness for events to the forefront

» THE MEETINGS AND EVENTS industry is flourishing. But so, too, are the large carbon footprints often left behind by a hospitality of abundance. In response, planners and organizers are taking steps to green up their gatherings.

Sustainability is a major priority for meeting planners when choosing destinations. Many regularly ask about sustainability in their requests for proposals, and most look for venues that use ethically and locally sourced ingredients and that minimize food waste. Other leading site selection criteria are recycling, energy efficiency, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building certification, and local and long-distance transportation. These requests with an eco-friendly focus are known as “sustainable RFPs,” although the degree of specificity ranges from general to granular.


“It is certainly something moved to the forefront of the RFP process,” says Chris Connelly, senior director of sales at Visit Seattle. “It used to be something you didn’t see. Now most organizations are asking about green initiatives, not just from the facilities but also the cities themselves.” Some planners want their

events’ carbon emissions calculated, or even data on emissions per attendee, he adds. Convention centers nationwide are taking notice. For example, a huge draw to Washington’s Emerald City is the downtown Seattle Convention Center. Its Summit building opened in January of last year—nearly doubling overall capacity by adding 573,770 square feet of event space—and was recently awarded LEED Platinum certification. The original Arch building, constructed in the late 1980s, earned LEED Silver certification. Hotels are also emphasizing sustainability. At the trio of Hiltons in San Diego, California, “meeting planner clients are interested in participating with local sourcing,” says Peter Kane, commercial director for the three hotels. “They ask about our sustainability and to describe our corporate social responsibility, and ask if we have any certifications or credentials.”

The Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the largest of the three, maintains a rooftop apiary and participates in the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurant program to prevent plastic pollution from entering coastal waters. Globally, Hilton Worldwide’s Meet With Purpose initiative assists planners with impact calculators for carbon, energy, water, and waste; sustainable menus; food donations; and other efforts.

Continued on page 28

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T R END R EPO R T Sustainable Requests for Proposal
PHOTO Cory Parris The garden terrace of the Seattle Convention Center’s Summit building


At Harwood, we craft unique, memorable experiences by providing innovative cuisine and sophisticated libations in a uniquely vibrant atmosphere. We offer a variety of chef-curated packages and customizable menus across our portfolio of 16 versatile restaurant concepts and our ultra-luxury boutique hotel creating an idyllic backdrop to celebrate any special occasion or special event type in the heart of Dallas, TX.


Your Share Today
with the Meetings + Events Group!
print and online, there’s no greater breadth and depth of reach.
mandesales@greenspring.com Capture
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Continued from page 26

In San Jose, California, support for sustainability is echoed. “A lot of it is driven by organizations that care … and by younger people who as a whole are more climate aware,” says Matthew Martinucci, vice president of sales and destination services for Visit San Jose. For example, the San Jose McEnery Convention Center earned LEED Silver certification in 2015 and boasts a green-minded food and beverage team.

Location matters in how deeply planners dive into green meetings, and Innisfree Hotels is ready, says Director of Sustainability Bethanne Edwards. All 24 Innisfree properties are Green Keycertified, a standard of excellence for tourism-related environmental responsibility and sustainable operations. Government entities are the biggest proponents so far, but she expects others to follow. “At this point, it’s lagging in certain markets,” she says. “As more people start to understand the environmental impact of meetings and conferences, they will look for ways to mitigate that.”


An event’s food and beverage component largely contributes to planet detriment by way of types, amounts, sourcing, preparation, and packaging. It’s also the costliest.

An example is GreenBiz Group in Oakland, California, which developed an extensive sustainable food program for its conferences. Last fall, GreenBiz brought in a plant-based chef to train the culinary team of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to prepare “plant-based food that tastes good and that people actually want to eat,” says GreenBiz Group Senior Conference Coordinator Jessica Coons. GreenBiz also partners with organizations like Greener by Default, to analyze menus for environmental impact, and with Copia, to help with leftover food donations.

Green hospitality doesn’t have to mean cutting corners, adds Michaella Holden, whose company, Lucent Blue Events + Design

in Minneapolis, Minnesota, fosters sustainability without sacrificing luxury. “You can have the best of both worlds,” she says. “You can be thoughtful about how you are producing your event and still have all the little details you want.” She advocates for water stations and reusable glassware instead of single-use bottles, locally grown flowers to reduce shipping and packing costs, signage made from recyclable Falconboard rather than nonbiodegradable foam board, and event swag that is useful rather than gimmicky. An example of purposeful swag includes the giveaways Visit Seattle distributed to a group of 3,000 last year. Those included sourced tote bags sewn from repurposed sailboat sails by the local Refugee Artisan Initiative.


It’s important to submit RFPs early for niche requests that are important to your group, including things like donations to a specific charity or inclusion of particular ingredients or precise measurements for dining.

“We can source locally. We can source humane treatment of animals,” says green event specialist Laura Zaspel of Serendipity Catering in Denver, Colorado. “But if you don’t plan properly, the supply might not be there, or you can have a significant amount of waste that could go to the hungry or composting.”

“Remember that sustainability is a journey,” Coons says. “You don’t have to have it all figured out immediately. Pick the easiest things to tackle first and go from there.”

gocopia.com greenbiz.com greenerbydefault.com greenkey.global hilton.com innisfreehotels.com

lucent.blue sanjose.org





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Serendipity Catering sources ingredients locally. Beekeeping at Hilton San Diego Bayfront PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Serendipity Catering
T R END R EPO R T Sustainable Requests for Proposal
MEETINGSMAGS.COM/TEXAS 29 Serious Learning. Serious Fun. 72,000 SQUARE FEET OF PURPOSE- BUILT EVENT SPACE WITHIN A 3.5 HOUR DRIVE OF 20 MILLION TEXANS. SalesTeam@MargaritavilleResortLakeConroe.com | 936.448.3103 600 Margaritaville Parkway, Montgomery, TX 77356 MargaritavilleResortLakeConroeTexas.com MARGARITAVILLERESORTLAKECONROE.COM | 936.448.3103 SalesTeam@MargaritavilleResortLakeConroe.com


Texas is full of scenic locations and breathtaking panoramas, but none of them makes a difference if attendees are sitting inside a room with no windows all day. Take advantage of the natural beauty of the state by booking a venue with a view.

Whether it’s all day in a light-filled space or half the day in a breakout room with floorto-ceiling windows, time spent in these venues will inspire attendees. A field study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, shows that people who work in environments with sources of natural light are more productive and focused than those who work in windowless spaces.

Sunlight also has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which means attendees might just feel happier when they can see outside.

That mood lift would likely not only result in a more enjoyable experience for attendees, but perhaps also lead to higher scores on review surveys after the event is over.

Not every meeting is suited to a view of the lake, nor is a meeting necessarily improved by a high-rise cityscape. It’s important to consider the meeting format, culture of the company, and preferences of the group when choosing the right type of view. Be sure to consider height phobias, allergies, and other restrictions when considering the use of outdoor or sky-high venues.

We gathered some examples of venues with impressive views to help you get an idea of what’s possible. These spaces will help inspire positive feelings, relaxed moods, and talking points that go beyond what’s on the meeting agenda.

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PHOTO Crown Block/Steelite Crown Block at the top of Reunion Tower in Dallas

On the River

With balconies overlooking the San Antonio River Walk, the Omni La Mansión Del Rio will give attendees a view even after the day is over. The hotel offers patio seating for margaritas and meals on the banks of the river. With 18,000 square feet of meeting space—including the Iberian Ballroom for up to 500 attendees—and 338 rooms, the property is spacious while maintaining a boutique, European vibe. Tucked away behind cedar and oak trees in Round Rock, the 39-room Ruby Hotel & Bar gives attendees the feeling of being whisked away to a secret location without leaving the city. “The Ruby offers a variety of event spaces ranging from a boardroom to a second-floor patio with 180-degree views of Brushy Creek,” says Cole Di Carlo, director of sales and marketing for Alexa MGMT, the hospitality management company for The Ruby. Brushy Creek is a tributary of the San Gabriel River and is banked on either side by overhanging trees and wildlife. The Ruby sits on 2 1/2 acres along the water. “After a day full of meetings or trainings, you can take your delicious cocktail to the patio where there are nesting egrets, swimming sea turtles, and grazing cattle,” says Di Carlo. The midcentury modern Ruby House, including the lounge, boardroom, and patios, can accommodate up to 100 attendees. A 20,000-square-foot lawn shaded under heritage oak trees is also available to groups.

Sunset Scenery

Some of the most beautiful places in Texas might be considered the sparsest, but far West Texas is known for its desert landscape and stunning sunsets. La Perla, the rooftop bar at The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park in El Paso, was once the penthouse where Hollywood movie star Elizabeth Taylor lived with Conrad Hilton in 1950

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PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE) Hôtel Swexan, The Joule Hotel, Destination El Paso/Andy Austin The rooftop pool at Hôtel Swexan in Dallas; Below: La Perla rooftop patio at The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park in El Paso

during their brief marriage. Today, group dining at La Perla provides a front-row seat for some of the Franklin Mountains’ most scenic sunsets. With 7,600 square feet of meeting space and 130 rooms, the historic hotel also offers a cellar-level private dining room and a light-filled boardroom.

Sunsets sparkle on the water of Lake Travis when viewed from the Lakeway Resort and Spa. Located in Lakeway, the resort is only 45 minutes from AustinBergstrom International Airport. Planners can choose from 24,000 square feet of meeting space, much of it with expansive views of the sunset over the lake. The Vistas Ballroom is on the top floor of the resort and boasts 5,150 square feet with vaulted ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, and a wraparound terrace. The Colorado Ballroom, also walled with windows, gives 4,000 square feet of space that can be split into three smaller rooms. SOMETHING

» IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SHAKE things up and give attendees a conversation starter, opt for an artistic view that is hard to ignore. A perfect example, The Eye is a sculpture on the lawn of The Joule Hotel in Dallas along Main Street. At 30 feet tall, the fiberglass, resin, and steel creation is a replica of artist Tony Tasset’s own eyeball. The Instagram-worthy spot is just one part of The Joule’s 30,000 square feet of available spaces, including executive meeting rooms and top-floor terraces.

The Eye at The Joule Hotel

Ci t y Skylines

In the evening, the lights of a city can provide an awe-inspiring view. Atop Reunion Tower, the iconic glowing ball in Dallas’ skyline, Crown Block offers a spectacular scene for attendees while dining on Texas wagyu steak, Gulf of Mexico seafood, and plant-based cuisine. This restaurant doesn’t spin like its predecessors, but the event space one level up, the Crown Room, does spin slowly to reveal a constantly changing perspective on the city. With space for 250 guests, the Crown Room is an elegant backdrop for cocktails or seated events.

“Partnering with trusted vendors and using planner-friendly applications, we ensure every detail—from audiovisual equipment to floral arrangements—contributes to a memorable experience for all,” says Mackenzie Kahl, The Crown Room’s

director of catering and events. “Regardless of your choice between Crown Block and Crown Room, both spaces provide breathtaking 360-degree views of Dallas through floor-to-ceiling windows.” Note that the dress code is enforced in both venues throughout the day.

For artistic surroundings, book one of the chic meeting rooms at Hôtel Swexan, newly opened in Dallas. The 134-room hotel aims to extend Swiss hospitality and Texas charm to its 12,000 square feet of meeting space. The sixth-floor ballroom, with marble floors, white millwork walls, and hand-carved fireplaces, overlooks the Harwood District through its floorto-ceiling windows. Attendees can enjoy cocktails at the Mediterranean-inspired rooftop pool and lounge.

Houston is renowned for its historic role in the oil industry, and the Petroleum

Club was there for much of it. Established in 1946 in the top floors of the Rice Hotel, the club has since moved twice and now occupies space on the 35th floor of the Total Plaza, resulting in towering views of downtown Houston. From ballroom space for 250 to a wood-paneled, vintage-styled room for 30, the rooms at the Petroleum Club speak to traditional elegance.

Throughout the state, venues with wowworthy vistas are ready and waiting to help planners host an inspiring meeting.









PHOTO Casey Dunn
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The Ruby Hotel & Bar in Round Rock

Convention Resorts Hotels




Bring Your Next Event to Life!

281-334-1000 | SSHR.COM


magine a venue that exceeds all expectations in a location far enough away from Houston to feel like an escape but close enough for cost-effective travel—a facility that meets all needs, where the leisure activities enhance, rather than distract.

From retreats and corporate meetings to weddings and reunions, South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center on Clear Lake in League City promises a storybook setting for any special event, with the added touch of a tropical resort-style atmosphere on the water.

Whether planning a small business meeting or large-scale event, South Shore Harbour Resort offers the perfect space and backdrop to accommodate event planners’ needs. From delicious dining options to a variety of recreational activities, the hotel offers everything planners might need and is complemented by attractions such as the Kemah Boardwalk and Space Center Houston.

Keep guests happy and busy—attendees don’t even need to leave the property. The hotel has a breakfast buffet, Sunday brunch, Opus Bistro & Steakhouse, Lighthouse Bar & Bistro, and much more. Guests can use the South Shore Harbour Fitness Center free of charge. The Fitness Center is 130,000 square feet with every thing attendees need for a complete workout. And when they are done, they can enjoy the spa services at Bella Vita Day Spa. For golf ers, there is a 27-hole championship golf course a few minutes away.

Located between Houston and Galveston, William P. Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport are easily accessible from the hotel. Take an afternoon and enjoy Galveston beaches, or stay at the hotel and relax at the 185-foot tropical swimming pool with a swim-up bar that overlooks the marina.

Bring your meeting or event to life. South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center is a treasure of South Houston and Clear Lake. Book your next event today.

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PHOTOS South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center

The Woodlands Resort


Embark on a harmonious blend of business and leisure amid the natural beauty of The Woodlands Resort, Curio Collection by Hilton. For decades, The Woodlands Resort has been an idyllic escape into nature—offering a breathtaking forested backdrop, an array of leisure and business amenities, and a four-star experience infused with genuine Texas hospitality. A recent $26 million renovation has elevated its standing among the finest resorts in Texas.

Boasting 402 guest rooms, 75,000 square feet of meeting space and sitting on 350 acres, The Woodlands Resort is a haven for those seeking the perfect balance between work and play. The five dining outlets, refreshed guest rooms and suites, retail boutique, and new gathering spaces make it an ideal destination for groups of all sizes.

With 55 versatile meeting rooms, most bathed in abundant natural light with scenic views, and an array of outdoor venues, events hosted at The Woodlands Resort are destined to be both stimulating and unforgettable. Whether planners want to engage

attendees in chef competitions or outdoor adventures, we offer a range of options for team building and beyond.

Indulge in championship golf courses; a tennis and pickleball center; kayaking; and the Oasis Waterpark with slides, lazy river, and heated pools for year-round enjoyment. Conveniently located just 20 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, The Woodlands provides easy access to entertainment options such as the renowned Cythnia Woods Pavilion, The Woodlands Waterway, and upscale shopping at Market Street.

Earn Hilton Honors points as our professional conference service team takes care of the details. The Woodlands Resort’s dynamic facilities, coupled with the variety of venues, offers a comprehensive package that not only enhances group dynamics but also ensures the success of any business retreat. Elevate attendees’ experience with The Woodlands Resort and unlock the perfect synergy of nature, business, and leisure.

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PHOTO The Woodlands Resort
MEETINGSMAGS.COM/TEXAS 39 Meet where Nature Surrounds and Luxury Abounds 75,000 sf of meeting space | 25 minutes from IAH Airport | 4 Diamond Resort Group inquiries: 281.364.6389 | www.woodlandsresort.com

Visit South Padre Island

800-767-2373 | SOPADRE.COM

Escape the four walls and feel the sand between your toes by hosting the next meeting on Texas’ only tropical island. Wide-open natural beach and stunning Gulf of Mexico waters are the perfect backdrop for the big ideas and camaraderie of an event. Meeting planners love South Padre Island’s setting and accommodations for events of all sizes, and also appreciate the island’s tropical backdrop, as it draws in attendees who are excited to hit the beach while learning, networking, and growing their organizations.

South Padre Island is easily accessible by land and air. Attendees will check a few things off while learning team-building skills that can be brought back to the office. Adrenaline will be pumping with a variety of activities, including parasailing—groups can even zip line or jump out of a plane with co-workers. If catching waves, snorkeling, or kayaking gets the group’s blood pumping, South

Padre Island is the perfect place! More than half a dozen activities will have attendees connecting, all while enjoying amazing Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Choose from a wide selection of beach and bayside hotels and vacation rentals, all perfectly situated to help attendees explore the island’s activities and attractions. Mild, semi-arid weather means lots of sunny days, with an average annual temperature of 74 degrees. Attendees can take advantage of the beachy weather and sign up for a sandcastle lesson from some of the best sand artists in the state.

Step outside the main door of the South Padre Island Convention Centre to discover why South Padre Island is the ideal destination for a convention, meeting, or trade show. The convention center occupies 30 acres on scenic Laguna Madre Bay with 45,000 square feet that can be configured almost any way needed.

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PHOTOS South Padre Island Convention
Visitors Bureau

A New Era for Downtown Abilene


In the heart of West Texas, Abilene is witnessing a transformative era that marries the rich culture of its past with the vivid possibilities of its future. It’s sculpting a downtown that not only enhances its appeal as a conference destination but also honors the city’s heritage.

At its core, Abilene’s Downtown Initiative has an ambitious goal: to establish downtown as a premier destination where people aspire to live, work, and play. The city’s commitment is exemplified by the development of the DoubleTree by Hilton Abilene Downtown Convention Center Hotel, a project that has sparked a significant revitalization of the area. The arrival of new restaurants and retail shops enhances the attractiveness of downtown Abilene as a conference destination, promising an enriching experience for attendees.

The DoubleTree’s development has turned the downtown area into a lively space, perfect for community events that meeting-goers

can enjoy. Efforts to increase pedestrian traffic are aimed at boosting the local economy and inviting attendees to explore everything downtown Abilene has to offer. The next phase of these efforts will include a redesign of Cypress Street, involving the widening of sidewalks, and the enhancement of night-time safety and appeal through the use of decorative lighting and sound systems. New landscaping and wayfinding signs will also be introduced to simplify navigation for attendees.

Abilene’s Downtown Initiative showcases the city’s ability to honor its past while forging ahead into the future. As Abilene advances, it remains deeply connected to its heritage, ensuring that its development as a premier event location maintains the essence of what makes the city distinctive. Abilene is an exciting, dynamic choice for event planners seeking an authentic experience that promises both character and convenience.

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PHOTOS Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau

Make History.

In Abilene, Texas, your event goes beyond the agenda. Here, attendees connect in a city where heritage meets innovation, making it the perfect destination for meetings that leave a lasting impression.

Don’t just host a meeting, make history in Abilene. Scan the QR code to start planning your next event.

DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Convention Center

Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau

Discover blue skies and golden opportunities in Wichita Falls. A short two-hour drive north of Dallas-Fort Worth and ensconced south of the winding Red River, a thriving community of Texas-size hospitality and North Texas charm awaits to accommodate planners’ event needs, big or small. With its modern amenities, convenient location, and endless opportunities for fun and adventure, Wichita Falls is the perfect place for any corporate meeting or event. Our regional airport offers connecting flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, making it convenient for attendees to start experiencing all this lively city has to offer.

The full-service Delta Hotels by Marriott Wichita Falls Convention Center is located on-site of the Multi-Purpose Events Center in the heart of downtown Wichita Falls. The state-ofthe-art facility offers spacious rooms and modern amenities, perfect for meeting and event planners looking for a destination that truly has it all. The hotel includes 200 rooms, 14,725 square feet of banquet space, a steakhouse and bar, a swimming pool, and a fitness center.

The expansive banquet room complements the 57,141 square feet of flexible floor space in the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall with two main exhibit halls, 10 breakout rooms, and a 216-seat seminar room.

Connected to the exhibit hall by pedestrian bridge, the J.S. Bridwell Agricultural Center includes a 50,000-square-foot stall barn and 120-by-270-foot indoor arena with seating for 1,200 attendees. In addition, the entertainment venue Kay Yeager Coliseum provides a 120-by-250-foot arena floor with permanent seating for 6,500 attendees and 3,500 temporary seats also available.

Not only does Wichita Falls offer luxurious accommodations and expansive, flexible event space, but it also boasts a bustling revitalized downtown area. Venture onto the red brick road of The Depot Square Historic District, a six-block landmark from the “boom days” of oil discovery with turn-of-the-20th-century railroad development. The square places sightseers within walking distance of family-owned and independent restaurants, coffee shops, urban wineries, the brewery, retail shops, entertainment, and museums. For those who prefer driving, free parking is located throughout the city.

Attendees can make the most of their time by using the app designed to help them plan their visit. From exploring local attractions to finding the best dining options, the Visit Wichita Falls app makes it easy to maximize their time. Let Discover Wichita Falls help you plan your next memorable event! 940-761-6820

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Simplify Your Meetings in Grapevine

If you’re looking for a destination that your meeting attendees and guests will rave about, look no further. Grapevine—centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth—is not only easy to get to, but its Southern hospitality and charming atmosphere will have attendees hoping to come back for future events.

Take a step back in time on historic Main Street, where vintage buildings are bustling with locally owned boutiques, chef-driven restaurants, and winery tasting rooms that will make taste buds swoon. Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere when taking in the city’s history, which dates back to when Texas was still a republic. Meeting and comfort needs will be fulfilled with more than 1 million square feet of convention and exhibit space. There are over 20 hotels to choose from, and Gaylord Texan Resort, Hilton DFW Lakes, and Great Wolf Lodge Water Park Grapevine all recently underwent multimillion-dollar renovations. There’s an endless number of options for team-building activities outside the convention space, too. Internationally known Meow

Wolf recently opened at Grapevine Mills with a 29,000-squarefoot immersive, interactive, psychedelic art wonderland that expands the mind and fuels imaginations. It is a unique networking space that can’t be found anywhere else.

Attendees will enjoy hands-on experiences, including a game of the fastest-growing sport, pickleball, at Chicken N Pickle. Enjoy ax-throwing competitions and vintage arcade games, and choose from several escape rooms across the city. Charter an excursion on Lake Grapevine, hold a classic movie showing at the historic Palace Theatre, or plan a ride on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and its authentic 1920s-era coaches. Host dinner events at one of Grapevine’s award-winning fine-dining establishments, including nationally recognized steakhouses that provide the perfect setting for a memorable evening.

Connect with the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau’s friendly, professional sales team of individuals who will be with you every step of the way.

46 TX M+E » SPRING 2023 PHOTO Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau

Experience Valencia Hotel Collection


From San Jose, California, to San Antonio, Texas, and beyond, Valencia Hotel Collection sets the standard for exceptional, memorable meetings and events.

The Valencia Hotel Collection offers hotels that immerse guests in the culture and lifestyle of the cities they call home. The Valencia Hotel Collection blends business with leisure through thoughtful design, unique amenities, and prime locations that encourage connection and productivity for bustling travelers. Event trends show attendees seek a balance between work and leisure at conferences and company meetings. “Bleisure” is achieved seamlessly across all seven Valencia properties, with spacious conference rooms elevated through natural light from large windows and proximity to top entertainment and business districts.

Leisure is embraced at each Valencia property, from spacious courtyards with fire pits and live music to sophisticated lounges,

tapas bars, and whiskey and tequila bars at award-winning loca tions. Outdoor venues also have maintained their relevance for various types of meetings and events. Each Valencia property lends ease between indoor and outdoor spaces, offering opportunities for groups to work and seamlessly transition to interactive activities in courtyards and rooftop spaces. Additionally, accommodating staff members at each property offers personalized service with no detail left unnoticed. Professional conference planning and audiovisual teams are always present to ensure every event, small or large, runs smoothly for company executives and collaborative teams alike. Each Valencia Hotel Collection destination combines the nature of an independent hotel brand and the local culture of each respective city, allowing guests to feel rooted beyond each property, curious to discover more from their travels than just the amenities in a guest or conference room.

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Visit Rockwall

972-771-5733 | ROCKWALL.COM

Along the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard, Rockwall emerges as a charming and rapidly growing community, blending smalltown allure with modern amenities. The appeal lies in the diverse range of recreational activities offered around Lake Ray Hubbard. The Harbor District beckons with waterfront activities, perfect for relaxation. Whether it’s strolling through local events or indulging in a mix of local dining and shopping, attendees are immersed in a vibrant tapestry of culture.

In Rockwall, the synthesis of a storied past and an upscale lakeside ambience creates an environment that captivates visitors. As a destination that seamlessly marries tradition and modernity, Rockwall stands as a testament to the allure of a community evolving in harmony with its roots.



Immerse yourself in the vibrant sounds of the San Jacinto Music Series and Concert by the Lake Music Series, showcasing the best in live music. Join us and experience why Rockwall proudly holds the title of the Free Live Music Capital of North Texas. VisitRockwall.com

East I-30, Rockwall, TX 75087
771-5733 VisitRockwall VisitRockwall
comeseeus@visitrockwall.com (972)

Visit Frisco

972-292-5265 | VISITFRISCO.COM

Located 25 minutes from two major airports, Frisco features professional sports organizations, a museum district, and 9 million square feet of retail. With 4,465 hotel rooms, 417,000 square feet of meeting space, and 400 dining options, Frisco always offers something new to discover.

Frisco can accommodate everything from board meetings to citywide conventions with world-class facilities and full-service hotel properties, including Omni PGA Frisco Resort, Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center, Omni Frisco Hotel at The Star, The Westin Stonebriar Golf Resort & Spa, and Hyatt Regency Frisco. Coming late this summer, Hall Park Hotel will offer 20,000 square feet of flexible event space, an outdoor pool and bar, landscaped gardens, and more.

Elevate any meeting or event’s game by choosing Frisco as the next company meetings destination.

Gather in a destination with a front nine that’s all work and a back nine that’s all play.

Meetings, your way.

Wildcatter Ranch

EWildcatter Ranch


scape the city hustle and choose Wildcatter Ranch for the company’s next meeting. Nestled in the peaceful countryside, the venue offers picturesque views that foster creativity and focus. The wide-open spaces provide a refreshing change of scenery, allowing attendees to recharge and engage more effectively. With activities like horseback riding and team-building exercises, Wildcatter Ranch ensures planners are doing more than just booking a space—they’re investing in an experience.


Wildcatter Ranch takes in 1,500 acres of the most beautiful Texas country. Sitting atop the North Texas hills, we are located just 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth in Graham, Texas.

With 32 guest rooms and suites and two guesthouses, we provide all the comforts of home with a special rustic Texas charm best described as affordable luxury. Our newly built hotel features four state-of-art conference rooms with built in audio/ visual and wireless internet. Expect a retreat where you can enjoy the sunset from the back porch of your guest room or spend your day doing exciting teambuilding events. Our on-site Steakhouse and Saloon serves up Texas-sized hand-cut steaks, great ribs, and many local favorites.



Wildcatter Ranch also showcases a commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly practices, resonating well with environmentally conscious attendees. Wildcatter embraces nature, promotes green initiatives, and creates a memorable experience that elevates meetings to new heights. Say goodbye to the city chaos and hello to productive meetings in the tranquil setting at Wildcatter Ranch.

Wildcatter Ranch takes in 1,500 acres of the most beautiful Texas country. Sitting atop the North Texas hills, we are located just 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth and only 2 hours away from DFW in Graham, Texas. With 16 hotel rooms, 16 cabin suites and a large furnished Ranch House, the WR is the perfect venue to conduct a relaxed productive meeting in a location without coats and ties. When you combine our food, meeting spaces and available activities you’re sure to have an unforgettable meeting. Expect a retreat where you can enjoy the sunset from the back porch of your cabin suite or spend your day doing exciting teambuilding events. Our on-site Steakhouse and Saloon serves up Texas-sized hand-cut steaks, great ribs, and many local favorites.

Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa • 6062 Hwy. 16 South • Graham, Texas

charm best described as affordable luxury. Our newly built hotel features four state-of-art conference rooms with built in audio/ visual and wireless internet. Expect a retreat where you can enjoy the sunset from the back porch of your guest room or

spend your day doing exciting teambuilding events. Our on-site
888-462-9277 • WWW.WILDCATTERRANCH.COM • 940-549-3500
PHOTO Wildcatter Ranch

Harwood Hospitality


Harwood Hospitality crafts unique, memorable experiences by providing innovative cuisine and sophisticated libations in vibrant atmospheres.

Host events at venues like Marie Gabrielle Restaurant and Gardens–Dallas’ enchanting 1 1/2-acre garden oasis with many catering options and indoor and outdoor seating for weddings or corporate events, or escape to the Amalfi Coast and host an event at Dolce Riviera with expansive terrace space, a garden, and an indoor lounge in Dallas’ Harwood District. Har wood Hospitality offers a variety of chef-curated packages and customizable menus across a portfolio of 16 versatile restaurant concepts and an ultraluxury boutique hotel, creating an idyllic backdrop to celebrate any special occasion or special event type in the heart of Dallas.

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From crafting communications to in-depth post-event analysis, artificial intelligence is changing the face of meetings and events

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IMAGES (BACKGROUND AND RIGHT) Adobe/Nazar, Adobe/pinkrabbit

Ifyou haven’t yet had a chance to use artificial intelligence (AI) to plan, manage, or review the metrics of a meeting, your fellow planners would probably say, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” While some industry professionals might be hesitant about a new technology that’s being so heavily touted, and while there are clear dos and don’ts for those new to these systems, most of the experts we spoke with are positive and hopeful about the ways these tools can improve and streamline the work people do every day. In fact, according to Stefan Deeran writing in Forbes magazine, this year is “poised to be a breakout year for AI-powered events.”

While the acronym AI is heard all the time, it’s a good idea to clarify what’s usually meant when someone is talking about AI. Specifically, it’s a collection of different automated technologies that can make tasks easier and improve the quality of the way they’re completed. These technologies are very good at discovering patterns, searching data, translating languages, answering questions, and making predictions. And, even better, they can often perform these tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can. When industry professionals consider the types of work done in meeting and event planning, they can probably see what a big impact this technology will have on the industry.

Which Programs to Use And For What purpose

The meetings and events experts we consulted offered some on-target recommendations for ai programs they’re using in all areas of their businesses. Here are just a few:


This is probably the one that’s most familiar to people. As explained by Heather Seasholtz, vice president of operations at CM Event Solutions in Alexandria, Virginia, “It’s ‘generative’ AI, which means that as people ask it questions or give it information, we’re feeding its database.” That reality comes with a caution, says Seasholtz. “If incorrect information is being added, then you may not receive factual information back. Always check your information.” Also, she notes, “ChatGPT 3.5 [the free version] is only loaded with information up to January 2022, so information can be dated. This is especially important if you’re asking about destinations and venues that may have changed ownership or closed after that date.” Additional up-and-comers moving into the generative AI space include Bard by Google, Jasper Chat, and Spark. chat.openai.com

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Facial recognition

From registration to security, this tool is gaining fast traction. Top vendors include Amazon Rekognition and Zenus, which use facial recognition to track attendee engagement and analyze demographic groups. aws.amazon.com | zenus.ai

Matchmaking and collaboration

Large-scale conferences can benefit from fast and accurate ways to pair up attendees based on their interests, experience, and goals. Software programs like Grip sift through social networks to provide hyper-refined matches. And when those matches want to interact, tools like collaboration.ai can create preselected groups and assign them to seating, workshops, and interactive free time to brainstorm together.

collaboration.ai | grip.events


“There are many platforms leading the way in demonstrating how AI can streamline event management and significantly enhance the attendee experience,” says Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph in Canada. “One is Hubilo, which has a matchmaking feature that’s particularly noteworthy. It uses AI to connect attendees based on interests and professional backgrounds, and its real-time data insights help organizers make informed decisions during an event.”

Socio Labs is a platform that amplifies events’ reach and impact through social media by monitoring online conversations and identifying key influencers. “This helps organizers engage with the audience more effectively and measure the social media footprint of their events,” Choi says.

hubilo.com | socio.events

Recording and transcribing

Many planners have been using Otter.ai for meeting transcription and automatic meeting note generation. Colibri is another tool for recording meetings, displaying real-time transcription, and generating notes. Tools like Supernormal and Beulr can integrate with productivity tools like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. beulr.com | colibri.ai otter.ai | supernormal.com

“In event planning, AI has emerged as a transformative tool, significantly enhancing various aspects of the process,” says Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management in Ontario, Canada. This technology allows planners to create meetings and events that are perfectly targeted to the specific needs and goals of attendees. Choi noted that planners are currently using it for a host of frequently cumbersome or time-consuming tasks like writing personalized communications, “matchmaking” like-minded people, selecting collaborative groups, providing instant answers to attendees’ questions, translating languages, conducting return on investment (ROI) analytics, and more.


“AI is going to change how most of us spend time on the job. It’s better to get your feet wet and at least use the tool daily so you can understand it.”
—Jan Tolle MacDonald, manager of global accounts, HelmsBriscoe

If all this talk of a brave new world of AI is creating a bit of anxiety for planners, this might be the right time to take a deep breath and talk with some peers who are already using it. “Don’t be threatened by AI, which is why I encourage everyone to get onboard now,” says Jan Tolle MacDonald, manager of global accounts at Scottsdale, Arizona-based HelmsBriscoe. “To stay relevant, it never hurts to stay on top of developments that could shape the work we do. As planners, it’s easy to stay focused on the job at hand, but AI is going to change how most of us spend time on the job. It’s better to get your feet wet and at least use the tool daily so you can understand it.”

This is still a relatively new technology, however, so meeting planners should proceed with caution. Gretchen Culver, owner and creative director at Rocket Science Events in Minneapolis, Minnesota, notes, “Given where AI is at right now, it’s important not to completely delegate a task. This technology still needs oversight. AI can create some compelling marketing collateral for your clients, but make sure you proofread to ensure it’s on message. Or, use AI to create the first draft and then fine-tune with your insight and knowledge. Don’t go overboard with AI at the event, either. People are still warming up to the idea and aren’t interested in using technology just for technology’s sake.”

Her thoughts are echoed by David Beckett, vice president of business model and performance at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting in Aurora, Ohio, who says, “From smart chatbots for customer service, to lead retrieval intelligence, and for reporting design, AI will have an impact on meetings and events. I think it will be on the operational efficiency front more than the product and sales front. I’m cautious about promises that early adopters and promoters shout about AI, since they tend to be the same people who jumped on cryptocurrency or beacon technologies. We will see more and more use of AI, but you don’t need to get caught up in the shiny object.”

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Culver, like many planners, asserts, “AI will transform every facet of event planning and design.” As she puts it, “It’s a rapidly improving and expanding technology, and it shouldn’t be ignored. People are coming into contact with AI in their daily lives, so why should events be any different? I see it as a tool to alleviate pain points in the planning process and during events. Its customer service abilities are a great benefit not just for attendees, but also for planners. The AI customer service tools have gotten so good that it’s hard to believe a human isn’t the one answering your question.”


Probably the single biggest use for AI right now is generating original content. MacDonald says she uses ChatGPT every day, and she has even downloaded the app for on-the-go queries and edits. “At a minimum, I use it to review emails, but I also use it to get new ideas or concepts I might have missed otherwise,” she says. “I have also

used it to review contract clauses, and I have been surprised by its accuracy. But, of course, I still need to edit and verify.”

Beckett says that it “can really improve content writing required for session descriptions and titles, to help better connect with the desired audience.” Kastina Morrison, the founder of venue consultant and manager Bigger Picture Solutions in Minneapolis, Minnesota, uses it to help write captions for multiple venue Instagram accounts. “Each venue has a different brand voice, so I ask ChatGPT to provide adjustments in tone.” She finds that it’s been easy to use, noting, “The biggest tip to help in working with it is you have to talk to it like you’re having a conversation. Ask if it can help you with a project and then ask what it needs to help you.”

It’s important to also note that AI can provide good starting points for what you want to write, but those responses require an actual human to review and revise the work they produce. As fast and efficient as these tools are, they’re still no match for the experience and authentic voice of a professional planner.




» WHEN IT COMES TO SUSTAINABILITY in events, it can be hard to know where to start. From decor and plastic water bottles to food waste and carbon footprints, meetings and events can have a huge impact on the environment—whether it’s a meeting of 10 or 10,000. According to Feeding America—a nationwide nonprofit network of food banks, food pantries,

and local meal programs working to end hunger—nearly 80 million tons of food are wasted in the U.S. each year, which is equivalent to 149 billion meals. Plastic Oceans International, a global nonprofit working to end plastic pollution, reports that of the more than 380 million tons of plastic produced each year, up to 50% is for single-use purposes. While the numbers might seem intimidating, to the right are just a few ways planners can create more eco-friendly events to help reduce waste and better conserve resources.

380 milliontons ofplastic isproduced annually.

50% of plastic producedannually is s ing leuse.

l ly in t he U.S.

PHOTOS Xxxxxxxx INDUST R Y UPDATE Infographic
08 im l l i no t o n s o f
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Decor + Production

Avoid single-use or throwaway items like pens or plastic bags for event swag.

Employ sustainable light and energy sources such as LED bulbs and solar power.

Use recyclable event stationery and signage and incorporate reusable decor into your setup.

Invest in flowers and plants native to the region for displays that will both enhance your event space and support local businesses and ecosystems.

Venues + Suppliers

Consider local sites to avoid large amounts of plane or car travel.

Plan environmental group activities like trash pickup or tree planting.

Work with sustainable caterers that prioritize local, seasonal, and environmentally friendly ingredients.

Choose venues and hotels with sustainability certifications and eco-friendly operations.

Food + Drink

Donate excess food to local food banks or pantries.

Compost leftover organic materials.

Provide reusable water bottles for attendees.

Manage portions and preferences using advanced attendee meal selection.

ILLUSTRATION (OPPOSITE) Adobe/Cienpies Design PHOTOS (FROM ABOVE) Adobe/Thongsuk, Adobe/rawpixel.com, Adobe/Elena

New Lifestyle Space in Fredericksburg

Ground has broken on the Sycamore, a 117-acre mixed-use lifestyle center set to open in Fredericksburg next year. Located along the popular Fredericksburg Wine Road 290, the project’s initial offerings will include a central green space called the Ellipse, retail shops, and the addition of a new Salt Lick BBQ restaurant, a Texas favorite restaurant chain.

The 9,000-square-foot restaurant and patio space at Salt Lick BBQ will be complemented by Salt Lick Cellars, a dedicated tasting room and shop for Salt Lick’s selection of wines and other products. The Ellipse will feature walkways under shaded canopies, creek beds, and a bandstand. Attendees of meetings at the Sycamore will enjoy modern surroundings combined with Fredericksburg’s charm.

“Groups will receive the red-carpet treatment with great Southern hospitality in a community that prides itself on its small-town atmosphere yet big-city amenities,” says Shannon Overby, national sales director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau.

The project is committed to sustainability, incorporating low-impact design and eco-friendly features like rainwater harvesting to bioswales, pervious pavement, and LED downlighting. The Sycamore is poised to set a benchmark in sustainable development. –Amy Durham




» THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the 2023 President’s Awards Program winners took place in Nacogdoches during the Texas Downtown Annual Conference. Georgetown businesses won the President’s Award in two categories.

BeLocal Georgetown, a newcomer’s guide, earned the Best Downtown Partner Award, acknowledging its positive impact on the community, specifically in connecting planners and new residents with downtown favorites through local recommendations.

For planners seeking a historic venue in the area, the City Post Chophouse restaurant and event space in a converted historic post office earned the Best Renovation/Best Restoration Award, recognizing excellence in the rehabilitation or restoration of existing buildings. The exterior of City Post was preserved to reflect its original construction, and the interior was renovated to restore unique features from its past life as a post office. Established in 1985, Texas Downtown serves and connects communities dedicated to downtown vitality. –Amy Durham


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PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE LEFT) The Sycamore/Mackenzie Smith Kelley, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, Kimpton Harper, Fairmont Dallas, Adobe/Cory Salt Lick BBQ at the Sycamore in Fredericksburg Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown

Hard Rock Hotel Coming to Lake Texoma

Hard Rock International has unveiled plans for the development of Hard Rock Hotel and Residences at Lake Texoma. Construction is scheduled to begin in March within the Pointe Vista development, a 2,700-acre master-planned resort community boasting over 19 miles of lake shoreline.

Alongside 189 rooms and an 18,000-square-foot conference center, attractions at the new resort along the Texas-Oklahoma border will include a golf course, family entertainment center, amphitheater, marina, and casino. An 11-acre Caribbean Bay water area will feature white sand beaches, islands, and cabanas. The project is estimated to generate over 9,000 job opportunities in the region and is scheduled to open in 2026. –Amy Durham



» IN JANUARY, Gov. Greg Abbott introduced the Tourism Friendly Texas Certified Community initiative. The program, facilitated by Travel Texas within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, aims to recognize communities’ dedication to tourism as a pivotal economic development strategy and inspire diverse attractions and experiences that make Texas a soughtafter destination.

In 2022, visitors to and within the state of Texas contributed more than $187.5 billion in economic influence and sustained a workforce of 1.2 million individuals. The Tourism Friendly Texas Certified Community designation is available to local governments or nonprofit organizations. This initiative signifies a commitment to advancing the economic prosperity of Texas through the promotion and enrichment of its vibrant tourism landscape. gov.texas.gov –Amy Durham


Fairmont Dallas, located in the city’s Arts District, has appointed Rajiv Jha as the director of food and beverage. Prior to this new role, Jha served as food and beverage general manager at Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, California. His previous experience also includes Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, in Waimea; and Fairmont Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He brings 16 years of leadership and international experience to the role.

Rana Papson has joined the Kimpton Harper in downtown Fort Worth as general manager. Her most recent role was hotel manager at the Arlo Wynwood in Miami, Florida, where she oversaw nine departments. Over six years, she has held leadership roles at Pivot, the lifestyle vertical of Davidson Hospitality Group that manages Kimpton Harper. Papson earned her bachelor’s degree in hospitality administration from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

The Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce has named Tanya Pence as president of the New Braunfels Convention and Visitors Bureau. Pence will be tasked with attracting tourism and convention business to the city. Prior to her new role, she was president of Palladium Media, a full-service advertising agency where she served for 10 years in San Antonio. Pence earned her bachelor’s degree in communications/public relations at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Oklahoma


» X-GOLF AMERICA opened its 100th location—X-Golf Katy—just west of Houston. The brand is also celebrating its No. 1 ranking in the golf category atop Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 list. X-Golf’s technology gives players the ability to accurately replicate all golf shots—including short game—with 98% accuracy, which is the most comprehensive indoor golf tracking system available.

When attendees are ready to relax at “the 19th hole,” the venue’s sports bar dishes up favorite shareable bites, from wings and spinach artichoke dip to sandwiches and flatbread pizza. Toast to a great outing with a range of craft brews, classic cocktails, a seasonal drink menu, and wine.

“This open venue milestone showcases our continued focus on the guest golf experience and operational expertise,” says Ryan D’Arcy, president and CEO of X-Golf America, in a prepared statement. “With an added 40-plus locations in various stages of development, all indicators track toward continued rapid growth.” – Mary Subialka


The Monarch San Antonio Breaks Ground

Zachry Hospitality recently broke ground on The Monarch San Antonio, a boutique hotel coming to the downtown area. The 200-room, 17-story hotel is the latest addition to the Curio Collection by Hilton portfolio and is projected to open in early 2026, according to an official statement from Zachry Hospitality. Inspired by the journey of the monarch butterfly, which migrates through the San Antonio region each winter, the hotel is designed to be a point of convergence for visitors and locals alike. Conveniently located at Hemisfair Park, The Monarch San Antonio will offer guests easy access to dining options, entertainment, and group activities, and is within walking distance of the convention center, The Alamo, the River Walk, and other San Antonio attractions.

The Monarch will offer more than 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a 5,500-square-foot ballroom and a large park terrace. Attendees can enjoy a range of luxury amenities, including indoor and outdoor dining concepts (from a rooftop bar to basement speakeasy), a full-service spa, terrace pool, and more. The hotel’s curved tower is oriented to provide panoramic views of the surrounding park and cityscape. –Macy Harder


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PHOTOS (FROM LEFT) X-Golf Katy, Overland Partners, Omni PGA Frisco Resort, Adobe/ungvar

PGA Tour & Omni Extend Partnership

The PGA Tour and Omni Hotels & Resorts extended their m arketing partnership, which designates Omni as the official hotel and resort of the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, through 2028. The collaboration first began in 2018 and has resulted in the donation of more than 1 million meals to families in need through Omni’s Say Goodnight to Hunger program—which provides four meals for every “birdie or better” made during each PGA Tour event.

Planners can give attendees a professional golf experience by gathering at any one of Omni’s venues with championship golf courses, including the new Omni PGA Frisco Resort spanning 660 acres and set to host 26 PGA of America championships over the next 12 years. It features 127,000 square feet of available function space alongside its two 18-hole championship courses and 2-acre putting course. Frisco is also home to the headquarters of PGA of America. omnihotels.com | pgatour.com –Amanda Christensen


» UNITED AIRLINES will offer more than 100 new routes to cities in the U.S. and Canada this summer, making it easier for travelers to connect to some of the most picturesque destinations in North America, including Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska, and Canadian cities like Calgary, Alberta; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Over the years, the airline has seen an increased demand from travelers wanting to get outdoors and explore scenic destinations like national parks and mountain towns. For Texans and those gathering in the Lone Star State, nonstop service between Houston and Ontario, California, will resume in May for the first time since 2022. United Airlines plans to fly 100 routes with dual-cabin aircraft this summer from Houston.

The airline will also be adding more than 40 new flights from Houston to some of the most popular U.S. destinations this summer, including Boston, Massachusetts; Charleston, South Carolina; Miami, Florida; and Tampa, Florida. –Todd R. Berger


Golf course at the Omni PGA Frisco Resort

It’s All About the Team

Rebecca Hackl relishes the opportunity to overcome obstacles with the help of her colleagues

When Rebecca Hackl was younger, she dreamed of opening a restaurant.

“I soon learned that I’m not a huge fan of cooking,” she says, “but I found the next best thing for me, which was a life as a professional event planner.”

In high school, she joined a Distributive Education Clubs of America program for student leaders on hotel and restaurant management, and she loved learning more about the hospitality industry. Later, as a college student, Hackl worked for YMCA Casa Shelter in East Dallas for victims of domestic violence, where she mentored under the shelter director and executive director of YMCA Community Services. “I not only learned about nonprofits, but I also was introduced to planning events,” she says. “It all changed my direction in life.”

In 2002, she started her own Dallas-based business, Rebecca Hackl Events. “When I first started in the industry, I was so fortunate to have a few key mentors who guided me and offered vital advice,” she says. Today, she advises new meeting planners to never stop learning. “Don’t speak outside your experience to land a contract,” she says. “And during an event you are managing, treat everyone with respect because we’re all on the same team.”

In 2014, Hackl rebranded as Trifecta Event Management, where she leads a dedicated team to achieve what she calls the ultimate reward: a happy client. Of course, she faces obstacles just like anyone.

“A few years ago, I had a client who needed to turn around a gala fundraiser from concept to fruition in six weeks,” she says. “I knew my team could make it happen, but I needed cooperation from the client with a commitment on communication.” Once the client was all-in, the team set to work. “From event branding to a custom event website, invites, sponsor decks, host committee training, sourcing, sponsorships, contracts, design, patron management, execution—what a fabulous six weeks. Huge success. In this case, time was my obstacle. How did I deal with it? It’s all about the team.”

In the year ahead, Hackl is focused on bringing even more creativity to her work. “It’s a balance to manage a client’s expectations, a realistic budget, and deliver 2025 concepts, but what a great challenge to have,” she says. “We get to be artists, masters at logistics, meet interesting and fun people from around the world, and throw the best celebrations.”

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PHOTO Brent Tinsley
Rebecca Hackl

The Austin Skyline is About to Change

The Austin Convention Center is preparing to make its mark on the ever-changing Austin skyline with a vertical approach to expansion and redevelopment, beginning in April 2025, that will nearly double the amount of rentable space by 2029.

Vertical Approach

In using a vertical approach to deliver a larger, more efficient facility, the goal of the Austin Convention Center expansion and redevelopment is to transform the southeast corner of downtown Austin into a community-centric destination for attendees and the community.

Signature Design

Along with providing more rentable space, the Austin Convention Center expansion and redevelopment will provide a signature design, featuring state-of-the-art technologies and an industry-leading facility that is ready to exceed future clients’ needs.

For more information:

Community Support

“We’re so pleased to support the Austin Convention Center and the City of Austin as they move forward with the redesign project.”

“This announcement is an exciting one for the Austin hotel community. Not only will a new and redeveloped convention center bring more meetings and events business to Austin, but create more jobs for our industry and further positively impact the Austin hospitality community at large. This project has long been in the works and we are happy to finally see this come to fruition.”

Nenad Praporski

Manager of Fairmont Austin and Chairman of the Austin Hotel Lodging Association

“To give the community, visitors, and attendees the true authentic Austin experience, we want the new Austin Convention Center to be an iconic, innovative, and symbolic meeting location.”

Trisha Tatro

Convention Center Department Director


An invitation to go EXPECTATION. beyond

For truly remarkable meetings and events, Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa invites you to savor every moment while we curate every detail. Boasting over 76,000 square feet of meeting and event space, attendees will bask in the panoramic views that surround the hilltop property, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor, making it the ideal place to host your next event.

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