A favourable tax structure, non-union labour and rock-bottom convention-centre prices made this dynamic Utah city a natural choice for MPI’s 2009 World Education Congress. By David Pye, May/June 2009
Salt Lake City
Six years ago, when Meeting Professionals International (MPI) planners were considering host cities for the 2009 edition of their annual World Education Congress (WEC), slated for July 11-14, they could not have imagined choosing a more ideal destination than Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It’s pretty much the best city we could have chosen, especially considering the current downturn in the economy,” says Bridget Sypolt, director of events for MPI. “Utah has a good tax structure, the labour is non-unionized and the convention-centre pricing is very fair. Salt Lake is not a city that tries to gouge the meeting planner.”
Sypolt was also drawn to the affordable flight packages offered to an airport located less than 10 minutes from the downtown core and serviced by 700 daily flights. She also found Salt Lake City’s hotel rates to be very reasonable, allowing MPI to offer delegate packages that are cheaper than those of the past couple of years of WEC.
“It’s also a walkable package of hotel rooms, which is a very important factor for us,” says Sypolt. “Salt Lake City is so ‘back to nature’ and I just love that a group the size of ours can all be accommodated within walking distance of the convention centre.”
Salt Lake County offers 17,000 hotel rooms, with 6,975 of those in the city’s ‘convention district.’ That allowed MPI to eliminate the expense of a shuttle service, housing all 3,500 delegates in nine downtown hotels close to the Salt Palace Convention Center. A free light-rail system runs through the convention district every 10 minutes.
Moreover, the proximity of all 3,500 delegates fits well with MPI’s green initiative for this conference, where the organization will be attempting to earn a BS8901 Sustainable Event Certification for the first time in North America.
“MPI is always looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint and the CSR of Salt Lake City is huge,” says Sypolt. “
A lot of cities are still new to the process and are learning, but Salt Lake City really gets it and they are ahead of the curve.”
In the heart of the convention district, the Salt Palace houses more than 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 164,000 sq. ft. of meetings space and a 45,000-sq.-ft. ballroom.
“Salt Palace is a beautiful structure, with lots of glass and spectacular mountain views from some of the hallways inside,” says Sypolt. “It meets our needs in terms of room sizes and all of the technology bells and whistles, but the views are so refreshing when you are working all day in a convention centre.”
Salt Palace Convention Center
The Salt Palace is surrounded by a supporting infrastructure of business-oriented hotels. The variety of branded properties was another plus for MPI, which tries to spread its hotel business across the board to include chains that attract WEC delegates.
The city’s two largest hotels are privately owned and ring the convention district. The Grand America Hotel is a five-diamond property. Grand America’s sister property, the Little America Hotel, links with it via the light-rail system.
Salt Lake City’s unique attractions include historic Temple Square, headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The site is home to the world’s largest genealogical museum.
A selection of off-site venues, where suppliers can hold satellite events to entertain meeting planners, was another important criterion for MPI organizers. The city exceeded expectations. WEC’s opening gala will be held at Library Square, while the closing gala will take place at Red Butte, a botanical and ecological center run by the University of Utah.
“It’s a really cool venue that sits right at the foot of the Wasatch mountain range,” says Sypolt. “The views are breathtaking and I think it will provide for a memorable closing event.”
Others nearby venues include Olympic Park, 35 minutes outside the city.
For programmes further afield, Salt Lake City is within hours of 21 national parks and monuments, including Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. MPI has organized delegate pre- and post-conference day excursions to Antelope Island and Great Salt Lake.
Sitting in a valley at 4,200 ft. above sea level, Salt Lake City is a gateway to ski resorts. One of the closest is the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, featuring 500 rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Robert Redford’s four-season Sundance Resort is the original home of the Sundance Film Festival.
For Sypolt, Salt Lake City’s people are a huge plus.
“The city has really been dedicated to our event, enlisting a record number of volunteers, raising the bar on corporate social responsibility standards and involving the entire community in the excitement and promotion,” she says.
— David Pye is a Montreal-based freelance writer.