Meet Up North

Northern resorts offer a sneak peek into a meeting that tested their mettle and showed their stuff.

Meet Up North

REGION – Location, location, location may be the biggest buzz words in real estate, but they loom equally large for meetings and conventions. If you've ever planned a meeting for your company, you know the setting, amenities and service can make or break the entire event. With that in mind, we tapped some of the North's most popular getaways for insight into a recent meeting they hosted that not only showcased their hot spot but also showed the amenities, ideas and service that sets them apart. Here's what they shared:

Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa – Thompsonville

Best Foot Forward: Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA) came to Crystal for three nights and three days last August.

Total attendees: 215

Putting on the Ritz: MPTA optimized the use of our conference facilities and our amenities, filling the exhibit hall with 58 vendors and utilizing our banquet staff and facilities for breakfast and lunch every day, plus two outdoor dinners and an after-dinner reception at the Crystal Coaster alpine slide. The conference also featured an 87-person golf outing with service from two beverage carts.

This event truly showcased the versatility of our conference facilities and the efficiency and professionalism of our staff. Tuesday of the conference, the Crystal Center's James Bay Hall hosted exhibition vendors and Northwest Territories was used for breakfast, general session and luncheon.

After hosting 160 people for breakfast and the general session, conference services seamlessly made the transition to lunch for 215 with just 30 minutes to set the room. Following lunch, a vendor exhibition with a hosted wine bar was held in the lower level of the Crystal Center for the 160 attendees. Later that evening, a two-hour reception and cookout was held at the Lodge Deck Pavilion while the group reserved the Crystal Coaster alpine slide for a two-hour private party. The busy day finished with a marshmallow roast over a bonfire at the base of the slopes and hosted bar (changing over to cash bar from 5:30-9pm).

Off-side fun: Actually, an on-site event was one of the reasons this conference returned to Crystal Mountain. In 2009, MPTA hosted a private reception on the Crystal Coaster alpine slide. When the group contracted for 2011 and 2012, Cindy Zolkowski, Director of Administrative Services for MPTA commented that the private reception featuring the alpine slide was one of the most complimented events of the conference.

unique challenge: Transitioning our Northwest Territories hall inside the Crystal Center from general session to lunch in 30 minutes was testament to the skill and planning of our staff. The original plan was to have part of the room set for lunch, and the remainder arranged for a meeting of 135. When an extra 25 attended the general session, staff had to remove the lunch settings and completely flip the room prior to lunch, which was to host 215. The entire conference services staff and banquet staff assisted with the transition, and there was no delay to the start of lunch.

Special touch: When MPTA held the event at Crystal 2009, an exhibitor threw a hospitality reception but did not consult the group sales office when he arranged it. As a result, the exhibitor was unaware of which accommodations and services would be most suitable. He expressed his disappointment with his reception in our post-conference survey. We followed up with the vendor and made notes for the next MPTA event. In advance of the 2011 conference, we reached out to this same exhibitor and advised him on the most appropriate venue to entertain his clients. The reception held within one of the Cottages at Waters Edge, located in close proximity to the conference center, was a perfect fit and received rave reviews.

The Digs: The Crystal Center is an IACC- approved conference facility that hosts groups of up to 400. We host mid-sized meetings and conferences but wouldn't be considered a convention-sized property. Our resorts boasts more than 260 lodging units, ranging from hotel rooms to five-bedroom townhomes that can sleep in excess of 1,600 people.

Planning a meeting?

Contact Arah Johnson, Director of Sales, 231-378-2000, ext. 6604,,

Cambria Suites- Traverse City

Best Foot Forward: One of our first events at Cambria Suites was Best Western of Michigan Co-op's annual fall meeting held September 9 through 12 of 2009. We utilized Cambria Suites and neighboring Best Western Four Seasons for lodging; all meetings and food events were held at Cambria Suites. We had approximately 70 people for events and what a fun group this was to entertain. The attendees were all owners or general managers of Best Westerns in Michigan; we also had David Kong, Best Western International President & CEO. Since Cambria Suites opened in June 2009, this was our first larger group and, based on the comments from Best Western Corporate, it was a huge success.

Total attendees: 70

Putting on the Ritz: We wanted to showcase how versatile Cambria Suites can be for a larger event, so we created a reception featuring action stations – carving stations along with passed hors d'oeuvres – a full bar utilizing our lobby/lounge and banquet space. This worked really well for the group as most of the attendees are from different areas of the state and don't see each other except at meetings.

Off-side fun: We held an all-day general session (with breaks and a group buffet lunch), and in the evening treated the group to dinner and entertainment at the Williamsburg Dinner Theatre. We hired outside shuttles to bring the group to the dinner venue, one of which went onto the Casino for gaming.

unique challenge: This was our first larger group after opening and included all three facets of what we offer: lodging, meetings and meals.

Special touch: Upon arrival, guests were greeted with a welcome bag and letter from the Michigan Co-op President, Alex Mowczan. David Kong, Best Western International President & CEO, was here to present Alex Mowczan, owner of Best Western Four Seasons the Best of the Best Award for superior customer service. For our Corporate VIP's we ordered Michigan Welcome Baskets from Benjamin Twiggs. Airport transportation was handled by the free on-site shuttle Cambria Suites provides all of its guests.

The Digs: Cambria Suites specializes in smaller, high-end meetings. We appeal to continuing education, trainings, board meetings/retreats and mediations. Our Old Mission space seats up to 40, classroom style; our board room seats 14. We offer full catering for all events on site. We have utilized our larger suites for breakouts and smaller meetings.

Planning a meeting?

Contact Deb Kresnak, director of sales, 231.778.9100;

Shanty Creek- Bellaire

Best Foot Forward: In July 2011, Shanty Creek Resorts was home to the Michigan Society of Association Executives' (MSAE) annual conference, Org Pro, a three-day, three-night meeting for the state's most influential event planners and association executives.

Total attendees: We hosted approximately 350 guests (aka 750 room nights). Most attendees chose our renovated Lakeview Hotel & Conference Center, although some chose nearby condos within short walking distance.

Putting on the Ritz: State associations are very important [for a hotelier's group business], and so Org Pro is widely considered the Super Bowl of conferences; its attendees are the decision makers for many conferences held annually throughout the state. The opportunity to shine here is big, and the long-term benefit is even bigger. Our staff and facilities were asked to wear multiple hats: Our Grand Ballroom held a large-scale symposium with AV and served meals, our smaller spaces functioned as multi-room breakout sessions, the banquet staff seamlessly served a five-course dinner with live jazz, and throughout the event we facilitated a silent auction and a QR code-based seek-and-find trivia contest.

Off-side fun: The opening day of Org Pro allowed attendees to choose a networking outing: an 18-hole golf scramble, or an off-site tour. Shanty Creek didn't disappoint regardless of attendees' decisions. The golf scramble was held on The Legend, an Arnold Palmer-designed track that has been nationally acclaimed and ranked. The course was in spectacular shape, as are Shanty Creek's other three courses.

Heading off-property gave attendees the opportunity to see how rich life Up North can be, and how Shanty Creek is actually in the middle of it all. In staying with the conference's theme – Borrowing Brilliance – our planning delivered a slice of Best Practices from each of the nearby towns of Bellaire, Elk Rapids and Alden.

Our tour: It began at the Bellaire Theater where Bryan Crough shared how Traverse City's State Theater renovation ultimately renovated its entire downtown and sparked a number of downtown events including the ever-expanding TC Film Fest. In nearby Elk Rapids, the fishing and agriculture businesses were highlighted, in particular our region's cherry orchards. And in Alden we arranged a caravan of pontoon boats from Dewitt Marine to ferry the tour across Torch Lake before an off-site luncheon at The Dockside restaurant.

Finally the tour concluded back in Bellaire with a "short" tour of Shorts Brewing Company's origins, its Bellaire brewpub. Our point was to showcase the variety of businesses that developed around the region's natural resources-and that, while off-the-beaten path, SCR is actually in the middle of it all.

unique challenge: With large group events, inevitably, planning varied menus is a challenge – how do you present a unique palette without causing commotion? Such was the case for one meal. We wanted to prepare an avant garde treat (based on an Asian lettuce wrap), but the event planner felt it might be too over-the-top for some attendees and recommended something more traditional. In the end, that meal scored the lowest from attendees for being too conservative. Overall, our menus were successful and given high marks on post-event surveys.

Special touch: For Org Pros VIPs we pre-arranged baskets with locally produced wine and beer, along with golf wear with Shanty Creek Resorts logos. These were delivered to their rooms upon arrival.

The Digs: Shanty Creek Resorts combines 36,000 square feet of meeting and event space with four-season recreation including four award-winning golf courses, the iconic Schuss Mountain and nearby Torch Lake.

Planning a meeting?

Chris Hale, VP sales & marketing,,


The Homestead Resort – Glen Arbor

Best Foot Forward: The Homestead had the opportunity to house staff and talent for America Online's (AOL) "GMC Trade Secrets" program last August for 8 days.

Total attendees: There were approximately 20 guests staying in both Stony Brook Lodge and Little Belle suites.

The situation: Although not the largest, this group was both fun and challenging. We had the opportunity to host talent such as Carter Oosterhouse, Eric Stromer and Sam Talbot. Because of the group's busy and demanding production schedule, the group wasn't able to firmly plan lodging or food and beverage needs in advance. That simply required is to be as flexible as possible to accommodate their needs, which we were more than happy to do. We shared many late-night text messages to stay in communication.

Putting on the Ritz: We had the perfect opportunity to showcase our hospitality to the group when we arranged for a group dinner on Wednesday evening at (on-site) Nonna's restaurant during their stay. Due to issues with the daily shoot, the group was not able to make their 9 p.m. dinner reservation. We received a message at 8:59 p.m. that they could not make it until 9:30 p.m. At 10:10 p.m., Chef communicated with me that the group still hadn't arrived, but he and staff remained, knowing that if the group came back out to Glen Arbor, none of the restaurants in the area would be available for them have dinner. Chef Piombo prepared a wonderful meal and kept Nonna's open for the group to enjoy until 3:00 a.m. The only request we couldn't provide? A limo at 3 a.m. in Glen Arbor. They graciously understood.

Off-side fun: We arranged for guests to enjoy services at The Homestead's Spa Amira and dinner one evening at Nonna's. We also arranged for outside transportation to area venues. For client's ease, all billing was handled through The Homestead.

Unique challenge: Because of the group's busy and demanding production schedule, our ability to be flexible and provide what they needed, when they needed it was important. When the group realized they might have a free block of time during their visit, we helped to provide information on ways they could enjoy the area.

The Digs: The Homestead sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, recently voted by viewers of Good Morning America as the Most Beautiful Place in America. The Homestead has five unique meeting centers with indoor and outdoor gathering spaces for 10 to 180 guests. Full banquet service is available in all meeting facilities. On-property amenities include restaurants, deli and general store, spa, salon, state-of-the-art fitness center, outdoor swimming pools, kayaking, golf, along with downhill and cross country skiing in the winter.

Planning a meeting?

Contact Tracey Jensen, group sales associate,, 231.334.5376,

Great Wolf Lodge – Traverse City

Best Foot Forward: A meeting where we truly shined? A giant meeting for Edward Jones staff in June, 2011 for three days and three nights.

Total attendees: Spouses and children were invited to this event; over 150 came. There were 70 rooms per night, for three nights. Budget was $60,000.00, included room nights, food and beverage for all days. It was tight, but chef put his creative hat on and came up with several buffets and BBQ's that kept Edward Jones on budget, full and happy.

The situation: At Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, meetings take on many shapes. But Edward Jones was unique because the event planners utilized all aspects of what Great Wolf Lodge has to offer its meeting guests. Because it was a meeting that involved family, spouses and children took full advantage of amenities while the daily meetings were in session. The water park was busy; the Howl-in-one mini golf was full; Cub Club hosted the little ones with crafts and coloring, and the older kids took advantage of the Arcade room with more than 300 games to choose from, and Bear Paw, Great Wolf Lodge's confectionary store, was busy scooping ice cream and selling slices of fudge all day. Magi Quest was popular with kids of all ages.

Putting on the Ritz: The Edward Jones event was for top sales producers. The awards ceremony was an elaborate event requiring special staging, backdrops, draping, sound and lighting. Our lodge staff was equipped to handle all details and put together the event flawlessly.

Unique challenge: Before Edward Jones would contract for this event, corporate headquarters for Edward Jones in St. Louis, Missouri, sent the CEO's right-hand person to vet the Lodge meeting space, meet the staff, and sample food. We passed with flying colors!

Special touch: Along with offering the prizes for their events, we also had VIP gifts delivered to the group contacts and offered upgraded rooms for those families looking to stay in one of our themed suites.

The Digs: Great Wolf Meetings aims to enhance every group gathering with a foundation of focus, food, and fun.

Planning a meeting? Contact Suzi Bicknell, corporate sales manager, 231.944.6723. BN