Business meetings return to Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties


When the state’s tourism marketing organization recently learned it would be funded for the second year of a campaign touting California as a desirable place to hold business meetings, the message was clear: recovery is underway and gaining ground.

“Visit California’s first foray into the B2B meetings and events space has exceeded expectations in terms of brand awareness and increased bookings,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO, the month latest in its CEO update. “Last fall, Visit California launched the ‘Meet What’s Possible’ platform to inspire and re-engage America’s professional planners, who perceived the state as not being ready to host professional meetings and events due to related restrictions. to the pandemic.”

Beteta reported the results of a survey of 500 meeting planners over the course of a year, showing that 51% were aware of the “Meet What’s Possible” campaign. Of planners who had seen print ads for the campaign, 43% said they would consider booking an event in California, and that number rose to 69% if the planner met with an industry professional in person.

Visit California expects about 20% of its travel spending plans this fiscal year will be allocated to promoting business travel, both international and domestic, said Dan Smith, sustainability and public affairs manager. The percentage in 2019 was around 25%, he said. Figures do not include all group types and vary by destination. Visit California tracks the state as a whole.

In North Bay, professionals steeped in hosting and planning business meetings have seen a significant rebound this year, but their enthusiasm is also tempered.

From the ground floor

“Between early spring and summer, I did about five corporate retreats” in Sonoma and Marin counties, said Moira Gubbins, a Mill Valley-based meetings and events specialist in the industry for over 25 years.

Gubbins said there’s a common thread running through the group meetings she’s held so far this year: They’re proceeding with caution.

“We focused on sites that have both indoor and outdoor spaces and lots of nature,” she said. “And everyone seemed pretty comfortable.”

Gubbins said his business clients have typically been senior executives who have traditionally valued group meetings. But that’s not necessarily the case for younger workers and those who have settled into remote work, she noted.

“I think we’re run by people who have come to work in offices, standing around the water cooler, going out after work for a drink and bonding,” she said. “I hosted an event for a company that had hired people online during the pandemic, and they had never met in person.”

Another result of the pandemic forcing businesses to hold in-person meetings is that many have moved away from physical offices.

“They’re starting to realize that they could spend the money they would have spent on leases and other perks,” Gubbins said, “and instead get people together a few times a year to have a few really impactful days.”

Almost back to the previous mix of groups and hobbies

Like Gubbins, Edward Roe, general manager of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, sees many corporate groups choosing to move from indoor to outdoor activities.

“We had a group (hosting) a convention, but they called it a ‘non-convention’ because they used a lot of our outdoor spaces for their breakout sessions,” Roe said. “They are very relaxed in the fresh air environment. We’ve seen a lot of that as business picks up.

A year ago, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa’s business mix was 70% leisure visitors and 30% group meetings, as the Business Journal reported at the time.

It was not normal.

Before the pandemic, the property’s business was 50% group and 50% leisure, Roe said.

“But now we’re back to almost a 50/50 mix,” he said, adding that he hopes Fairmont operations will be fully restored next year. “But who knows what 2023 will bring?”

Roe said he was realistic about next year, given uncertainties about the economy and unpredictable events the region has experienced before, including fires, floods and power outages.

Napa Valley expects peak interest for pre-pandemic events

Interest in holding corporate meetings in Napa has increased this year, according to Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley.

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