By Astrid Zeppenfeld
A quaint college town located halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis might just turn out to be your next business event destination. Why? Because Columbia, Missouri, is so much more than just a college town.
Starting with the backdrop of Missouri’s gorgeous rolling hills, Columbia has quite a bit to offer for any nature enthusiast. Wonderful hiking trails and close proximity to the Katy Trail will entice your event attendees to get out and enjoy the scenery between work-related sessions. Being in nature and breathing fresh air both help regulate serotonin levels and promote happiness and well-being, scientists are increasingly convinced. And meeting planners have understood for a long time that the setting can make all the difference in attendee participation and overall satisfaction with the meeting, hence the popularity of corporate retreats in the countryside or on a golf course.
Arts and Culture
For those who would rather leave the hiking boots at home, there is still plenty to do in the beautiful downtown area, which is full of fantastic restaurants and art galleries that have spilled over from the adjacent North Village Arts District. There, your attendees can watch local artists at work or listen to live music. Megan McConachie, MSML, CTA, who is the Strategic Communications Manager for the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau describes the city as “a community that is really focused on arts and culture.”
If you would like to organize an outing for all your attendees, how about you make it a teambuilding experience? “We have lots of different teambuilding programs, including partnerships with the University of Missouri,” says McConachie. “From the Venture Out Ropes Course through the University of Missouri to art opportunities like creating a piece of pottery together or a mural, there are many ways to enhance your corporate event with a teambuilding experience.”
Meet and Greet
Keeping in line with Columbia’s beauty as a community, it does not boast one big city-wide convention center, but rather “interim properties that have various sizes of convention and meeting space, including one that has an exposition center attached to it for events of different sizes”, McConachie explains. She also suggests checking out “an alternative facility, like a craft brewery or art gallery, or even a historic home for a smaller gathering or maybe a mixer for after-hours.” “The CVB’s sales team is really familiar with all of these venues and they work hard to match people up with the exact type of experience that they want to have,” McConachie confidently states.
And she is right to be confident in her sales team: Maria R. Davis, CMP, Director, Meetings and Partner Relations for Missouri Realtors, raves about the Columbia CVB. “I partner with the local CVB for items such as area information, assistance in securing a Mayor’s Welcome Letter for inclusion in our printed conference programs or inviting the Mayor to deliver welcome remarks during our Opening Session, request for conference raffle donations, and they are a great resource for local suppliers (balloon bouquet, ice sculpture, etc.). We hold multiple meetings in Columbia every year, as Columbia is where our Headquarters is located. The staff at the CVB has always been very helpful and is a wonderful resource.”
Kelly Francis, Chief Marketing Officer for the Missouri School Board’s Association, echoes Davis’ sentiment and adds that, for all the meetings she has held in Columbia, “the CVB always offered apples as snack for our attendees and gave us gift baskets as giveaways and I never really had to ask; they always beat me to the punch and called me to say, “I see you’re having a meeting, what can we give you?” and that’s always nice. It’s a plus that people at the meeting enjoy.”
Meeting Venues Galore
Next to the bigger venues The Drury Inn Columbia Stadium Boulevard and the Holiday Inn Executive Center, Francis has taken advantage of different smaller venues in the city, such as the “Reynolds Alumni Center at Mizzou for a Board of Directors meeting as well as the company’s holiday meal.” She tells me, “The staff is wonderful.” Davis mentions the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, “That’s for a small group of 15 people, but the location of the hotel just works ideally for them.”
If you are wanting a neat off-site reception for your business convention, look no further than 15 minutes outside the Downtown Columbia area. Set atop a bluff that overlooks the Missouri River, “Les Bourgeois Vineyards is great for business gatherings, because attendees really like the landscape. It’s a big draw for the city,” Francis suggests. Davis has utilized both the Vineyards, as well as the roof at the BROADWAY by Hilton for an “Indoor/Outdoor Combo Event”.
McConachie at the Columbia CVB sums up your meeting experience in this city perfectly: “Columbia is what you unexpect.”
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.