By Rachel Naud
Picture yourself aboard an 80-foot vessel charging against the powerful current of the waves. The hot sun is beating down on you, but a cool mist gently caresses your face keeping you comfortable and refreshed. You may be surrounded by hundreds of other people but the only thing you’re focused on is the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that is majestically descending over the brink.
Now picture yourself at work.
Niagara Falls, once known for all things honeymoon, has reinvented itself to become a premium destination for delegates to host conventions, meetings and events.
“Meeting professionals are booking Niagara Falls for their annual, regional and board meetings since Niagara can now accommodate meetings up to 1,000 delegates and it is a new and exciting meeting destination in Ontario,” says Lisa Serada, sales director for the Niagara Parks Commission. “Meeting planners find that their meeting attendance is much higher in Niagara.”
And there is no doubt why. Not only does the region offer state-of-the-art meeting facilities and technology, but it’s surrounded by attractions such as world-class golf, award-winning wineries, an exciting casino and, of course, the Falls – one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Located in the southern part of Ontario, Niagara Falls is a short, one-hour drive from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. It’s also just a 40-minute drive from the Buffalo/Niagara International Airport. The climate is cool, similar to Oregon and Washington State, but the region is protected by the Niagara Escarpment, providing ideal growing conditions for the finest premium vitis vinifera grapes — the same varietals that create great wines, including ice wine.
“Niagara Region winemakers have been awarded international recognition and awards for their superb wines,” says Anna Pierce, executive director of Niagara Falls Tourism. “Niagara has the perfect climate for growing grapes and we celebrate the harvest with the Niagara Wine Festival.”
The annual eight-day festival features more than 30 participating wineries and includes tours, tastings and special events. But if your meeting doesn’t fall during that week, don’t worry. There are plenty of wine-tasting opportunities year-round.
In fact, delegates wanting to entice their palettes or relax after a day of meetings can check out the region’s award-winning wineries anytime. The wineries, ranging from large elaborate winemaking facilities to small family-run estate operations, all offer unique vintages.
Some popular wineries in the region include the Peller Estates Winery, Inniskillin Wines and Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery. If you don’t know where to start, Niagara Grape and Wine Tours creates custom tour packages for meeting delegates, which can include a one-day picnic lunch tour or even a group overnight wine tour package with major accommodations in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Wine Bench.
If you’d rather hit the links, Niagara Falls offers world-class golf courses for the beginner and the pro.
The Niagara Falls Golf Course is one of the region’s premier golf courses. The 6,200-yard course offers a variety of hole designs, rolling landscape, wooded areas and numerous bunkers and ponds that add both visual appeal, and challenge. There’s a bed and breakfast on-site so groups can stay while they play. The golf course serves up lunch and dinner specials, golf events and accommodations to fit any group’s request.
For delegates really wanting to soak up all Niagara Falls has to offer, a visit to the Falls is a must.
“Niagara Tourism recommends seeing the Falls from every direction: beside, below and above,” says Pierce. “Table Rock Point and the Journey Behind the Falls offer visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the Falls. There is nothing like seeing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per second falling over the brink.”
To get beneath the falls, take a “Maid of the Mist” Boat Tour. Delegates can experience the excitement of water rushing all around them as they explore the roar of the Falls. North America’s oldest tourist attraction, this historical ride is a half hour thrill of a lifetime. “The view from the boat is unbelievable,” says Pierce.
For a bird’s eye view, delegates can take a helicopter ride or take in the spectacular scenery from the Skylon Tower. Moreover, the Skywheel, the Falls’ newest attraction, also allows delegates a sky-high view. This ferris wheel features heated and air-conditioned pods so delegates can get a picture-perfect view all year-round.
For those wanting to bet on a good time, Casino Niagara deals up 95,000 square feet of gaming opportunities. The casino offers thousands of the most popular slots and more than 80 tables of gaming fun including Blackjack and Hold ‘em Poker.
Unfortunately, it can’t be all fun and games. So when it comes time to get back to work, the region hosts a plethora of unique meeting facilities.
Great Wolf Lodge is located on the beautiful Niagara Parkway adjacent to the Whirlpool Rapids. The lodge features up to 10,000 square feet of meeting space, offering every scale of group environment from boardrooms and banquet halls to theatres and a tiered symposium with full AV capabilities.
To build morale, Great Wolf Lodge also offers unique team-building activities for delegates. “Team-building events don’t have to be tedious,” says April Brunet, director of sales and marketing for Great Wolf Lodge. “The unique setting of Great Wolf Lodge, combined with our Wolf Tracks Adventure package ensures it’s anything but.”
Exclusive to the lodge, the Wolf Tracks Adventure puts team skills to the test in a fast-paced, unpredictable race that incorporates the best of the lodge’s facilities. “It’s a great way to kick off an event as well as work on communication and collaborative skills,” says Brunet.
Heart of Niagara Hotels is a group of family-owned and operated hotels that offer variable distinguished features. Included under the brand are the Quality Hotel — Parkway Convention Centre, Holiday Inn and the Howard Johnson’s Conference Centre. All of the hotels are located within the region of Niagara — centrally located immediately off the Queen Elizabeth Way that runs between Toronto and Buffalo, New York.
The Quality Hotel Parkway Convention Centre is the largest within the city of St. Catharines. It boasts more than 17,000 square feet of space — perfect for a trade show or large convention. In addition to large open spaces, there are multiple rooms suitable for boardroom meetings. All rooms are equipped with wireless Internet as well as state-of-the-art audiovisual technology.
The Holiday Inn, located in St. Catharines, is best suited for modest to average sized meetings and conferences. This facility consists primarily of boardrooms, which are equipped with white eraser boards, corkboards, audiovisual technology and wireless high-speed Internet.
Lastly, the Howard Johnson’s Conference Centre is equipped with a large informal meeting room and two modest-sized meeting rooms. The conference centre also offers a private foyer that works well for meeting breakout sessions.
Whichever hotel meeting delegates choose, Ann Marie Nitsopoulos, advertising and marketing director for Heart of Niagara Hotels, promises they won’t be disappointed with their choice.
“Essentially, it is service that makes Heart of Niagara Hotels a premium choice for meeting delegates,” she says. “We aim to make the planning process of a meeting simple and easy.”
To do so, Heart of Niagara Hotels has created all-inclusive meeting packages including food and beverages, room rental fees and audio-visual facilities. Moreover for larger groups that may require more bedrooms than are available at one hotel, the company offers a shuttle service to transfer delegates between hotels.
The Sheraton Fallsview Hotel & Conference Centre is another excellent meeting destination. Located in the upscale Fallsview District, the hotel overlooks Niagara Falls. Not only does this location offer great scenery but it boasts 32,000 square feet of meeting space. Its 25 meeting and boardrooms can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 1,400 people. For a successful meeting, the hotel also supplies an on-site conference service team, an audio-visual group and wireless Internet in all of its meeting rooms.
“We maintain a large amount of repeat business,” says Karen Catton, marketing manager of the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel & Conference Centre. “We have in the past hosted conferences and events for clients who for other events may choose to experience another venue and often return to our property because they know they will experience excellent service.”
The Sheraton’s on-site amenities are another reason delegates are enticed back to hotel.
Delegates enjoy relaxing in Stanley’s Lounge where they can listen to live bands, sip on specialty drinks (the Stanley’s Martini Collection is a favorite) or simply unwind in the cozy atmosphere. For a quick bite, the on-site La Piazza Bistro and Internet Café give delegates the chance to surf the net while indulging in a cappuccino and sweet treat.
Need to walk it off? The Sheraton Fallsview Hotel & Conference Centre is located within walking distance of attractions such as Niagara Falls, Maid of the Mist Boat tour and Marineland.
Outside of Niagara Falls, the Vintage Inns located in scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake also offer great meeting facilities. The Vintage Inns includes three hotels: Prince of Wales, Queen’s Landing and Pillar and Post. All combined, the properties offer more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space, with rooms ranging from 300 to 4,700 square feet, and 374 guest rooms. Complimentary shuttle service is available between the hotels.
After work hours, delegates can enjoy the inns’ on-site amenities such as spas, indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, fitness centres and hot tubs and saunas.
“Our facilities are of a luxurious nature,” says Colin Sines, director of marketing for Vintage Hotels. “Our mission statement is ‘exceptional individuals deliver exceptional experiences’.”