I used to envy people who had a “That was easy” button at their desk. As a corporate event planner, especially during a global pandemic, a “This is tough” button seemed more appropriate. But that recently changed when I was able to plan my first successful in-person event since wearing masks and social distancing became the norm. If ever a destination warranted a “That was easy” button — for a meeting planner at least — it’s College Station.
There’s a reason they call them college towns, not college cities. So, while College Station — affectionately referred to as “The Heart of Aggieland” — is home to one of the country’s biggest universities, that just means it boasts a robust culture and big-city amenities. The city itself feels like a small town and is more welcoming than overwhelming. For that reason, it came highly recommended when I asked other meeting planners about urban areas that wouldn’t be so dense and therefore, dangerous, with a virus going around. Located within a 3-hour drive of 5 of the country’s 20 largest cities and 87% of Texas’ population, College Station is ideal for the drive-market. But just because a city is an ideal size and conveniently located doesn’t mean it’s conducive to hosting during COVID-19.
To satisfy that requirement, College Station’s commercial chains and boutique hotels have adopted new cleaning procedures — often exceeding industry standards and CDC and WHO guidelines. On my site inspections I was impressed to learn that College Station’s Hilton properties have a partnership with Lysol. They’re also implementing new technologies like electrostatic sprayers with disinfecting mist and ultraviolet sanitizing lights. Meanwhile, The George and Cavalry Court, two of College Station’s most popular boutique properties, are doing daily temperature checks on employees and vendors, limiting the elevator to four people and requiring everyone on the property to wear face coverings. It’s also scaling back on non-essential services.
Whenever someone asks me if meeting in person is really essential, I like to quote Steve Jobs, who once said, “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy.” If the same genius who gave us the iPhone and the power to meet virtually didn’t think there’s a substitute for meeting in person, then why should we? Studies have shown that most people prefer to meet in person. After all, it’s easier to read each other and build real, meaningful relationships. It’s also best not to entirely rely on technology. All it takes is a connectivity problem or a broken microphone to derail an entire day.
Plus, meeting in person is simply more enjoyable for attendees! It’s like a working vacation that provides unique opportunities for team building. With the help of the College Station branch of Rebuilding Together, volunteering for a community service project is easy to arrange. And at the end of a service day what better way to bond than over a round of drinks at a new local restaurant? Try Sôlt‘s Campfire Song dessert cocktail topped with torched marshmallow foam or TaD’s Louisiana Cooking’s signature “Swamp Water.”
Meanwhile, at Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, larger groups can fine-tune their strategic thinking with unforgettable team-building activities. With the help of community partners, Texas A&M has cultivated a unique offering of sure-to-please group activities. Would you like to add adrenaline with a trip to the ropes course or in a laser tag arena? Or maybe you’d prefer to create a sculpture while blindfolded or build derby cars to race? There are some things screens can never replace.
But that’s not to say technology isn’t important. In fact, one of the reasons I was drawn to College Station is because its venues, perhaps because of their proximity to the university, all boast best-in-class technology. For example, Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center has custom built-in audio-visual technology and a complete support team. The Embassy Suites College Station also has on-site IT service and every venue I looked at offers free Wi-Fi in its event spaces. Plus, with its Preferred Access partnership with the university, Visit College Station gives meeting planners like me access to state-of-the-art technology at discounted prices. The only thing I have to do is pick a venue.
No matter what I’m looking for, it seems that College Station has it covered. For outdoor events, it’s hard to top The Gardens — 27 acres of manicured green space and themed gardens on Texas A&M University's West Campus. Its own event lawn has the unbeatable backdrop of Kyle Field. Local hotel offerings are just as impressive:
If I need 35,000 square feet of event space and a rooftop pool with 360-degree views? No problem. I just send an RFP to Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center. When I’m in search of a more intimate indoor and outdoor space? College Station’s free planning service providers suggest Cavalry Court with its ballroom, The Stables, which also offers a spacious courtyard and outdoor pavilion. And when my event requires amphitheater-style seating and on-site meeting planners at my disposal, the College Station team helps me secure the Hilton College Station & Conference Center. Finally, for smaller meetings requiring maximum privacy, I reserve The Library where “rustic meets refined” at The George.
I also go to The George when I want a good deal. Some recent meeting offers include complimentary valet, cocktails and even car service to and from Easterwood Airport for all guests. But it’s not the only property with a value-added package or money-saving perks. For example, the Embassy Suites has free parking, free breakfast and a complimentary evening reception every night. Banquet service fees are another added-value line item. Like room rates in College Station, food and beverage rates are much lower than they’d be in larger cities. On top of that, all of the venues I talked to offer substantially reduced group rates. If budget is still an issue, Visit College Station can help me further offset expenses by creating a customized stimulus package based on my needs.
But wait; there’s more. Because College Station is a college town where most students are living on that well-known student income, nearby attractions like the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum and the Museum of the American G.I. are also incredibly affordable. And thanks to its reputation as a welcoming town with a rich military history, the hospitality industry is well-versed in hosting faith-based and military events.
Everyone I’ve encountered in College Station is so good at what they do, in fact, I’d have no concerns hosting a never-before-seen kind of event here. And in the crazy circumstances we’re living in right now, that could very well happen. I don’t know what the world will look like next month or even next year. But I do know the best way to wear out a “That was easy” button is to plan corporate events in College Station.