The Long Beach Difference

This small California city casts a long shadow when it comes to meetings

Long Beach Pacific Room

Charles Beirne, general manager for the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, was all smiles last December. "I've got a full house tonight," he boasted. "There's The Nutcracker in the Terrace Theater, Musica Angelica in the Beverly O'Neill Theater, a corporate party in the Pacific Ballroom, and the World Peace Gathering in the Convention Center."

As crowds of theater attendees, partygoers, and Buddhist monks wove through the public areas on the way to their respective events, many got a peek at how the space had been configured for each assembly, from a petit four reception in the Beverly O'Neill pre-function area, to the light show in the Terrace Lobby.

According to Long Beach Area CVB president and CEO Steve Goodling, this kind of event diversity is what the California city does best: "We expanded our marketing to include special events," he says. "We just did the mayor's tree lighting a second year in a row, and we've done some other events." He adds that "now our clients are beginning to realize the power of a special event and how it can deliver a message."

Earlier in the year, when Los Angeles--based Herbalife held its Extravaganza West, the event experienced an increase in attendance that resulted in a change of venue for its closing party. Where to find a bigger space on short notice? "We converted the parking lot adjacent to the Arena into party space," says Goodling, and even projected the Herbalife logo onto a nearby building. The instant venue, which offered 360-degree views of downtown and the harbor, became an instant success and is now marketed as "Top of the Lot."

For a city of 500,000, living in the shadow of sprawling Los Angeles is no easy task. That's why, when meetings come to Long Beach, it's personal. Intent on showing the Long Beach difference, the city's hospitality partners hate to say no, love to say, "let's try it," and always exert themselves to deliver a signature experience, whether it's a performance, conference, or over-the-top closing party. Here's a sampling of some events that have experienced "the Long Beach difference."

Buddha Hits the Beach
Inside the Long Beach Convention Center, dozens of shoe racks marked the areas where nearly 1,500 monks of the Compassionate Service Society (CSS) parked their footwear to humbly enter the 2016 World Peace Gathering this past December.

The monks had come from all over the world as part of the Buddhist philosophy of leaving the comforts of home to experience the world (although staying at the Hyatt Regency -- the host hotel -- certainly had its own comforts). The Society, which is founded on a variety of Buddhist teachings, works for peace through traditional meditation techniques -- but is not above a little showmanship. For example, the Gathering included T'ai Chi demonstrations on the center's promenade with a total of 1,000 participants; while inside the convention hall, surrounded by Buddha ice sculptures, 1,393 people formed a "human mandala" that broke a world record.

The Millennial Challenge
Goodling laughed about some of the purchases he's made on behalf of the Center, like LED-lit Ping-Pong tables and classic foosball tables, adding, "It's about Millennials -- they want games." Almost as proof, Twitch, a leading social video platform and community for gamers, has selected the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center for its 2017 TwitchCon this October. And while the table games look like a savvy move, Twitch cited Long Beach's 150 restaurants in a 10-block radius, three nearby airports, and numerous hotels at more ideal rates than in previous TwitchCon locales as helping to seal the deal. TwitchCon, which last year attracted more than 35,000 attendees over three days, expects to use Long Beach's restaurants and other venues throughout downtown for citywide meet-ups.

Arts and Craft Beers
For a small city, Long Beach sets great store by the arts and sciences. In return, the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Museum of Latin American Art, and the Aquarium of the Pacific, among others, all play a role in wooing meetings to Long Beach; and every area arts organization expects, and prepares, to be used as a meeting or event venue. Sports, music, and culture festivals that occur throughout the year add to the city's allure.

It's probably no coincidence that TwitchCon 2017 will coincide with California State University, Long Beach's Craft Beer Festival (taking place Oct. 21 this year). Or that there are dozens of brewpubs and eateries within walking distance of the convention center.

Some Long Beach restaurants featuring craft beers, such as BO-Beau Kitchen + Roof Tap, could serve as small airplane hangars. This eatery, known for its roasted Brussels sprouts and charcuterie, can accommodate 310 guests for a full buy-out of its ground floor and rooftop. To add to the meetings mix, the city is expecting a new (as yet unbranded) 20-story, 427-room hotel at 100 E. Ocean Blvd. in the next year or so.

"It used to be San Jose and Anaheim; now, it's big-box hotels," says Goodling, when asked about Long Beach's competitive set. He explains: "If you're in a big-box hotel, you're going to leave your room, walk down a long corridor, take the elevator down, walk through the lobby until you get to the meeting rooms."

In Long Beach, "we don't have big hotels," says Goodling. "But we have a lot of smaller hotels around the convention center. So in the same amount of time it takes you to get to your meeting in a big-box hotel, you're outside and walking in the California weather, and having a quality experience."  

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This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.