There Once Was a Group on Nantucket . . .

In 1990, Wachovia Bank gathered 40 or so equity analysts on the island of Nantucket for a meeting. It went well, so the bank decided to hold another one the following year. And the year after that.

Flash forward to 2007. This past June, some 850 people—members of the financial community and their guests—descended upon the tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts for the 17th annual Wachovia Nantucket Equity Conference. Over the course of nearly two decades, the once-intimate gathering has grown to more than 20 times its original number.

The island of Nantucket, however, has remained the same size. As a result, planning and executing the annual—and annually growing—Wachovia conference is literally a bigger challenge each year. But it's been a continued success, thanks to long-established working relationships and a host community that pulls together to pull it off.

Fitting In
The entire island of Nantucket, just 3.5-by-14 miles, has been named a National Historic District. Nearly 40 percent of it is protected conservation land; the developed areas maintain the architectural look and feel of the original 17th-century whaling port.

With just 1,000 lodging rooms island-wide, there is no single property on Nantucket that can host all the Wachovia attendees. As a result, they are spread among 12 different hotels and inns throughout the island (see sidebox). And that, says Natalie Metallo, assistant vice president at Wachovia and the primary planner of this conference, creates the biggest challenge for her: transportation. "It's pretty complex," Metallo says. "Because it is an island and people are coming from all over, there are connecting flights from many airports. Then, there's the extra element of getting everyone around on the island." Because the island is so small and attendees are staying at several different properties, Metallo says, "You can't just exclusively bus folks everywhere. We can do some of that, but it's a collection of buses, vans, walking, and driving." Metallo works with two transportation companies and with the local police and fire departments to coordinate the movements of her attendees during their stay on Nantucket.

While transportation is a challenge, it is at least controllable. The weather, on the other hand, often has a mind of its own. "We hold lots of tented events for the business functions as well as for the dinners and receptions, [which leaves us] just completely dependent on the weather," Metallo says. "This year we were very fortunate, but in previous years it's been a real challenge." She uses outdoor venues to take advantage of the island's natural appeal, but also because she's restricted by the size of her group. "It's a combination of the two," she says. "We want people to experience the beauty of the island and the ocean, and also it's hard to find a venue with space for 800 on the island."

While a dozen hotels host attendees, most of the main conference takes place at the Harbor House Village and the White Elephant. "These are not huge properties for such a huge program. We work with the space that we have to accommodate all the guests, their meals, and events," says Aoife Owens, sales manager at Nantucket Island Resorts, a collection of six hotels to which the two properties belong. In addition to the meetings, a reception and a dinner for the whole group are held under a tent on the front lawn and deck of the Harbor House. "We pool the staff among all our properties and bring in extra staff to work the events."

Nantucket Island Resorts also runs a Kids' Club exclusively for the Wachovia conference. "A lot of people come early or extend through the weekend, and the conference is very family friendly, so our Kids' Club allows the parents to attend the meetings" without worrying about their children, says Owens. The Kids' Club provides activities and meals while the adults are otherwise occupied. Owens estimates some 200 children attended this year.

A Fine Time
The properties are able to dedicate their resources in these ways largely because of the conference's timing. The late-June dates couldn't be better for an island that sees its population quintuple during the summer months. "We have a little action on Memorial Day and then a lull in June, so the timing is great," says Tracy Bakalar, executive director of Nantucket's Chamber of Commerce.

A group of this size descending upon such a small island could potentially wreak havoc, but because Wachovia's been coming to Nantucket for nearly two decades, there aren't too many logistical surprises. "We've done it for so long now, we have a great familiarity with it," Owens says. "The only thing that changes is that the size gets bigger." Wachovia's Metallo does not incorporate leisure activities into the agenda, and the schedule of events remains the same each year: one welcome reception, three days of conference sessions, one dinner featuring name-brand entertainment, and an evening family clambake with fireworks at Jetties Beach.

Metallo says the clambake is a good way for her attendees to appreciate the beauty of Nantucket. It's also, according to the locals, a nice way for the group to give back to the community that hosts them. "Nantucketers look forward to that fireworks display every year," says the Chamber of Commerce's Bakalar. "It's about a week before the Fourth of July and, many times, it outshines our formal fireworks because they do such a great job. So every year, [locals] will ask, 'When are the Wachovia fireworks?' and then they'll crowd the surrounding beaches to watch the show."

Hosting Wachovia
Here's where the conference's 850 attendees rest their heads on Nantucket.

Harbor House Village
(866) 325-9300

White Elephant
(800) 445- 6574

Jared Coffin House
(800) 248-2405

The Beachside at Nantucket
(800) 322-4433

76 Main Street Inn
(800) 876-6858

The Wauwinet
(800) 426-8718

Carlisle House Inn
(508) 228-0720

Centre Street Inn
(508) 228-0199

Nantucket Inn
(800) 321-8484

Nantucket Whaler Guest House
(888) 808-6597

Union Street Inn
(800) 225-5116

The Veranda House
(877) 228-0695