Keys to Successfully Hosting Campus-Style Austin Events
The nearing redevelopment of the Austin Convention Center, beginning in 2025, has given meeting planners the opportunity to think outside the box when it comes to organizing local events and conferences. One innovative solution is hosting campus-style events, in which hotels and venues are brought together to create cohesive, unique attendee experiences.
The rising interest in campus-style events, also known as mini-wides, is especially timely for Austin. Temporarily losing the Austin Convention Center as a venue option during its expansion, scheduled to take place from 2025 to 2029, means local planners need to get creative by booking large-scale events at more than one hotel or venue, and relying on local businesses to offer extra needed services.
Although the four-year closure will alter the way conventions currently take place in Austin, the project will ultimately allow the city to attract larger events. It’s likely, however, that the trend of hosting campus-style events will continue to be popular, even after the center’s $1.6 billion expansion nearly doubles its current 376,000 square feet of space.
CD Forum. Courtesy Fifth Street DMC.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
“Event planners are already sourcing and planning for this time,” said Alyssa May Hart, global sales manager at Fifth Street DMC, Austin's first Destination Management Company. She noted that downtown hotels and venues recognize that it’s paramount to work together for the next four years. “It’s all about seeing where these opportunities are to bring people together,” she said.
The extra attention on music venues, recording studios, restaurants and shops will be welcome either as unconventional event space or for visitors to experience exploring Austin between sessions.
“Austin is one of the few cities that can effectively deliver a ‘mini-wide’ experience for groups. Our city is compact enough to allow easy, walkable access to hotels and venues,” Visit Austin Executive Vice President Steve Genovesi said.
For planners, engaging multiple hotels allows attendees to choose their preferred brand and price point. Planners are also excited about developing meeting agendas with different locations that are easily accessible to each other. And groups create a prominent presence in the city, with attendees visiting businesses around town that showcase the best of Austin.
Hart added that campus-style events can also offer brands unique and visible marketing opportunities to a broader audience in Austin. These could include attendees wearing branded apparel or strategically placed messages on pedicabs that travel throughout Austin. Another idea is to develop custom city maps for a conference and include recommended local restaurants nearby.
LOCAL CAMPUS-STYLE SUCCESS STORIES
Multiple areas of town are home to "collections" of hotels and venues, whose collective meeting spaces will create intimate, accessible and unique events. Just a few of the many examples throughout the city include University of Texas-area hotels like AT&T Hotel & Conference Center, The Otis/AC Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn University Capitol District, Hampton Inn & Suites at the University/Capitol. Or Lady Bird Lake properties near the Palmer Events Center and Long Center for the Performing Arts such as Hyatt Regency, Embassy Suites, the Loren and more.
Well-known large-scale Austin events that attract 500+ attendees are already embracing the campus-style approach. These include the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals and AfroTech. “Many groups and events have already been incorporating this style of conference — most notably SXSW — which has embraced a ‘mini-wide’ conference style since its inception, with overwhelming success,” Genovesi said. “There’s just a vibe to getting out and exploring Austin that just can’t be beat.”
For Consensus, held in Austin from May 29–31, 2024, the cryptocurrency, blockchain and Web3 event’s campus will include the Austin Convention Center, The Sunset Room across the street and The Riley Building, located three blocks away. Convenient preferred Downtown hotels for attendees include the Hilton Austin, Fairmont Austin, Austin Marriott Downtown, JW Marriott Austin and Hyatt Place Austin Downtown.
The Hilton Austin and Fairmont Austin hotels served as preferred hotels in 2023 for AfroTech, the leading Black tech conference, which also used the Austin Convention Center, Republic Square Park and ACL Live at The Moody Theater as venues for its five-day event.
Making room for more guests, ACL Live at The Moody Theater will be expanding, enclosing an open pavilion that allows for multi-use of an additional space for breakouts, etc., Hart said. In addition, the attached W Hotel is undergoing a complete renovation, paving the way for more campus-style events.
“It’s all about how we position Austin as a full experience,” Hart noted.