When you meet in one of the country’s great leisure destinations, sparks fly and creativity soars.
Known for dense forests and trout streams, remote Great Lakes beaches and cottage living, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and Mackinac Island have long been the settings for memorable vacations. The same natural beauty and endless outdoor activities that attract leisure visitors make the area an appealing destination for corporate meetings and retreats.
Circling Mackinac Island from the seat of a bicycle can provide a restorative break between professional development sessions. Hiking a portion of the North Country Trail with a colleague offers an invigorating opportunity to enjoy the fresh air while refining corporate strategy. A sightseeing cruise beneath the Mackinac Bridge promises an unforgettable evening social hour. The option to add some vacation time at Isle Royale National Park or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore provides association members with just the incentive they need to attend an annual convention in the U.P.
Add to these amenities the availability of Lake Superior whitefish dinners, award-winning microbreweries and—with any luck—the appearance of the Northern Lights, and planning a conference in the U.P. or on Mackinac Island makes good business sense.
Mackinac Island Gatherings
Imagine: Meeting attendees travel to their conference destination via ferry, across the Straits of Mackinac. Horse-drawn carriages transport guests to their conference hotel, and evening gatherings are held on a grassy lawn, overlooking the Mackinac Bridge.
“Mackinac Island is like stepping back in time,” says Tim Hygh, executive director of Mackinac Island Tourism. “There are no cars on the island, and as soon as you get off the boat you begin to experience the turn-of-the-century ambiance and your blood pressure drops 100 points. It’s just a great setting for productivity, for creativity, and for deepening bonds with colleagues.”
There are few meeting destinations in Michigan quite so charming as Mackinac Island. And among the island’s most enchanting conference hotels is the 388-room Grand Hotel, which dates back to 1887. The hotel’s Woodfill Conference Center houses six meeting rooms under a single roof, ranging from an intimate 14-person conference room to a theater with a 1,000-person capacity and a dining room that accommodates 1,500.
Between meetings, guests can enjoy an entertaining oral history of the hotel, travel by horse-drawn carriage into the island’s interior, and continue conversation over cocktails in Grand Hotel’s rooftop Cupola Bar or on the hotel’s front porch, which at 666 feet long lays claim to being the largest front porch in the world. “Sitting on that front porch overlooking the Straits of Mackinac is just a magical experience,” says Hygh.
On the sunrise side of Mackinac Island is the 241-room Mission Point Resort, which spans 18 waterfront acres of Lake Huron. The property has 38,000 square feet of meeting space with 13 flexible meeting rooms located within the resort’s dedicated convention center. Conference organizers also will find two event spaces in the main hotel and a newly renovated sound stage that can be transformed into a special events location. Mission Point staff can assist meeting planners with organizing events for as few as a dozen and for as many as 450 attendees. “The property used to be a college before it was converted into a resort,” says Hygh. “Today, they have a number of restaurants and bars and some phenomenal event space.”
After strategy sessions, meeting guests can socialize over dinner alfresco, watching freighters pass through the Straits from a comfortable perch on the resort’s broad lawn or from the seat of a bike, pedaling to downtown Mackinac Island’s fudge shops.
Wooded Meeting Venues
Marquette, the largest city in the U.P., offers a variety of meeting spaces at Northern Michigan University (see story on page 33). Gatherings also can be held at Marquette’s Landmark Inn. Considered to be one of the U.P.’s storied hotels and among the most popular special events destinations in the city, Landmark Inn was opened in 1930 as Northland Inn. The property became famous for its marble stairways, crackling fireplaces and guest lists that included celebrities like Amelia Earhart, Abbott and Costello, and Jimmy Stewart.
A modern restoration preserved the Landmark’s historic architecture while adding the conference technology that makes the hotel’s four event rooms popular, whether for board meetings, cocktail parties or presentations for 10 to 140.
Marquette Regional History Center is another venue that allows guests to immerse themselves in the area’s heritage. With a capacity of up to 180 for a banquet-style setup, the museum explores the U.P.’s history. Guests can view exhibits related to the region’s prehistoric copper culture, fur-trading and mining history and its diverse natural resources, including the local Lake Superior flora and fauna.
In eastern U.P., Sault Ste. Marie’s largest facility for conventions is Kewadin Casino, Hotel and Convention Center. With full-service banquet facilities, a 160-room, on-site hotel and 30,000 square feet of flexible event space, Kewadin makes it possible for groups of up to 800 to stage their entire business gathering from start to finish within a single building.
Downtown, overlooking Sault Ste. Marie’s Soo Locks Park, is the historic Ramada Plaza Ojibway Hotel. With 71 guest rooms and more than 2,000 square feet of meeting space, groups of up to 150 can be accommodated. Dating back to 1927, Ojibway Hotel is within walking distance of downtown dining and attractions, including Karl’s Cuisine, Soo Brewing Company and Tower of History.
From either hotel, meeting attendees can head outdoors to watch ships pass through the Soo Locks, stroll the banks of St. Mary’s River, or venture farther afield to Whitefish Point or Tahquamenon Falls State Park to experience some of the region’s more remote natural beauty.
Copper Country Conventions
As a gateway to Isle Royale National Park and surrounded by the Lake Superior surf, Keweenaw Peninsula ranks as one of Michigan’s most scenic destinations. The region is also known for its copper mining history and as home to Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a singular getaway for conferences and corporate retreats.
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge sits near the northernmost tip of Keweenaw Peninsula, just outside Copper Harbor. Built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1934 during the depths of the Great Depression, the lodge and its 24 cabins are constructed from timber removed during the building of the nine-hole golf course adjacent to the lodge.
Meeting attendees can gather at the 6,000-square-foot conference and banquet center and continue the networking and conversation in the resort’s impressive dining room, a vaulted space constructed of massive local timber and made cozy by a large stone fireplace. After the conference, attendees may want to linger and enjoy all that the U.P. has to offer. At Keweenaw, that includes moonlit snowshoe hikes, sea kayak tours on Lake Superior, birding and FlingGolf, an approachable form of the traditional game where a single FlingStick is used in place of a set of clubs. It’s a fitting activity for a destination where the vibe is always relaxed, inclusive and fun.