Destinations

Portland’s Destination Appeal Beyond the Meeting Room


Travel Portland

Skift Take

Meeting planners are often challenged to provide exceptional experiences on limited budgets. A city with ample leisure appeal, such as Portland, Oregon, can give people a compelling reason to attend. Add in sector-specific field trips and strong EDI credentials, and this “Silicon Forest” is a meeting destination on the rise.

This content was created collaboratively by Travel Portland and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

It’s hard not to be inspired by Portland’s natural beauty. A modern foodie city in the center of a timeless forest, Portland is home to outdoor adventure seekers, cutting-edge creatives and entrepreneurs, and some of the biggest names in sportswear, technology, and biomedical research.

Portland’s particular Pacific Northwest appeal also makes the city a big draw for event planners looking for more from their next host destination, as well as attendees seeking to combine business with leisure travel. Meeting planners continue to face difficulties — but a lack of work isn’t one of them. The challenge now is to do more with less, starting with picking the right destination to host the event.

Knowland’s 2024 State of the Meetings Industry report found that roughly 42 percent of planners expected to book more meetings, with less than 10 percent predicting a decrease. The data so far supports these predictions: Knowland’s recently released Hospitality Group & Business Performance Index shows a 25 percent increase in attendance numbers and a 31 percent jump in the square footage of meeting space booked.

Mid-Sized Destinations Bring Bigger Appeal

While planners may no longer have to worry about lagging demand, a new set of challenges is replacing the upheaval of the past few years. Costs are rising just as attendees are expecting more value from events. To adapt to the demands of this market, meeting planners are turning to mid-sized destinations to deliver exceptional experiences while keeping budgets manageable.

Knowland reports that 53 percent of planners are looking to secondary markets for precisely this reason. “This shift presents opportunities for second and third-tier destinations, especially venues with attractive experiential value propositions, first-tier product quality, and quality service levels,” the report states.

What should planners look for besides exceptional venues and high-quality service? To help identify more ways destinations can provide value beyond the meeting room, Skift Meetings partnered with Travel Portland to uncover some of the city’s top benefits for meeting planners and attendees.

Waterfalls to Wine Tasting: Why Attendees Are Mixing Business With Leisure in Portland

Latourel Falls
Latourel Falls

Deloitte’s 2024 Travel Outlook found that “laptop luggers” who mix work with leisure take more frequent and longer trips, with a conference’s location forming a key part of their decision to attend. Picking a host destination with leisure appeal can boost attendee numbers, as Desiree Everett, vice president of convention sales at Travel Portland, says: “With convention groups, people often come early or stay after the conference to experience the region.”

There are plenty of reasons why Portland entices people to extend their trip, from its stunning and varied landscapes to its vibrant local culture and cuisine. The dramatic scenery of the nearby Cascades Mountains and Mount Hood makes for memorable hikes and views. Columbia River Gorge has more than 90 waterfalls for travelers to wonder at (and snap photos beneath), and the expansive Washington Park enables access to nature from the city’s center.

A little further out, small towns, art galleries, and historic lighthouses dot the 363-mile Oregon coastline. And if travelers want to imbibe some of Portland’s local wines straight from the source, the globally renowned Willamette Valley has more than 600 wineries, including six featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year for 2023.

Sector-Specific Off-sites To Expand Attendees’ Knowledge

While any traveler will find plenty to get excited about in Portland, the city is also home to specific industry clusters, including sports apparel, healthcare, and a high-tech ecosystem that ranges from big-name software companies to specialized scientific applications. This presence is an added bonus for conferences based in these core sectors, providing access to thought leaders, sponsors, and educational groups. Attendees can expand their knowledge and indulge their passion through field trips, sector-specific activities, and meetings with industry experts.

Further, the lush landscape and innovative developments in and around Portland can provide fertile ground for putting theory into practice.

Natural Sciences and Agriculture

A volcanic region with an abundance of fertile land, Portland is a natural hub for scientific groups interested in geology or volcanology, as well as those related to wineries or other agriculture. Similarly, the local landscape is an ideal complement to conferences that focus on outdoor recreation.

Restoration, Conservation, and Sustainable Construction

Mass Timber
Mass Timber

The region presents just as many opportunities for those whose work centers on the bounty of the forest, whether the focus is on conservation or the sustainable management of resources. Both the Land Trust Alliance and Mass Timber, for example, recently had off-sites to industry-specific locations in the city. The Land Trust Alliance visited major restoration projects on land trusts in the area, with the added bonus of a bike tour that took in local parks, neighborhoods, and the culinary delights of Portland’s thriving food-truck scene. Meanwhile, the International Mass Timber Conference went on building and manufacturing tours that showcased real-world examples of innovative and sustainable mass timber construction, making the case for a new era of large-scale timber buildings using the latest technologies. Highlights included behind-the-scenes access to the ongoing renovation of Portland International Airport’s new terminal, featuring soaring arches of locally-sourced timber.

Sports Apparel and Outerwear Brands

The Portland region’s natural landscape of forested trails, snow-capped mountains, and rushing rivers also make it a mecca for sports apparel and outerwear brands, who use them as a testing ground to design and prototype their products: Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Keen Footwear, and Danner Boots are all headquartered in the region, while Adidas and Under Armour have set up offices.

High Tech

Portland and its surroundings have been dubbed the “Silicon Forest” thanks to the region’s allure for tech brands. Its software sector is 53 percent larger than the national average, and brands including Intel, HP, Siemens, Tektronix, Navex Global, ZoomInfo, New Relic, Vacasa, and Oracle all have offices in the region. It’s also home to medical groups and life-sciences-related organizations, with a large teaching hospital, Oregon Health and Sciences University, and multiple bioscience firms specializing in genetics and cancer treatments. The region’s natural bounty means the city also has more than its fair share of climate tech organizations — twice the national average of life scientists, conservation technicians, and biological technicians reside in Portland.

Food Brands & Franchises

Finally, Portland’s status as a foodie favorite has drawn many food and beverage companies to set up camp here. The greater region can call Bob’s Red Mill, Pacific Foods, Pacific Seafood, Tillamook Cheese, Smith Teamaker, and Reser’s Fine Foods local businesses.

A Welcoming Destination Where Equity Comes First

When Knowland asked planners to identify their top three meeting trends, DEI came out on top, with 60 percent of respondents citing it as a priority. A strong reputation for DEI can influence a prospective attendee’s decision to register, not to mention their experience of the event.

As a city with a strong history of support and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, Portland is well placed to offer attendees what they’re seeking when it comes to DEI. In fact, Travel Portland prefers to call it EDI, putting equity first. “Travel Portland decided to lead with equity because, above all else, we are committed to leading with fairness,” says Angela Nelson, CTA, vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) at Travel Portland.

Portland has several LGBTQ+ businesses, support groups, and prominent figures. There are also local grassroots organizations that support BIPOC businesses and artists, such as My People’s Market. These efforts make it a natural choice for conferences looking to create a sense of two-way engagement with the local community.

SACNAS: A Standout Example of EDI in Action

For example, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), was keen to make local connections to enhance their conference and increase opportunities for the students and professionals who attended. Thanks in part to the partnerships available in Portland, affordable access was within reach for a wide range of constituents, including diverse student groups. Attendees came from community colleges, tribal colleges, and universities, with degrees ranging from undergraduate to postdoctoral.

Additionally, SACNAS hosted a staff retreat in Portland ahead of their convention to give team members a preview of the region’s offerings — insights that later came in handy when encouraging attendees to get out and explore. As a reflection of the inclusivity they champion, the event organizers not only fostered a spirit of collective empowerment and active engagement for their attendees, but also welcomed locals to share in the experience. In keeping with this philosophy, they held community receptions before and after booking, along with an indigenous marketplace featuring locally made art that was open to the public.

To find out how Travel Portland can help you plan an event that takes full advantage of the region’s leisure activities, sector expertise, and local network of community organizations, visit travelportland.com/meetings.

This content was created collaboratively by Travel Portland and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.