WHEN EVELYN BENTON, EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT FOR GREAT AMERICAN INSURANCE CO., went looking for the “wow factor” for an important meeting, she found it in San Diego.

The company’s 180 managers, underwriters, and customer-service representatives were “shocked and excited” to learn that the bi-annual, five-day national meeting, which included a celebration of the President’s Gold Cup winners, would be held at the historic Hotel del Coronado, situated on the scenic Coronado peninsula between San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

She says the destination offered affordable airfares and convenient travel logistics for attendees arriving from throughout the U.S., nice weather, and an abundance of activities, while the hotel exuded the ambience she was seeking for the reward and celebration aspects of the meeting. Benton cites the hotel’s history and beauty among the factors in her decision to host the meeting at the 118-year-old property, listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The format of the April 2005 meeting included an outdoor welcome reception with an ocean view, general sessions, and an awards banquet, but Great American’s attendees also had time to venture beyond the peninsula to explore mainland attractions. Benton partnered with PRA Destination Management to organize a behind-the-scenes tour of the world-famous San Diego Zoo as well as trips to a local vineyard, La Jolla, Tijuana, and the Maritime Museum; a city tour; and golf outings at Del Mar National and Steel Canyon.

“When you are confronted by a long list of attractive options, it helps to have the input of someone who really knows the destination to help you select the best activities for the ages and interests of your attendees,” Benton says. “For example, the Maritime Museum of San Diego is wonderful but requires lots of walking and has tight spaces.”

While Benton was confident about using a DMC she had worked with previously, insurance planners should also consider the resources offered by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau and the city’s convention center. One of the CVB’s newest offerings is iService, a program that allows planners to automatically receive customized destination information at specified intervals using criteria that is pre-selected by the planner. Another program, iLead, provides an interactive connection among meeting planners, hotels, and the bureau, allowing leads and proposals to be managed efficiently. Other CVB services include an online attendance promotion toolkit and a meeting attendee Web site.

In early 2005, the San Diego Convention Center announced organizational changes designed to enhance the satisfaction of planners and attendees. The center now manages an in-house team of convention services managers and is also responsible for registration and information services.

The convention center offers 615,701 square feet of exhibit space; 204,114 square feet of meeting space; 284,494 square feet of pre-function, lobby, and registration space; and the 90,000-square-foot Sails Pavilion for exhibits, receptions, and special events.

Benton says that Great American’s employees would be thrilled if the meeting would return to San Diego. “My only problem is that if they win the President’s Gold Cup again, I don’t know how we could top this experience!”