Stellar activities - from golf to watersports to whale watching— and a broad range of hotels make San Diego exceptionally appealing for medical meetings, where the attendees can be a diverse group with a variety of interests, says Barbara Mastroddi, associate, events & communications, at the Center to Advance Palliative Care in New York. Her group of 147 doctors, nurses, administrators, social workers, and clergy attended a three-day training seminar in October 2005 and found both San Diego and their hotel, the Westin Horton Plaza, up to the task of satisfying their conference needs and leisure time pursuits.

“I’ve never had an attendee say anything bad about San Diego,” says Mastroddi, who also planned a meeting there in 2003.

“San Diego is a very friendly place with pleasant weather and a wonderful airport location, just 10 minutes from downtown. The demanding schedules of medical professionals mean some of our attendees may not know until a few weeks before the meeting if they will be able to attend. However, even our late registrants were able to get flights at reasonable rates to San Diego.”

Mastroddi says that because San Diego offers such a range of attractions, her attendees are happier selecting their own activities. “We deliberately do not plan evening activities for our group, so it is important for them to have quality restaurants and interesting attractions within walking distance of the hotel.” The historic Gaslamp Quarter, the outdoor Horton Plaza mall, and Seaport Village were within easy reach, although some attendees ventured beyond downtown to tour the oceanside enclave of La Jolla; the quaint town of Coronado, situated on a peninsula across the bay; and the world famous San Diego Zoo.

Whether your meeting requirements are few or complex, Mastroddi advocates using the services of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are not a high-needs group, but I have used the CVB for request for proposals (RFPs), site selection, maps, and restaurant referrals,” she says.

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.

Another resource is the San Diego Convention Center with its in-house team of convention services managers. The convention center offers 204,114 square feet of meeting space; 615,701 square feet of exhibit 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.

San Diego’s strong appeal for meetings requires planners to think strategically. Mastroddi recommends trying to pinpoint room blocks as accurately as possible, with the knowledge that overflow hotel rooms might not be readily available. “And,” she advises, “October is a very busy month for conferences and conventions, so plan accordingly!”