Why Meetings Are Moving Outside (Hint: It’s Not Just COVID Safety)

Meeting planners are breaking out of the breakout room and embracing the great outdoors.

When meetings and events began to return to cities like Phoenix last year, the quest for compliance with local and national safety guidelines opened the door to new solutions for how to gather.

One of the most-welcome changes has been turning to outdoor venues to ensure attendee safety and confidence—and deliver an authentic destination experience.

This new priority to move more elements of meetings outdoors, along with many others, is likely here to stay even as vaccine distribution ramps up and the COVID curve goes down. Outdoor events, coupled with wellness programs and an immersive approach to attendee engagement, represent larger trends that were emerging in top meetings destinations even before the pandemic. Here’s why they will continue to flourish:

The Future is Outdoors

The Desert Botanical Garden’s natural setting highlights its stunning Sonoran Desert location. As one of the city’s top 10 attractions according to Visit Phoenix, the 140-acre garden offers a variety of open-air pavilions, scenic courtyards, and stunning desert plant life, all nestled against the red-rock buttes of Papago Park, less than eight miles from the Phoenix Convention Center.

“When we host meetings, our guests are not only within the desert, but are contributing to its ongoing preservation,” says Ali Reese, corporate and nonprofit venue planner at Desert Botanical Garden. And that’s a boon to meetings groups emerging from challenging times and seeking an enhanced sense of purpose.

Indeed, embracing the natural surroundings of a city like Phoenix allows hosts to provide a certain “fullness of experience” that attendees crave, Reese says. “When you’re traveling—and we’re all hungry for travel and events right now—we want that full experience. Having an outdoor space connects you in unique ways.”

A New Wellness Trend

Across the industry, wellness trends, from physically engaging activities to health-conscious food and beverage offerings, are also on the rise. These components are showing up in a wide range of programming, according to Reese, and are “being integrated into meeting formats, whether into breaks or as ways to start sessions with mindfulness.”

Outdoor spaces can connect attendees to their natural environments and translate to effortless immersion. For instance, the Desert Botanical Garden offers garden tours, stretching, meditation, stargazing, planting, and sensory engagement stations to interact with plant specimens. All of that is in addition to the towering saguaro cactuses that are a must-see for many visitors.

This emphasis on wellness pairs organically with the trend toward moving elements of events outdoors. Being outside, Reese says, “brings a level of wholeness and authenticity” to meeting attendees’ experience by presenting opportunities to enrich mental and physical health, not just professional ambition. “And that,” she says, “is something that will be even more important as we move forward.”

Safe and Creative Solutions

“Of course, during this time, the greatest appeal of outdoor meetings is the safety aspect,” Reese says. “But in addition to increased safety, outdoor spaces provide inspiration and rejuvenation. They lend themselves to creativity, to thinking outside the box—you are literally outside the box of a physical space, and that gives a fresh perspective.”

With many people working from home for an extended period, moving programming to a space that allows attendees to soak up the essence of a destination adds a valuable element to an event and ticks a box that’s becoming an increasingly high priority as business travel returns.

“COVID has allowed us to reframe perceptions and be more authentic,” Reese says. “And when we reconvene, we have an opportunity to make better decisions, to come up with more creative solutions, and to connect more fully.”

Going forward, Reese sees a venue and meeting landscape that includes more outdoor offerings. “It’s going to be a big part of the future, not only as a way to ensure that everyone feels safe and comfortable, but to impart that sense of space and freedom that’s very important to people.”

To find out how Greater Phoenix’s outdoor venues can add safety and atmosphere to your next meeting, visit

(Adam Rodriguez)