The Incentive Research Foundation hosted its 19th annual incentive invitational in June at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country. The program was organized by The Opus Group, and by all accounts this was a great event from the paella to the PowerPoints.
The 1,002-room JW Marriott sits proud atop a high hill overlooking the Pete Dye and Greg Norman golf courses. It’s located on the city outskirts about 40 minutes north of downtown and the famous Riverwalk, although everything you need for a large program is based onsite.
First, before anything else, the friendly hotel staff needs to be recognized. There were so many gracious and committed people available at all times throughout the event, so thank you JW!
The 265,000 sf of meeting space includes two 40,000 sf ballrooms, so IRF could place its large events next to its event sponsors and staff, with a long lawn space and dedicated group entrance/bus access right in front.
“From a planner’s perspective, the JW Marriott San Antonio has amazing meeting space because it’s all encompassing and it gives groups such a great sense of their own identity,” says Dahlton Bennington, CMM/CMP, who is also an IRF trustee.
Every night following the offsite events, a good portion of attendees gathered in the huge Crooked Branch lobby lounge with 50-foot ceilings and towering windows facing the Grand Lawn and one of the biggest hotel waterparks in the U.S.
Adjacent, the expansive Tex/Mex Cibolo Moon restaurant (try the bison) and amped up High Velocity sports bar are both excellent options for themed private events. Across the lawn in the golf clubhouse, 18 Oaks is a fine dining venue with a Texan take on the classic steak and seafood grill.
Bennington also recommends group events in the charming Old West-style Sunday House, designed like a frontier chapel, where the IRF trustees enjoyed a 20-pax board dinner.
For the opening evening event, we met up at the 500-room Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, located near the westside city limits. Originally a working ranch, the hotel has very much maintained the cultured cowboy cool factor. We started first with margaritas at Charlie’s Long Bar, featuring a 56-foot copper bar, longhorns over the door and a saloon dance floor. From there, everyone sauntered outdoors for dinner where chefs were stirring huge pans brimming with seriously good paella.
“How great was that?!” says Bennington. “I loved Charlie’s Long Bar and dining under the lighted trees on the wooden deck.”
For the IRF “Hot Texas Nights” silent auction, the group traveled downtown to the 1,003-room Grand Hyatt San Antonio, attached to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and Riverwalk. The property exudes style with mouthwatering cuisine, smart decor and great views. Everyone had a fun night watching the auctioneers work the crowd shouting “Sold. Sold. Sold!” when someone won one of the high-value travel products.
Afterward, some of us explored the Riverwalk winding straight through the heart of downtown. It’s amazing the amount of energy and variety of restaurants here, like Las Canarias, where we listened to an exquisite classical Mexican guitarist.