Blueprint for planning an exceptional conference

Reflections of how the 2016 International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association’s 2016 annual conference was planned

By Linda Milks

What will a person glean by attending a professional international conference?  A greater understanding of what that organization offers? How to become better and more accomplished at what that person does? And yes, the fun of making new friends from around our country and other countries as well as enjoying the camaraderie of a group brought together by a passion for what they do.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort on the peninsula near Coronado Village, CA, was chosen as the site for the International Food Wine Travel Writers Association 2016 Conference. Loews offers views of San Diego Bay and the San Diego skyline on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Cocktails and appetizers greeted our group after check-in for the conference, setting us up for a great couple of days to follow. Participants came from all over—New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Boston, New York, Washington and Oregon, just to name a few.

The morning started with greetings by Linda Kissam, IFWTWA President, and warm welcomes by our Co-Chairs, Todd and Sue Montgomery. Todd Little, Executive Director of the Coronado Tourism Improvement District also welcomed us to his beautiful city.

Jennifer Thompson, our keynote speaker, addressed how to brand yourself and provided very specific information about the approach to being successful in a new venture.

Andrew Harris, our culinary liaison and the executive producer and co-host for “The SoCal Restaurant Show” was our panel moderator for the Chef’s Panel.  He assembled a panel of five of the top chefs in Southern California. The panel consisted of Chef Drew Deckman of Deckman’s En El Mogor, Ensenada; Andrew Gruel, Executive Chef of Slapfish Restaurant Group in Orange County; Executive Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room and La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club; Executive Chef Duane Owen of Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula; and Executive Chef Maeve Rochford of Sugar & Scribe in La Jolla. Without exception, they focus on local, sustainable and seasonal food. The knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion for their profession ignited the panel discussion.

Mistral, Loews dining room, was the setting for a lunch buffet of a classic Italian meal of Chicken Parmesan and Penne Pasta Marinara. Magnifique!

Speakers for our first Social Media breakout session were Mary Lansing, mastermind behind the popular blog, “Along Comes Mary” and IFWTWA Board Member, as well as Andrew Gruel, currently the host of a new restaurant makeover show utilizing social media called, “Say It to My Face,” airing on the FYI Cable Network. Notes were fast and furiously taken to accumulate the gems of information about this rapidly changing form of communication.

One of the speakers for our second breakout session was Susan Lanier-Graham, author of more than 75 books and hundreds of magazine articles. She represents a variety of luxury lifestyle and travel brands. Her topic was “Publishing in 2016: How to Find Outlets in a Changing Market.” Our other breakout speaker was Hilarie Larson, speaking about “Understanding the Language of Wine.” Hilarie provided specific and detailed knowledge she has acquired while receiving her certificate from the Court of Master Sommelier and her Certified Specialist of Wine and French Wine Scholar post-nominals.

Our day of learning continued with a Tourism panel of four tourism representatives who later participated in the Tourism Marketplace. Members of the panel came from all parts of our country. The participants were Vickie S. Ashford, Director of Travel Media for Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau; Ron Antonette of R. Antonette Communications representing Discover Claremont; Jo Duncan, Director of Media Relations for The Beenders Walker Group representing Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau; Todd Little, Executive Director of Coronado Tourism Improvement District; Gustavo Rivas-Solis, Director of Latitude International, representing Puerto Vallarta Tourism; and finally, Susie Norris of the popular blog, “Food Market Gypsy” and winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Digital Media Award.

Getting to know Coronado and experience all that it has to offer was part of why we were at the conference. We were invited to the newly remodeled Marriott Coronado Island Resort & Spa which underwent a complete renovation and was just completed this May. The rooms now boast a minimum of 550 square feet of luxury with down comforters and custom duvets.

The emphasis at the Marriott is on health and tranquility with relaxation and renewal. Fitness classes are free, the spa is large and tranquil, and there are three pools to meet your needs. In keeping with health and well-being, we were treated to a Bento Box of our choice. Delicious and nourishing! While we were eating, Melissa d’Arabian, a Coronado resident and host on Food Network, spoke about the connection between what we are eating and how we are all connected to one another and nature.

We were guests that evening of one of two quintessential San Diego area restaurants—The Marine Room or George’s at the Cove. Both restaurants have dramatic views of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The Marine Room’s meals are prepared by Executive Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver; Trey Foshee is the Executive Chef at George’s at the Cove. Both prepare culinary delights with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, and local produce and fish.

Our last day started out with a trolley ride provided by Old Town Trolley Tours. Scotty, our guide and driver, delighted us with excellent stories about both Coronado and San Diego. We visited Balboa Park, saw some of the historical homes of San Diego, and even visited Old Town San Diego. Scotty threw in a few tips about his favorite restaurants and burrito spots.

The Hotel Del Coronado hosted our group for the evening outdoors on the patio at Eno Pizzeria & Wine Bar next to the wood-fired pizza oven. Pizzas of every kind arrived at our table, including an In-N-Out Burger Pizza, named after the iconic Southern California burger spot. Another treat for us were guides who led us on a special historical tour of the beachfront hotel that opened in 1888.  Marshmallows of assorted types—chocolate, raspberry, mint, and vanilla, toasted around a firepit—as well as several types of wafers and chocolate bars,  made S’mores on the beach a perfect night to remember as we watched the sun dip into the ocean.

The IFWTWA 2016 Conference was one to remember. New friends, the perfect hosts, and speakers so well versed in our industry, gave us something to remember until the next IFWTWA Conference rolls around.

Resources

International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association

Linda Milks

Meet Linda Milks