There’s nothing half-hearted about Charleston and its desire to wow visitors with its storied history, 90 miles of coastline and Lowcountry cooking.
“The same reason that Charleston is appealing for the individual leisure traveler is what makes it appealing for groups as well,” said Doug Warner, director of media relations for Explore Charleston. “They are eight pillars that represent the reasons people come to visit, and number one is history.”
The plethora of downtown Charleston buildings on the National Register of Historic Places means there is no shortage of well-preserved history. The opulent 18th- and 19th-century architecture has obviously inspired some of the city’s most luxurious hotels and venues suitable for groups.
Below we break down what planners need to know about five high-end venues in Charleston.
Belmond Charleston Place
At the Belmond, service is unparalleled, Warner said. Debuting in the late 1980s, the property was one of the first full-service meeting properties developed in Charleston.
In December 2018, the Belmond completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, updating all public areas and guest room layouts and amenities.
Belmond Charleston Place; Credit: Explore Charleston
Its 40,000 square feet of scalable meeting and event space includes the Grand Ballroom, which can accommodate up to 1,700 guests for a mid-sized conference. Belmond’s meeting space portfolio also includes a number of smaller, deluxe boardrooms for more intimate gatherings.
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The Belmond also offers a full-service spa, a rooftop terrace (which can host up to 75 for a cocktail reception) and its world-class restaurant, the Charleston Grill.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
For planners looking for a variety of lodging options away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, they should look no further than the renowned Kiawah Island Golf Resort, located less than 30 miles from downtown.
On the property, planners will find The Sanctuary, a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel with 250 suites overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel can host anywhere from 80 to 750 attendees. Its meeting space portfolio is anchored by the Grand Ballroom, a more than 6,000-square-foot ballroom with dividable air walls. For a high-powered board meeting, planners should utilize the Calhoun Boardroom, which features antique floor-to-ceiling wainscot paneling and offers a separate entrance for privacy.
Outside, groups often take advantage of the Grand Lawn overlooking the ocean, which can host anything from a plated dinner to a cocktail party.
“We’re finding that groups we’re hosting are utilizing a lot of our outdoor space in creative ways,” said Bryan Hunter, public relations director for Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “In the past, a lot of that space has been used for more entertainment, receptions, dinners, that kind of thing. But more and more, groups are wanting to use our outdoor space for their actual meeting space as well.”
In January, the resort opened its new West Beach Conference Center, boasting about 24,000 square feet of space, anchored by the more than 10,000-square-foot Carolina Ballroom.
West Beach Conference Center, Kiawah Island Golf Resort; Credit: Courtesy of Kiawah Island Golf Resort
In their downtime, attendees can enjoy the property’s 10,000 acres, which hosts five championship golf courses, a world-class tennis center, 10 miles of beach and more than 30 miles of paved trails for walking, biking and running.
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“Here, you know you’re not going to be overcrowded with people in the age of COVID-19 right now,” Hunter said. “You’re going to have plenty of elbow room and space to have a healthy program.”
One of Charleston’s newest additions, Hotel Bennett, debuted in 2019 and is the most expensive hotel to have been built in South Carolina, Warner said. Perched on historic King Street, the property’s Palladian architecture skews European, while the opulent interiors are inspired by its Lowcountry heritage.
Crown Ballroom, Hotel Bennett; Credit: Explore Charleston
The hotel boasts more than 12,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including the 6,600-square-foot Crown Ballroom with 30-foot ceilings and expansive arched windows. The third-floor piazza can accommodate up to 60 reception-style and overlooks Marion Square, a popular greenspace that once housed the original wing of The Citadel, South Carolina’s storied military academy.
Attendees can also enjoy Hotel Bennett’s luxurious spa and its popular restaurant Gabrielle, featuring a menu with French and Mediterranean influences.
Housed in what was once a federal building in the 1960s, The Dewberry sports a midcentury modern style and is also located adjacent to Marion Square. Owner John Dewberry envisioned the hotel’s design concept of “Southern Reimagined,” and its renovation took more than eight years to complete.
The hotel’s 1,750-square-foot ballroom—accommodating up to 150 guests—features gilded antique mirrors and white oak parquet floors. Just beyond the ballroom’s doors is the Walled Garden, a 2,250-square-foot outdoor space with a raised garden and historic brick walls draped in ivy.
For flexible indoor/outdoor space, planners should look to the Rivers Room on The Dewberry’s eighth floor. The space includes access to the north terrace, which boasts expansive views of downtown Charleston and the harbor. Its 1,400 square feet can accommodate up to 125 guests.
A more intimate venue, downtown Charleston’s Wentworth Mansion is a 21-room inn built in 1886, and was recently named the No. 1 hotel in Charleston by Travel + Leisure. Its ornate interior features original Tiffany glass panels and Italian crystal chandeliers.
Small meeting groups can congregate in a number of stylish rooms, including the Grand Mansion Suite for up to 20 guests, and the Circa 1886 Restaurant in the property’s original carriage house. The restaurant offers two private dining rooms and can accommodate up to 90 guests.
“The Wentworth Mansion should certainly be something planners look into if they’re wanting a smaller property,” Warner said.
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