Bringing Back an Annual Meeting—and an Entire City District

At the Oakland Marriott City Center, Revitalizing Local Businesses Begins With Listening.
Oakland Marriott City Center

For the 1,700 attendees at SynBioBeta’s Global Synthetic Biology Summit in April 2022, the stakes were high. The annual event—a convergence of biotech thought leaders, venture capitalists, and 500 of the nation’s brightest emerging biologists—had already been rescheduled twice, courtesy of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

For the city of Oakland, the stakes were even higher. Local businesses had experienced severe drops in revenue during the height of the pandemic. The Oakland Convention Center’s 100,566 square feet of meeting space had largely been empty, even as the events team at the adjacent Oakland Marriott City Center was doing its best to work with meeting planners for the events they knew would soon return.

If SynBioBeta and Oakland were both to achieve their goals of hosting the successful networking event that would be the largest convention in Oakland’s downtown since March 2019, they’d have to work together.

And so, they did.

The Oakland Marriott City Center team partnered with local businesses to create an outdoor space for food, beverage, and recreation. A local catering company provided the nibbles, but boosting the books of that particular business was just the beginning. According to the team, each delegate at the Oakland Convention Center brings between $200 and $300 of revenue to surrounding businesses, such as coffee shops and restaurants—revenue reflected in the packed bars and dining venues during the April event.

Spreading the wealth to Oakland began with clear communication and establishing what each party’s needs were. When SynBioBeta first approached the Oakland Marriott, it wasn’t to inquire about the venue, just the catering. After initial conversations, it became clear that the centralized venue space of Oakland Marriott was even more important than the catering possibilities. In fact, 2022 was the first time the convention would be hosted at a hotel. This allowed the specialized sales and events teams to educate the SynBioBeta team on the capabilities of the venue—and the possibilities enabled by having an experienced event staff at the ready.

Before partnering with Marriott, SynBioBeta’s attendees were left on their own to secure accommodation; now, a room block streamlined housing. Registration became a one-stop shop, centralizing an occasionally disorienting process that had previously seen attendees racing from venue to venue. Audiovisual support enabled a higher level of production.

But the greatest demonstration of expertise may have been more meta than all of that. The Oakland Marriott City Center was able to coach the SynBioBeta team in the art of gathering: how to orchestrate the best flow of movement for the 1,700 attendees through various spaces, and where and how to display signage nudging delegates to the right place at the right time.

The proof of the partnership’s success lies in its future. SynBioBeta booked the Oakland Marriott City Center for its 2023 and 2024 events at a larger capacity, and with Oakland Marriott handling more of the food and beverage than it did in 2022. Signing a multiyear meeting agreement means that the Marriott team can take its findings from the 2022 event and make 2023 and beyond all the stronger.