Building Momentum in 2018

  1. General Manager of the Year from Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association
  2. Hotel of the Year from Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association
  3. Platinum Choice Award from Smart Meetings
  4. Ambassador Tourism Award to Jamil Chaudhry from Visit Loudoun
  5. Tourism Action Award to Project Search from Visit Loudoun
  6. Tourism Branding Campaign “Go Big” from Visit Loudoun
  7. Partner of the Year from Loudoun County Public Schools
  8. Smart Star Award as “Best of the Best” and “Best Conference Center” from Smart Meetings magazine
  9. Award of Excellence from Corporate & Incentive Travel magazine
  10. Stella Award for Best Conference Center from Northstar Meeting Group, including Successful Meetings and Meetings & Conventions magazines
  11. Meetings Trendsetter Award to Mary Watson from Meetings Today magazine<
  12. 2017 Readers’ Choice Award Convention South

To Yourself Be True

Q&A with the National’s sales guru, Juan Garcia, offering insight on how the National attracts business from around the globe

Seal the deal: What’s your pitch for the National?

My team has developed a ‘laser focus’ policy which means we learn about our prospects and customers, their industries, their timelines, so we know what’s important to them. When we work with our clients, we are working with relevant information that helps them do their job better. More often than not, it’s about Learning and Development. It’s not about a pitch, it’s the National owning Learning and Development, which just happens to be the hot topic for lots of organizations, lots of companies.

How does the National compare to some of the other big conference hotels you’ve worked with in the past?

The National is unique because our priority is providing the ideal environment for learning and development, peer-to-peer learning, training, networking, team building, and more. Our facility is designed and built for it. Our location is ideal for it. Our technology is right for it. We’re not trying to be to everything to everyone, we’re simply in the right place for those organizations and corporations that need what we offer.

What’s the big deal about Learning and Development?

Organizations find that delivering valuable Learning & Development (L&D), higher education, and training creates tremendous value to employees or members while growing the strength of the organization itself. This recirculating ROI makes L&D a priority for top performing organizations and corporations. In addition, planners have to create a learning experience that embraces millennials to baby boomers in their workforce. For example, in dining, they have to satisfy vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and those eating sugar-free. They have to accommodate the techies and the tech-less. They come to The National because we have all of those needs covered – flexible classrooms, team building, a world-class dining program, IT, and award-winning service.

There’s a lot happening in Loudoun. Is that part of the appeal?

This community is ripe with business, ripe with talent and bursting with places to go and things to do. Interestingly, when organizations are here for a week, we give them lots of reasons to stay on campus in the evenings. They’re networking with each other over a great dinner, taking in some fun in the Black Olive, partaking in a wine tasting, or spending quality time around our fire pits. When they do venture out to enjoy a winery tour or First Friday in Leesburg, they are wowed by all that this area has to offer. In addition to the value of our location to our customers, I’ve been able to hire great local talent who want the opportunity to work at a world-class facility, without the commute to DC.

We’re Engaged!

The season of romance gives way to some serious planning

As the elephant rounded the corner and headed straight towards the doors, wedding guests gasped… in delight! The moment was as thrilling as the bride had imagined it would be, and she knew it could only happen at West Belmont Place. With multiple ballrooms, patios and extensive grounds, West Belmont Place is the canvas on which many wedding masterpieces are created.

Holiday engagements usher in a new season of wedding planning, and certified wedding planner Paula Lynn Safran is ready for the rush. Paula and her team meet with couples, and often their families or friends, to walk the West Belmont Place property and envision their wedding experience. That first consultation tells her so much about the couple and the feeling of their wedding.

“We do things differently here. When I meet with a newly engaged couple, I’m planning their once in a lifetime, their forever. Every love story is unique and we tailor each brush stroke to become exclusively theirs.”

West Belmont Place has a long tradition of holding just one wedding at the facility at a time so couples can have their special day be theirs alone. And Paula makes sure it delivers on the things that are most important to the couple, whether it’s an outdoor ceremony at sunset, a big band, and a spacious dance floor, or a rocking after party. With an on-site design center, each customized wedding experience takes shape quickly, and up-front pricing keeps everything on budget.

“We include so many of the items that other venues charge extra for – from cake cutting to backup space for outdoor ceremonies. We want you to wake up the morning after your wedding and say hands down, ‘That was the best day of our new life together!'”

The elephant was part of a cultural wedding, one of West Belmont Place’s specialties. The facility has also been transformed to be an exotic international market, a flower-filled garden, and a black-tie extravaganza that guests will never forget. By getting to know each couple, and being engaged in every detail, the staff is able to give them a one-of-a-kind wedding day. Paula has even surprised couples with special treats on their wedding day. She served an appetizer of tiny gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup shooters to delight a groom who loves comfort food. She brought in an ice cream cart to wow a couple whose first date included Drumstick cones. And even helped a bride surprise her police officer groom with a donut truck for desserts.

“There’s no end to what we can do to make a wedding day memorable here. We go way beyond being just your location.”

Serving from Our Backyard


Fresh and local feels right at home at the Black Olive Bar. The popular hangout is open to the National’s guests as well as the public each evening, with upscale bar food right out of Loudoun’s backyard.

It may be snowing and cold this time of the year but it’s a summer classic – a hotdog – that’s the star of the menu each night.

The “Farmer Dog,” as it’s been nicknamed is an all-beef, no filler hotdog made for the National by CEA Farms and Donnie Virts, a local beef rancher.

“It’s the absolute BEST hotdog you’ll ever have!” boasted a Black Olive patron, finishing the last bite.

By partnering with Loudoun farmers, the Black Olive has distinguished themselves as farm-to-table, much to the delight of local foodies as well as out-of-town guests who take in the rolling farms and vineyards on their way to the National. The Chef’s Menu Series focuses on using fresh ingredients and seasonal cooking techniques. Grilled favorites in the summer, a bounty of vegetables in the fall, and the first fresh herbs of spring are all part of the experience. With karaoke, billiards, darts, Saturday games on the big screens, and wedding after-parties on weekends, the Black Olive is keeping things fresh all winter long.

Loudoun residents can join the Black Olive Club, free of charge, and enjoy special promotions and events throughout the year.

2018 is the Year of the National

Donnie Virts, a twelfth generation farmer, is the kind of local partner that defines 2018 for the National: Fresh and innovative but also neighborly

“People want to eat fresh, even when they’re not at home. You’d expect to find farm-to-table at a top steakhouse, but not necessarily at a large conference center,” says Donnie. “That makes it such a great surprise for guests of the National. They really savor the quality here.”

Virts, a Loudoun County farmer is supplying the National with his hydroponically-grown produce and Loudoun-raised beef. He’s also a bit of a pioneer, advocating that the best way for Loudoun to grow big business is to stay true to its roots – a philosophy shared by the National. So much so that the conference center buys all that it can from local vendors, from office supplies to wedding favors to tomatoes.

Donnie Virts is an unlikely symbol of progress for the National. In the past few years, they’ve taken a deeper look at who they are, what they are good at, and where they fit into the community. This navel-gazing has uncovered brilliant truths: The National is as relevant as ever, and the good things happening here have built an irreversible momentum.

A wave of energy has brought a local farmer into the fold as a valued partner at the largest hospitality facility, in the largest industry in Loudoun, a county where shining bright has become a bit of an art form.

The National is first and foremost a venue of learning. But with some heavy-hitting industry awards under its belt, it’s clear that training workshops aren’t all that’s being done right here. Hotel of the Year, General Manager of the Year, Tourism Branding, and even wine education are among the accolades – and the stuff of dreams for heavy hitter hotels.

The catalyst for the National’s success is a combination of factors, all with an underlying theme of community. Local efforts established the now-thriving Project SEARCH school-to-work program, hosting ten local students each session. And sparked a relationship with EatLoCo to test the wares of local farmers and food artisans, where Donnie Virts met Chef Todd Goldian.

Giving back wasn’t a strategy but it had massive ROI, as the National gained recognition for doing what they do -but doing it differently. And that started the wheels moving, and momentum building.

Sitting on the first page of 2018’s calendar, the National’s year ahead looks like a target, with the visitor’s experience as its bullseye. Those coming for work, for events, for fun can all expect something special, and likely, something they didn’t imagine.

“Seeing is believing,” says GM, Geoff Lawson.

Powerfully Simple Meetings

Cultural norms for conducting meetings vary among industries and organizations, but a solid meeting process is vital for excellent meeting performance. Unfortunately, few organizations have such a process. Imagine a major highway with no lines on the road and no posted signs on the shoulder. Now imagine a daily commute on this road with tens of thousands of other drivers who were never taught how to drive. How effectively would the traffic flow? How is this any different from the meeting process in most organizations? Inadequate process from under-equipped leaders is a major contributor to ineffective meetings.

In our experience, the meeting process is generally left to the discretion of the individual meeting leader, rather than following a proven organizational process. Yet most business professionals have never received formal training about how to plan and run effective meetings. In a recent survey of our users, fewer than ten percent have ever received training on how to conduct effective business meetings. A recent Microsoft survey reports that there are 11 million meetings in the US each day.  That is 3 Billion meetings per year.  Imagine the enormous amount of time invested in these meetings each day, yet fewer than 10 percent of professionals ever receive training about how to conduct effective business meetings.  This would not be tolerated in any other area of your business.  Don’t tolerate it in your meetings either.  It is a waste of precious human capital and it has a big impact on overall company productivity and results.

On January 12, 2018 the National is hosting an exclusive professional development opportunity titled “Powerfully Simple Meetings”.  Facilitated by the authors of Powerfully Simple Meetings – Your Guide to Fewer Faster More Focused Business Meetings, this half-day workshop equips you with the resources and skills needed to lead the most effective meetings imaginable.  Whether you host your meetings at The National or in your own offices, this workshop will help you and your organization make the most productive use of your precious time.

 

Chef Todd’s “Fall Food and Wine Pairing” Dinner

It was a lovely cool fall night for our Customer Advisory Board Fall food and wine pairing. Chef Todd Goldian and Chief Wine Officer Mary Watson-DeLauder created a perfectly balanced, comfort food menu with braised meat, toasty pumpkin highlighting cinnamon, ginger and sage herbs from the garden.

Pumpkin RavioliThe first course was a beautiful plate of Pumpkin Ravioli with Sugar Pecans and Pumpkin Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and Brown Sage Butter. This colorful dish had a perfect blend of soft, crunchy, savory and sweet without tasting heavy. Mary paired the dish with SCHLOSS VOLLRADS KABINETT-GERMANY, a dry Riesling that had a touch of sweetness, but a long mineral finish. This light wine is grown on about 80 hectors (about 200 acres) of dry land in the mountains of Germany. The strength of the German Riesling when compared internationally is that it contains little alcohol but an abundance of flavors.

Paella with Tequila ChorizoThe second course was Paella with Tequila Chorizo, Pork Belly (both from Springhouse Farm), and Carolina Prawns. Saffron is the key spice in any Paella, a Spanish dish of rice, peas, seafood, chicken or pork. Chef’s combination with Pork Belly and the head-on Shrimp had a bit of a kick, but was tasty without being overwhelming. Thank goodness this was a small portion. Mary paired the CHARLES AND CHARLES ROSÉ-WASHINGTON, which was salmon in color with a light and dynamic palate with a tangy bright finish. Mary explained that Rosé had disappeared from the marketplace once White Zinfandel came on the market, but they have come back strong particularly from Columbia Valley area in Washington state. This particular wine was light, tart and was a nice compliment to a complicated dish.

Slow Braised Short Ribs The third course was Slow Braised Short Ribs with Buttermilk Polenta, Charred Brussel Sprouts and a Cabernet Reduction. The short ribs had been cooking for 4 hours in the oven in a wine sauce, while the polenta was creamy and cheesy, the charred Brussel sprouts were crisp, and a lime green color. All were topped with microgreens from the local CEA Farms. The rich flavors of the meat and polenta paired beautifully with the NICK GOLDSCHMIDT FIDELITY-CALIFORNIA. From the Alexander Valley, the Fidelity is a deep garnet color that is nicely balanced with red and dark red fruit flavors with soft tannins in the finish. This seemed to go down way to easy.

We finished the night with a Wild Turkey and Ginger Cider Float. A combination of ice cream, cider, and cinnamon sticks topped with a flavorful Ginger Ale was a calm retreat to the night. Shots of Wild Turkey where available as Chef talked about his first Wild Turkey shared with his Grandad.

Chef’s Tables can be arranged as a private event or as part of a meeting or training session. It’s a great way to say thank you to board members, speakers or customers. Email Paula Safran to arrange a holiday Chef’s Table today.

More Renovations in Leesburg’s Black Olive Bar & Grill

As the New Year begins, Black Olive Bar & Grill, the most popular meeting spot at The National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, announces more renovations, updates and modern furnishings.

The Black Olive is one of the many meeting places for groups and meetings that are held at The National Conference Center. With pool tables, darts, a lively selection of live and DJ music, pub food and local beer and wines, this place is an escape for the local and traveling business community.

New this year is the addition of two communal tables. Communal dining may seem like a contemporary gimmick, but it’s actually a return to tradition. According to Rebecca Spang, who wrote The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, “Communal tables were the norm in the early 1600s.” Communal dining is sharing a meal and conversation with a group of people in a public dining establishment. These tables can be an aesthetic statement or just help set the ambiance.

We purchased and helped design our tables with Destantis Designs, a hyper-local woodworker in Purcellville, Virginia. These high top tables are made of Mahogany wood and seats 10 people. Lights and hooks are under the table for easy storage of bags and coats.

On the far side, near the live music, are three group seating areas, made of black leather and can accommodate 10-12 people.  In addition to the new couches and group seating, new LED lighting has been added in the wine boxes, bar area and under the bar. Forty 55” HDTVs were added throughout the bar area for a quality sport watching experience. The total renovation is above $15,000 and will be completed by the end of January 2017.

New menu options will be introduced also at the end of the month. The entire Food and Beverage program is chef-driven. From the top down, John Walsh, Food and Beverage Director, Executive Chef Chris Ferrier, along with Executive Chef Simone Dundy and Chef Tournant Chip Otten, have graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and between them, have many years’ experience. Each are heavily involved with every aspect of menu planning, food preparation and presentation, on a 24/7 schedule. Watch for our new menu coming soon.

3 Loudoun County Side Trips to add to your Meeting Agenda

Sometimes you just need to get attendees moving and out of the classroom or meeting room. In beautiful Loudoun County, known for its historic, equestrian and agricultural landscapes, there are many attractions that can be added to your meeting agenda.

The National is part of a vibrant community in Loudoun County , with its award-winning, revitalized downtown, entertainment, sports, arts, shopping, dining and agriculture including wineries, breweries and distilleries. The surrounding Loudoun area offers everything from fishing, hiking and boating to golf, antiquing and exploring historic sites.

 

We’ve put together three side trips that we think would add value to any meeting, training or conference. These trips can be used as teambuilding add-ons or just a fun way for attendees to spend time together, an important part of any meeting.

 

Challenge Your Team:

If teambuilding events are planned and executed well, people feel good about themselves and about their colleagues. This trip starts right here at The National’s Challenge Rope Course, available this fall. THE NATIONAL’S Challenge Course includes:

Low Elements – permanent weight bearing structures constructed outdoors of wood and cables and High Elements-outdoor challenges constructed of wood and cable that allow participants to be as high as 40’.  All participants are in climbing gear and are protected by belayers.

The Rope Course could take place in the morning; then break for lunch with a Southern-style BBQ in the courtyard; then off to Pev’s Paintball or Top Golf.  Paintball is fast paced, high-tension game that brings people together with a little pressure and competition. In order to win a game of paintball, your team must work together, communicate, and be willing to take risks. Our team can create a customized team-building program or your group can simply learn to play the game and have a recreational event.

 

Top Golf Dulles , now open in Loudoun County, features 102 bays over 3 floors, an amazing rooftop terrace, lively bars and a golf game concept that is sure to blow you away! Anyone can play Topgolf, from aspiring pros to those who’ve never walked 18 holes. All you have to do is swing a club and try to hit your microchipped balls into dartboard-like targets. It’s competitive. It’s fun. And it’s always better with a big group! There are many different packages available with food and beverage included.

 

 

 

Meet and Eat:

Start the day off with a bus tour to Leesburg Farmer’s markets. Loudoun County is filled with rolling hills and farmland studded with orchards, vineyards, Christmas tree farms, and more make up our countryside. From the ecoganic vegetables at Potomac Vegetable Farm and the certified-humane heritage breed meats and organic produce at Ayrshire Farm to the county’s hand crafted beer, wine, and spirits, Loudoun brings the farm to your table. Visit the local farmers market with Executive Chef Chris Ferrier as you plan for the custom Chef’s Table that night. That’s right, you’ll pick the produce, cook the dinner with chef in the kitchen and then visit a winery or brewery the next day. We know the value of food to meetings. Much research has been done showing that food plays in ensuring that meetings are more efficient and more productive when attendees are eating food that effectively fuels their minds.

Our Chief Wine Officer Mary Watson will host a winery or brewery tour with you to learn how to taste wine, what to look for when pairing wine with food and explain the Loudoun County terroir. See the full list of wineries and breweries just a few miles from the National.

 

Backyard History:

In the National’s backyard lies the history of America. Loudoun County is in the center of The Journey through Hallowed Ground, a 180-mile scenic and historic corridor stretching from Jefferson’s Monticello to Gettysburg.

Start the day with a visit to the regional park, which was the site of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. This October 21, 1861 clash was the second largest to take place in the county during the Civil War. It took place along the banks of the Potomac River, where the Union fell backward into the river in a defeat that merited a congressional investigation. The national cemetery here is one of the smallest in the country. A one mile hiking trail offers interpretive signs.

A visit and tour of Morven Park will not disappoint. The movie, “Fighting & Frolicking”, brings to life Confederate soldiers in camp early in the Civil War. The living history program features historical interpreters portraying Civil War soldiers who lived at Morven Park in the winter of 1861-62, as well as civilians.

If time permits, a driver could take your group through the Mosby Heritage Area or you could do a Middleburg Walking Tour. https://youtu.be/p18nU9LY89g

End the day with a historically researched dinner prepared by the culinary team, along with a teambuilding exercise: Civil War Trivia Night in the Black Olive Lounge.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these Side Trips that we feel compliment a teambuilding activity or could be used as networking opportunities. Ask your conference planner for a private tour of our rope course or to help set up the culinary or historic tours. We look forward to working with you.

Food for Thought: Healthy Breakfast Trends 2016

As one of the largest meeting and training facilities in the East Coast, The National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, has developed a healthy meeting/eating program.  John Walsh, director of food and beverage, along with Executive Chef Chris Ferrier, host a Breakfast of Champions every quarter and share their healthy tips.

The breakfast menu starts with Antioxidant Shooters, Mini Nonfat Greek Yogurt Parfaits with Chia Seeds and Organic Granola and Berries. It’s a fact…healthy, low sugar, high protein foods for meeting breaks allow attendees to focus better, stay alert and stay involved in the conversation. Here’s just a few break and breakfast ideas we’ve researched:

  • Greek yogurt probiotic are high in protein.
  • Eggs are healthier than we thought. See new medical USDA studies.
  • Strawberries are high in vitamin C and low fat.
  • Blueberries are one of the highest antioxidant foods.
  • Avocado oil contains nearly 20 essential vitamins and minerals, providing beneficial plant compounds like 81 micrograms lutein and zeaxanthin, which research suggests may help maintain eye health as we age.

Chef and John continue to create healthy food options for all meetings and events at The National. Here are a few of their food trends for 2016. To see the full list, click here.

Fresh-and-local continues to be what meeting planners and guests request.  “Our guests are delighted to learn that they’re not only getting healthy food but they’re also supporting local farms,” said Walsh. Healthy, simple, good food is always in style.  It is sometimes a challenge since The National can serve over 1,000 meals a day, but Executive Chef Chris Ferrier meets with local farmers and suppliers daily to see what is fresh that he can incorporate into his menus.

Small plates and small bites are popular.  Guests prefer to try many different options as opposed to one heavy, sit-down meal.  Consider doing tapas type food stations where guests can try a variety of different items. Be sure to include vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices as now requested by a growing number of people.  We mark all our items and let guests know which are gluten-free.

Tell a story.  Guests not only want to know where their food comes from but they like to know the story behind the food.  Chef and our culinary team often are the ‘entertainment’ as they discuss and share stories about the farmers and local suppliers at each table.  And the story is not just about the source of the food but also about the chef, the sommelier and the people involved.  It’s all about the experience—socialization, engagement, the food, the people, the setting.

To learn more about our food program and healthy food options, discuss these ideas with your sales associate or conference planner. We are always open to your ideas.