Golf courses, spas and business are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, many of the resorts with top golf courses and sought-after spas also provide exemplary settings for meetings and business conferences.
Amenities such as golf courses and spas offer multiple opportunities for team building and may boost registration. They’re ideal for meetings that include family. They’re also places where attendees can relax and recharge, which ultimately leads to greater productivity as well as enhanced health. Can a bare-bones hotel with sterile meeting rooms do the same? Probably not.
Tara M. Morrison, CAE, CMP, president of Association Management Executives Inc., has worked with two association groups of physicians. Both have had successful meetings at Sea Island Resort’s The Cloister, where business and upscale surroundings come together with excellent results. Earlier this year, the Georgia Neurological Society (GNS) brought in 45 members, while the Georgia Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (GSIPP) drew 125 attendees.
“Sea Island is like no other destination where I plan meetings,” Morrison says of the resort on Georgia’s east coast. “This a long-standing tradition for GNS and a brand new destination for GSIPP. It’s luxurious and comfortable, all at once. The accommodations are beautiful and spacious.”
Morrison calls Sea Island “an iconic resort” that many of her clients have on their bucket list — with good reason. “There is so much good service and flexibility. They strive to make the experiences personal and unique to each client.”
With that kind of luxury and high-touch service, planners might think The Cloister and Sea Island are out of reach for associations. However, Morrison says, “They are attuned to association budgets.”
Because the resort is quite spread out compared to some other places, Morrison says planners should understand that extra walking may be required here. That said, she also points out, “You can’t get a bad room at this resort, and the grounds are spectacular.”
The Cloister is just one of the accommodation options within Sea Island. There’s also The Lodge, The Inn at Sea Island and cottage rentals, as well as the rustic retreat, Broadfield. The Cloister and The Lodge, along with the restaurant Georgian Room at The Cloister, and the Sea Island Spa all have been Forbes Five Star recipients for an impressive 11 years in a row.
While Sea Island has enough of everything — including nine restaurants — many groups never leave the property during conferences, while some with only a few attendees may choose to have a function away from the resort. That was the case with GSIPP, which held its leadership dinner at a local restaurant. As is true for the area in general, Morrison says, “The food and service were great.”
Sea Island offers 42,000 sf of indoor meeting space and numerous outdoor venues. Morrison says that with the addition of the elegant Mizner Ballroom, which can accommodate up to 500 guests, “the space is even more flexible and convenient.”
This year’s events didn’t include a golf tournament, though Morrison says they’ve held tournaments in the past. But attendees do play golf at Sea Island on their own, she says, “or they’re hosted for golf by one of our vendors.”
Attendees also enjoy the spa on their own. “The Sea Island Spa is like none other I’ve seen or experienced,” Morrison says.
It’s hard to think of anything here as a real difficulty, though Morrison notes that it can be a challenge working with a different convention services manager (CSM) year to year. “However,” she says, “all have been professional and learned our needs quickly.”
Among the bonuses of booking Sea Island, Morrison notes, is that, “There are really three airports that attendees can fly into, which helps. And planners should remember that the resort will be flexible and creative when needed.”
Bottom line, she says, “You will not be disappointed. And if you want to ‘wow’ your attendees, this is the place to do it.”
The Lodge at Sea Island recently debuted its nearly $30 million enhancement, including six new guest cottages, a new 18-hole putting course — another team-building challenge option — and expanded driving range tee. There’s also a new oceanfront pool. The cottages provide 14 additional bedrooms, an option for small groups or executive boards. Also unveiled was the new 17,000-sf Golf Performance Center — and the Plantation Course underwent a full redesign.
Bethany Jones, meeting planning consultant for the National Association of Surety Bond Producers (NASBP), brought her group to another renowned resort, The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
About the area Jones says, “It was a major plus to be very close to a major airport and not have connections into a more remote airport or a long travel time from airport to resort. Many of the resorts we use are in more remote areas, so locations like Scottsdale are ideal for that ‘luxury resort’ setting with quick access to a major airport. There are also a lot of choices and competition in the area so you don’t feel pigeonholed into just one choice. We looked at four resorts in the Scottsdale area for this event.”
Jones says the Phoenician’s layout was a plus. “The meeting space, right off the main lobby entrance area down one escalator, is in good proximity to the sleeping rooms,” she notes. “Our attendees enjoyed not having to ‘go looking’ for the ballrooms, registration, etc.”
The Phoenician has multiple dining venues on property, but the NASBP group held one dinner in town. “The VIP dinner for the executive committee was held at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Scottsdale,” Jones says. “A great benefit of Scottsdale is that there are many high-end dining options for hosting VIP dinners off-site. That’s an important factor for our attendees since there are many networking VIP events.”
Although everything went smoothly, Jones says it was a bit of a challenge that the meeting was planned during a major renovation. To help, the resort let her go back to the property for a second planning trip to see renovations closer to completion.
Unfortunately, the renovations included the golf course, which wasn’t open for play at the time of the meeting. “The resort staff assisted with booking us at the neighboring Camelback course,” Jones says, “even covering round-trip transportation for the players.”
As for the spa, attendees went on their own, and Jones says she received positive feedback on the new facilities.
One thing planners should be aware of, Jones notes, is the differences in guest rooms. “Some of the guest rooms are pretty much underground. I had one of them by choice so an attendee wouldn’t have it. You’re looking out a window at a cement wall, something to be aware of when assigning VIP rooms. But on the flip side,” she says, “The Canyon Suites, the boutique hotel on property with separate accommodations, is an amazing opportunity for people to upgrade not only the rooms but the whole experience, as it has a private lobby, pool and amenities. That type of option is popular with this group.”
In terms of when to book The Phoenician, considerations include the popularity of high season and what other options are available. “This type of destination is so seasonal that it gets really crowded in peak season — winter, or early spring — so rates and competition to book dates in those times are high. If you’re looking for peak season,” Jones advises, “book early, or consider shoulder season dates for better rates and availability.”
While the renovations posed some challenges, Jones says ultimately the recent renovations to the resort were a big draw. “They took an already great property and made it an amazing ‘destination experience’ with all the amenities that a warm-weather resort should feature, such as pool areas, outdoor dining and bar options, views, a spa and golf. The new pool area and poolside dining options are top-notch,” she says. “The new fitness facility is amazing — the best I’ve seen in a while.”
In addition, last year the new three-story spa and expanded athletic club saw major improvements to the resort’s golf course, pared down from three distinct nine-hole courses to one 18-hole course with continuous flow and eco-efficiency as well. The clubhouse was updated and two restaurants debuted — refreshed J&G Steakhouse late last year and the new Phoenician Tavern, which opened earlier this year.
For Margaret Stedt, LPRT, CSA, president of Stedt Insurance Service, president elect of California Association of Health Underwriters (CAHU) and Medicare chair for the Orange County Association of Health Underwriters (OCAHU), Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California, was the perfect setting for a meeting that included a golf tournament, as well as for a meeting of three associations — OCAHU and the San Diego and Inland Empire Health Underwriters associations.
This is the group’s second year at Pechanga. “The location is ideal for a combined meeting of our San Diego, Inland Empire and Orange County chapters and our members,” Stedt says. Although she describes the airports as being located “a bit away,” she says they’re still reachable, and in addition, “Closeness to the highway was helpful as it was easy for our members and guests to travel to the resort.”
Sizeable space and the variety of rooms and possible configurations also make Pechanga a good choice for this group. “The size was the first consideration as we had outgrown our previous venue,” Stedt says. “The flexibility for the meeting space to accommodate a number of meetings was important. We required a large main meeting space and staging for 800+, certification classes that could hold 500, smaller rooms for classes for 50 to 125, plus an exhibit hall where a buffet could be held and a large registration area including storage as well.”
Pechanga delivered on multiple levels. “The room rates were reasonable, the food was great and the nonsmoking environment was an added bonus,” Stedt notes. “There’s also room to move around in a beautiful setting and lots of opportunity for creative and memorable meetings. The resort offers a number of great options for planners and their events.”
Stedt calls the meeting facilities “professional and warm,” noting that there are plenty of spots for people to sit and meet and greet and conduct business. What was especially important to them, she adds, “was the digital signage throughout the meeting spaces and the entry way to the meeting center.”
Stedt says members and guests “really enjoyed the facilities, including golfing, the spa, the selection of a number of restaurants and the casino — but they also appreciated that they didn’t have to go through the casino to get to meetings. Many attendees loved the use of the pool. Plus, the hotel is close to several wineries and other attractions in San Diego county. Last year, we had an event for 300 at one of the wineries near the resort.”
Sponsors, Stedt says, also make full use of the venue and amenities for special meetings after scheduled meeting times.
Then there’s the staff. “The front desk works hard to accommodate our members and guests. The professionalism of the event coordinators and food service staff were great. Our members and guest were very impressed with the wait staff, who don’t often get mentioned in surveys. They are the best we’ve seen on delivery of plates and beverages, fixing issues quickly and clearing quickly as well,” Stedt adds. “They really impressed our folks.”
That was especially notable because last year the only complaints were related to the food venues in the casinos. “They were not prepared for the number of guests our meeting brought in. The staffing in the various restaurants was not adequate to meet the number of attendees and wait times were long.”
Paying close attention to room sizes according to setup — theater, classroom, rounds — is important Stedt says, so she “appreciated the guidance the staff provided in room setup with an eye to the number of attendees and requirements for moving between meetings and for meals, and especially willingness to expand room space when needed.”
While the group had what Stedt calls a slow start with golf last year, this year was a different story. “Our members and guests really enjoyed the golfing and were excited about the course. This is the first year we offered a tournament as last year was just a golfing outing. They love the course and amenities. For our golf committee, it was a slow start the first year to get to the right coordinators at the golf center. This year has gone much better.”
To planners thinking of meeting at Pechanga, Stedt advises, “Know your meeting requirements and review them in detail with the hotel event coordinators. Make sure you provide them with a minute-by-minute program to make the setup, digital and sound support plus staffing requirements work smoothly. Meeting planners need to make sure they also understand the hotel’s requirements, such as filing plans with the fire marshal and shipping and receiving and the timing needed to meet these requirements. View the event as a team effort,” she says. “Be realistic and honest with your needs and expectations.”
One last suggestion: “Good service should be rewarded and guaranteed by the event planners. We were firm with our exhibitors that we expect them to tip the bellmen/women that are hauling their boxes and supplies.”
For Stedt’s group, Pechanga works well. “We chose to return for a second year as our members and guests loved the venue and service.”
Planners who haven’t visited Pechanga recently should take another look. Earlier this year the resort closed on a $300 million expansion that made Pechanga the largest resort/casino on the West Coast. The expansion doubled the resort in size and added 568 guest rooms in a new tower; a stand-alone, two-story spa; two new restaurants; a moving walkway; a 4.5-acre pool complex; and provided an additional 68,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Arizona, is refreshing its golf clubhouse this year and will debut a new fleet of golf carts. Food options have become more intriguing as well with the new culinary concept, Flavor, a partnership between Loews Hotels and local artisan F&B vendors, including Tucson Tamale Company, Barrio Bread and Dragoon Brewing Company.
Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020 with a complete renovation of guest accommodation interiors, to be completed by year’s end. Contemporary styling will feature new furniture and furnishings, flooring, stainless-steel appliances, quartz countertops, cabinets, lighting, drapes and more. The resort already completed renovations of its golf courses, clubhouse, spa and pools.
For its Rosen Hotels & Resorts 45th anniversary, their Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando, Florida offers a meeting planner signing bonus starting at $5,000 for new leads through the end of the year, plus other incentives. The AAA Four Diamond-property underwent a refresh of its 1,501 guest rooms and several dining outlets. | AC&F |