Beaches and business are not mutually exclusive. In fact, everything that leisure vacationers love about beach destinations holds true for meeting attendees and planners too.
When a hotel combines its meeting and function space, business amenities and business-focused services with a desirable beachfront location, it offers the best of two worlds to meeting groups, and the likelihood that registration goals will be met or exceeded. Sure, business comes first — but who doesn’t want to conduct business with sun, sand, ocean breezes and maybe a palm tree or two? There are business-friendly beachfront properties from one coast to another.
Here are just a few of the best beach destinations to consider.
Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated holds its annual RBC Heritage Customer Entertainment event, coinciding with the PGA tournament of the same name on Hilton Head, South Carolina, that it has sponsored for more than 40 years. The Omni Hilton Head Resort is a perfect property for this event that includes 450-plus attendees.
“Over the course of our sponsorship of the event, we’ve utilized each of the major resort properties on Hilton Head. We are currently in year two of a five-year deal. The Omni offers a great location and great meeting space for our hospitality needs,” says Kimberly Williams, event coordinator with the company. “It’s a family-friendly location with wonderful beaches and agreeable weather.”
“The Omni Hilton Head Resort is a beautiful property with oversized and newly renovated rooms, and the staff is great.”
— Kimberly Williams
“Our guests love the flexibility of beach access,” she adds, although the group doesn’t hold any official functions on the beach. It does, however, hold dinners for various attendees at different restaurants on the island.
Among those at the resort who go above and beyond are Lory Lachapelle in sales and Robin Weiss in conference services. “They and their respective teams were instrumental in our choice of the Omni,” Williams says.
The group uses the resort’s ballroom for hospitality. Williams says she also has made use of the Wi-Fi for internal networking needs, worked with a décor company to assist with soft seating and recreational items in the suite and utilized onsite AV for children’s programming.
She adds that there were no challenges to speak of, “and anything we might have experienced was handled quickly and without incident to our satisfaction.” Her only advice to those considering the Omni is to “share a complete ‘big picture’ of your program to allow Lory and her catering team to give you the absolute best service possible.”
Across the continent, on the island of Kauai, William Davies, managing director of Muse Events Management, found an ideal beach location for the 2017 LifeVantage Master Incentive Trip. The group of 340 gathered at Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club in May.
“Hawaii as a whole is a good option for incentive trips as it’s safe and usually on someone’s bucket list. The cost of hosting an event on Kauai can be a little higher than other islands and availability of flights is a bit limited; however, the scenic nature of the island and slower pace captures the North American ideal of a tropical lifestyle.”
The group explored the entire island. “We traveled around the island both in Lihue and south to Port Allen and Poipu,” Davies says. “We visited Kilohana Plantation for a luau, which was a true authentic experience. The hotel’s location is ideal as it was only 10 minutes from the plantation, making transfers very quick.”
The island and resort met the group’s needs. “The destination of Kauai is ideal for smaller groups,” Davies says. “Planners should choose a trusted DMC to be put in contact with strong vendors. In addition, Kauai Marriott Resort is part of Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network (CRN), which recently expanded and now has eight properties throughout Hawaii, giving planners more options in a highly sought after destination.”
All meetings were held at the Marriott, and Davies notes that the group only went off-property for some dinners and activities. In terms of the resort’s beachside location, Davies says it has what he was looking for. “I was seeking a true Hawaiian experience and Kauai Marriott Resort was able to offer that. The resort is close to the airport and features a complimentary 24/7 shuttle, which is very convenient. It’s also located in Lihue, a perfect location as it has consistently sunny weather and the landscape is quintessential ‘Hawaiian.’ ”
He calls the setting on Kalapaki Beach spectacular. “The view of the water and mountains on the far side is the perfect guest room view. And ocean views give a strong sense of place, so it keeps you in the environment. There’s also a small shopping area located along the beach within a short stroll from the resort, which showcases the local community.”
Because the goal of this trip was to keep attendees together, the resort’s layout was very effective. “The hotel has an open layout with large lounging areas and one central pool,” Davies says. “I wanted everyone to be together as much as possible for strong team building.”
The staff also worked to meet the group’s needs. “Honestly, there are so many people to mention,” Davies says. “From the start, the sales team was amazing. Dana and Lori took the time to learn about our group and program, and from our first site-selection trip we knew this was the right fit. We knew the resort would be the perfect partner to work with us on this event. The banquet team was incredible, and Jackie led her team very well.
“Everyone on the engineering team was also outstanding. They came to the aid of our volleyball game when they saw it was a struggle to keep the barriers together. They jumped in and came up with great solutions to help.” At that moment, Davies says, we knew we had a lifetime partner in Kauai Marriott Resort.
“I also don’t want to miss the opportunity to call out John in valet,” he adds. “I took the time to stop and listen to some of the interactions he and his staff had with the guests, each of whom they called by name. They knew each of their cars and were genuinely interested in where they were going, and even took the time to give suggestions. The customer service level was definitely at an all-time high.”
Davies points out that the resort works well for groups of all sizes. “Inside the hotel there are numerous options for the size of groups the hotel can accommodate. The meeting space is top-notch, the oceanfront luau garden is very pleasant, and being right on the beach with the expansive views is beautiful. The staff has the planner and group in mind at all times and will do whatever they have to in order to bring your vision to life. They make our job easy.”
In addition, Davies says, “Marriott’s CRN, which has grown to more than 100 properties across the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico, provides planners with strong tools to efficiently and successfully execute meetings and events.” He mentions the Meetings Imagined Inspiration tool as just one asset, plus “virtual site visits and a new website, to name a few.”
Even upon reflection, Davies says of the experience on Kauai, “There weren’t any real challenges in the program. We came in with changes and the hotel offered options best suited for our group. Even the process after the program, with settling and billing, was exceptional. I really can’t find enough good things to say about the staff and hotel. My group and I are delighted to encourage everyone who’s thinking of hosting an incentive trip in Hawaii to visit Kauai and Kauai Marriott Resort, and to explore Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network’s other properties as well.”
Tom Hillmer, senior vice president and account executive with Creative Group, found SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamas to be the perfect beachfront location for a client’s April 2018 meeting with 100 attendees.
“This particular client wanted something ‘new and different,’ and has never taken their program to The Bahamas. Recently opened Baha Mar resort in Nassau offers a fresh, new experience, with the convenience and accessibility of The Bahamas,” Hillmer says.
“The Bahamas has great airlift from the United States and is one of the more quickly accessible island experiences being only a short 40-minute flight from Miami. It also has an extensive infrastructure for meetings and events, including transportation providers, recreational activities and local venues unique to the destination. Additionally, the Nassau airport is a beautiful new facility with all the modern amenities of any modern U.S. airport.”
Moreover, Hillmer continues, “The Bahamas have done an outstanding job with the training and familiarization of their local people to know how to exceed the expectations of the group-travel industry — so much so that it was explained to me that the country now has a specific academic curriculum to prepare those interested in a career in the local hospitality industry. It definitely showed during my recent visit to the destination.”
As for Baha Mar itself, situated along Cable Beach, one of Nassau’s most famous beaches, Hillmer says, “The Baha Mar resort is one of the newest things to open on an island destination and the property is nothing short of spectacular.”
The resort will ultimately have three hotels. Two, the Grand Hyatt and the SLS where Hillmer’s group stayed, are currently open. The Rosewood is slated to open in June.
“There is not only a hotel for every group of every size, but each hotel offers different price points for different group budgets,” Hillmer says. “And the properties share a variety of resort amenities and facilities. Guests can stay in one hotel but have access to multiple recreational and dining experiences, which a guest could never get if staying in just one property elsewhere.”
Hillmer says there was much about SLS Baha Mar that made it the right choice for his group. “Everywhere you look, no expense was spared to ensure a unique and upscale experience for all guests. And given the overall design and size of the resort, function space is incredibly convenient and accessible. Most interior function space is on the lower level, just steps from the hotel tower’s elevators, and outside function space is conveniently located throughout the grounds.”
Throughout Baha Mar are facilities and amenities that guests of all the hotels can access. “The spa and casino are impressive facilities, representing high-end luxury in every detail,” Hillmer says. “The restaurants are all outstanding, offering a variety of culinary experiences from Italian to Mediterranean to Asian. Guests can dine in any restaurant throughout the resort and charge it back to their room.”
Lastly, he says, “I was unbelievably impressed with the quality of the service and the warmth of the staff throughout the entire resort. Everyone I encountered was friendly, knowledgeable and took great pride in ensuring a memorable experience. Their care for their guests really made an impression on me.”
Hillmer was also impressed with what Grand Hyatt Baha Mar offers, although he chose the SLS. “Meeting space at the Grand Hyatt is proportionate to the size of the 1,800-room resort. The Hyatt’s extensive and very impressive conference center is located adjacent to a covered outdoor walkway and offers impressive function space capable of accommodating very large groups,” he notes.
When asked what planners should know about Baha Mar, Hillmer responds, “They should know that the physical property is very impressive, its offerings are extensive and, as important, it is supported by an outstanding group of employees who take personal pride in ensuring that the physical luxury of the resort is backed up by luxury service, ultimately ensuring an overall outstanding experience. Meeting planners can be tough critics; this resort will definitely exceed expectations.”
Additionally, he says, “In a world where meeting and incentive hosts are looking for what’s ‘new and different’ that their guests have yet to experience, while always looking for a good value, Baha Mar is worthy of serious consideration. With great air access, reasonable price points and an overall resort experience that will truly ‘wow’ guests, this new resort will definitely bring renewed attention to the Bahamas.”
It’s no surprise that Caribbean beaches are popular with North American planners. Each island has its own vibe and allure. Some are beach-centric, their gentle coastlines encircled by sugar-soft sand. Others feature rugged cliffs and jungles creeping up towering mountains. Some islands exhibit decidedly British influence while others are distinctly French, Spanish or Dutch. For planners the question is, “What’s your vision of paradise?”
Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic delivers miles of stunning beaches cradled between graceful palms and the postcard-perfect Caribbean Sea. Jill Filipiak, executive assistant and event planner with Gemalto Inc., planned the company’s Elite Club gathering for 70 at Club Med Punta Cana in May 2017 and the beach was definitely a factor in choosing Club Med.
“Our guests love the relxation the sun and sand bring. It is one of our main factors of choice each year.”
Beyond the beach, Filipiak says they chose the 553-room resort for several reasons, but two in particular stand out. “The Zen Oasis at the resort is by far the most amazing space/rooms of any resort we have been, and this includes the Four Seasons Maui. It’s a true ‘wow’ factor for our guests. Additionally, the grounds — meaning the landscaping, beach, and overall look of Club Med Punta Cana — scream the perfect Caribbean location.”
The group held all functions onsite. “With plenty to choose from on location, there was no reason to host offsite,” Filipiak says. “We used the resort’s AV, décor, catering and staff for two evening events, a welcome cocktail reception and a farewell dinner. Both took place on resort property but not in meeting space,” she says, “as this was a pure all-vacation incentive.”
In addition, the group had a hosted excursion that departed directly from the resort beach. “Two catamarans pulled right up to the beach. Our guests boarded for an awesome four-hour cruise and amazing lunch!” To those who might consider Punta Cana a “second choice,” she says, “I can assure you that as a leisure incentive this resort has the whole package.”
She also has high praise for her convention services contact at the property. “She really stood out. She pulled my entire event together seamlessly.” And though Filipiak felt it was a bit of a challenge that the resort’s meeting and events coordinator was not onsite, she says, “The onsite person made the entire situation better.”
In the final analysis, she adds, “Club Med Punta Cana is a great Caribbean destination with amazing beaches, amazing room choices, amazing amenities to offer and it does a great job with conventions onsite.”
Just to the east of the DR lies Puerto Rico, which suffered immensely in the unforgiving hurricanes of 2017. Today, it’s well on its way back. Many of the island’s top resorts have reopened, including Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort, which started accepting guests March 1. Taking advantage of the need to repair hurricane damage, the resort announced a multimillion-dollar renovation. New and intriguing dining options are among the changes attendees can expect.
Like the Wyndham, much of Puerto Rico is open for business.
A state that’s 441 miles long, 361 miles wide and surrounded by water on three sides is bound to have an abundance of beaches — 1,200 miles of beaches to be exact, and 1,800 miles of coastline. The challenge for planners is choices. On Florida’s Atlantic coast, evocative destinations include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Daytona. Along the Gulf, there’s Naples, Sanibel, Sarasota and the miles of beaches that make up Clearwater and St. Pete. To the north, the Panhandle is known for brilliant blue-green water and sweet beachfront towns from Pensacola to Panama City, including the resort area of Sandestin.
The one thing true for all of these areas is that they’re ever evolving, with a goal of getting even better.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort recently announced a $2.7 million renovation of the 15,000-sf Linkside Conference Center, a venue ideal for groups of 10 to 1,200 and featuring a 5,500-sf ballroom, four breakout rooms and a boardroom. The center offers sweeping views along Choctawhatches Bay. In addition to indoor venues, planners can book the resort’s lawns, marinas, docks, terraces and beach venues.
In St. Pete Beach, Sirata Beach Resort announced a $15 million renovation that includes a full redesign of the current 30,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space, all 382 guest rooms as well as pools and dining venues. Renovations to the meeting spaces are complete, with remaining renovations set for completion this year.
From coast to coast and in every ocean and sea, beach resorts bring groups the best of all worlds — a place to do business, to relax, to network and to revel in the natural beauty created wherever water, sand and sun come blissfully together. C&IT