At some corporate meetings and events, the chosen venue is a predictable affair — with the same types of facilities, same menu and same agenda being featured year after year. Brenda Alvarez, meeting planner at Reach Air Medical, a Santa Rosa, California-based company providing emergency air transport services for hospitals, sought an out-of-the-box venue to conduct the company’s offsite leadership and teambuilding meeting.
Alvarez turned to Safari West in Northern California as the ideal locale to offer company attendees an unusual meeting experience.
“We had heard that they offer meeting space but did not know they would help make it such a memorable experience,” Alvarez says. “We wanted something different and new, and we certainly had that with Safari West.”
Safari West allows guests to explore the Sonoma Serengeti on an African-style wildlife safari. While promoting conservation and environmental education concepts, guests can enjoy relaxing in a luxury safari tent under the gaze of a graceful giraffe or exploring the area amidst herds of exotic wildlife.
Approximately 20 people attended the meeting with about half staying the night for the full Safari West experience.
“The opportunity to spend the night in their amazing tents was something the team members couldn’t stop talking about,” Alvarez says. “Being able to listen to wildlife in the evening is something you don’t normally discuss as part of a ‘leadership meeting’ so that was definitely a unique perk for the team.”
Sara Gorlick, vice president of events for Rakuten Marketing, also recognizes the key role selecting a unique venue can play in a meeting’s success. For every Fashion Week in New York City, Rakuten Marketing hosts an event for influencers and brands in the industry. The event is an opportunity for the company’s guests to create partnerships as each brand has the opportunity to show off their products.
“Many influencers want to collaborate with the brands that they feel passionate about and would support even if they weren’t getting paid to advertise, so our event lends itself to making personal connections,” Gorlick says. To add to the week’s uniqueness, Rakuten Marketing hosted their event at Ramscale Studio, located in the former home of Bell Labs, where Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell both worked.
Located in the West Village neighborhood, Ramscale evokes the ambience of a hidden loft apartment in New York City.
“New York City real estate is so unique and each apartment has a story unto itself so the Ramscale is like walking into a secret location in the city that you feel lucky to have stumbled upon.”
— Sara Gorlick
“Everyone has been in a conference room — it’s either too hot or too cool and exhausts guests,” Gorlick says. “Unique venues inspire. As event planners we are able to create perks for corporate workers and create experiences they wouldn’t have if they didn’t have a corporate job. It is a privilege to be able to give that to people and unique venues are the way to make it happen.”
For Greg Jenkins, partner at Bravo Productions, a meeting and event planning company in Long Beach, California, choosing a unique venue that stands out in the minds of attendees is paramount to making a meeting or event a success.
“As an event and meeting planner based in Southern California, we have staged meetings and events at various unique venues,” Jenkins says, including the Aquarium of the Pacific and Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Hangar 8 in Santa Monica, and Union Station and Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A.
As Jenkins explains, these venues were selected for various reasons. For example, Hangar 8, an airport hangar that is also used for commercial and film shoots represented a blank space, where Bravo Productions could create a unique setting and accommodate many provisions.
“The Museum of Latin American Art was selected for its distinctive representation — it’s the only museum in the United States dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art,” Jenkins says. “Union Station is one of the greatest examples of Spanish revivals/art deco in the country — and still operates as a train station. It’s just monumental in its scale and is centrally located.”
Event types included networking events, customer/client appreciation gatherings or private parties in conjunction with a conference.
“Unique venues (transport) guests to a different time and place, something most hotels cannot achieve without creating a big themed event.”
— Greg Jenkins
“In addition, the unique venue might offer the only opportunity for the meeting and conference attendee to experience an outing outside of the hotel and convention center,” Jenkins says. “This is even more important when the attendee is from out of state and has limited time to experience the nearby area. Unique venues also tend to peak the attendee’s sense of adventure and curiosity.”
More and more companies are taking notice of the unique venues available for their next meeting or event across the country. At the Harley-Davidson Museum campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the onsite Motor Bar & Restaurant offers customizable private dining and event options that really “wow” attendees — both motorcycle and non-motorcycle lovers alike. With the ability to play host to events with 10 to 10,000 attendees, the Harley-Davidson Museum offers a wealth of options for events of all types.
“Meeting and event planners should consider using unique venues intermittently to accommodate a change in production needs, to support a theme, to highly motivate attendance, to entice an attendee base that may be bored, busy, receivers of many meeting offers, or have seen everything already,” says Carolyn Davis, CMP, owner of Strategic Meeting Partners. “Unique venues offer attendees the opportunity to see and witness something new. It elevates creativity and clearer thinking among attendees. In addition to the business purpose, the attendee also has personal curiosities that a unique venue may be able to capture. When the attendee has multiple invitation offers, it may help them make the final decision on which to attend.”
Recently, Strategic Meeting Partners bought out unique venues within a Baltimore hotel for a 450-person, four-classroom, two-month training session. The spaces included one traditional meeting room, a former hotel office, plus a restaurant and a cabaret club all located on the same floor.
“We needed meeting space, and the hotel could not give up its traditional meeting space for two months, due to prior bookings,” Davis says. “We converted the unique settings into classrooms, however each space kept the flair of its original purpose that the attendees loved as they rotated through each during the two months.”
While some attendees may enjoy a motorcycle-centered meeting venue, others may revel in attending an event focused on their favorite beverage. Enter repurposed breweries. These historic venues often offer a glimpse into the craft beer brewing process, while attendees can participate in taste testings. For example, Rochester, New York, is home to the 100-year-old Genesee Brew House. Here, meeting and event guests can mingle with the brewmasters, sip on some favorite suds in the delightful beer garden, and learn more about how Genesee beer is made.
Empire Farmstead Brewing, outside of Syracuse New York, offers a farm-to-table experience where participants can enjoy menu items sourced from the 22-acre working farm, and see where the Empire’s hops are grown. Trails throughout 216 acres of woodland in the adjacent Burlingame Area Trails provide a back-to-nature break.
For nature lovers and adventure seekers, Basecamp Boulder, in Boulder Colorado, which opened in June 2016, offers a very unique experience throughout its mountain-themed interior designs. In addition to the outdoor firepit complete with s’mores-making ingredients aplenty, the hotel’s indoor rock-climbing wall adds a unique flair to the space, while providing attendees a place to relax and unwind. And no one can resist Basecamp Boulder’s “penthouse suite,” which is complete with sunken beds surrounded by green turf carpet and an enormous mural of the beloved Flatirons.
According to Adam Sloyer, CEO, Sequence, a meeting and events agency in New York, specializing in production, strategic planning and design, the primary advantage to a unique venue such as Basecamp Boulder for attendees is excitement.
“People always want to experience something new or different, and a unique venue adds a level of intrigue,” Sloyer says. “Unique venues also are more likely to generate event buzz, which leads to social marketing, sharing and promotion. Also on the cost side, unique venues may have built-in components that you’d otherwise need an outside company to bring in. Think of a nightclub with in-house audio-visual, or a museum with pre-existing décor or environment.”
One prominent hedge fund that Sequence works with hosts their meetings at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. As Sloyer explains, the museum gives the event a certain cachet, and allows for an upscale ambience without spending big on décor or scenery.
“We also work with the American Red Cross on producing one of their galas at a Net Jets hangar,” Sloyer says. “The hangar brings with it a great deal of limitations and red tape — along with requiring an extensive build-out — but the chance for guests to experience an event in such an unconventional venue is invaluable.”
Indeed, the concept of “unconventional” abounds at Florida’s Coldwater Gardens, a secluded agritourism destination for corporate groups. Offering more than 352 acres, Coldwater Gardens is situated in the Florida Panhandle and provides camping, glamping (aka, glamorous camping) and private cottages for groups. The glamping tents are popular for corporate and meeting attendees, offering the best of both worlds — a back-to-nature break from everyday life, but enough comfort that guests won’t wake up with a sore back and covered in bug bites. In fact, amenities include hardwood floors, electricity, water boiler, queen beds and stunning views of the pine savanna.
A fully sustainable retreat with gardens that span five acres, Coldwater Gardens also offers The Terrace, which includes a full commercial kitchen, a dining room that seats up to 80 and multiple fireplaces.
The adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” rings true for many meeting planners who work hard to integrate a fun, active atmosphere into a chosen venue.
“Events are all about the experience and are becoming more innovative each year, so shouldn’t the spaces we hold them in reflect this change?” asks Maria Geller, meeting and event manager at Special D Events in Detroit, Michigan.”
“Traditional venues are becoming stale and clients are searching for venues that allow for more creativity and provide attendees with an ‘out-of-the-box’ experience they aren’t expecting.”
— Maria Geller
That’s where The Escape Room Indy comes in. Just steps from the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, The Escape Room Indy, housed in a central downtown building, boasts five game rooms, each designed to offer 60 minutes of competitive problem-solving fun. The ultimate team building experience, participants are locked in a themed room and provided clues and riddles in order to solve puzzles and discover keys and other combinations that will enable them to escape the room before time runs out. From Art Gallery to Bank Heist to Jail Break, the themed rooms are intricately designed to allow up to eight individuals to work together to escape.
Erin DeBernardi, associate consultant for the Center for Innovative Learning at Eli Lilly and Company, orchestrated a company event at The Escape Room because her group was looking for new, innovative ways of conducting informal assessments of the sales professionals the company trains.
“Gamification and the use of competition in training has become a trending topic in learning and development,” DeBernardi says. “We chose The Escape Room because they were a reputable, local organization willing to partner with us to customize their themed rooms and incorporate our training topics into clues and hints therein.”
DeBernardi and her team worked with The Escape Room over the course of several months to customize many of the clues within their rooms to meet their training needs. The day of the event, approximately 120 sales professionals filled the lounge of The Escape Room in Fishers, Indiana. Teams were assembled and assigned to their rooms, while others who were waiting their turn enjoyed a catered meal, drinks and camaraderie. In order to escape, teams were required to not only work together and solve problems, but to remember the information they had previously studied and been trained on. And, being salespeople, there was, of course, the element of competition — competition to see which rooms had been “harder” than others, which teams escaped and which didn’t, and how much time it took.
“The feedback from this event was phenomenal,” DeBernardi says. “Never before had a training team attempted to marry assessment and evaluation and team building in this way, and our sales professionals made sure we knew that. We received comments like ‘best training event I’ve experienced in my 10+ years with the company,’ and ‘thanks for making this “test” so fun!’ We’ve all been to corporate events at venues that are just as ‘blah’ as the office. Folks are looking at their watches trying to gauge ‘I wonder when can I sneak away.’ At The Escape Room, our colleagues were most definitely checking their watches, but checking to see if it was their turn yet, how their ‘competitors’ were faring against the shrinking clock, and predicting by how many minutes they could beat the team that just Escaped the Titanic.”
One of the huge advantages of holding a corporate meeting or event in a unique venue is to provide an opportunity to shake things up. In some cases, this includes taking attendees out of their comfort zone, and in others, to inspire them.
One of Karen Shackman’s favorite examples of unique venue offerings include meetings she and her staff at Shackman Associates New York have held in historic bank vaults and renovated, old-school speakeasies.
“New York has multiple meeting, dining and event venues that were old banks,” Shackman says. “These buildings often feature majestic architecture both inside and outside, and in some cases historic components like bank vaults have been preserved to provide a truly unique dining or small event experience.
Speakeasies also are getting more creative than ever, and with amenities like secret doors, they provide attendees an additional feeling of exclusivity.
“For meeting planners trying to do something completely wild, try holding a brainstorming session at an indoor skydiving venue,” Shackman says. “We have one within minutes of New York City.”
While hosting an event at a historic brewery or a refurbished train depot are ever-popular options, another unique venue combines wine and train travel. The Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers a 36-mile round-trip experience through California’s wine country, is a very unique option for anyone hoping to create a productive and enjoyable environment. Complete with pre- and post-meeting areas, the Napa Valley Wine Train provides a unique setting for groups of all sizes. The train also can be tailored to meet a particular group’s needs — whether it includes cozy tables for in-depth strategy sessions or a full railcar for 60 or the entire train for 300 people. Of course, attendees can enjoy the region’s award-winning wines predominantly from Napa Valley, along with a fine-dining experience.
Although train travel is conducive to many types of meetings, incorporating a helicopter ride into a meeting or event is another memorable option for today’s meetings. In fact, Sundance Helicopters, based in Las Vegas, offers a distinctive event space at its terminal. Complete with a lavish pre-flight lounge, the terminal can host large groups and serve food and beverages while attendees wait their turn for helicopter tours during the function. Sundance Helicopters offers 25 state-of-the-art helicopters, each seating six people — so there’s plenty of space for groups looking to enjoy breathtaking flights above the Las Vegas Strip, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead and the Mojave Desert.
Many owners and operators of historic venues are eager to share the history of their venue, while also providing modern amenities that work for corporate groups. For a stylish and distinctive meeting and event experience The Transept, a historic, 202-year-old church in the revitalized historic neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been transformed into a memorable venue for meetings, concerts, receptions and other social events. After a $4.5 million renovation project, The Transept opened in 2015, and features stained glass, 50-foot vaulted ceilings and a wealth of classic design and architecture with modern amenities. The first-floor public bar is the ideal spot to unwind after a meeting held in one of the venue’s rentable event spaces in the basement, first, second and third floors.
Cincinnati is also home to the Rhinegeist Brewery, a microbrewery housed within the walls of a historic and once-abandoned Christian Moerlein bottling facility in Over-the-Rhine. An ideal venue for intimate affairs, executive events and large soirées, this hip gathering place boasts two private event spaces totaling more than 8,000 sf. Groups will love the exposed brick walls, pine floors and open wood rafter ceilings with skylights. Both spaces offer access to the Main Brewery and Rooftop Deck. And, of course up to eight Rhinegeist beers are available on tap for events held in the space.
“Unique venues allow clients to create a space that fits the theme of their meeting as well as the goals and objectives,” Geller says. “They lead to more original creative events that fit the client’s culture. Clients are looking to give their attendees something they have never seen before — no more stuffy windowless rooms. Attendees are more likely to share on social media if their meeting is hosted in a vacant warehouse with exposed brick versus a stale conference room.” C&IT