Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, pioneer of minimalist design and architecture, did not have small meetings in mind when he famously proclaimed that less is more. But he could have.
Not every meeting requires a 5,000-sf ballroom or room block for 400. That gives organizers of small meetings and executive retreats something other planners can only dream of — an almost limitless supply of options in terms of hotels, venues and dates.
A small meeting can fit comfortably into a large hotel, of course, but can also be accommodated in boutique hotels, small conference centers, intimate resorts, ranches and spaces, such as private suites, condos and townhomes within some properties. That privacy can be just the ticket for many high-level executive meetings.
The historic Broadmoor resort has long accommodated groups on its main property. But the addition of the Wilderness Experiences — a collection of three remote, rustic venues with history of their own — expands options for private, secure and spectacularly located meetings.
Cloud Camp, set 3,000 feet above the main hotel at the top of Cheyenne Mountain, is in all ways the pinnacle of the wilderness experience. Accessed via a six-mile winding road and one entry point, it’s supremely secure and private. And how you get there is an adventure in and of itself: Guests have the option to hike, ride a mule or go by Cadillac to arrive or depart the location. Up to 48 attendees can be accommodated in Cloud Camp’s 15 rustic but well-appointed one- and two-bedroom cabins and seven lodge rooms and suites, but 20 to 32 is a better number for a buyout, given the intimacy of the experience, communal dining (the main lodge’s massive communal table seats 32) and onsite activities. The Overlook, perched on the edge of the mountain, offers 1,500 sf of private event space in addition to space available in the majestic, art-filled 8,500-sf main lodge.
Though Cloud Camp is surrounded by Colorado’s dramatic, humbling mountain backcountry, it’s an all-inclusive experience, which comes with all the amenities, chef-driven cuisine and impeccable service for which The Broadmoor is known. No wonder it served as the ideal setting for Denver-based PCL Construction’s May 2017 executive retreat. The group of 20 bought out Cloud Camp, just as it has for several years.
Naomi Quispe, PCL’s manager, corporate communications, says, “Location, quality of lodging, friendly staff and, of course, budget” all influenced the decision to meet at Cloud Camp, about an hour and a half south of Denver. “Privacy was also important,” Quispe notes. “The resort was able to work with our budget and provide the privacy we needed.”
Due to Cloud Camp’s mountaintop location, guests arriving by car valet park at The Broadmoor and take provided transportation up to camp. Quispe calls the camp’s service phenomenal, saying nothing is overlooked.
“They took care of our luggage. They provided contact information for the onsite staff. If we needed something, they were on top of it. Everything worked just fine. The staff was great, the food was delicious.”
Quispe notes that the main lodge, built in the tradition of the great national park lodges, is huge, “So groups should be prepared to be overwhelmed with the beauty and history of it.” Among the highlights, she says, are Cloud Camp’s museum-quality artwork and décor items — most from the private collection of Broadmoor owner and Colorado philanthropist Philip Anschutz — and the compelling multi-century history of the place, which staff readily share with groups.
Nothing is much of a challenge at Cloud Camp, Quispe points out, because staff is so on-task. Even the fact that cabins are spread out across the property is only a minimal issue. “Some folks had a longer walk than others,” she says, “but staff offered golf-cart rides for those who wanted them.”
Because Cloud Camp’s location and other atypical elements make it unusual, Quispe encourages planners to do a site tour. “Make sure it’s the right fit and inform the hotel of your must-haves and like-to-haves.”
It has been exactly the right fit for PCL Construction. “Cloud Camp,” Quispe says, “allowed for all — even the planner, me — to relax.”
When Fiona Bailey, president of Fiona Bailey Events, was considering locations for the 2017 50-person corporate customer meeting of a European design firm, she chose Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo, Florida, an Autograph Collection hotel. The group met in October, well before the region’s high season begins.
“My client was looking for a venue that was not necessarily ‘well traveled to’ by most of the participants, and we felt the Florida Keys offered that. People generally have a positive image that the Keys represent white sand/turquoise waters and a laid-back resort atmosphere. What it lacks in golf it makes up for in big-game fishing, and there’s a great choice of other activities as well. We looked at Key West, Islamorada and Key Largo but settled on Key Largo due to its accessibility to Miami (a major air hub only about an hour away), its ability to offer a secluded environment that would keep our guests together onsite for as long as possible (as opposed to losing them to a local nightlife scene) and of course, beautiful Playa Largo Resort.
“What stood out about Playa Largo,” she continues, “was that it’s brand new, meaning even if people had been to the Keys, it was unlikely they had stayed at this resort. The hotel is beautiful with an immediate ‘wow’ factor as you walk into the lobby to see the hanging chairs and backdrop of the blue waters and picturesque swimming pool. It definitely has a luxurious atmosphere, which was important for the profile of our guests. It was also on the bay side of the Keys, which offers more protection and, of course, the chance of spectacular sunsets.
“Bedrooms are finely decorated with many wonderful touches, from the straw sun hat to the driftwood ‘do not disturb’ signs. Autograph hotels particularly try to capture the local color and décor styles, and this was evident. There’s state-of-the-art technology with iPad control systems, and the bathrooms are well designed with the most comfortable bathrobes ever experienced!”
Bailey also points to accommodation variety, e.g. suites and bungalows, “and, of course, the option to include the Beach House, which has three bedrooms, a private pool and fenced-off access for the ultimate in seclusion for private meetings as well as an excellent backdrop for our welcome reception/mixer. We were able to use special lighting and décor to transform the Beach House into the company’s corporate colors and have delicious food stations and entertainment.”
Bailey believes the appeal of the location helped encourage guests to accept the invitation. “We had 100 percent turnout,” she says.
Other than a small planning dinner at Skippers Dockside Restaurant, which Bailey says has “a great location, ambience and food,” all functions were on-property.
“We used onsite company Caribbean Watersports to provide two large catamarans for an afternoon sail on the bay. Guests could sail, kayak, standup paddleboard, parasail or snorkel from the boats. Onboard, we had drinks and snacks provided by the hotel, which were well received. The boat captains were entertaining and people really enjoyed a couple of hours’ relaxation.”
Bailey says the resort and area offer many more options, including scuba, big-game fishing and jet skiing, but the goal was relaxation, camaraderie and staying together on-property. One asset for that: “We offered guests access to two of the private poolside cabanas, which many took advantage of, and again, offered a perception of luxury and privacy.”
About resort staff, Bailey says, “Marnie was our main contact for all things to do with the program in the planning stages, and Magalie took care of our rooming list requirements excellently, considering we had a lot of extensions and advance arrivals. There was a great support team onsite, and it was never an issue trying to contact a department head to help move the program along.”
Bailey describes the meeting facilities as well laid out and flexible. The group also used the resort’s waterside restaurant, Sol by the Sea, for private group breakfasts, “a perfect start to the day.” Additionally, she notes, “Pearson Technology and Keys Audio helped provide AV and décor enhancements. The hotel’s complimentary Wi-Fi throughout was most appreciated. Catering was good throughout the event, and on the last night, the sun provided a magnificent sunset for our barefoot beach party.”
Bailey highly recommends the Beach House. “Although it costs a little more, it has three beautiful bedrooms that help offset costs, and it’s a good base for the planning team or sales staff to hold meetings privately or retire to later in the evening.”
Although fall is still hurricane season, the group did not experience any weather problems. “This year, for the first time in many years, the Florida Keys did suffer a direct hit,” Bailey says. “But the hotel, apart from minimal damage to vegetation, stood up to the high winds due to its modern design and more protected bayside location. Had rain been an issue, we felt we had solid backup plans to ensure a great experience.”
Bailey has no hesitation recommending the Florida Keys as a destination, but does offer one piece of advice. “Make sure you leave ample time for transportation as there’s only one road in and out of the Keys, and it has strictly enforced speed limits.”
Charleston, South Carolina, offers history, sophistication, culture, diversity, excellent dining and shopping, and a wealth of engaging activities on and off the water. Its hotels, some historic, some modern, are varied enough to meet any group’s needs, and planners and attendees would be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely warm and welcoming community. The CVB staff goes above and beyond to help groups achieve their goals, and their tourism partners follow suit. The city practically defines Southern hospitality.
Connie Little, senior vice president, global accounts with Charleston-based Meeting Street Meetings, has worked with numerous small groups over the years, booking them in Charleston and beyond. Currently, she’s working with a legal firm on its fall 2018 Law Retreat with approximately 30 attendees.
“The location was decided on after researching several destinations with smaller (under 60 rooms), high-end hotels and resorts. The key factor became distance to an airport and room rates. Many destinations with the style of hotel this group likes were over an hour to a major airport. And rates were over the group’s budget. The Restoration, a historic Charleston property with every modern amenity, was able to work within our budget.
“The feel and history of The Restoration was a big factor, along with the availability of a multi-bedroom luxury suite. This group enjoys relaxing casually in a private space after dinner. The full kitchen allows them to enjoy this space with snacks and beverages throughout the day, and the suite includes access to the rooftop terrace.”
Little says The Restoration is not your typical hotel. “Grand suites, multiple buildings, great history, accommodating staff and amenities, such as custom breakfast baskets delivered to your door, set it apart. Its location off Wentworth (Street) is also a draw. It’s nicely tucked away but still in the pulse of downtown.”
Privacy is also easy here. “Being able to secure the three-bedroom luxury suite ensures space for the group to relax privately and offers overnight accommodations for three attendees. Additionally,” Little says, “multiple buildings and separate entrances and elevators provide a private feel, and the historic side separate from the newer buildings also creates a sense of privacy.”
Little, says Karen Winn, director of sales, stands out among hotel staff. “She’s eager to meet any request that makes sense for the hotel and group. You rarely hear the word ‘no,’ but rather, ‘let me see if I can make this work!’ She also recognizes the dynamic of her client, never selling or pushing something that doesn’t make sense.”
The only hiccup thus far in the planning process has related to spa treatments, but Winn had options. “Restoration offers few treatment rooms,” Little notes. “But when this obstacle was presented, Winn offered up a solution of using some suites as additional treatment rooms.”
Fall is a busy time in Charleston, especially over a weekend. If that’s the preferred meeting time, Little advises booking early.
On the other side of the country, DG, an executive assistant for a Pacific-Northwest medical facility, helped plan a strategic planning retreat for 25 participants plus their 43 guests. It was held in September at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon, nestled in among the vineyards of Willamette Valley, where the group also met in 2016.
“The Allison is a perfect destination for our group as it’s only two hours from our office. It’s easy to get to, and we feel like we are a long way away from the hustle and bustle of work. The area around The Allison is beautiful and peaceful, which makes for a relaxing stay. The quality of the lodgings is spectacular, and everyone who attends feels they are in a special place. Our board is composed of all volunteers, so we try to make them feel appreciated when we attend a conference or retreat, and they feel that way at The Allison.
While the group did not hold any functions off-property, DG says she and her husband visited the Cougar Crest tasting room in nearby Dundee, Oregon, in wine country. “The couple that runs the tasting room are delightful, the tasting prices were reasonable and the wine was delicious.”
Wine country functions are a popular option with groups at The Allison.
In terms of the hotel’s personnel, DG says, “The sales staff, particularly Nichole and Lori, are exceptionally professional and responsive — truly a joy to work with. If you are unsure what they can do or provide, just ask. They also make sure you’re always in the loop on what’s happening and what needs to be done. They make planning an event truly effortless.”
Although privacy was not a pressing issue for this group, DG says, “At no time did we hear anyone in the rooms next to us, which is something you seldom find.”
As for the meeting venues, DG says, “The AV worked perfectly throughout the retreat, and we knew Paul was standing by if we had any issues. We had 25 people in the meeting room, and everyone was able to use their computers, phones, etc. without issue.”
Although the meeting rooms are at the opposite end of the building from the hotel rooms, DG sees it as a positive. “It’s not a long walk. It’s nice to have them separate so you don’t have meeting-goers walking past your hotel room door at all hours.”
The catering was also a positive. “The food was delicious and plentiful. There are a nice number of menus to choose from for every meal and a wide variety of fresh, local foods included in the menus, so everyone can find foods they like and can eat.”
DG describes the décor as elegant but comfortable. “You know it’s nice but you don’t feel intimidated by your surroundings,” she adds.
There were no challenges with the destination or hotel, but the group did choose a busy weekend, meaning they weren’t sure they’d get enough rooms. Fortunately, DG notes, “It all worked out perfectly as the hotel contacted me as soon as a room would come available to ask me if I wanted to book it for our retreat. They stayed on top of what we needed, and we were able to book all the hotel rooms we needed.”
Her one recommendation for planners considering The Allison: “Give your attendees some time to explore and enjoy their surroundings when not in meetings. And take time to go wine tasting in the surrounding area.”
Ranches can be ideal for small meetings, and many have conference spaces to complement all their traditional outdoor activities. 320 Guest Ranch is just such a place, located 12 miles from Big Sky and 36 miles from the West Yellowstone entrance to Yellowstone National Park, making it ideal for Oboz Footwear’s 2017 sales meeting with approximately 50 attendees.
“Bozeman/Big Sky is an excellent place for a group like ours to meet because of all of the outdoor opportunities, a close international airport and our company is based in Bozeman,” says Steve Lowry, sales and marketing coordinator. “Quick access to the mountains is very important to a hiking footwear brand like ours. We chose the 320 Ranch because of the ability to have an all-inclusive resort for our sales meeting attendees within a relatively short drive from the airport while still feeling remote.” Facilities, including the ranch’s separate conference center, and the overall layout presented no issues. “The AV equipment is adequate, the catering is excellent with many locally sourced ingredients, and the décor is what you would expect at a Montana ranch resort,” Lowry says. “And though the resort grounds are expansive, if you pay attention when booking you can eliminate long distances from guest rooms to meeting rooms.”
Transportation can be a small challenge. “Rental vans and a solid schedule/plan allowed us to round up everyone at the airport and shuttle them to the ranch,” Lowry says, adding that it’s a good idea to have rental vans at the ranch. “That allows attendees to explore the surrounding area — Big Sky, Yellowstone, Bozeman — during breaks. Once at the ranch, you can feel a bit isolated without that option, though I’m sure the ranch would be glad to arrange rides.
“In fact,” he says, “flexibility of the staff was a big stand out. When our morning schedule ran long, the staff was able to quickly move our lunch into the conference center. And when any of our attendees had special requests, the staff was responsive and happy to accommodate.”
The oceanfront Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan on the island of Palm Beach, Florida, is an upscale and sophisticated retreat for both small and large meeting groups. The resort, which has received the Mobil Five Star Award for the past two years, boasts a 42,000-sf spa that has received the Mobil Five Star designation for three years running. The resort encompasses 309 guest rooms and suites in three towers and a total of 30,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces.
Unique spaces for small groups include Stir terrace, which faces the Atlantic Ocean and features a fire pit with seating nearby; Breeze Ocean Kitchen, an oceanfront restaurant that also can be used for private receptions and dinners; and the Self-Centered Garden at Eau Spa, a lovely outdoor space ideal for receptions.
Eau Palm Beach has a dedicated sales manager assigned to small meeting groups, promising to deliver VIP treatment.
This is but a tiny sampling of venues that perfectly accommodate small meetings. By embracing Mies Van der Rohe’s philosophy, planners of intimate meetings and retreats open themselves up to options that larger groups could never consider and time periods during which many hotels could not accept large groups. Less is indeed more. C&IT