Beach resorts mean warm sun, sparkling water, soft sand and, for most people, a welcome break from the ordinary. Add those elements together and you have the perfect equation for a memorable incentive trip or meeting.
Not all gatherings are appropriate for an oceanfront resort, however. Four corporate meeting planners share recent experiences at beach properties and their tips for other professionals looking to contract with similar venues. Any meeting at a beach should have the right balance between indoor and outdoor activities, and work and play time. And don’t forget to create a contingency plan in case of rain.
“One of our telecommunications clients holds an annual incentive trip for approximately 280 people,” says Hillary Bamont, sales director for Bishop-McCann, a meeting and incentive travel planning firm in Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s a four-day, three-night program and is typically held in a tropical location each year. The purpose of this trip is to reward top sellers and their guests with a fun-filled vacation filled with networking, relaxation and fun.”
This year, the client decided to host their event at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. The island offered good air transportation to and from the U.S., and room rates at the property were in line with the company’s budget. “We particularly liked the fact that this property owned its own private island, which we could rent out for a group event,” Bamont says. “We like to provide attendees with experiences they can’t necessarily get on their own.”
“We particularly liked the fact that this property owned its own private island, which we could rent out for a group event.”
— Hillary Bamont
The event consisted of a welcome reception, offsite events, optional activities such as a one-of-a-kind underwater photo booth, an awards dinner and plenty of time to lounge on the beach. Participants also could take part in several brand activations Bishop-McCann organized on-property.
“We strategically produced a sponsorship prospectus for this communications company that involved all their entertainment partners,” Bamont says. “That subsidized a good portion of the event.”
Bishop-McCann ended up creating special activations for HBO, Showtime and others. Activities were centered on show content. For Showtime, attendees could learn about the hit show “Shameless” by visiting a temporary tattoo station. For HBO, guests were invited to play an interactive game called “Game of Drones” with real UAVs.
“As attractive as a beach location sounds, it’s imperative to conduct a thorough site visit of the property at least six months or more before the event to ensure the property is well-maintained and staffed properly,” Bamont says. “Experience the restaurants to make sure the service is in line with what the group expects, stay in the rooms to make sure they meet the standards of the group, and talk to the staff and observe other groups and how they are being managed.”
If you plan to hire a management company, it’s smart to look for one that understands the ethos of workers at the destination. “The culture of island life is very different than our fast-paced culture in the states and hiring people who understand that is essential in making sure everything goes off flawlessly,” Bamont says.
The 50-member composites team at Owens Corning is spread throughout the world, but once a year they come together to learn about business changes, share best practices and build camaraderie.
“Since I’ve been in this position, Florida has been the (meeting place) the majority of the time,” says Lisa Cramer, a senior administrative assistant in Owens Corning’s Toledo, Ohio, office. “It’s beautiful and the weather is pretty consistent. When we look at locations for this we want it to be something of a getaway even if there’s a business aspect to it. But we do spend some time teambuilding and relaxing, so we want it to be pleasing for everyone.”
This year the four-day event was at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Florida. The property was able to accommodate all of their needs. A large ballroom, breakout rooms and outdoor meeting space provided a comfortable environment for participants. “The hotel offered some perks for internet access and provided PSAV at a discount,” Cramer says. “They really worked with us to make it a win-win for both of us. The food was outstanding. We didn’t know that going in, but we were very pleased with that.
“The director of events was extremely accommodating,” Cramer adds. “The nature of our meetings — sometimes people change their plans at the last minute. I went in a day early, and we went over the agenda, and they accommodated everything. We had to receive some things for the meeting and that went off without a hitch. He definitely made an effort to extend himself and meet all our needs. He was very gracious. He made my job a lot easier.”
Over the course of the meeting, attendees participated in meetings, attended an awards banquet, played golf and participated in other teambuilding activities. Cramer says it’s important to find equilibrium between business and pleasure, especially at a beach location.
“When we were in our meetings there weren’t windows, which was probably better,” she says. “We were focused on our agenda and accomplishing what we needed to accomplish. But every time we had a break, people were heading out to the sunshine. It’s a balance because you need to incorporate time enjoying the location with the business content. But people are also there to build relationships and teambuild, so you incorporate that into your agenda so it’s well-rounded.”
Naples Grande completed a $2 million remodel to their Vista Ballroom and Lobby Lounge in November 2016. The ballroom has new fixtures, drapery, carpet, furniture and décor. The Lobby Lounge and Spressi Seating Area feature new seating, lighting and a complete bar upgrade.
Heather Cannady, senior program manager for Andavo Meetings & Incentives in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a third-party planning company that focuses on corporate meetings and incentive travel, found the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa by chance. She’s long worked with a cable company to plan an annual incentive trip for 250 of their top-performing employees. It was tough to find a property that could accommodate a group that swelled to 550 once guests and other company staff were added. When she had a chance to tour the property during construction, she took it.
The Puerto Rico resort turned out to be an ideal venue. “The location and hotel really fit the bill for what we were trying to accomplish with the event,” Cannady says. “It allowed (attendees) to stay in the U.S. but feel like they were getting out of the country. …Lots of the people who went on the trip had never left their hometowns, so going to a place that was very exotic was very exciting.
“The size of the property was also a perfect fit,” Cannady continues. “We could have all 550 people at the same property, so we didn’t need to do overflow rooms or anything like that. They had a great mixture of ballroom space and outdoor space.”
The staff at the Grand Rio Mar is a real joy to work with, she says. Their convention service manager started out in a junior position and later became the head of the convention services department. “But he still did the convention services part for us because he didn’t want anyone else to touch it,” Cannady says. “We were his client.”
At the beginning of the four-day event, attendees were divided into teambuilding groups that remained together throughout the course of the gathering. They worked on projects that were presented at a major event on the final day. In between, they attended two half-day meetings, enjoyed the provided meals, and had plenty of time to relax. Several people made a road trip to the Puerto Rico capital of San Juan for an afternoon.
Beach locations are right for some meetings and not others, Cannady says. “If you have a full-on meeting at a beach resort and people are stuck inside all day, that’s not very nice for them. I really think everything depends on the client and what the client is looking for.” Carefully consider your agenda and desired outcomes to determine what type of location best fits with those goals.
Many hotels in oceanfront cities aren’t actually on the ocean, Cannady points out. If it’s important that attendees have easy beach access, review how they’ll reach the sand during the initial site visit.
One of the things she likes about Puerto Rico is that it’s consistently warm and dry. But rain can be an issue in tropical locations. Make sure the property can provide a tent or can move outdoor events inside if there’s bad weather.
The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar recently updated its conference center. The Puerto Rico property worked with KNA Design to incorporate imagery found in the El Yunque National Rainforest, which is located in the northeastern part of the island. Spanish-style light fixtures and dark architectural elements such as beams and molding add a sophisticated element.
For the past three years The Wall Street Journal has hosted D.Live, a three-day invitation-only technology event that brings 350 CEOs, investors, company founders and celebrities together on the West Coast. When your guest list includes the likes of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, businessman and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban, rapper will.i.am and actress Kate Hudson, finding the right event venue is an absolute must.
Kelly Moneyhun, assistant director, conferences and events for The Wall Street Journal, has been very pleased with California’s Montage Laguna Beach. “It met expectations and went above and beyond,” she says. “Their space works because it’s nestled in an area that’s off from the hotel, so you can be self-contained. But you do have a courtyard so you get the outside light in some of the foyer space.” An ocean-front lawn also provides an ideal space for dinners and other events.
The property’s staff is also great to work with, Moneyhun says. Entertainment for the opening dinner one year was a drone symphony, where a handful of drones did a choreographed “dance” to music. The staff was very helpful in arranging permission for the drones to enter what’s typically off-limits air space. The hotel was willing to schedule multiple site visits, and able to accommodate the needs of VIP guests.
“When and if possible, it’s important to have as much of your meeting outside as you can,” Moneyhun says of beach meetings. “People are there for the content and speakers, but they’re there for the setting, too.”
If multiple events will be held outside, make sure the hotel truly has the capacity to comfortably accommodate everyone in your group. They should also have a backup plan in case of bad weather. “There’s nothing worse than being at a beautiful resort and it rains and you can’t do anything about it,” Moneyhun says. Keeping attendees out of the rain means they’ll have only sunshine-filled memories of their time in paradise.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa located on 21 oceanfront acres in Ko Olina on the western side of Oahu, debuted the Ka Wa‘a luau last fall. The luau treats attendees to a local island buffet, with music and traditional Hawaiian dance, including hula kahiko and modern hula ‘auana. The show includes an entertaining storytelling experience that educates guests on Hawaii’s history and its deep cultural roots in canoe exploration, which brought Hawaiian ancestors to the beautiful ‘Ewa Loa plains surrounding Aulani Resort. Before the luau, guests can enjoy special pre-show entertainment, traditional crafts and more.
As part of the Ko Olina Resort Community & Marina, Aulani guests have access to a 330-slip marina and 18 holes of championship golf at Ko Olina Golf Club, one of Golf Digest’s “Top 75 Resort Courses in the U.S.” and designed by renowned golf course architect Ted Robinson.
Laniwai — meaning freshwater heaven — a Disney Spa, features Kula Wai, the only outdoor hydrotherapy garden on the island of Oahu. The spa has 18,000 sf indoors and 5,000 sf outdoors.
Groups can participate in uniquely Hawaiian experiences such as Rainbow Reef, the only private snorkeling lagoon on O‘ahu; a dolphin swim adventure; Pearl Harbor excursion; oceanfront private estate dinner; surfing; Hawaii volcano adventure and more.
Aulani’s 21,000-sf conference center includes a main ballroom, four breakout rooms and generous prefunction space. Meetings and conventions also enjoy two distinct event lawns, along with private patios and terraces. In total, Aulani Resort offers more than 76,000 sf of outdoor space.
Situated on the beach between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, offers 209,000 sf of meeting space, a new full-service spa overlooking the ocean, and an 18-hole championship golf course managed by Troon Golf. The resort recently completed a $100 million transformation that touched all 1,000 guest rooms, and indoor and outdoor public spaces. There are now 10 dining options on the property, including burger joint Bristol’s Burgers, grab-and-go store Counter Point, and The Hotel Bar, a modern take on the classic hotel bar.
Atlantis, Paradise Island resort in The Bahamas will finish renovations the Coral Towers section of the property this July. Rooms have new furniture, flooring, bedding and bathroom fixtures. A redesigned lobby centers around the Soda Fountain, which serves sweet treats, coffee, cocktails and pastries. The refreshed pool area has private cabanas, family-friendly water activities, and a poolside bar. Renovations to Marina Village, located in another section of the property, will be finished this fall. C&IT