What does it take to create an exceptional conference or meeting event? One way is by giving attendees golf and spa downtime where they can disconnect from daily workplace demands. Here, the goal is simply to relax, refresh and rejuvenate in a beautiful location, resulting in enhanced performance, productivity, creativity, health and overall morale, both for individuals and teams.
Jack Henry & Associates Inc. is a major player in providing technology and processing capability to banks and other financial institutions. Recently lauded in the Wall Street Journal for earning “the highest return of any stock in the Wilshire 5000 index over the past 30 years,” the company hosts an annual Golden Circle Recognition event for their top-performing sales people who are key contributors to this success. And, when they do, Steve Tomson, vice president of Sales & Marketing, explains: “We want these to be adventures for our top performers and a guest of their choosing. It has to be a 5-star recognition event that we want people to salivate over. This is really driven as a sales recognition event highly designed for relaxation and decompression.”
Aura of Tranquility
Last year, the company selected Ojai Valley Inn to host 325 people for their special event. Not only did the property provide what Tomson and Donna Brinson, meetings coordinator, had envisioned; the property’s golf and spa facilities also added a level of unexpected tranquility. In fact, “I wondered if it was a little too laid back,” Tomson said. “But people said, ‘No, this is what we needed, a level of peacefulness.’ Everybody seemed at peace.”
Ojai Valley Inn is conveniently located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. And while traffic from LAX is a fact of life, Ojai more than compensates by allowing guests to take advantage of a broad range of activities onsite and offsite. In the case of Jack Henry & Associates’ annual meeting, this means for people ranging in age from 26 to 70.
Brinson cites the town of Ojai, with its variety of bars and restaurants, as a factor in the success of their event. So, too, was the ability to offer off-road jeep rides to the nearby Topatopa Mountains as well as busing people to Santa Barbara where participants were able to take a catamaran tour. “There are also lots of local wineries, so we took a trolley wine tour, too,” she says.
In addition, for the group’s welcoming reception, Brinson cites the property’s Casa Elar, a spectacular, 5-bedroom 10,407-sf, gated residence designed after a Tuscan villa. And the dining experience at Ojai Valley Inn? “We do a special breakfast for the guests of the qualifiers. We held it in a stunning location, The Oak, an indoor-outdoor restaurant overlooking the golf course. We served mimosas and bloody marys and brought in a paper-marbling artist,” Brinson says. “It provided a wonderful networking opportunity for the guests.”
The Farmhouse, a 30,000-sf culinary and event center with splendid architecture and upscale atmosphere, became the ideal location for the company’s farewell dinner, “inspiring one guest to exclaim, ‘This was the best farewell dinner we’ve ever had,’” Brinson says.
In addition to The Oak and The Farmhouse for dining at Ojai Valley Inn, guests can enjoy dining options such as Olivella and Vine, a restaurant featuring California cuisine with Italian influences; the notable Wallace Neff Heritage Bar, offering classic cocktails and small plates; family friendly Jimmy’s Pub, serving pub fare, cocktails, brews and wines from the Central Coast; food and beverage service at Indigo Pool & Bar and Pixie Pool; and Libbey’s for takeaway bites, beverages and customized picnic baskets to go. In-room dining is also a welcome option.
For Brinson, the fact that the property spreads over 220 acres is a huge benefit. “There’s a real sense of openness and a feeling of exclusivity. You don’t feel like you’re on top of each other. To be set back in the valley is unusual and it offers wonderful variety and sharp contrasts in views.” At Ojai Valley Inn, indoor meeting space venues range from 670 sf to 8,500 sf. “We’re also heavy users of the spa experience, which was well-received,” Brinson adds. “I appreciate that they have separate relaxation rooms for male and female, a lovely little gift shop and healthy food service at the Spa Café.”
Currently, the spa is undergoing a $3 million renovation, including a remodel of their two penthouse suites and public spa areas, set to reopen early this year. Also reopening early this year is the signature golf shop for the property’s destination championship golf course after undergoing a makeover to refresh the look and feel of the facility.
Without a doubt, Ojai Valley Inn provided “exemplary service,” Brinson says. “We had great response from staff, and guests specifically mentioned their courteous behavior.”
For Jeanene O’Brien, senior vice president of Global Marketing and Communications for Insurance Auto Auctions, Inc. (IAAI), and a key decision-maker in signing off on the company’s annual conference site, Sea Island shines in a class all its own. For an idea of just how much IAAI values its relationship with Sea Island, the company will host its fifth annual senior-level client event for between 180 to 200 people on site early this year.
Recent property enhancements at Sea Island’s golf and spa resort include seven new cottages at The Lodge; the new Mizner Ballroom I and II, providing a combined room capacity of 500 in 5,073 sf; and a 17,000-sf Golf Performance Center that offers a comprehensive approach to golf from customized instruction with world-class pros, club fittings, golf fitness and View Your Swing Technology. O’Brien also mentions a new bowling alley at the Cloister Beach Club, which previously housed a movie theater, as indicative of Sea island’s thoughtful approach to design. “It’s so well-appointed, it looks like it’s always been there.”
Apart from the site’s stellar location and climate, a stay at Sea Island “feels like I’m home and very welcomed,” says Val Alitovska, IAAI’s director of Corporate Marketing & Events. O’Brien concurs, citing the destination’s extraordinary foundation of service as a main factor in their decision to return year after year. “That’s really what’s so incredibly different about Sea Island: the level of service is so ingrained, it creates a really cohesive and integrated experience that’s almost invisible. From the moment you walk into the lobby, you know you’re in an elevated, harmonious experience. Their level of service shows in everything, in every element, every thought.” From remembering guests’ names six months later to providing supreme flexibility in food and beverage options, and transforming meeting spaces on extremely short notice, the property excels.
Where Sea Island’s exceptional service transcends the ordinary to extraordinary lies in the staff’s ability not only to anticipate IAAI’s meeting needs but, even more, to becoming a partner in the company’s conference success.
Alitovska explains: “Over the years, the conference team has taken the time to learn who we are and our clients, and make sure that they’re a reflection of our brand.” It’s that distinction that also resonates with O’Brien. “For a property to be able to support and elevate your brand, it really supports us from a business perspective,” she says. “The feedback we get from our conferences is always incredibly high, usually 4.7 across the board; but, at Sea Island, it’s 4.9, which speaks well to their brand alignment.”
As for Sea Island’s activities, the destination offers a plethora of familiar and unique guest experiences. Fitness enthusiasts can choose from among three golf courses, horseback riding, a shooting school, kayaking, paddleboarding, beach-bike riding and bird watching. IAAI guests especially enjoy Sea Island’s signature ‘Cast & Blast’ event, a combined shooting and fishing adventure. “It’s such a unique experience — a jewel of an experience,” O’Brien says. “One of our clients said: ‘I’ve never experienced that before. It was so much fun!’” Whether enjoying wine activities where the staff share insights and hands-on experiences for guests, shopping excursions, yoga or day excursions, clients and guests have no shortage of activities from which to choose. “The property is so beautiful and relaxing,” Alitovska says, “that people will also simply hang out by the pool.”
When it comes to more rest and relaxation, Alitovska says, “I love The Spa at Sea Island.” The Forbes Five-Star, 65,000-sf spa and fitness space features a beautiful courtyard, plenty of treatment rooms, wet and dry saunas, and a variety of spa services, including treatments from massage and body to skin care, a full-service salon, and The Spatique and Beautique, a shop offering spa gifts, exercise wear and skin- and body-care products. Despite its size, O’Brien finds that the same level of exceptional service and feeling of comfort experienced elsewhere on the property extends all the way through here. “I love their pedicures and their signature facial and HydraFacial MD. Despite the size of the spa, the space doesn’t feel clinical at all.” Plus, Alitovska appreciates that over the years, “I’ve had the same masseuse, and it’s wonderful to see a familiar face when I return.”
Alitovska sums up her experience at Sea Island, saying, “Coming here’s a different world. You really feel a different energy, just a sense of comfort and timeless elegance. Don’t consider hosting your event at Sea Island; just do it. They dig in with us to give us best solutions for our conference needs. They’re there to be a partner with you.”
For Sheri Trotter, senior vice president of Programs & Special Events at Williamsburg, Virginia-based Snow Companies, Kingsmill Resort, in Williamsburg, offered her 300 attendees what they wanted in a resort for the company’s annual Employee Appreciation Party.
“Kingsmill is a location where your group will get the business done and will be able to relax as well,” Trotter says. “The amenities offered, the environmental beauty and the attention to detail from all aspects makes a well-rounded meeting/event.”
Kingsmill has two 18-hole golf courses — The River Course and The Plantation Course — and offers the Golf Channel Academy. The Spa at Kingsmill offers facials, massages, body wraps, and salon and beauty treatments, as well as wellness and body treatments.
“We are a local company and we needed an exceptional venue for such a special event to honor our employees for a job well done,” she says. “The water view is magical. It provides a certain level of peace when on breaks or when having a meal and, after hours of meetings, that is a great respite. And it automatically comes with every package.”
She adds, “We used a considerable amount of the event space at Kingsmill. The flow is exceptional, ambience is lovely and the service is always spot on. Now, let me tell you about the food. It isn’t your typical conference facility food; it is so much more. It is fresh, creative, plentiful and always good, really good. The culinary crew is very good at what they do.”
Authentic Western Adventures
Set in a serene location in Colorado Springs, complete with scenic mountain views, The Broadmoor is a favorite group destination for Bethany Jones, a meeting planning consultant for NASBP. “We’ve always had a really great relationship with The Broadmoor, a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond property. Just the service is like nowhere else. The staff always asks if they can do anything for you. Every single guest is valued and remembered. Our only challenge at The Broadmoor is that the room blocks sell out quickly,” she says. “And while getting to Colorado Springs usually means having to make connecting flights, no one complains about it.”
Accommodations at The Broadmoor offer plenty of options, from rooms to suites and cottages. “I also appreciate having tiered rates for different room types to meet different budgets,” Jones says. Converted from what was once a private home, The Estate House, a 12,000-sf sanctuary, is located across from the cottages and offers more of a C-suite experience for smaller meetings, It also includes a chef’s kitchen for culinary events. For special group gatherings, Jones likes to book The Broadmoor’s 6,300-sf Cheyenne Lodge, a separate meeting and banquet space up the hill from the hotel, with shuttle service provided.
Jones finds The Broadmoor a good venue for a self-contained event as it boasts several restaurants and bars, including fine dining at the Penrose Room, Italian food fare at Ristorante del Lago, regional American cuisine at Summit, plus prime steaks, prime rib and seafood at La Taverne. Guests can also explore dining options at The Broadmoor’s signature cafés and lounges, such as Bar del Lago, Café Julie’s and the Penrose Lounge. An impressive team of culinary chefs leads The Broadmoor’s varied dining experiences, from upscale to more modest venues. Drawing inspiration both from their global travels and the local surroundings, the culinary team creates unique dining experiences ranging from contemporary European cuisine to casual burger and pizza fare.
Beyond dining, the property also features a new, high-end bowling alley. And no one has to leave the property to enjoy shopping excursions and a variety of other amenities. For example, with 43,000 sf available, The Spa at The Broadmoor offers 40 spa treatment rooms, a full-service salon and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Two award-winning golf courses, The Broadmoor’s East and West courses, play host to national tournaments such as the 2018 and 2025 Senior Open, and offer unique ventures such as golfing with a legend in the sport, professional golfer Hale Irwin.
In addition to the property’s golf and spa amenities, for truly authentic Western experiences, it’s hard to top The Broadmoor’s wilderness excursions and experiential adventures. Guests can also hike the trails, go zip lining, sign up for fly-fishing camp with a private guide offsite, or learn about the sport of falconry at the beginner or intermediate level with The Broadmoor Outfitters. Rather read and relax in front of a fireplace? The Broadmoor has you covered there, too.
“We often go back to The Broadmoor for a reason; they’re top-notch. The property is continually expanding. I really compliment them for not resting on their laurels. Everything is beautiful,” Jones says. Beyond the recent conversion of The Estate House, The Broadmoor is excited about opening a new, more than 110,000-sf Exhibition Hall, including 32 breakout rooms, in the spring this year. The Exhibition Hall offers an appealing addition, especially for clients seeking space for large-scale trade shows other than convention centers.
Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton also offers top-notch golf and spa amenities. Its two courses — the 6,811-yard North Course and the South Course, at 6,726 yards — feature boulder formations and other Sonoran Desert terrain that offers challenging play for golfers. In addition, players can get a lesson from expert PGA- and LPGA-certified instructors. Attendees looking to relax via a shamanic tipi, meditation labyrinth, organic garden and/or reflecting pond should visit the 33,000-sf spa, which offers 24 treatment rooms, a spa café and learning center. I&FMM