While there are many factors that determine whether an executive retreat will achieve its goals, content and venue usually trump them all.
The venue really can enhance the small meeting/executive retreat experience, says Anne Thornley-Brown, president of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto-based consulting company that specializes in team building and executive retreats.
"For example, something like a desert survival simulation has been popular forever," she says. "You have people sit in a boardroom and engage in an exercise about what happens if you're lost in a desert and you try to draw parallels to business. Well, that's much more possible if you actually take your attendees to the desert. The environment is there and all of the senses are engaged, and people really do have the experience."
Of course, not every company can afford the luxury of taking a group of executives out to Dubai in order to take advantage of a desert's spectacular natural beauty (while hoping to get some serious business done at the same time). For such groups, spots in Florida still offer up fun in the sun and just as much to see as the desert's environs; the sights just are manmade attractions.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel, a boutique property in downtown Orlando, gets much of its meeting business from Florida-based companies that bring in customers and employees from across the country, according to David Friederich, the hotel's general manager.
And while groups meeting in Orlando certainly have opportunities to participate in those non-business related activities associated with the multiple theme parks outside of the downtown area, the Grand Bohemian offers meeting planners an experience that is "uniquely different" from other properties in the area, Friederich says.
"The fact that we're in downtown Orlando allows us to distinguish the meeting experience at the hotel by allowing us to personalize and elevate our service," he says. "However, we're not that far away from the theme parks."
The 247-room hotel caters to small corporate groups by emphasizing its "bohemian" style, particularly as it pertains to its meeting rooms.
Actually, as Friederich notes, the Grand Bohemian's meeting rooms are referred to as "galleries," each of which features original artwork from a particular artist. It gives each room a unique feel, according to Friederich.
"People immediately fall in love with the space," he says.
Feasts For The Eyes and Ears
Using music or art, as in the case of the Grand Bohemian, is a perfect way to create an environment that is conducive to conducting business, according to Thornley-Brown.
"Music, for example has been shown to stimulate the brain," she says. "You also want to have lots of natural light, because it will help your attendees keep their energy up."
Bruce Honig, president of Honig Idea Guides, a meeting facilitation, team building and training group located in San Francisco, agrees that light is a critical component in a meeting space.
"The job of a meeting facilitator is to create focus, and light does that," he says. "In addition, when I visualize a meeting or retreat, it involves attendees working together in groups or teams, and they need light to do that. A lot of larger hotels don't do well with lighting, so I actually prefer to facilitate in smaller places like boutique hotels."
The MileNorth, a 215-room boutique hotel in Chicago, tries to take advantage of its proximity to downtown Chicago while creating a businesslike environment for small corporate groups. It provides 3,000 feet of meeting space, which means the venue is intimate enough to ensure small groups get plenty of attention from hotel staff, says Heidi Edinger, CMP, CASE, director of sales and marketing.
"We're just a couple of blocks away from the lakefront, so the hotel provides the convenience and ability to get out to the attractions of Chicago very quickly," Edinger says. "But we also have the opportunity to keep people captive in a beautiful meeting space."
For example, the hotel's meeting rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chicago, Edinger says, which gives attendees a real sense of the downtown area while they're in a meeting environment that keeps them fresh, energized and attentive.