April 2014

Alfresco events in Florida invigorate agendas

by Lisa Simundson

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When you meet in the Sunshine State, it's entirely possible to see attendees glancing out the window and sighing as they head into yet another session.

Fortunately, enjoying Florida's lush outdoor landscape and getting some work done are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of beaches, parks and wilderness areas offer meeting facilities, while legions of tour operators have crafted team-building choices that go so far beyond the norm, attendees might go beyond what they thought they could do.

"It's great to get groups out of the boardroom and into some fresh air where they can experience nature," says Stephanie Hunicke, group sales manager for the Seminole County CVB.

Scores of Florida team-building experts would agree.

Team Florida
You know those puzzles and quizzes often used to break the ice among attendees during meetings? Forget them. Florida has far better icebreakers, many involving the water, the wilderness and great weather.

"Some of our groups might be composed of salespeople who don't work in the same office and have never really interacted," says Doris Colgate, president and CEO of Offshore Sailing School, with three locations on the Gulf: Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Myers Beach, South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island and the Hampton Inn & Suites in St. Petersburg. "When we take them out on a sailboat, they have to come together to make that boat work. At the end of the program, they're actually racing."

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Offshore features half- and full-day programs, with larger groups rotating through different tasks.

"It's a good way for the CEO and secretary to change places," Colgate says. "It's good for both sides."

The company can also customize programs by introducing leadership components, for example.

Working together is an important component of programs offered by Naples Marina and Excursions, featuring group kayaking, diving and fishing treks along with swamp walks in the Everglades and more lighthearted options that include Gilligan's Island-themed beach parties.

"Out here, people can take advantage of our ecosystem and try to apply what they're learning in their meetings about team building," says Captain Mark Garcy, president of the firm. "They bring more back to their daily lives when they do something out in nature. Whatever fear they may have, we help them overcome it, and it's a more effective exercise than typical programs. I think that's why more companies are doing more wilderness-type adventures with their groups."

Another area to consider would be South Walton, where more than 40 percent of the total land area is preserved in parklands and forests, including Point Washington State Forest, where hiking or cycling the 18-mile Timpoochee Trail is likely to bring groups together. Also in South Walton are 15 rare coastal dune lakes that can be explored via kayak or the wildly popular stand-up paddleboarding.

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