Resort managers are seeing new growth in corporate group business outside of the usual incentive travel groups. Training and employee teambuilding events increasingly are being placed at resorts—and properties in turn have pushed a range of alternate services available to corporate groups and emphasized the uniqueness of their offerings.
Having unique products also helps resorts secure repeat business, as buyers said they look for hospitality partners to help them build content and plan activities. Resorts that previously did not target corporate groups also are getting into the game, offering new programs that combine business needs with their signature retreat programs.
Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., long has been a popular destination for incentive groups, but the company said its business development resources also are increasingly in demand. Corporate groups are looking for assistance in developing meeting content, not just resort activities, said company representatives.
The Disney Institute, a corporate management learning and training center, was launched in 1986 and expanded in 2003 to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. There are five development programs available: leadership, human resources management, quality service, brand loyalty and organizational creativity.
Bud Sharpe, strategy and analysis specialist for Renton, Wash.-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, worked with the Disney Institute to develop content for two airline customer training meetings. Boeing not only wanted to educate airlines on the features of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft, but also teach airlines how to improve customer service and brand loyalty, he said.
"Our main objective was to present Boeing in a different light than customers normally see us," Sharpe said. "When an airline buys an airplane from us, they get all of the technical training that goes with that. However, we don't normally provide any other kind of training. We don't teach them how to treat their customers, and we're not equipped to do that. That's why we ended up going to the Disney Institute."
Disney and Boeing jointly provided content and speakers.
Some leisure-oriented destinations also have begun to target the corporate group market. Bruce Baltin, senior vice president and executive in charge of PKF Consulting's practice in Los Angeles, is charged with evaluating the hotel industry for his clients. When choosing a location for his own company to hold an internal teambuilding incentive event, he chose a resort located halfway between PKF's offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, located in San Luis Obispo, Calif., styles itself as a health resort and recently began to offer a corporate wellness retreat program. Baltin said consideration of the property first focused on whether it would be able to accommodate the business needs of the meeting, before evaluating add-on services.
PKF needed a house large enough to hold group activities, and suites for 22 attendees. "Being a hospitality consulting firm, we wanted to do a lot of our own food and wine tasting. The combination of the house and the suites worked well for us," he said.
Baltin's group took advantage of spa and health services, guided hiking trips and other outdoor activities offered by the resort. Resort staff also helped to arrange services of external caterers.
Deborah Coryell, health and wellness director for King Ventures, parent company of the resort, said the property began to offer corporate wellness retreat programs in August 2005. The retreats are aimed to integrate meetings with such stress-relieving exercises as yoga, meditation or hypnotherapy.
Prior to 2005, the Sycamore offered only day meetings to local corporate groups. Since then, the area has been identified as a possible growth area for the resort.
"We're talking about wellness technologies that are woven into the meeting agenda. After the meeting, in the evening or if they stay for the weekend, they might have massages, go for a hike or golf," Coryell said.
During a typical wellness retreat, coffee breaks might be transformed into yoga sessions, she said. "We work very closely with the agenda they bring, and it's individualized," she said. The Sycamore also gathers research on how wellness programs can affect a company's bottom line.
On the other end of the meetings spectrum, SayersBrook Bison Ranch & Lodge, located in Potosi, Mo., two years ago launched an executive retreat program featuring bison hunts, fly fishing, a machine gun range, off-roading trails and a number of other activities.
Owner Skip Sayers said corporate groups now account for half the business at the ranch, and that percentage is growing. Most corporate groups come to the ranch looking for private, remote space to discuss sensitive business matters.
"When you bring your business group down here, you have 3,000 acres of total security," he said. "We have a lot of business groups that might come down here in the beginning as part of a forum, like a young presidents organization. Those guys come as a part of the forum and then they'll bring their own management group back."
Repeat business makes up the fastest growing segment of reservations, he said, because of the unique nature of the ranch. Events typically are high-touch and attendees are either executives or top clients. The ranch caters to small, VIP groups of 15 to 30 attendees. "It's usually half meeting and half fun things. Most everybody comes here for a business meeting and these other things make it more interesting and fun," Sayers said.
About 10 percent of corporate groups schedule bison hunts at the ranch, and that percentage is also growing, he said. Packages average $750 to $1,000 per attendee, and average length of stay is one-and-one-half to two days.
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