Planner’s Pick: Leveraging Culture in Jamaica

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Jamaica, Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay, meeting planning
Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay

For Brock Grain System’s 2014 national sales meeting, the roughly 500-person group wanted to travel somewhere tropical that wasn’t Mexico, where they had met several times in the past. Kansas City-based H20 Meetings & Incentives President Joe Heeter suggested Jamaica—it was such a success that the group is returning for its 2016 event this January.

“Not every Caribbean island has hotels that can accommodate groups of this size,” says Heeter. “When we came to visit [Jamaica], we loved all the opportunity options, and logistically it’s great and easy to get to from the Midwest, where most of the attendees are based.”

The group’s opening night beach soiree will highlight Jamaica’s cultural vibe, using black, green and gold as well as local flowers for the decor. As attendees enter the space, they will hear live steel drum music by Silver Birds Entertainment. The 40-member group not only plays the traditional Jamaican music, but also puts on energetic dance routines mixed with colorful costumes. Attendees will then feast on a buffet of Jamaican dishes such as pan-seared snapper, Jamaican spiced beef, roasted sweet potatoes and Jamaican chocolate rum cake. There will also be Jamaican jerk chicken carts set up in different areas to incorporate the popular, local street food.

“It’s kind of a messy thing to eat, but that’s also part of the fun, especially since it’s a customary thing to do in Jamaica,” says Heeter.

Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay will host the group, just like it did in 2014. The resort is ideal because it has four buildings—one of which fits the entire group to create an intimate, buyout feel for attendees. Plus, each room has an ocean view, the resort is all inclusive, and it is located only about 15 minutes from the airport—all elements the group wanted.

Another perk is that the resort works with the group to set up an exclusive breakfast at Oceana restaurant, typically only open for lunch and dinner. “Because the group’s so large, if everyone tried to go at the same time, it could overwhelm resort buffet areas,” says Heeter. “The client likes it, too, because they’re all about building relationships. Any opportunity to have people mingling together we try to encourage as much as possible.”

Heeter says attendees can opt to go fishing, ziplining, ride four wheelers or even take a trek to nearby Ocho Rios during downtime. In 2014, he chartered a 90-person catamaran through Jamaica Tours Limited, but ended up having to get two because so many people signed up for the activity. Both catamarans picked up the about 150 attendees at the resort for an afternoon sail, stopping at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Montego Bay, where a 120-foot water slide, two offshore trampolines and other beach activities awaited.

“The feedback on that activity was that it was one of the best we’ve offered since first planning the annual meeting back in 2004,” says Heeter.

As such, the catamaran will be back in 2016. Heeter says they’re also planning a closing night awards dinner and a small management dinner off site at Pier 1, a popular open-air seafood restaurant. The other two evenings are unplanned, allowing attendees to eat on their own at one of the resort’s all-inclusive restaurants or venture out on their own—perhaps to get some more Jamaican jerk chicken.

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