50 Shades of Green: Worldwide Roundup of Active, Outdoor & Sustainable Meetings


PARKROYAL on Pickering Singapore

In current business environments, a more open-source form of collaboration across different fields of expertise is becoming increasingly crucial. Left-brain management types are pooling resources with right-brain creative types based on the idea that the heart of creativity is the weaving together of separate contexts.

The Banff Centre Leadership Development Program helps facilitate the weaving. Situated in the Canadian Rockies 90 minutes west of Calgary, the 43-acre campus is a world-renowned cultural incubator featuring leadership programs rooted in combined experiential, arts and nature-based learning.

“We’ve had quite a few clients come through just to take our teambuilding sessions,” said Sarah VanTine, client service representative. “One particular example is called ‘Trial By Fire.’”

Through this new program, organizations seeking to develop and strengthen their resilience can turn to forest fire management for inspiration. Since forests and trees are dynamic organisms, they can burn slow and low, fast and hot, or any temperature in between. The program explores National Parks Management’s firefighting techniques that show how their response varies depending on the intensity of the fire and the condition of the forest as a whole. Parallels are made to a person’s response to a disturbance, varying according to his or her personality, the intensity of the challenge and/or the condition of the organization.

“We take the group out into the natural environment and show the many examples where fire has had an impact,” says Jerry McGrath, director of innovation at the Banff Centre Leadership Development Program. “Then the participants come back and they sit around a campfire, and they have a conversation about their work and their life and what they’re doing to prepare themselves for when disturbances come.”

Other Banff Centre programs include “Leadership Lens: Vision Through Photography,” built on the idea that team leadership and performance are enhanced when aesthetic talents—paying attention, personalizing, imaging and collaborative inquiry—are better implemented. Teams learn how to shape their vision and work together by creating and assembling a collection of photographs that reflect that vision.

Other group learning experiences focusing on “Serious Play” range from interactive drumming workshops to collaborative clay sculpture and painting classes. And Banff Centre’s new Shaw Amphitheatre hosts an amazing variety of programming themed around the creative arts, including festivals, concerts, theater and dance that planners can incorporate into their program.


Minutes from Vancouver Int’l Airport, the Richmond Olympic Oval was home to long track speed skating during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Since then, the 47,500 sf venue has evolved to include numerous configurations incorporating myriad sports courts, a track and field circuit, multiple skating rinks and British Columbia’s only indoor rowing center. So planners can work with the Oval’s staff to create all types of games and competitions inside all year long. And you can combine that with a variety of meeting spaces, including the 5,000-sf. Legacy Room.

“Our court-based teambuilding games improve communication, trust and teamwork with creative, low-impact activities,” says Jordan Mottl, programming manager. “A team works through various challenges designed to create positive interaction and oil the corporate machinery.”

This year, the Oval introduced a new 6,400-sf climbing wall featuring three main sections: a 25’ beginner wall, a 38’ intermediate wall, and a 40’ hero wall with an overhanging corner section. With 31 different routes and a wheelchair accessible rappel deck, the wall is a popular venue for teambuilding programs.

“Climbing requires trust, good communication and teamwork to overcome the physical and psychological obstacles,” Mottl says. “Participants work in groups of three to climb to the top of the wall, and all equipment is included. What better way to build up your team dynamics?”

Outdoors, the Oval faces the Fraser River and the beautiful North Shore Mountains, and there’s a huge waterfront plaza designed for large receptions, festivals and barbeques with live entertainment. Onsite catering is available.


Sporting the tagline: “Real Travel for Real Experiences,” the 70-room Travaasa Austin is located 40 minutes outside of Austin on 210 acres of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Texas Hill Country. The hotel does a great job of getting out of the way of itself to help attendees focus on their relationship with nature and each other. This is manifested through spare but stunning rooms with walls of windows and glass doors facing east toward the sunrise over the woods, and cool teambuilding activities that emphasize creative learning and a healthy lifestyle. For group biz, there are eight meeting rooms, including a 200-pax ballroom.

“We’re really true to this part of the country,” says Amy Harris, director of sales. “There’s not a script here, we’re not giving our staff canned corporate responses. The people are really passionate about what they do and I think it’s a more genuine experience.”

Cooking and mixology classes are popular where groups go out to the garden to pick dark basil or tarragon for Texas Heat margaritas with a little bit of jalapeno. Harris says a recent group just created an apricot and goat cheese prosciutto wrap.

A lot of corporate groups create Amazing Race-style events using the ropes course, rock climbing wall, geocaching circuit, pool, horse stables, archery field, and the bright and airy spa.

“It’s just such a beautiful place—I love this property,” says Harris. “Sometimes when it’s a busy day and you take time to walk outside, you get totally rejuvenated. You feel like you just walked out of a tent because you’re surrounded by so much nature.”

The 312-room Barton Creek Resort & Spa recently earned Bronze Level certification by Green Seal in recognition of its environmental stewardship, making it the second hotel in Austin and the fourth hotel in Texas to nail the award. To achieve the certification, a hotel has to prove eco-initiatives throughout its infrastructure, systems and supply chain. And golf course.

“One thing that sets us apart from competing resorts in the general area is achieving certification in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses,” says Roger Goettsch, director of golf course maintenance. Planners can work with the full-time, onsite environmental assurance manager, responsible for all environmental programs and reporting. And a Resource Advisory Group has been established by the resort, including local arborists, naturalists, conservationists, and land planners.

“I think we can show that you can conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impact by having focused initiatives in place,” Goettsch says. “And that’s what we’ve done.


Combine American history education and the antioxidant qualities of tea at Boston’s newly rebuilt Tea Party Ships & Museum. Twice the size of the original facility, it now features two additional tall ships, the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, in addition to the current tall ship, the Beaver. These replicas represent the full complement of ships that took part in the original Boston Tea Party, which have been outfitted with one of two surviving original tea chests and a whole host of exhibits, presentations and memorabilia.

Executive Director Shawn P. Ford says groups up to 500 pax can buy out the venue for role-playing adventures that recreate the Tea Party where it originally happened.

“Usually a museum has a feeling that it’s full of artifacts, text panels and objects,” he says. “We’re not that. We’re a museum of experience.”

The reenactment unfolds in three stages. Groups first meet Sam Adams and his fellow patriots, after which the historical town hall meeting transpires. Each attendee then takes on a role of someone who was at meeting where the grievances were discussed, before Adams calls out his famous line to rally the masses. For Act Two, participants leave the town hall meeting to board the ships and have a rendezvous with history and Paul Revere himself. After that, tea is tossed over the edge of the ship and into the harbor. Act Three includes stories from the captain about life below decks and a visit to the museum.

“The entire site is available for corporate functions,” Ford says. “Abigail’s Tea Room is a very large indoor space with outdoor decks, which you can use for events that overlook the ships.”

For additional function space, the museum works with the adjacent 424-room InterContinental Boston, offering 32,000 sf of meeting space. All meeting rooms are named after specific elements related to the Boston Tea Party and all rooms overlook the ships and the water. To celebrate the museum opening, the InterCon’s 6,000-sf spa is offering a Harbor Tea Wrap.


Sheila C. Johnson is a busy lady as the founder of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and co-owner of major sports franchises in the Washington, DC area. Her next project is the sprawling 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa scheduled to open August 2013 in Middleburg, VA.

The traditional Virginia architecture, rolling green hillsides and dewy forests set the tone for this sylvan retreat. Inside, the 168 rooms start at 545 sf and “the level of finishings are superior, including the use of some of Ms. Johnson’s personal furniture,” says Prem Devadas, resort president.

The 23,000-sf spa includes a series of unique “treehouse” treatment rooms with outdoor patios. The full-service equestrian center includes a 22-stall stable and practice ring. For group business, the 12,000 sf of conference and event facilities include a 5,000-sf grand ballroom and a restored 100 year-old Stallion Barn.

In terms of sustainability, 252 acres have been placed into a conservation easement, held jointly by the Potomac Conservancy and Middleburg. Organic products produced within a 50-mile radius, including the large onsite chef’s garden, will supply all of the resort’s restaurants. Attendees will also be able to cook with these ingredients at the resort’s culinary studio.

“We’ve established a Meeting Green program, which will offer basic, intermediate and advanced plans for groups wanting to make sure their stay is as ecologically sound as possible,” Devadas says.


On the west coast of Florida around Fort Myers, Lee County was one of the first counties decades ago to triumph the benefits of long term sustainable development. Much of that has to do with the surreal natural beauty of Sanibel and Captiva islands, consistently voted as having some of the best beaches in the country. Groups flock to the wildlife and wilderness preserves, kayak trails, back bays and estuaries to experience Florida as it once was.

There is so much potential here for offsite experiences, including beachcombing in “The Shelling Capital of the World.”

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers is a 3,400-acre wetland ecosystem, featuring a mile-long boardwalk trail and diverse subtropical plants and wildlife. Guided group kayak tours are also popular in Matlacha, a community near the pristine and protected Pine Island. And any planner interested in CSR can combine the educational tours with ecological-themed group volunteering program.

Sustainability is just something that is kind of ingrained in who we are—this is a community very different than most,” says Tamara Pigott, executive director of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. “We allocate over one quarter percent of the bed tax, and that’s unheard of in most communities to dedicate that much money, to programs helping to preserve the environment.”

The DMO’s new websites allows planners to source hotels based on certified green qualifications. That includes large brand properties like the 85-acre, 401-room Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, with 45,000 sf of meeting space.

“When you look at a community like Sanibel Island, where 60% of a barrier island is preserved and will never be developed, and no building is taller than the tallest palm tree, you understand there’s more to it than just being green,” says Pigott. “We want to live in paradise as it was meant to be, not how we built on top of it.”

In Fort Lauderdale, the 374-suite Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort has been widely recognized for its sustainable initiatives. The hotel is now adding six new 40-foot wind turbines to its roof that will each produce 32,000 kwh, significantly reducing its impact on the grid. In addition, the property features exterior glass to meter the heating from sunlight entering into the interior. And it utilizes the proprietary “LightStay” system that analyzes and reports sustainability performance.

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A 3-hour flight south of Buenos Aires lands at the southernmost place on earth: Ushuaia. There is literally no place like it, surrounded by towering mountains, glaciers, icebergs, the rugged seashore and famous Beagle Channel named after Charles Darwin’s ship. Just 620 miles from the Antarctic peninsula, Ushuaia is a thriving maritime port and the most popular gateway to both the 240-square mile Tierra del Fuego National Park, which makes up Argentina’s half of Patagonia, and the White Continent.

Take the End of The World Train, departing from the End of the World Station, through the gorgeous mountain scenery while learning about the colorful history of this former penal colony and the preservation efforts maintained in the national park. The train run 365 days a year and it’s available for buyouts when working with DMCs such as ATP DMC based in Buenos Aires. Back in Ushuaia, the End of the World Museum is located at the original prison, filled with memorabilia from the 1800s.

The Antarctic cruise season runs from late November through early April, with a wide variety of itineraries available. For example, Polar Cruises offers a 10-day “Classic Antarctica” voyage aboard the 84-pax MV Usuhaia to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica. The star attractions are the literally thousands of King and Emperor penguins creating a mass of moving black bodies bouncing back and forth across the ice. Another once-in-a-lifetime activity, everyone hops into zodiacs for an up close look through the massive maze of majestic blue and white icebergs.


Urban walking tours are a big trend these days, as more and more planners want to create a customized, authentic group itinerary that delves into the layers of a city. In Rio de Janeiro, Rio Walks provides a quartet of these alternative walking circuits for groups.

On the “Grand Bazaar Carioca” tour, attendees explore various cultural neighborhoods for a global shopping extravaganza, culminating at the Grand Bazaar Carioca, known as “Saara.” The bustling market is a multicultural hub in the center of the city, where Jews, Arabs, Africans, Chinese and other citizenry of the world work and live together in harmony. In fact, the neighborhood is often referred to as “The Little United Nations.

The “Bay in Sight” tour travels the Marvelous City through a multitude of iconic sites such as Sugarloaf Mountain, Flamengo Park and the Christ the Redeemer monument. If your clients want the postcard look at Rio, this is the tour for them.

“The main idea is to offer a sustainable tourism practice,” explains Rio Walk co-owner, Silene Berne. “Walking is an interactive experience. There are scents, textures, sounds and images which are not available for someone inside a vehicle—and this in itself makes the tour much more pleasing.”

Meanwhile, the “History Lovers” tour situates travelers at some of the city’s most important historic monuments, including Mauá Square, Praça XV and the beautiful Municipal Theater. Modeled after the Paris Opera House, the famous venue entertained some of the most influential noblemen at the time and was often frequented by the Royal Family.

Lastly, the “Bar to Bar” tour explores the birthplace of bossa nova culture in Rio’s popular bar or “boteco” scene. During the route, travelers visit some of the best classic and modern bars throughout Ipanema, Leblon and Gávea. “The itineraries offer a different perspective, always trying to visit peculiar spots with rich attractions, but never overwhelming the group,” says Berne.


Postmodern to the hilt, Singapore seems to remodel itself from the inside out on a regular basis in every possible dimension. Even though the sparkling metropolis will dominate the senses, the city is gung-ho on green initiatives like few others. Definitive new venues are emerging this year, each one of which blurs the opposites of city and nature.

The 367-room PARKROYAL on Pickering, for example, opens in November with a facade unlike anything you’re ever scene, except maybe in Avatar, overlooking Hong Lim Park in the center of the city. It looks like a hotel integrated into a garden with greenery draping all over the roof and exterior walls in the center of the U-shaped exterior overlooking the pool. Altogether, there is 165,000 sf of zero-energy “sky gardens.”

The hotel operates automated systems to capitalize on rainwater harvesting and regulate energy and water usage. Lighting is powered with solar cells, and there’s a 950-foot nature trail, plus flowering gardens, reflecting pools, multiple waterfalls and pretty planter terraces.

Occupying the top floors, the Orchid Club features the most upscale rooms and suites, boardrooms, a library and the awesome glass-walled Orchid Club Lounge and terraces with 360 degree city views. For large groups, the main ballroom hosts 500 pax.

Over the forests of Singapore’s Sentosa Island, adjacent to the downtown harbor, thick canopies of native trees create one of the world’s great urban parks. Resorts World Sentosa just opened their new 1,000-sf Tree Top Lofts overlooking the forests with a spacious living room and killer patios suspended 20 feet in the air. They make great hospitality suites too, although you might have a challenge getting people to leave.

The 240-room W Singapore Sentosa Cove opens in September on an exclusive island within the larger island, creating what they’re calling a “tropical marina-oriented lifestyle hub.” How fantastic is that? All of the rooms in the curvy 3-wing hotel overlook the water and/or marina with an adjoining residence and retail units creating a little city-state of its own.

Spokesperson Dawn Tan explained that the glowing jungle blends the cosmopolitan structure of Singapore with the otherworldly universe of Sentosa Island, where luscious greenery and high-octane entertainment give the island a pulsating energy.

“It’s the first hotel in Singapore with private berthing stations directly connected to the hotel with direct access to the ballroom, for an enhanced grand entrance,” Tan says.


In terms of outdoor group venues, the m/s Paul Gauguin cruise ship plying the waters of Tahiti is a fantasy incentive program matched by few others. The 320-passenger ship was designed with a shallow draft so it can slip in close to the blue lagoons of small motus (atolls) running alongside the larger islands of Moorea, Raiatea and Bora Bora.

We stopped over for a night while the vessel was parked off Motu Mahana. Small craft depart from the open deck off the stern to the little island and lagoon covered in palm trees. There’s a small beach with permanent facilities where the staff cooks a lobster lunch and locals sell black pearls and sarongs. It sounds simple and it is. But the scenery is incomparable and it’s a day you’ll never forget because it looks and feels exactly how you imagine it could.

In February, the ship completed a $7 million renovation, including new flooring, carpeting, furniture, teak railings and a general spruce up to the restaurants and public spaces. During the day, there’s a series of lectures by visiting scholars, such as Jean-Michel Cousteau. We spent 90 minutes with a local professor discussing the history of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Fascinating, especially when you’re in the very waters where Christian Fletcher caused all that trouble. Not that you could blame him.

Few other destinations around the globe have guestrooms so delicately interconnected to their environmental setting as the traditional bures perched on piers above Bora Bora’s lagoon.The 100-room St. Regis Bora Bora has put together a Maritime Preservation Program that teaches groups about the importance of preserving every component of the local ecosystem.

There’s now an entire Marine Eco Center located at the end of the dock behind Spa Miri Miri—itself on a dedicated island—providing information materials about Polynesian marine life and BoraEcoFish, an aquaculture company protecting local marine resources, such as the “Shark Park” where groups swim with docile black-tip reef sharks. For land meetings, St. Regis offers an exquisite 1,500-sf banquet room


Oxfam Trailwalker is a highly popular fundraising event in Hong Kong, where teams of four help each other walk a 60-mile route within the designed 48-hour time limit. Each team usually has a support team to provide encouragement along the face, and you can imagine the strong bond this creates by the end.

Since 1986, over 73,000 participants have raised over more than $47 million to support Oxfam’s many poverty relief projects in Africa and China. For this year’s event from November 16-18, for the first time ever, Meetings & Events Hong Kong (MEHK) is inviting 20 overseas meeting and incentive groups to participate.

“By promoting this event to corporate groups we’re able to both promote Hong Kong’s ability to deliver high impact CSR programs, and also raise awareness of Hong Kong as a destination with outdoors and environmental appeal to complement our long standing position as one of the world’s great urban MICE destinations,” says James LaValle, MICE manager at the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Stay tuned for a story following the event.


Located on tranquil Lantau Island, about a 30-minute drive from Central, the 325-room Auberge Discovery Bay Hong Kong is set to open November 2012. Lantau is home to Hong Kong’s most revered monastery attractions and most accessible fishing villages.

For outdoor venues, the oceanfront Auberge provides space for 200 attendees to congregate on an outdoor terrace overlooking the South China Sea. There’s also a 27-hole golf course for group tournaments nearby. Total indoor meeting space is 14,500 sf.

“Having restricted the use of private cars in Discovery Bay, air pollution here is considerably low,” said GM Anne Busfield. “We will offer a range of activities that will reflect the natural elements around us with minimal impact on the environment.”

Busfield adds that event planners can book a cruise on The Bounty, a full-size replica of Captain Bligh’s famous 18th century ship built for the Hollywood film of the same name.


Manuel Antonio National Park is the only part of Costa Rica where the jungle literally descends down the side of a volcano into the white sands along the Pacific Ocean.

Built on 12 acres of rainforest sequestered among the rainforest and sea, the 30-suite Parador Hotel & Spa is a premier eco-luxury resort providing groups with numerous opportunities for responsible nature-based exploits. Hiking, horseback riding and jungle tours are only a few of the activities at any group’s disposal.

Sustainable tourism defines every facet of the Parador’s existence throughout the property and the entire staff and management. This year, the hotel received a Platinum Level “Leader in Sustainable Tourism” Adrian Award from HSMAI, winning out over 1,000 other hotel nominees.

“Not only do we respect our natural and cultural surroundings, but we also strive to improve and enhance the relationship between our hotel and the community, our property and the fragile environment where we reside,” said Marja Schans, president. “One part of this is our strong commitment to community education.”

Schans encourages visiting groups to participate in any of the resort’s environmental or training activities normally intended for its own employees, including Sustainability 101 courses taught to both residents and area high schools.

For meetings, the conference room hosts 64 pax; the boardroom seats eight.