The word “retreat” by definition means to escape. Everyone needs to change their surroundings once in a while to reboot their brains and reconnect the dots. Here are a few places for corporate retreats where executives can exchange their offices for a beautiful, relaxing environment to refocus on sales, strategies and multiple spa treatments. We spoke with three industry insiders to get the scoop on value-oriented venues that deliver serious ROI and ROE.
TOP 50 RANCHES
Jody Dahl, CEO of Top 50 Ranches, works extensively with corporate planners. Her organization is a network of about 50 upscale dude ranches catering to various sizes of groups. The bulk of these full-service, all-inclusive ranches are located in the American West, with a few more scattered around the world from Argentina to Australia. Dahl once owned her own ranch, and she remembers how difficult it was for clients to find reliable information among so many options.
Prevue: Jody, why should planners consider a ranch retreat in the first place?
JD: No other venue offers as many experiences as a ranch retreat. A lot of times when dealing with planners, they say they can’t decide which activity to do with the group. There are so many things to do at one ranch: fishing, horseback riding, the spa, 4-wheeling, etc. At a ranch, there’s a wide-open landscape, perfect for clearing your mind to prepare for a meeting.
Prevue: Why should planners work with Top 50?
JD: We visit and hand select only those ranches that meet a specific criteria. They have to have the utmost in quality and hospitality, service, landscape and just an unfettered beauty to them. The ranch has to stand out above the rest. So we really are the best contact for planners who want to plan a guest ranch retreat, and we can get them started with the process.
Prevue: Herding cattle sounds awesome. Is that something that a lot of the dude ranches offer?
JD: Yes, many of the ranches offer herding cattle. Another popular activity is team-penning in the arena. Corporate groups will divide into teams on horseback, and it really gets them communicating because they’re dealing with animals. That’s something they can’t control, so it improves their communication skills immensely.
Prevue: How’s the food?
JD: Oh, wow, you’ll never match the dining experiences that you’ll get at a ranch. The food is locally sourced from a garden on property; it’s fresh and the beef is all ranch raised. The culinary experience knocks others out of the park. Plus, the views aren’t fabricated. It’s completely natural with all that fresh air. You also have to consider that it’s similar to an all-inclusive model. Most of them are that way. You don’t have to worry about being nickel and dimed while you’re there.
Prevue: What is available in terms of meeting space and luxury product?
JD: It ranges between the smaller ranches that can only hold 20 people, while the larger retreats have dedicated conference and breakout rooms. There are some ranches that can handle up to 200 people for meetings. The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, for example, has a barn for events. For luxury ranches, Triple Creek Ranch and Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana are both high-end properties. In Wyoming, Brush Creek Ranch is simply exquisite.
PERSONAL LUXURY RESORTS & HOTELS
Benchmark Hospitality operates 39 mid-size hotels across the U.S. for the corporate market. As the company has grown, it accumulated a diverse array of product ranging from mid-market urban conference hotels to luxury beach resorts.
So Benchmark created the Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels brand, encompassing 13 of the group’s more upscale properties ranging from Hotel Granduca in Houston to Villas of Grand Cypress in Orlando, presently undergoing a $15 million renovation. We spoke with Eric Gavin, regional vice president, from Benchmark HQ in Houston.
Prevue: What is Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels?
EG: Personal Luxury is all about creating unique experiences for groups in unique destinations. It’s not about developing hotels where you walk into the hotel in Seattle and it looks just like the hotel in Miami. We want to be indicative of each destination and we also really want to excel at the touch points. It’s making sure we empower our associates to take care of our groups and any wish or whim they may have.
EG: When big companies latch on to trends like that, they standardize it. That is exactly the opposite of what we want to create. We want to create an individualized experience for your group by speaking with planners personally from the very beginning, and understanding why are you coming to our hotel and what can we do to customize the experience.
Prevue: What might that experience look like?
EG: That could be creating a private tour through Pike Place Market for a group meeting at Hotel 1000 in Seattle. Our chef can help everyone pick out ingredients for dinner. Or it might be a personalized shopping tour in Miami Beach at ONE Bal Harbour, because we have a close relationship with The Shops at Bal Harbour.
Prevue: We love your new “Personal Giving” initiative.
EG: Thanks, we do too. Through December 18, the five Personal Luxury resorts in Florida are offering a turnkey CSR program to help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. When you book a meeting at Villas of Grand Cypress, Naples Bay Resort, Costa d’Este Beach Resort, Marenas Beach Resort or ONE Bal Harbour Resort & Spa, we’ll match your donation to one of three charities in the area and receive a credit of up to 2% off your master account.
The concept of Personal Giving is to reach out to people and say, hey look, we know that our communities are really the backbone and foundation of our lives. So if you’re going to have a meeting with us, why don’t we give you an incentive to give back to New York and New Jersey.
HOTEL CORQUE, SOLVANG
Remember the movie Sideways that singlehandedly exploded interest in pinot noir? That was filmed in Solvang, located 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, where they grow some outstanding pinot. The 122-room Hotel Corque is located in town within walking distance to 12 wine tasting rooms operated by area wineries.
The resort just wrapped a full renovation of the 7,500 sf of meeting space and modern guest rooms decorated in “French/European” style. We spoke with GM Jim Colvin about group biz and where you can get a good meal in these parts.
Prevue: Jim, what’s it like there in your region of California wine country?
JC: The Santa Ynez Valley is stunning, it really is, with ancient oaks and rolling hills, and it’s green all year-round. When Sideways came out, it was crazy. Since then, the number of wineries has doubled; there’s almost 100 wineries now known for their pinot. Wine country is a big seller for corporate groups, as big or bigger even than golf…. We have access to two really beautiful golf courses, one private and one at Alisal Guest Ranch.
Prevue: You guys eat pretty well out there, don’t you?
JC: You have no idea, we have one of the finest restaurants in California, called Route 246. It’s run by Bradley Ogden who’s a legend in California; everything’s farm fresh, organic. You would never imagine a restaurant of this caliber here. We do a lot of private events in the restaurant and our Ultra Lounge with widescreen TVs, the Sunset Lounge, and a chef’s table in Ogden’s dream kitchen. People also like to meet out on the patio. We have a fireplace and tiki lights…. About 30% of our business is group, with 200-250 about the max.
Prevue: What are some great offsite experiences?
JC: We’re owned by Chumash Casino three miles away, so we have a ton of shuttles that groups can use to visit the casino or anywhere else. Everyone of course wants to visit the wineries, like Sunstone Winery, which is very Tuscan. Bridlewood Winery is beautiful and just great for corporate groups. It’s an old thoroughbred horse farm with a full-on race course and croquet field; all the stalls are still there. It’s perfect for elegant group dinners and wine pairing events.
Los Olivos is a little town not far from here that’s half a block long in every direction. There is probably nowhere in America with such a high concentration of wine tasting shops, maybe 35 to 40.
And Solvang is like a European village, it’s just darling. Groups will finish their meetings around 4, and then we’ll go to, say, Toccata tasting room, owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards. By then everyone’s feeling pretty good before coming back to Hotel Corque for a dinner of their lifetime.