In the last 17 years, we’ve helped to plan thousands of team building events and corporate retreats. Here are some guidelines based on our experience that may help you in the venue selection process.
Begin with online research. Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to examine a wide array of properties all over the country in a few moments. Streaming video tours, photos, client testimonials and links to area resources round out your information gathering process. If you’re part of a committee entrusted with this responsibility, sharing links is an easy way to get feedback and buy-in on the type of property and environment your group would prefer…mountain resort, beach-front cottage, fishing cabin, desert spas, etc.
Narrow your search to venues that are the “right size” for your group. If you only have 15 or 20 people attending the retreat, booking into a 2,000 room resort may not provide the personalized care you desire. A smaller “boutique” venue may be just the thing for a management retreat. On the flip side, if you’re planning for a 250 person national sales conference, a larger property will offer more appropriate meeting spaces and amenities (like on-site shopping, spa facilities or fitness centers.
Have a budget. Depending on the location, size of your group and duration of stay, you can spend between $5,000 and $500,000 on just the lodging and meals. See Setting a Budget for more information.
The sales professionals at the venues you’re researching will be better able to develop proposals, make recommendations and provide accurate information if you know how much you have to spend. For example, if a venue knows your budget is on the small side, they may recommend buffet-style meals instead of restaurant-style, or propose you consider double-occupancy instead of single-occupancy.
Don’t use your venue sales professionals to help you establish a budget, that is, require them to put a lot of time and energy into developing a plan, only to learn you can’t spend even half that amount. You’ll be frustrated and they’ll be frustrated.
Tell them the purpose and goals of your retreat. The more information you can provide on the front end, the more accurate your proposal will be on the back-end. Imagine if you are hoping to hold a relaxing 3-day retreat for 20 hard-working managers and find out afterwards that the week you’ve booked the venue there’s also a group of college fraternities on property. Or, for example, if you envisioned a fun, energetic team building event that would require a large grassy area, and booked a venue accordingly, imagine how disappointed you would be if the only available space on property is an open parking lot.
Let the meeting or sales manager know what kind of activities in which you’ll be engaging, the type of environment and setting you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to achieve in the time spent together. You may find out that property is perfect for what you’re planning, or the farthest thing from, but it’s better to know earlier in the process.
Additionally, good catering managers will make helpful recommendations when they understand what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, if they know you want a relaxing 3-day retreat, they can offer to reserve the entire spa for your staff for one afternoon. Or if they know you want to do a fun team building event and don’t have any grassy areas on property, they may recommend a perfect, nearby park.
Speak to former guests. Even though references are going to be “best case scenarios” (because nobody gives out contact information for disgruntled customers), it’s really important to speak to some recent guests. Most people are pretty honest, so even if they were happy overall, they can alert you to some smaller issues that they may have encountered. Ask for references who were with groups about the same size as yours who stayed about the same amount of time so that you’re comparing apples to apples.
Visit the property. If you’re spending more than $25,000 on your retreat, or it’s an executive retreat, it’s worth sending at least one representative from your team to check out the property in person. Airfare and one night’s stay only constitutes 5-10% of the total investment. Website photos and descriptions can be deceptive, and you can’t “smell the rooms over the internet.” During your site visit, you may determine that the guestrooms are musty, moldy and damp.