For most people who plan meetings and conferences for their organizations, that task is just one of many duties that make up their job description. Among folks such as administrative assistants, sales managers, marketing executives, and even heads of HR, there can be two or three times a year when they must coordinate a business event from start to finish — having to not only meet their firm's objectives for the meeting, but also do it at reasonable cost. This is quite an involved task, and it can be a source of stress and anxiety among many part-time meeting planners.
There is, however, one aspect of the meeting-planning process that full-time planners know makes their jobs easier — and one which is simply essential to the success of any event coordinated by a part-time planner. It's this: The conference sales and service people at the host property can act as full partners with planners in creating the most productive and most enjoyable meeting possible.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC the conference sales team is well versed in guiding part-time planners through the process of matching a meeting's needs to the correct spaces and formats so that all objectives are met. "First, we ask a planner about what type of meeting it will be," says Spencer Hux, director of northeast sales for KIGR. "Depending on if it's a high-level strategy session, employee training, a brainstorming session, a customer event, or something else, there will be a certain amount of time they'll spend in formal learning spaces, in informal meeting spaces, and in dining and leisure spaces. So we help planners decide whether The Sanctuary and its offerings are the best fit for the group, or if the villas and their related meeting spaces will fit the bill."
A 255-room luxury hotel with sweeping ocean views, The Sanctuary is ideal for upscale meetings that desire a secluded experience for groups ranging from 10 to 200 attendees. On the other hand, the 448 villas managed by KIGR, ranging from one to four bedrooms apiece, work perfectly for larger meetings such as continuing medical education programs and annual sales conferences. They are the lodging complement to the 11,000 square feet of meeting space at the East Beach Conference Center, plus the sizable meeting spaces at several of the golf clubhouses across the property.
If cost is a primary consideration, "we can help them figure out not just the proper lodging and meeting space to fit their budget, but also how to best use our dining and social amenities," Hux notes. For instance, "we can be very flexible with banquet menus; we have everything from high-end restaurants in The Sanctuary and in the clubhouses at Turtle Point and The Ocean Course, to Oyster Roasts and buffet-style possibilities at Mingo Point — and many options in between."
Another aspect of cost control — one that many part-time planners don't think about — is whether the meeting dates are even a little bit flexible. If so, KIGR can often improve on the deal when the original dates would have coincided with especially high occupancy at the property. "For meetings that do not involve a lot of the company's corporate executives, there's often enough flexibility to shift the group a week later or a week earlier — simply from a Thursday - Sunday pattern to a Sunday - Wednesday pattern — and bring the group substantial savings," says Hux.
One area where Hux finds the resort staff's collective expertise especially helpful to part-time planners is in the technological considerations for a meeting. "Generally, meetings run by part-time planners don't employ a lot of complex presentation or communication technology in the meeting rooms," he says. "But for the times when a planner has a meeting that needs more than basic projection and wireless internet in the space, we have J&S Audio Visual, an in-house firm that can handle even the most heavy-duty meetings technology needs. We would act as a liaison between J&S and the planner."
In short, "we try to learn as much as possible about each meeting group so that we can recommend specific options around the property that would work well for every element of that specific program" says Hux. "We do not simply throw out everything the resort has to offer, because that is when part-time planners get bogged down and stressed out — and it is totally unnecessary. we know the property best, and it is our responsibility to leverage that knowledge for the benefit of the group and the planner."
Once all of a meeting's needs and terms are established in writing, KIGR's conference sales team then turns over responsibility to an experienced conference services manager. "The CSM is a single point of contact for the planner with regard to every aspect of executing the meeting." says Hux, "He or she will assist with figuring out the space set-ups, the possible themes, the food and beverage details, the recreational activities, the transportation needs, and other logistics. All of the CSM's knowledge and each aspect of the meeting will put the planner's mind at ease."
When it comes to the execution of meetings, corporate executives are becoming ever more scrutinizing about the costs versus the benefits. After all, once they factor in the money an organization spends on transportation, lodging, meals, meeting space, technology and other activities on the itinerary, executives are sure to want answers on whether a meeting, incentive program or other event has provided significant value to the organization to justify those costs.
For meeting planners, this scrutiny means they must somehow measure the benefits the organization gains from any meeting or event they coordinate. But rather than try to quantify the value of a meeting in dollars (known as return on investment, or ROI), planners can use the return on objective (ROO) metric to make their calculations more accurate. Why? Because ROO eliminates the vagueness of ROI by focusing explicitly on the progress gained at a meeting, and taking away outside factors that muddy ROI calculations, such as changes to the firm's product, changes in the firm's competitive set and other elements that are beneficial to the firm's revenues but are not related to a meeting.
ROO involves pre-testing of attendees on critical factors that the organization wants to see improved at the meeting, followed by post-testing weeks or months after the meeting to see if those benefits were achieved. For instance, if the goal of a sales meeting is to ensure that at least 90 percent of reps are able to make a sales presentation that touches on the product's four key competitive advantages within five minutes, the meeting planner can have reps conduct mock presentations ahead of the meeting so executives will know what percentage of reps can do the task up front.
Then, several weeks after that sales meeting where reps were educated and coached on presenting the product, the planner and executives can again conduct testing to measure the progress of the sales staff that came from the meeting. If the pre-testing result was, say that 25 percent of reps could do the task, and the post-testing score reached 90 percent, then executives know the meeting was indeed valuable to the organization - and they can perhaps even assign a monetary value specific to the meeting's role in improving reps' abilities.
Such testing can be done for any meeting objective, from understanding critical concepts to improving interpersonal skills to building a new knowledge sharing relationships with coworkers. Furthermore, even questions that ask for the perceptions of attendees regarding certain benefits delivered at the meeting are useful for ROO calculations.
In short, ROO is a more direct metric of a meeting's benefit - something that a hard-dollar ROI assessment often cannot do because of the effect of outside influencing factors that can't be separated out.
Every corporate or association meeting has one overarching goal in mind: to maximize attendee learning. But that learning comes through many avenues — the formal sessions, the informal gathering of attendees between sessions and the relaxed interactions away from the meeting space entirely.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an ocean front property set just outside Charleston, SC, the unique guest accommodations actually help strengthen the learning process — all while minimizing the costs of a meeting. With 448 villas that range from one bedroom all the way up to four bedrooms and four baths, KIGR offers spacious living quarters that are not only within walking distance of most meeting spaces, but also promote attendee interaction and bonding that simply can't be found at traditional hotel and resort properties.
Marty Couch, director of sales for KIGR, notes that nearly three-quarters of the resort's villas—set in tree-lined neighborhoods that are home to countless songbirds and other wildlife—are within easy walking distance of the East Beach Conference Center and its more than 7,000 square feet of meeting space. In addition, the Turtle Point Clubhouse, with four breakout rooms and a wraparound porch with golf-course views, is also within walking distance of those villas. Interestingly, many attendees opt for a bicycle sporting a handlebar basket to get to meetings, and also to explore the 30 miles of bike trails on the island. Of course, the resort's free shuttle service can take less-adventurous attendees from their villas to these facilities (plus the meeting spaces at Osprey Point Clubhouse and Ocean Course Clubhouse) within minutes. But the proximity of the villas to the meeting spaces allows for relaxing moments for attendees before and after their sessions, when they can stroll along and chat about the day's proceedings.
Additional benefits of villa accommodations are the common areas and kitchen spaces. First, villas keep costs down; meeting budgets go farther because accommodations are priced per villa, not per bedroom. "Many meeting are fine with each attendee having a private bedroom and bathroom, but sharing the living and dining room plus a screened-in porch," Couch notes. "This is not just cost-effective, but also great for attendee bonding and informal learning," And for events such as association conferences and CME programs that draw entire families, many attendees choose to stock up on provisions at the resort's Market at Town Center (next to East Beach Conference Center) so they can make some of their own meals inexpensively. Lastly, with three swimming pools dedicated solely to villa guests, plus the miles of hard-packed ocean beach, there are plenty of things for families to enjoy while attendees are hard at work.
The newest inventory at KIGR, called the Maritime villas, is set right next to The Sanctuary. These units are ideal not only to house up to four attendees at once, but also for hospitality suites preferred by executive retreats, directors' meetings and other small programs. With nearly 3,000 square feet of space, each Maritime villas has four bedrooms and four baths, a kitchen with Viking appliances for top-flight meal preparation, and a huge common area and porch perfect for mingling after a day of meetings. In fact, Couch hosted his sales team's holiday party in a Maritime villa this past December.
For meetings looking to keep attendees in close proximity to the meeting space and to each other—but with fully private accommodations—the resort's luxury hotel, The Sanctuary, is the popular choice. The Sanctuary offers 255 rooms and suites, including the 3,000-square-foot Presidential Suite. Its king rooms are among the largest on the East Coast, with the smallest measuring 520 square feet. All guest rooms are uniquely designated to include exquisite amenities such as a handcrafted desk and armoire, an elegantly appointed sofa and chair and custom-made beds. The meeting space offers two ballrooms and seven large breakout rooms, plus an ocean-view lawn for receptions and banquets.
So when looking for a property to host your next meeting, consider the unique benefits of the villa accommodations, as well as The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. They make meetings easier to plan, less expensive to hold—and more effective and memorable for attendees.
One of the biggest misunderstandings in the world of meeting planning is that golf is a time-consuming activity that can only be enjoyed by experienced players. But there is regular golf, and then there is business golf. And the latter is so flexible in its uses at off-site meetings that no event planner should dismiss the idea of using business golf without learning about all its possibilities for teambuilding, camaraderie and rewarding the group with enjoyable recreation.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), a prime vacation and conference facility on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean near Charleston, SC, countless meeting attendees have played the traditional 18 holes of golf together during a company-sponsored golf outing. With five highly respected courses and a year-round climate conducive to golf, this is undoubtedly a primary draw for many groups that come to KIGR.
Then again, KIGR also uses a variety of business-golf activities to successfully entertain meeting attendees—many of whom know nothing about golf when they arrive on the island. Brian Gerard, Director of Golf for KIGR’s five courses and its golf school, encourages planners who have upcoming meetings at the resort to consult with his golf staff in order to find out how one or more business-golf activities can fit perfectly into a meeting agenda, delivering not just entertainment, but also greater camaraderie to the entire group. “The reason these activities resonate with attendees is because they are pretty unique. Very few resorts have the ability to do the range of things we can do,” he says. For instance, many groups hold their business sessions in the meeting space at the clubhouse for the resort’s Ocean Course—host of the 2012 PGA Championship and ranked one of the top courses worldwide by the biggest golf publications. This famous setting provides an ideal opportunity to host a lunchtime break or late-afternoon reception alongside the putting green that’s just beyond the clubhouse doors and steps from the ocean. Attendees can pair off and participate in a miniature golf contest, with prizes for those who play the best. And after a late afternoon reception, a group can move back inside as the sun sets and have dinner in the sophisticated Atlantic Room. By combining a low-stress golf activity with such a majestic setting, “We can keep the group together all day but bring variety to their experience,” Gerard notes. “This creates a lasting memory for golfers and non-golfers alike.”
Here’s another business-golf possibility at KIGR, one that has been used by at least two meeting groups so far in 2014: Gathering at the resort’s golf school for a recreational event or reception. Situated just a few steps from the Turtle Point Clubhouse—itself a business-ready facility that regularly hosts meeting groups—the golf school is set up for learning clinics to meet the needs of beginner, intermediate and advanced golfers. Attendees learn the fundamentals of the full swing, plus the proper strokes for chipping and putting.
For non-golfers, a clinic is a perfect icebreaker to overcome the intimidation factor that’s common in golf. As for experienced golfers, they relish the ability to get personalized instruction from top-flight teaching pros and to compete against each other in skill contests. What’s more, because the resort staff sets up a refreshment station on the covered porch of the golf school, attendees can participate in as much or as little golf as they choose. For planners, the best part of this experience is that it can be done in as few as 90 minutes. “This is a perfect option for groups with limited time, and it satisfies everyone because they get to spend time in a beautiful outdoor setting,” says Gerard. Meeting groups can also host private events at the driving range and practice area at any of the resort’s five courses, to entertain both golfers and non-golfers. “Between five and seven o’clock is the perfect time to do this,” Gerard notes. “The sun is setting, we offer light hors d’oeuvres and drinks, and people can just mingle and hit practice balls as they please.”
Even groups that hold their meetings at KIGR’s East Beach Conference Center or at The Sanctuary can bring golf-themed ideas right into the meeting space, especially when the weather is not right for outdoor activity. For instance, “We will set up learning stations for putting lessons right in the ballroom and create a mini-golf course,” Gerard says. For an additional cost, the golf staff can even arrange to bring in golf-simulator machines that allow people to play “virtual golf” at famous courses around the country—including the resort’s own Ocean Course.
In the end, Gerard stresses that “the resort and golf staff are here to help event planners coordinate something fun and memorable for their entire group. We can keep the golf aspect fun and light and low-stress so that everyone enjoys themselves, and also bring in small touches like decorated shirts or hats to personalize the experience and have it remembered long after the meeting.”
Most people who have visited Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), on the coast of South Carolina, are struck by the natural beauty in and around the resort. But what also keeps many folks coming back to the resort is its proximity to the historic yet diverse - and extremely charming and scenic - city of Charleston.
This seaport town is so complete that for three consecutive years, Charleston has been named the top city in the country for leisure travelers. In 2011 and 2012, it topped the Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Choice Awards. And in 2013, Charleston was number one on the Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards list. With so many attractions to complement the pristine beaches and serene landscapes at Kiawah, the resort is a perfect backdrop for corporate meetings, association board gatherings, and other events that require focus during business sessions but then want a memorable off-site experience to help reach a meetings' objectives and enhance its return on investment.
Hope Caldwell, event manager for Adventures in Charleston - a DMC with offices right at The Sanctuary at Kiawah so meeting planners can easily use their services - notes that some of the most popular off-site attractions are actually between Kiawah Island and the city itself. "The plantations are what everyone is curious about when they come to the south," she says. "Middleton Place Plantation has the oldest architecturally designed garden in the country. An evening there immerses guests in the authentic atmosphere, especially when Rhett Butler greets them with the sounds of the Dixieland Jazz Band wafting from the stableyards."
Molly Waring with the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau says that "a walking tour or carriage tour is a great start to seeing Charleston and hearing about its 350-year history. The tours take about one hour, leaving plenty of time for other adventures."
The Historic District is exactly what you'd imagine: antebellum homes, cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and gorgeous gardens," adds Hope Caldwell. "Whether we entertain guests in the private garden of a famous author's mansion, or inside Charleston Cooks as they learn to create their own authentic southern meals, the historic district is filled with interesting group options."
But why is Charleston called the Holy City? "Ever since it was settled, Charleston was a bastion of religious tolerance, "Waring notes. And places such as the KKBE Synagogue and St. Michaels Church are simply stunning to see; planners need only call ahead to confirm times when these historic houses of worship will entertain visitors.
To see this waterfront town from another unique angle, groups can head out on the water. Spirit Line boat tours bring visitors into Charleston's protected harbor to see and hear about Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Caldwell says that "either on board Spirit of the Lowcountry or on a privately chartered yacht, the ride is gentle and the view is exquisite. You'll see multiple forts, the gorgeous Ravenel Bridge lit up, the antebellum homes on the battery, and plenty of dolphins." Adventures in Charleston can make arrangements for a group's public or private boating event.
The shoppers in the group should not miss King Street, with its antique stores, clothing boutiques, and jewelry shops. There's also Charleston City Market, with seagrass basket makers working in full view. And a gallery run by the Historic Charleston Foundation offers reproductions of china, local cookbooks, and other regionally-focused items.
The area of Charleston known as the French Quarter has architecture similar to the New Orleans neighborhood of the same name, but with a far quieter and more mellow atmosphere. There are art galleries all through this district, across Church Street, Broad Street, and State Street. The Helena Fox Gallery and the Atrium Gallery are two of the more renowned ones.
Also downtown are the South Carolina Aquarium, with fascinating marine animals and large glass windows and outdoor decks overlooking the harbor; and the Charleston Museum, founded in 1773 to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural history of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
If Kiawah Island meeting groups came into Charleston for a late afternoon or evening excursion, there are two interesting starting points. The first is the rooftop bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel, with great views of the city. The other is a sunset cruise on the schooner Pride, an 84-foot classic tall ship. It sails past the USS Yorktown, the storied WWII aircraft carrier docked at Patriot's Point, and on to Castle Pinckney, the old waterfront trading area where the walled city first developed.
The performing arts are well represented in Charleston. The Dock Street Theater stands on the site of America's first theater, and the rebuilt venue has an in-house stage company that puts on performances all year. The Sotille Theater on King Street, owned by the College of Charleston, has many events between October and April each year. But the newest gem on the scene will be the 1,800-seat Gaillard Center. Razed and rebuilt from the ground up, this luxurious, acoustically-perfect venue will start hosting symphony, opera, and other musical and dramatic performances by early 2015.
Beside the Sotille Theater, the College of Charleston has a large footprint in town that brings a younger demographic and influence to the city. And while Molly Waring says that "your groups would probably not go to the same places as the college kids," the next generation of adults lends an energy to downtown and draws a variety of businesses there, making Charleston more interesting for residents and visitors alike.
With the city just 21 miles from Kiawah Island, all the entertainment and social event possibilities in Charleston are easy to work into a meeting agenda - especially with the assistance of an experienced on-property DMC such as Adventures in Charleston.
According to the 2014 Global Meetings Forecast released by American Express Meetings & Events, group event planners in North America estimate that overall spending dedicated to meetings will remain flat versus 2013. But at the same time, they also anticipate a 1.5% increase in the number of meetings, as well as a slight increase in the number of attendees at each meeting. In other words, meeting planners must do more with less, yet again.
A second trend seen by North American meeting and event planners is the increasing engagement of attendees through social media and mobile apps. This use is expected to increase in 2014, marking the transition of such tools from attendees' personal lives to their professional lives. Responding meeting planners noted greater interest in using mobile apps and want to learn how to best use apps for their meetings. In fact, planners face a challenge from their management to use social media and mobile apps not just during meetings, but also before and after meetings to reinforce meeting content and keep attendees connected to one another. The goal: maximize the time attendees spend at the meeting itself and create opportunities for increased engagement and efficiency in that brief window when attendees are together in person.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an oceanfront property located just outside Charleston, SC, with more than 35,000 square feet of meeting space, the group sales and service teams have worked with countless meeting planners on reaching that specific goal. And when it comes to what's desired at today's meetings, Kiawah's meeting experts know this: creating the best possible in-person event is about making attendees active participants in every aspect of the agenda - they are no longer simply the receivers of information. In the meetings of 2014 and beyond, the subject experts are not so much the session leaders as they are the attendees themselves!
As a result, KIGR is set up to handle the evolving needs of meetings. For the many event agendas that now use shorter formal sessions alternated with longer break periods - allowing attendees to give their own perspectives to one another about what they've just heard - the informal gathering areas of a facility are more critical than ever for meeting effectiveness.
At KIGR's East Beach Conference Center and Turtle Point Clubhouse, the formal meeting rooms are surrounded by indoor and outdoor areas that are ideal for smaller, more focused attendee discussions. Offering everything from upholstered sofas and chairs set in alcoves throughout the prefunction area, to cocktail tables set on wraparound decks just outside the meeting area's glass doors, to a lawn area with wicker rocking chairs that sometimes even has groups using flipcharts there, KIGR's informal spaces were designed specifically for attendee interaction that's different from what's possible at many other hotels and resorts.
What's more, The Sanctuary at KIGR has its own memorable informal spaces just beyond its meeting areas, including cozy nooks throughout the lobby that feature oversized seating; two pool areas with many tables and chairs; and a large lawn with Adirondack chairs and ocean views. And because KIGR has an "all hands on deck" policy among its staff, meeting planners who might need to change parts of their agenda on short notice can be sure that the necessary legwork will happen seamlessly. Breaks and meals can be expedited or pushed back, meeting and banquet rooms can be turned over quickly, and if a creative idea strikes a planner during the meeting itself, alternate spaces can be prepared for use. With so many flexible spaces on property, there must also be flexible service, and KIGR's entire staff is trained to deliver that in order for each meeting to reach its goal of attendees getting as much as possible from their in-person experience.