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.