Over the years, surveys of meeting attendees have found that the three elements most critical to their satisfaction are 1) ease of travel to the destination, 2) accommodations at the host property and 3) quality of food and beverage served during the meeting.
That last factor might surprise some professionals, but not Matthew Fitzgerald, executive banquet chef for The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, an oceanfront property outside Charleston, SC. Having coordinated the food and beverage offerings for countless business conferences, incentive trips, weddings and social events over the past three years, Fitzgerald knows that good things happen whenever a chef actively participates in the event-planning process.
"Our group menus are more than 60 pages long, so we can create every meal, reception or refreshment break in a way that fits into any budget," he says. Then again, Kiawah Resort's setting in the Carolina Lowcountry "dictates a lot of what we do with our food. Many people come here for the Charleston experience — our unique cuisine and its history are central to that." As a result, "planners almost never limit themselves to what's on our menus, because we can also provide so many local seasonal items that will make for unforgettable meals."
First, the property's oceanfront setting means that groups "can't help but do the seafood," says Fitzgerald. Rather than bring in cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut or cod, Kiawah Resort offers fresh local catches such as mahi, wahoo, striped bass and wreckfish (a light and flaky fish caught only in the waters off Charleston). There's also locally-harvested shad roe (similar to caviar), oysters and shrimp. "Guests can actually watch the shrimp boats pass by our shores during the day," he adds. "Shrimp and grits is a staple around here."
For themed events, Kiawah Resort will create a Lowcountry boil featuring seafood, perhaps combined with a "pig-picking station" that features a whole hog roasted on a spit. Groups can also have an authentic oyster roast; "The Sanctuary has an oyster pit on its terrace lawn, where a chef will steam oysters wrapped in burlap and then shuck them, all while talking with guests", says Fitzgerald. "If a group puts all of these elements together, they get South Carolina's version of a luau. At Mingo Point, guests also enjoy the benefit of exquisite river views as the backdrop to their event."
Another strength of Kiawah Resort's food and beverage operation is the relationship between the property's chefs and local farms. Situated adjacent to Kiawah Island is Johns Island, a rich agricultural area that supplies the resort with a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, spices and other items that shape the property's standout cuisine.
"One farmer has a hothouse that grows heirloom tomatoes for us, while a local monastery grows hundreds of pounds of shiitake and oyster mushrooms for us each year. Another farmer makes his own grits and grinds them down to any size we ask for," Fitzgerald notes. "So for our group receptions and buffet meals, we'll build a whole station around certain items and tell attendees the story behind what they're eating."
Local growers are even able to fulfill difficult special requests that the resort gets from some meeting clients. "They can use their greenhouses to raise crops that aren't in season, so our guests can experience something completely unique," Fitzgerald says. For instance, when one corporate planner wanted alpine strawberries as a welcome amenity for attendees of a May meeting, "we worked with a local farmer starting in January to make sure the strawberries would ripen the same week attendees arrived on property. Those are the lengths we'll go to when food is that important to a group."
Kiawah Resort's culinary team also keeps its eye on healthy-eating trends and adapts its offerings so attendees have appealing choices during meals and breaks. "We've seen growing demand for smoothies, so we now offer 'action juicing stations' during meeting breaks. They're going over very well," Fitzgerald says. To entice attendees to choose fruit during breakfast, lunch or breaks, he recently began using tiny ornamental wheelbarrows lined with burlap to hold single-serving portions of various berries and sliced fruits.
On opposite ends of the spectrum, "many people want to let go a little bit when they are at a meeting, so we still offer our southern-style rice pudding," Fitzgerald notes.
Like all the other aspects of hospitality at Kiawah Resort, the culinary team embraces an overarching philosophy. Fitzgerald explains, "Meeting planners can choose to take their groups anywhere, so we do everything we can to deliver the most memorable experience possible."
In-person meetings and events strengthen respect, understanding and trust among colleagues - benefits that will endure long after a gathering takes place. When planners use team building experiences during their meetings, they also present positive networking and bonding opportunities that deliver substantially more value to attendees and to the host organization.
What's more, science has proven that attendees need periodic opportunities to step back and mentally refresh themselves during meetings.
Andrea Sullivan, president of performance-improvement firm BrainStrength Systems, notes, "The prefrontal cortex of the brain is what attendees use throughout their meeting sessions to concentrate."
When that area of the brain tires out, the result is reduced attendee performance. But Sullivan points to research substantiating the benefits of using the great outdoors to combat mental fatigue.
"The stimulation of being out in nature shifts the focus of a person's sensory receptors, which refreshes the prefrontal cortex," she says, "The findings show that being outside for some time provides attention restoration," a valuable benefit at any meeting.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, an oceanfront resort outside Charleston, SC, the conference sales and service teams understand how the power of the outdoors can be harnessed to create truly effective and memorable team building experiences. As a result, they educate each meeting client on the wide variety of team building activities that are available across Kiawah Island, which was just named "the #1 Island in North America" by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler.
With access to 10 miles of shoreline, plus a kayak landing on a protected riverfront, 30 miles of natural walking and biking trails, two tennis centers, five golf courses and numerous manicured lawns and other spaces set just beyond the resort's indoor meeting facilities, meeting planners can easily find an outdoor location that suits the unique personality of each group. Furthermore, most team building activities can slip seamlessly into a meeting's schedule.
Here are some of the outdoor team building events at Kiawah that can take place in less than 90 minutes:
Expansive pristine lawns with sweeping ocean views frequently host "carnival-style" team building receptions featuring games such as bocce (a form of lawn bowling), corn hole (where players toss beanbags at wooden targets set on the ground) and ladder golf (where players toss two golf balls attached with string at wooden ladders whose rungs have differing point values). Terry Treuting, director of conference services for The Sanctuary, notes that, "When a newer employee or client is partnered with a company executive to play one of these simple, enjoyable games, the value of the activity becomes clear."
At all five clubhouses on property, large practice putting greens can host miniature golf competitions during evening receptions. Even better, this activity works as a fun lunch break for small to mid-sized groups holding meetings inside the Turtle Point, Osprey Point or Ocean Course clubhouses. The Turtle Point Course is also home to the resort's golf school, where small-group instruction among attendees of similar ability allows everyone to learn the skills of golf in a quiet, scenic setting.
Night Golf — where teams of four to six people play two holes on either the Osprey Point or Turtle Point Course — uses glow-in-the-dark golf balls that players hit towards a green illuminated only by glow sticks and moonlight. For experienced golfers as well as those who have never even picked up a golf club, this star-studded activity is challenging and fun.
In these spaces, bicycle-building contests have been hosted, serving two purposes: 1) to get small groups of attendees to work together in a different way and 2) to support local children's charities by donating the finished products.
Other outdoor team building events at Kiawah that occupy between 90 minutes and four hours include:
Walking scavenger hunts that utilize GPS units to guide teams as they traverse the wooded nature trails that crisscross the island.
A bicycle version of the TV show "The Amazing Race." Teams of four to eight people are tasked with riding the nature trails, in search of spots where they will engage in a mental or mildly physical challenge. Upon completion of a task, the group rides on to the next destination and challenge.
A five-minute shuttle ride to the Mingo Point riverside recreational area brings groups to the resort's fleet of kayaks. They can enjoy a leisurely paddle down the river, engage in kayak races or even voyage to a designated location to pick for oysters they'll eat afterwards during a riverside cookout. Barbara Steele, director of conference services for The Villas at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, says that, "Among sales teams, this type of activity really makes an impression that lasts well after they return to their offices."
Groups interested in team building with a charitable or social-responsibility focus can partner with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to spend time building or refurbishing local homes.
Steele notes that, "At Kiawah, each team building activity is customized to a group's demographics plus the larger business objectives they want to achieve. So the meeting's themes will be reinforced through any of these challenges, while people enjoy the unique outdoor environment of our resort."
Kiawah Island Golf Resort, an oceanfront property located just outside Charleston, SC, saw robust demand for its 35,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space in 2014. In fact, group business nationwide was up significantly as the U.S. economy steadily gained momentum. While this is good news for hotels and resorts, it does pose a challenge for meeting planners who must book, coordinate and execute their events on schedule and on budget.
To help you overcome this challenge, Kiawah resort turned to two of its meetings veterans — Marty Couch, director of group sales, and Chris Long, director of midwest sales. Each has spent hundreds of hours interacting with clients over the past year to ensure that their groups would have the most productive and cost-effective meeting possible. Tapping into their observations on the changing landscape of the meetings market, along with their more than 40 years of combined hospitality experience, Couch and Long have compiled their ten top tips for planners coordinating their 2015 meetings and events:
1. Provide specific dates that work for your meeting as well as your desired budget range and any concessions or special arrangements you'll need. "It is not conducive for a property sales person to check, say, a 60-day period for availability," Couch notes. "The more specific your request is tailored — even allowing more than one set of possible dates — the better the value you'll likely receive for your initial proposal. Also, if finding a better-than-usual room rate is your top priority, make that clear from the outset so that all date and space possibilities at the resort can be explored to meet that need."
2. Set clear objectives ahead of time about what you wish to view on site and what you want to accomplish in meetings with resort team members. "Many meeting planners are far too busy to do a site visit and come back later on for a planning visit," says Long. "Prepare for your site visit in much the same way that you prepare for your meetings. You'll complete all your objectives in one visit and ensure that you're confident and at ease when you arrive on site for the event itself."
3. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the property's overall business for the time you are negotiating and don't focus only on the guest room rate. "For instance, if a property gets strong family business in the summer, then even a midweek meeting might have a higher rate for its guest rooms — but the rate for meeting space might be a bit lower," Couch advises. "And be sure to take into consideration the value of the concussions, room upgrades and complimentary items that are included in the entire proposal. Overall value for the total spend should be the ultimate goal."
4. The most effective way to approach AV and other technology is to realize that less is more. Says Long: "When you create more elaborate setups, you require the hotel to block more time out of its meeting and function space and a group tends to use more space than would otherwise be necessary. Limiting your meeting and function space requirements whenever possible is an effective negotiating tool as well." What's more, he points out, "The venue itself will often provide settings — a restaurant, veranda, deck or oceanfront lawn — that requires very little enhancement. This helps you achieve your desired purpose while helping your bottom line,"
5. Provide a history of your meeting's F&B spend and customize the event's banquet menus rather than asking for a flat discount. "If you're specific on F&B spending from past meetings, this allows our conference services team to create realistic options for the planner early in the process — and it allows our staff to get creative too," Couch says. "Kiawah Resort's banquet menus run more than 60 pages long. With all that variety, we can add or subtract different items to meet any budget and still satisfy every attendee."
6. Change the schedule for certain food offerings to save money. Long's suggestions: "Move granola bars from breakfast to the mid-morning break. Skip dessert at lunch and offer it as the afternoon snack item along with beverage service. Move the steak option from the dinner menu to the lunch menu, where it can be a smaller cut."
7. Maximize the use of locally sourced food products to make a deeper impression on attendees. At Kiawah Resort, various fruits, vegetables and even grits that are served to groups come from local farms, while warm-water fish such as mahi, striped bass, tuna, swordfish and wreck fish are caught right in the area. "Using local ingredients and local recipes for them provides an interesting story and a memorable meal for attendees," Long says.
8. Spell out your objectives for these events to the conference services team, who knows how to use the property's various features and offerings to achieve those objectives. "At Kiawah, we have so much outdoor space - not just manicured areas and ocean beaches, but also forest trails and riverfront landings - that we can offer activities planners wouldn't even know were possible," says couch. And for those groups who want to experience the charm and history of nearby Charleston, Kiawah's in-house DMC, Adventures in Charleston, has an impressive list of possibilities that provide attendees with a group experience they will talk about for years.
9. Collecting post-event data and opinions from attendees at a few intervals is critical to understanding which elements of the meeting resonated with them. "Send electronic surveys to attendees one week after the meeting, eight weeks after the meeting and 16 weeks after the meeting, to see how they have retained key concepts and have applied them to their work," Couch suggests. "Keep the questions short (allot five minutes max to complete the survey) and show at the bottom of the screen the percentage of the survey that's been completed to that point. This way, people know they're making progress on it and they won't opt out if another task comes up in that moment."
10. Actively seek the final group spending figures from the property's accounting department in the areas of guest rooms, attrition penalties, AV/technology, formal F&B, discretionary attendee beverage spend, spa and other recreational activities and any other area of usage. "This information helps in two ways," Couch says. "It lets the organization determine if the benefits of its meeting were worth the costs and it gives the planner a detailed history of that meeting to use to negotiate the next one."
By following these ten tips, your 2015 meeting or event will set a new gold standard for the coming years.
So many factors determine how well attendees learn and perform at meetings. Some are strictly within the individual's control, such as getting enough rest and mental preparation. As the event planner, you can help maximize attendee performance on two key fronts — 1) food and beverage planning and 2) effective session scheduling.
Food (and drinks) can have a significant impact on physical and mental functioning. Many popular meal and refreshment choices can actually set back attendee performance. These choices include more than the obvious "guilty pleasure" of foodies, candy bars and sugary sodas. High-carbohydrate main dishes like pasta, starchy sides like potatoes and heavy sauces can create mental sluggishness. Even too much salt can bring on drowsiness by constricting the blood vessels and slowing the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Of course you want to reward attendees for their hard work with "treats" throughout the day so — together with your conference services manager — you can select food and beverage options that are tempting, tasty AND beneficial to attendee performance. Substitute fruits and whole-grain breads for pastries. Spices can replace sauces to bring flavor to main dishes. Side dishes such as quinoa, chickpeas, succotash or vegetables sautéed in healthy oils are all better options than potatoes.
Andrea Sullivan, president of the employee performance firm BrainStrength Systems, notes that making such healthy menu alterations will make a real difference in performance. For a morning session, she says, "I wake up two hours ahead of the meeting and have an energy bar. One hour before, I have yogurt with blueberries. On the whole, you want balance in your protein and carbohydrates. That balance will bring about a good mental state."
What about caffeine? The latest scientific thought is that it has a stimulative effect to a point, but consumption beyond that will cause people to crash. Sullivan suggests, "Perhaps planners don't offer unlimited coffee throughout a meeting, or at least inform people of the amount of coffee that will pep them up — but not set them back — later in the session." Planners could also recommend tea an an option, which delivers the caffeine attendees crave, but is absorbed at a slower rate to extend the feeling of wakefulness.
Getting your attendees on-board is a great idea too. You can address the group by saying, "There is a strategy in place regarding our food choices for the next few days. They were made so you can be at your best throughout our event." This statement invites attendees to reflect on how food consumption affects them and gives them an appreciation for your efforts.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC, the conference services team works closely with every meeting planner to ensure that the menu will deliver top performance, as well as superior variety and flavor. Terry Treuting, director of catering and conference services, notes that "sometimes a group wants healthy foods regardless of whether they are locally sourced. But other times, they specifically ask for local foods, which lets us tell attendees an interesting story about what they're eating".
When it comes to scheduling, it's actually the time in between the sessions that's crucial to maximize attendee performance. A planner can keep people alert not only with the right food and beverage served during the breaks, but also with some mild physical exertion in the form of a game, contest or other team building exercise.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, meetings that take place at the East Beach Conference Center — as well as the four large golf clubhouses across the property — have outdoor decks for attendees to get some fresh air and refuel. The clubhouses also have practice greens just steps from the meeting space, allowing for a putt-putt competition during meeting breaks that gets attendees moving around.
At The Sanctuary — Kiawah's 255-room five star hotel with two ballrooms, seven large breakout rooms, plus an ocean view lawn — Treuting will arrange brisk beach walks during meeting breaks to reinvigorate attendees and make the event more memorable.
Even The Spa at Kiawah Island Golf Resort can contribute to the cause. Treuting often coordinates neck-and-shoulder massage stations in meeting break areas. After sitting so long, tense-muscled attendees will be very grateful for the moment of bliss and relaxation. It's just one more way Kiawah can help maintain attendee wellness and performance, and ensure that the return on investment for every meeting is maximized.
Over the past five years, meeting planners have faced a serious challenge within the events they coordinate: Nearly every attendee has a smartphone or tablet, and is not hesitant to use it at any time — even during meeting sessions.
The discussion among planners regarding this situation usually focuses on how to keep attendees' attention from being siphoned off by their email, LinkedIn, Facebook and other online options. But does any planner dare attempt to ban smartphones or tablets in meeting rooms? That seems to be a hopeless proposition, and one that could actually trigger aggravation among attendees. Of course, this would not be a good thing for the meeting's effectiveness.
There is, however, another way to go about handling this problem — a way that would actually benefit the attendee, the meeting planner and the organization hosting the meeting. That would be to embrace the technology rather than fight it, by connecting major elements of the meeting to attendees' smartphones and tablets, then promoting the use of those tools to make the meeting more vibrant and useful to attendees.
Meeting-specific apps are one option. They can be either off-the-shelf or customized to an organization's unique event needs, although the higher-priced customized apps only make sense for organizations whey they are used for multiple meetings over time. But these apps do a lot: from event registration to personalized session scheduling to meeting-content storage to hosting icebreaker games that take place during an in-person networking event, these apps have evolved in the past few years to make planners' logistical and content-related tasks much easier.
Then there are Internet-based outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and many others, which can be used to enhance the quality of a meeting. This is done not just by preparing attendees beforehand and then letting them continue their interactions afterwards, but also by affecting the meeting as it's happening.
For instance, encouraging attendees to make comments and post photos to event-specific pages or promoting hashtags about the topics being discussed in meeting sessions — even while the sessions are still in progress — allows attendees to learn from each other, not just from the presenter. What's more, this real-time communication gives the planner instant feedback that can be used to adapt the meeting's content. By moving the discussion in the direction attendees want on a moment's notice, attendees learn more about their desired topics and thus are more satisfied with the meeting.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC, veteran conference services manager Terry Treuting sees an emerging technological trend among meetings taking place at her facility, The Sanctuary. A 255-room luxury hotel with sweeping ocean views, The Sanctuary hosts upscale meetings ranging from 10 to 200 attendees.
Treuting finds that attendees are increasingly bringing into meetings not only smartphones, but also 10-inch tablets as well as 7-inch mini-tablets. In fact, some organizations are purchasing tablets or mini-tablets en masse and distributing them to attendees for use in meetings.
"I assume that the issue revolves around the desire for a larger screen, and we have seen a few groups in recent months come into the meeting space with tablets for everyone," Treuting says. "The phone screen does not seem big enough to be of use for more than a few minutes in a meeting, but the tablets are also small enough to be easy to carry. So the tablets are a natural choice when the meeting's host wants attendees to use a personal digital device during part of a conference."
For instance, Treuting recalls two incentive groups — each with about 25 attendees — that came in with tablets for everyone and then conducted some of the educational portion of their agenda by using the tablets as the presentation medium. In each case, an executive in the company's home office conducted a presentation that leveraged proprietary information from the firm's internal servers, moving it through an encrypted Internet connection to each tablet.
This also allowed the physical set-up of the meeting room to be nontraditional — after all, it was not necessary for attendees to face a common projection screen or LCD panel. As a result, the comfort and interaction of attendees was enhanced, while AV costs were actually less than previous meetings. "The AV budget usually is the first to get squeezed during the meeting-planning process. Purchasing tablets for seminars can be a cost-effective — and environmentally friendly — solution," Treuting says. Another benefit: These incentive participants got to take the tablets home as part of their gift package. Then again, an organization could collect the tablets at the end of a meeting for reuse at the next one, enhancing the ROI of the purchase.
With the flexibility that this technology offers, Treuting envisions that more groups will opt to go to the tablet option, not just at The Sanctuary but also at KIGR's other meeting facilities: The 7,000-square-foot East Beach Conference Center, plus the sizable meeting spaces at several golf clubhouses across the island.
Given that KIGR presently offers at least 40 Mbps of bandwidth for meetings — enough for roughly 100 people to be connected to a streamed presentation via personal digital devices — the option for tablet use is now top of mind among Treuting and the entire KIGR conference services team as they partner with group clients to build the most productive meeting possible.
Despite constant advances in technology, there is only so much that the electronic medium can do for organizations. Maximizing learning and productivity among employees, or communicating and building trust with clients, requires face-fl-face connections. To make sure in-person meetings reach their full potential, planners encourage greater understanding and bonding among participants by creating activities and events that go beyond formal educational and discussion sessions.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR) — an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC — the conference sales and services team understand that memorable networking experiences are a huge driver of participant satisfaction, and a strong contributor to meeting ROI.
Given their deep expertise, KIGR's conference staffers are able to provide planners with a wide variety of activities so that each group's specific objective for networking, team building and bonding are met. What's more, the unique natural setting of KIGR — on a barrier island with abundant unspoiled forest as well as panoramic coastal views — allows for events that are truly unique.
For instance, one of the most popular half-day activities is a variation of the TV show The Amazing Race. Teams of four to eight people are tasked with bicycling the nature paths that crisscross the island. At each location, they will engage in a mental or mildly physical challenge. Upon completion of a task, the group rides to the next destination and challenge. Barbara Steele, the Director of Conference Services for the Villas at KIGR, notes that the activity can last from 90 minutes to four hours, and "each excursion is customized to a group's demographics, plus the larger business objective they want to achieve. So the meeting's themes are reinforced through the challenges, while people are enjoying the outdoor together."
For the more adventurous groups, a five-minute shuttle ride to Mingo Point — a riverside recreation area — brings them to the resort's fleet of kayaks. The task: paddle to a designated location and pick for oysters, then return to Mingo Point and enjoy a seafood cookout. Steele says that "among hard-driving sales teams, this type of activity really makes a lasting impression that leaves them inspired long after they have returned to their office."
Of course, KIGR offers a slew of more genteel activities that let colleagues simply relax as they get to know one another on a deeper level. At both The Ocean Course Clubhouse and The Sanctuary, huge manicured lawns with sweeping ocean views host team building receptions on a regular basis. The games offered during these "carnival style" receptions include corn hole, where players toss beanbags at wooden targets at ground level, and ladder golf, where players toss two golf balls attached with string at wooden ladders whose rungs have different point values. "When a newer employee or client is partnered with a company executive to play one of these simple games, the value of the activity becomes clear," Steele notes.
Given the top-notch reputation of KIGR's golf offerings, it's a sure thing that golf-related team building activities are among the most popular for meeting groups. All five golf clubhouses have large practice putting greens that can host miniature-golf competitions complimented by cocktail and buffet stations. What's more, golf can be used even after the sun goes down. Night golf is an activity where teams of four to six people play two holes of the golf course, hitting glow-in-the-dark golf balls towards each green that is illuminated only by glow sticks and moonlight. For experienced golfers as well as those who have never even picked up a golf club, this star-studded activity is truly memorable.
For meeting groups that want their networking activities to have a charitable or social-responsibility component, KIGR offers several options. Groups can team up with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to spend a day building or refurbishing local homes. Alternatively, groups can have a bicycle-building competition among several teams of attendees, and then donate their finished products to a local charity for underprivileged children. If a group has only an hour or two to spare, they can pack supply bags for members of the armed services presently stationed overseas, while enjoying refreshments and an ocean view.
Gathering people in one location facilitates the ability to share not only their knowledge with each, but new experiences as well. This builds the type of trust, goodwill and camaraderie among colleagues with which meetings simply cannot compete!
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.