Grand Geneva, on Wisconsin's Lake Geneva, Provides the Gracious Setting Organized by Jerry Schmidt, CMP, Trustmark Insurance, along with Gary Pearson of AON and a planner and supplier design team, the Great Lakes Regional ICPA Meeting once again set the standard, with its mix of educational sessions and social/networking events. This year also set an attendance record, with 20 planners and 30 suppliers making the trip to Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis.

For first-timers, the event was an eye-opener. "It's the best meeting I ever attended, because of the interaction and the networking," says Terri McClaire, who handles the insurance market as sales manager for Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wis. "I will definitely continue to attend regional meetings."

Audrey Raclaw, BCS Insurance, Chicago, another first-timer. says, "With a regional meeting, you get to know everyone quickly. The networking, and exchanging ideas and opinions, made it very worthwhile."

The smaller size of the meeting is seen as a benefit by planners and suppliers alike. "Everyone is much less inhibited in a smaller group setting, which allows people to be themselves and creates an informal and comfortable atmosphere," says Jack Gage, director of incentive and insurance sales at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

First-timer Susan Frei also praised the atmosphere of the meeting. "I walked away feeling rejuvenated," says Frei, the Fairfax, Va.-based manager, U.S. insurance meetings and incentive sales, for the Canadian Tourism Commission. "The content was great and I made new contacts, not just on the planner side but with suppliers as well."

Frei was part of a panel discussion on taking meetings outside of the U.S. "I talked about exchange rates, customs, rebate opportunities, accessibility, ease of entry, and general information about meeting in Canada," she explains.

Cooking and Conversation ICPA Board member Brett Barrowman, American Fidelity Group, Oklahoma City, says, "The regional concept is a good one if you have good people. It takes people - like Jerry and Gary - to make it happen."

Barrowman was particularly interested in the panel discussion about hotel advisory boards. "That was beneficial because I'm often trying to figure out why I'm being asked to attend various advisory councils or fams," he says. "Is it because of past business? Future business? Building a relationship? And what is an advisory council? One that meets on a regular basis and really has input with management?"

Those were some of the questions hashed out by the planner audience and the supplier panel, which was made up of representatives from Grand Geneva (Marcus), Hilton Hotels Corp., Hyatt Hotels Corp., Krisam, KSL Recreation Corp., Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

The regional event had its share of social activities, too, including a teambuilding event in the kitchen of Grand Geneva's Brissago restaurant that was a favorite among attendees. Divided into groups, attendees made one evening's dinner - from scratch. "The team cooking was a blast," says second-time attendee Rondi Doyle, Royal Neighbors of America, Rock Island, Ill., whose group whipped up some tiramisu. "I can't believe we actually made that food." Barrowman enjoyed the cooking event so much he's thinking of doing it with one of his high-end meetings.

The next evening's dinner was also a highlight - held aboard Grand Geneva's ship Louise. The ship was re-christened the S.S. Broadmoor for the occasion, because the evening was sponsored by the Colorado resort, site of this year's ICPA Annual Meeting. "The Broadmoor sponsored this event to show support to ICPA and to thank those in the insurance industry who have supported The Broadmoor over the years," Jack Gage says. "My management appreciates the opportunity to be involved with ICPA. We believe that relationships are instrumental to our success and we don't ever take our business relationships for granted."

Tell It Like It Is Here's a selection of comments taken from attendees' evaluation sheets:

- "The thinking-out-of-the-box session encouraged a healthy exchange of information and ideas." - Jenny De Borja, Royal Caribbean International/Celebrity Cruises

- "I want to introduce ICPA to my peers and have them join, too." - Karen Doig, Allstate Insurance/IA Markets

- "The intimate scale of the meeting made for wonderful contacts with planners and fellow hospitality partners." - Grant Snider, JPdL Destination Management, Montreal

- "It was a good opportunity to get exposure to the `state of the industry' when it comes to Advisory Boards." - Larry Luteran, VP Industry Relations, Hilton Hotels

- "Should have a panel of meeting planners. Too much emphasis on hospitality partners." - Anonymous

Okay, so you can't please all the people all the time. Still, as Jerry Schmidt says, "It's not bad for a regional meeting that started nine years ago with six people at the Hyatt Deerfield."