Religious meeting planners traditionally have not placed resort properties on their list of potential venues for meetings. The typical barrier to considering resorts has been, and continues to be, that of perception: concern that the venue might be perceived as being too expensive or luxurious — even if it isn't.
Focusing on that obstacle, however, obscures the fact that resorts can be an outstanding option for, offering facilities that lend themselves well to achieving meeting goals and objectives.
Benefits in Abundance
Resorts offer religious meetings a wide range of potential benefits. Here are some of the most important.
Resorts can help attendance because they are attractive. Put yourself in the shoes of your attendees: Would you rather attend a meeting at an amenity-laden, fun-filled resort, or at a downtown hotel surrounded by concrete?
Terry Dittmer, director of youth ministry, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, St. Louis, can attest to the power of resorts. He organized a family festival at a Florida resort outside Orlando. The event was a great success.
“It was the perfect place,” he says. “It was July, and it was hot, but the things families liked — swimming pools, for example — were just what the doctor ordered.”
The resort also provided ample space for general sessions, workshops for adults, programs for children and teens, and daycare for young children, he says.
Resorts also can boost attendance for other types of meetings as well. Resort settings enable attendees to bring their families. While one member of the family is at meetings, the rest of the clan is at the beach.
This is where resorts really shine. Lists of amenities at many resorts go on for pages and pages, and those amenities can make it easier to market a meeting, says Danny Jones, director of Adult Enrichment Events for Lifeway Christian Resources, Nashville, Tenn.
Jones plans about 15 couples retreats annually, and resorts are becoming the venue of choice. And amenities are a big reason.
Resort amenities allow him to build meetings that balance general sessions and breakouts with memorable and invigorating leisure activities — the types of activities that couples with children seldom, if ever, have the opportunity to enjoy.
Swimming, hiking, and golf are standard activities for couples retreats, and Jones is exploring the possibility of resort venues that offer “extreme” sports such as rock-climbing, parachuting, and whitewater rafting.
- Self-contained campuses
Resorts also score big points because all the facilities — meeting rooms, special-event venues, and leisure activities — are within the same complex.
This makes it easy for attendees to get around. “It was pretty hard to get lost,” Dittmer says of the family conference he planned at an Orlando resort.
A resort's self-contained campus can save on ground transportation costs, if you're comparing the resort to a locale where you have to move attendees off-site for special events.
Value is a word that's used repeatedly when planners discuss resorts. If you're a savvy planner, there are plenty of deals to be had at resorts.
“If the resort has an off season, there is often a financial advantage,” Dittmer says. “We did a youth workers conference in Phoenix in July. It was hot, but that wasn't an issue for our clients. We programmed for times when it was hot outside and left mornings free, when it was cooler for outdoor activities.
Just as downtown hotels, resorts have shoulder and off-peak seasons, and you can take advantage of those opportunities. With resorts, the off-seasons might correspond well with when you want to hold your meetings.
One area in which some resorts hold a cost advantage is their large number of double-double rooms, Dittmer says. As a result, planners can sleep more attendees in fewer rooms.
Even if a resort comes in a little higher in price than a downtown or suburban property, Jones feels that they are worth it. “They may cost more, but they offer more,” he says.
- Achieving objectives
All the benefits are great, but they don't mean anything if the resort doesn't help you achieve your meeting's goals and objectives. Planners who use resorts say they can score high on that scale, too.
Danny Jones says that the goal for couples retreats often is to achieve a higher level of communication and intimacy. Resorts help in that regard because they provide a relaxing environment that puts attendees at ease and opens their hearts and minds to new information and perspectives.
The same is true for board meetings or staff retreats, those meetings where attendees are trying to dream of new ministry opportunities or new ways of doing things. The resort setting is conducive to creativity.
“A resort setting changes your whole environment and possibly opens you up to new ideas,” Jones says.
And, strangely enough, the work that's done at a resort doesn't feel like heavy lifting. “The pace will seem more relaxed at a resort, even if the program is the same as at a downtown property,” says Danny Treece, a meeting planner for The United Methodist Church and Jubilee Resource Ministries, Charlotte, N.C.
As a meeting planner, you might know that a resort fits your meeting's goals and objectives better than any other type of property, but how do you convince those within your organization who believe that a resort is too luxurious?
Treece says it's all about education, and when the education process is thorough, the facts speak for themselves.
As part of educating people within your organization, it's important to list all the pros and cons of the resort. Also, keep the meeting's goals and objectives at the forefront, linking them to the resort's offerings.
When our clients see that we have gotten a $79 rate at a four-star resort, “they know that it's a good deal,” Dittmer explains. “We're happy because we have a quality property at a reasonable cost. And our clients are happy because they feel at least a little pampered, even if all they did was go swimming in the resort pool.”
Resorts: New Idea for You?
If you're a meeting planner who has never used resorts, heed the following advice:
Before visiting properties, carefully define your meeting objectives, and visualize what you want your meeting to look and feel like.
On your site visits, does the property feel like you want your event to feel?
Convey your dream for the event to the resort staff. Let them dream with you, and allow the planning to be a collaborative, creative effort.
Does the resort lend itself to the experiential? Does it exude awe and inspiration?
Negotiate price on room, banquet, menus, and incidental costs, like specific amenities. Don't pay for amenities that your group won't be using.
If you're going in the off season, know what kinds of options there are and what the weather will be like. Don't allow yourself to be surprised when it's 120 degrees in Phoenix in July.
Communicate your menu needs to the resort staff. If you're bringing a youth group, create a menu filled with good, modestly priced, teen-friendly foods.