MAY 2017

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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M A Y 2 0 1 7 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 27 RESORT MEETINGS Boards of Accountancy, who chose the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. for a recent event. "Resort properties often offer groups a nice mix of meeting and networking space with the splendor of above-average amenities and culinary experiences," she said. "My baseline expectations for considering a resort for an event include high-quality amenities for my guests, guest rooms with amazing views, and quality food and beverage programs that concentrate on local, fresh flavors." Russ pointed out that Circle K has some baseline expectations when considering any resort property: professionalism of the team, quick response, full-service offerings, state-of- the-art technology, food quality and a high level of service. Much of the same proved true for Selva Rajah, meeting and convention planner for Educational Funding Company, a leading billing, financial, software and consulting firm for fitness, martial arts and health-related businesses. For the orga- nization's annual Mpower International Associa- tion Summit, a martial arts training and teaching conference, Rajah said that space, staff and meals are the three most important factors in choosing a resort destination. He chose B Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., following his experience with the property at a different gathering. "The staff was very friendly and nice. They play a vital role," he said, noting an unexpected addition to the event's budget. "We had a cock- tail party that they hosted on their account for the entire group. It was a surprise because that would have cost me between $8,000 and $9,000." Staff relationships bring RLI Insurance's business and incentive meeting back to Margar- itaville Key West Resort & Marina each year, according to Paul Simoneau, vice president of casualty brokerage. In fact, it's become an ex- pectation of the event typically involving 30 to 35 professionals. He pointed out that low staff turnover at the resort has allowed the organiza- tion to develop a long-term association that is characterized by staff having deep knowledge of the group's expectations and needs. Plus, a full array of amenities and the resort's location within walking distance of great entertainment are pluses. "Most groups look for resorts that are easily accessible, in a desirable location and offer a range of amenities — and all groups want ► NEW & OLD EXPERIENCES Are "In" For Resort Groups In a crowded marketplace, resorts must continually evolve to stand out among their competition. New offerings and new experiences help properties stay fresh and relevant. Here are some ways resort groups are breaking through the noise. At a recent event hosted by Circle K convenience stores, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort went the extra mile to help bring in a major artist for a performance. Sponsored by a leading beer company, the large-scale event was a first of its kind for the property. "They were amazing at working through the de- tails with our company, the beer company, and the musician's agent and road crew," said Shawna Russ, brand manager with Circle K convenience stores, pointing out that the outdoor concert even required getting special permission from local residents due to noise. "It turned out amazing. They are pros at this now and we breezed right through the set up." Shelby Schuler, director of sales with St. Joe Club & Resorts noted that the teams at The Pearl Hotel and WaterColor Inn & Resort continually identify and bring to life new experiences for guests. "At The Pearl Hotel, the storyline of our Cuban and Hemmingway heritage is bringing together cultural cook- ing classes, rum tastings and interactive experiences geared to guiding our guests through the notes of the hotel and surprises around every turn," she said. "We are striving to be more of a lifestyle hotel experience rather than just an accommodation. Whether this is scheduling a rooftop yoga class or our signature cocktail class, we want you to take a memory with you that is unique to our location." She added that the intimate size of both properties allows for the creation of truly authentic experiences such as an off-site Live Painting Demo from one of the area's most recognized artists, Justin Gaffrey, or a WaterColor Beach Bonfire, complete with roasting marshmallows for s'mores on sugar-white sand beaches. Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina customizes experiences for groups by creatively leveraging the tools available to them, said Jackie Herbst, director of group sales. For instance, the marina offers the unique advantage of waterfront venues and creative programming, and the resort's culinary and conference staff work together to create authentic, local food and beverage experiences, such as a buffet of indigenous fish and produce staged on the pier to include a Whole Fish Grouper Taco Carving Station. Ashley Layton, CMP, CMM, senior meeting planner with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, said her organization's most unique experiences at the Omni Grove Park Inn revolved around the food program. "The resort worked with us to create custom culinary experiences that reflected the flavors of North Carolina. We hosted events at the golf course clubhouse on property as well as on the terrace overlooking the mountains during an amazing sunset," she said. "Our closing reception featured a Southern-inspired menu that was paired with a variety of local beverages and our entire program focused on local flavors including fresh peach cobbler with creamy local-made ice cream." Slated to open this summer, the Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa will offer many unique excursions and team-building oppor- tunities from horseback riding on the beach to motorized kayak tours of the Indian River Lagoon, pristine mangroves and spoil islands, Major League spring training games, Segway tours of the quaint downtown wa- terfront, surf lessons and deep-sea fishing. n WaterColor Inn & Resort

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