MAY 2018

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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⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ M A Y 2 0 1 8 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 24 RESORT MEETINGS Park. "We were founded on the healing thermal mineral water and the Arlington offers twin cascading swimming pools, covered moun- tain-side hot tub and full spa services with natural mineral water." In tandem with a focus on R&R, Levine said that groups are also ramping up exercise and physical activity options. "Morning races are still alive and well but the array of physical activities that groups are now offering is im- pressive," he said. "These activities encourage more participation and less stress for the entire group." Local Flavors/Impressive Food Display When it comes to food trends, Tom Winters, director of operations and audience experience events with Randall-Reilly in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said that healthier meal options and local farm- to-table cuisine is the new expectation. Baker agreed, emphasizing "fresh, fresh, fresh and diverse but specific to a region." He added that assorted beverage options are necessary with a balance of healthy, local or regional options, if available. "Farm-to-table, light and fresh offerings with interaction by the chef are key to a productive meeting," he said. In addition to heavy focus on "local" cuisine, Bullock suggested that the culinary acumen of a destination can be a make-or-break element for many groups and savvy meeting planners know that nothing pleases, delights and unites like food. "If the food is not right, meeting planners hear about it from attendees long after the program is over. Menu customization is the new norm," he said, adding that presentation is increasingly im- portant. "Food served in a banquet environment must be vividly three-dimensional. The presenta- tion must be impeccable, quality is a requirement and healthy is what's happening today in the kitchen." McDonald noted that she looks for venues that incorporate superb, healthy food options with added excitement. "I think people want to have more of an experience in regard to food," she said. "It's great when they can see the process, whether it is the making of ice cream, pasta from dough or sushi." Experiential While traditional activities such as golf, beaches and shopping are still meeting essen- tials, many groups are reaching beyond these offerings to add adventure and experiential elements. For instance, McDonald said that she likes to incorporate a local experience that draws on the uniqueness of an area. Bullock also pointed to "experience" as a key element for groups, noting that attendees are looking to be immersed in a destination in a healthy way, as opposed to being confronted with information sessions all day long. "While the structure of a meeting at Streamsong can be as diverse as our client base, a trend has emerged where a portion of attendee education and networking is shifting from formal meet- ing spaces and moving to outdoor locations throughout the resort," he said, pointing to the availability of 16,000 acres. "Requests to have breakouts on patios, pavilions and green spaces, as well as team-'melding' activities on the golf course, the putting green or on the lake or becoming commonplace." Levine said that groups are also looking for opportunities to give back or leave something positive behind. "Now more than ever, it seems that groups are genuinely more philanthropic and expect that the resort has significant rela- tionships with local charities," he said. McDonald added that many Clayton Homes' events incorporate a learning experience, some type of "hands-on" activity not necessarily related to the organization's core business. Family Focus Meeting attendees continue to mix business with pleasure at resort meetings, often bringing families and staying two or three nights either before or after a conference, said Levine. "The resorts that are able to maintain the serenity of their property, while still catering to younger families are proving it to be a successful busi- ness model," he said. "Dive-in movies, outdoor activities on property, unique food and bever- age options, and creative packages to extend the stay are all results of resorts responding to this type of demand and trying to capture a greater length of stay." Baker said that resorts are wise to plan and coordinate "family events" as if the partic- ipants were relatives. "Flexibility in space, privacy and access to entertainment and Resort Trends at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.: Family time spent exploring the property and beautiful outdoor settings for group functions, such as the courtyard. Photos courtesy Omni Grove Park Inn

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