2018 is well underway and we are in the midst of assisting planners with their upcoming off-site meetings at Airlie. This process always invites reflection and thought regarding how the impetus has changed in both the short and long term. What are the long-term reasons for hosting an off-site? What program elements are planners focusing on? How has the global climate affected the planning focus or concerns of the organization? Read on to learn more about the trends and themes we’re seeing through the eyes of our planners.
Teambuilding; 2018 Style
While teambuilding continues to be a focus for planners, the format has continued to evolve over time. Years ago, groups would embark on multi-day wilderness-based expeditions incorporating a host of problem-solving skills.
“As budgets and time have been minimized, planners and facilitators have adjusted programming to fit accordingly,” said Sara Smith, co-CEO and director of Inner Quest, a team building organization founded in 1971. “It is important for the group planner to indentify their desired outcome of the exercise, whether it be a faciltated event with a clear objective; or more of a social event to inspire team bonding. Both types of programs hold value.”
“Team building should not be one size fits all,” Smith said. “Groups choose a venue like Airlie for the variety and versatility of options. As facilitators, our job is to present a program that complements, energizes, and enhances the meeting experience.”
Sarah also placed an emphasis on communication between the facilitator and the venue as imperative when incorporating a team building event.
“At Inner Quest, we do our best to have a seamless transition from beginning to end with the Airlie team,” Smith said. “From the sales staff, to conference planners, to our facilitators, we keep the communication flowing to ultimately create the experience the client is looking for. Not only regarding the details of the team building program but also the logistics of the meeting as a whole including on-site location of meeting space and activity, meal times, breaks, special needs, and more.”
I also asked Sarah about what types of programs are gaining in popularity. “We’re seeing a return to exercises which foster human interaction, mainly focusing on creativity and collaboration. Competition-based programs continue to be popular, especially Olympic-themed activities. Groups also have been interested in activities with a charitable focus. The key to all of these is keeping the time frame ‘short,’ which has a different meaning for each group, but typically in the 2-4 hour range.”
Sara’s questions for planners to ask themselves when considering a team building exercise:
- What is the desired outcome of the team building program?
- Are you looking to add team building as a component of a larger meeting or is it the sole focus?
- Do you want an indoor or outdoor program?
- How many hours do you want to dedicate to team building?
- Where does team building fit into the schedule, beginning, middle, or end of the retreat?
- Will participants be dressed for physical activity, or are you looking for something less physical but still challenging?
- Are you looking for activities where participants are working in small teams or in a more free environment?
Technology and Audio Visual
According to Successful Meetings’ annual survey, keeping up with the evolution of meetings technology was the most important issue for running effective meetings in 2018, cited by 65% of planners. Audio/Visual capabilities are just the tip of the iceberg. The 2018 focus is not necessarily on how technology provides the vehicle for consumable content, but how it enhances the content and drives engagement as a result. Setting clear objectives for the meeting and considering the needs of the audience will assist in planning and budgeting for technology needs. At Airlie, we contract with the AV Company to ensure we are offering the latest and greatest in tech to our planners. Further, we have a full-time AV Company staffer on our team to lead AV operations, meet with clients throughout the planning process, and of course troubleshoot – because as hospitality veterans, we know things happen!
Focus Factor: Unique Venue
According to the 2018 AmEx Meetings Forecast, “hoteliers worldwide predict an increase of almost 4% in the demand for non-traditional meeting facilities.” The report contines, “While the complexity of meetings and events might be growing, meeting planners are excited about the ‘unique’ factor.” At Airlie, we hear from our planners that the choice of venue has a lot to do with attendee engagement. Of course, the host location must have the ability to provide and service basic conference needs such as ample space, a/v, food and beverage, and sleeping rooms; but beyond those elements lies the underlying essential element of inspiration. Choosing a unique off-site venue where attendees can truly focus on the purpose of the meeting will ignite creativity, foster openness, and equate to a higher return on investment for the long term. At Airlie, we have heard consistently over the years that the reason for choosing our venue has been the element of focus. Once you’re here, you’re here – the distractions of returning to the office for a bit, running an errand, or even going home at night – don’t exist. The focus is on the task at hand. The architecture of our grounds lends itself to a village, with meandering paths, waterways and numerous buildings dotting the landscape. Many of our meeting rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows to allow natural light and the beauty of the surroundings become a part of the space. Further, we have also been focusing on reinvention of space to ‘up the ante’ on our uniqueness scale. Most recently, we renovated a service garage as a non-traditional meeting or dining space. Lending itself to the style of Airlie’s layout, this new venue, termed “The Market,” features a lakeside location and a large deck to enjoy the view. As a hotelier and veteran destination meeting facility, we feel it is important to give groups what they need to make their meeting a success. In 2018, with a strong watch on budget, companies are closely measuring ROI for meetings, and venue is certainly an important part of the formula.