Today’s meetings professionals, by and large, recognize the value of adding recreation and team building components to meetings, conventions, and social events.
Attendees appreciate the opportunity to get out of the monotony of daily business activity, and recreation is often one of the most powerful tools for building relationships.
In today’s climate, destination marketing professionals are finding meeting planners are increasingly looking for recreation “experiences.”
Karen DiCarlo, director of event services and catering with Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, noted the right experience can be the make or break element for a meeting planner’s final choice. “I think back to the ‘priceless’ ad campaign by American Express and how effective that was because that is really what everyone is looking for,” she said. “You can have two different destinations offer the same activity, but the more memorable one will be the destination that can connect that activity to something more emotional or meaningful to that person.”
Marty Couch, director of sales with Kiawah Island Golf Resort, noted groups are also looking for a wide range of recreation options, both for team building and general rest and relaxation.
“In the COVID-19 era, that has only increased as meeting planners, just like leisure travelers, are looking for properties with a lot of open spaces, opportunities for seclusion, and activities that naturally promote social distancing,” he said. “Industry surveys cite amenities such as beaches, open spaces, low density, golf, and nature activities, along with reputation for cleanliness and sanitation as top-of-mind in selecting destinations.”
John Cannon, president of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail concurred, emphasizing that current trends point to limited indoor time.
“In addition to the safety aspects, this creates a more casual feeling and helps facilitate team building and strategic planning,” he said. “Since golf easily promotes social distancing, our golf facilities and hotels are well-suited for this trend.”
Golf—A meeting planner’s mainstay
Golf will forever be a staple activity when it comes to building relationships, DiCarlo asserted, whether it is with an organization’s internal teams or clients.
“I do not see that changing anytime soon. I think we have tried to make it more inclusive and an activity that more people feel comfortable to go out and try,” she said, adding there are more ‘non-golfers’ willing to try the game through a less competitive approach such as glow-in-the dark putting contests or chipping into fountains.
Ryan Weber, PGA golf sales manager with Sea Island Resort, said the game of golf itself continues to evolve, most recently with greater use of technology.
“Instead of talking about draws and club paths, golfers are talking about moment of inertia, spin axis, and dynamic loft,” he explained.
In response to this trend, Sea Island recently opened a new state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center.
“With our new golf simulators, we are now able to bring the golf course into the meeting room as an alternative to having meetings on the golf course,” Weber added.
When it comes to relationship building, Couch suggested very few activities compare to golf. “Many business deals bloom from conversations started on the course during a round, and many corporations arrange incentive trips involving golf at some of the best courses in the country to motivate their teams to strive toward company goals and objectives throughout the year,” he said. “These concepts are not new, but they are still as effective as they have always been.”
Recreation: Evolving expectations
It is not just a variety of recreation experiences that keep groups coming back, but it is the quality of those offerings, Cannon noted.
“From updating greens to significant course design updates, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail continues to evolve and improve,” he said of the trail’s 26 courses in 11 locations in Alabama.
It’s why The New York Times has called the Trail “some of the best public golf on earth” and the Wall Street Journal said the Trail “may be the best bargain in the country.”
Especially within the parameters of the current pandemic, Couch said groups want assurances resorts are taking safety and health of guests and employees seriously and are following best practices.
“Kiawah Island Golf Resort partnered with a team of infectious disease experts from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to develop its operational protocols specific to each part of the resort,” he said.
Looking ahead, Weber believes that groups will continue looking for fun and innovative challenges while staying safe.
“Luckily, golf meets this need along with other outdoor recreation activities,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are looking for a unique memorable experience.”