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Tips from the back of the house.

Resort meeting should be fun to attend--and fun to plan. Here's what resort professionals and others say about setting up a successfull resort meeting.

"A resort is like a house," says Chris Duperre, manager of conference services, Loew's Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Arizona. "We have kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms (the lobby), storage rooms, a laundry room, a front yard, backyard, pools, and so forth."

Yet, at the same time, resorts are also like no house you've ever lived in. Often found in lush settings, they accommodate thousands of residents at one time. Resort facilities can be vast indeed--so vast that back-of-the-house tours entice many guests to explore how their home away from home functions.

"Many find it fascinating to see just how a hotel handles 11,000 pounds of laundry a day, plus many other large-scale daily tasks," Duperre points out.

This kind of behind-the-scenes knowledge isn't a secret. But it's generally not on public display either.

Yet it's precisely the lesser-known aspects of resort management that can make the crucial difference when association executives are planning resort meetings. Knowing how the resort works, what it can accomplish, and what its limitations are can help association executives use facilities to their best advantage.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT talked to resort personnel and to several graduates of ASAE's Hotel Training Program (see sidebar "ASAE's Hotel Training Program") to find out how both sides can work together to create memorable meetings.

A good match

When looking for a resort, make sure your standards are compatible. Every resort seeks to maintain a certain type of reputation. Just as you want the resort to meet your needs, your meeting also has to be compatible with the resort's particular requirements.

"|Conference managers~ want to protect the image of their hotel," observes Linnea J. Noto, director of marketing and advertising, American College of Physician Executives (ACPE), Tampa, Florida, who took ASAE's hotel training course at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"Let's say I was on an extremely limited budget and I wanted bologna sandwiches and potato chips; there are resorts that won't offer that because they have their image to protect."

Before beginning negotiations with a specific resort, make sure its style fits what you have in mind. If it doesn't, either select another property or adjust your requirements to meet those of the resort.

As part of the initial investigation, it helps to be open about the nature of your group. "Meeting planners should share as much as possible about their group with the conference manager," suggests Duperre. He recommends that you inform the resort about

* the general age of your attendees;

* whether they'll bring spouses and children along;

* what activities they might like;

* whether they are well-traveled;

* whether the meeting is an incentive program;

* what attendees' previous destinations have been; and

* the type of program you provided at previous meetings.

"This information will assist the |resort's~ conference manager in planning events, menus, and so forth," notes Duperre. It will also ensure that attendees will have an enjoyable program that won't duplicate previous meeting experiences.

Conference managers also offer some special advice for planners who work on long lead times: Be honest about your need to ensure that the property you inspect is the property at which your attendees will actually be meeting in several years. During Noto's visit to The Broadmoor, for example, the resort's senior vice president of marketing suggested it made sense to put a performance clause in the contract, which specified that "at the 12-month-out mark, if the property isn't properly maintained we have the opportunity to pull the meeting and go elsewhere."

Even though it's not an easy matter to move a meeting, such a clause motivates the resort to make upkeep a priority and to insist on getting a generous maintenance budget from the parent company, Noto points out.

Know what the property has to offer

"The element most overlooked by meeting planners in booking events is integrating the resort experience into the program," observes Edward Allman, director of public affairs, The American Club resort, Kohler, Wisconsin. "Allowing the venue itself to influence the event planning may lead to some very creative meeting concepts."

The first step in getting full use from the resort is to determine exactly what recreational facilities are available.

"It's essential that meeting planners are aware of the options and that they, in turn, pass this on to attendees," says Andrew R. Evans, sales manager, Waterville Valley Resort and Conference Center, Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.

If someone attends a meeting at a resort and isn't aware of the recreational options, he or she is likely to end up disappointed. "We offer a brochure and a checklist planners can send to people of things they should bring. For example, we have a pond and a beach, so people |with children~ may want to bring beach toys."

At many resorts, certain recreational activities require advance arrangements, which makes planning even more essential. "It's important during busy times to make reservations," Evans points out.

For his resort's winter sleigh rides and summer hayrides, for example, he tries to coordinate a pre-arrival sign-up sheet. "The time |of the people attending the meeting~ is more restricted than |that of~ the vacation traveler," explains Evans. "If you're trying to plan your recreation around your meetings, it's important to get your reservations in, because that way you get first option."

When planning a meeting's recreation options, try to go beyond the obvious. A golf club manager that ACPE's Noto spoke with, for example, recommended skill contests for golfers--a chipping or putting contest--rather than a tournament. A contest doesn't require the same amount of time; nor does it take up the entire golf course.

In addition, unless you've booked the entire property, a resort has other guests; meeting attendees may have to adjust to their presence.

Many resort managers also frown on off-site tours and encourage associations to evaluate fully what the resort has to offer. "You can give a weekend or week's worth of entertainment and enjoyment without stepping off the property," says Dana J. Vocate, director of administration, Colorado Bar Association, Denver.

"Leave some time unscheduled," suggests Allman, of The American Club. "Avoid programming every minute, but do provide your guests with the information to make exploring the resort convenient. And advise the attendees of options for extending their stay. Sometimes special extended rates can be arranged for conference participants."

Building a team spirit

A key advantage of meeting at a resort is the opportunity for building a diverse assortment of attendees into a motivated team. Instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel, however, mention this goal to the resort's conference coordinator. Chances are excellent that the resort already has a team-building program--or an arrangement with a local company--to accomplish what you want.

Equinox Hotel and Resort Spa, Manchester, Vermont, uses "a company that can come on the property and do a 'ropes' course, like Outward Bound," says Courtney Lowe, director of sales.

"They also do an exercise where people are presented with a problem, such as crossing a river, where they have to work as a team. They do mind games as well, where you team up in a brainstorming session."

The Waterville Valley Resort and Conference Center uses both its own recreational opportunities and outside companies for team-building exercises. "In terms of bonding situations, we try to keep the people as unified as possible," explains Evans. "For instance, if your meeting breaks at five, we'll reserve 20 horses and they'll all ride together, rather than have them intermingled with vacation travelers."

One of the companies used by Evans's resort conducts a "corporate olympics," a team-building exercise that features such activities as a briefcase toss and a tug-of-war. "It's not based on winning or losing--it's based on playing the game," he notes.

The American Club works with the Sports Core company to provide guests with recreational team-building activities. The first hour includes getting-acquainted activities, including a discus toss, javelin throw, and "The Squeeze," in which each team's circumference is measured with the smallest

being the winner. The program's second hour moves on to more traditional sports--tennis and volleyball--as well as games such as trivia, Pictionary, or a scavenger hunt. With two months' notice, Sports Core can provide team T-shirts and visors.

Negotiating costs

Food and beverage arrangements take center stage when negotiation begins in earnest. The single criterion that should be placed on the table right up front, resort managers say, is money. "Tell the conference manager your budget. Anything can be done custom," says Duperre.

As with recreation opportunities, it's often advantageous to use the resort's expertise. Find out what specialties they have to offer and how creative they can be. Consider, for example, what Noto learned at The Broadmoor.

"The chef said we should just ask, 'What would you like to make for us?' He said, don't be intimidated. Just ask him what he can do for you that's different. Maybe you only want to spend $18.50 |per person~; he can offer you something where the hotel does just fine with their profits and you get the item you want. I've tried that recently," says Noto, "and it feels really comfortable."

Noto learned from The Broadmoor staff to share photos of sample dishes with the kitchen personnel so that both parties would be clear on expectations.

Salespeople may earn commission on food and beverage, a fact that can be useful in negotiating. "For every upgrade they offer, they get some kind of commission," says Marily Mondejar, executive director and chief executive officer, Image Industry Council International, San Francisco. "Knowing that, I felt it can be a bargaining point with the salespeople," says Mondejar, who took ASAE's Hotel Training Program last year.

Building relationships

Working successfully with a resort involves building a relationship with the staff, particularly with the resort's conference planner. "A resort is self-contained, which makes your life much easier because you're dealing with one master account," observes Vocate. "Your conference manager can handle most of the arrangements; no matter what you're doing, you are dealing with one person and not a multitude."

During her week in ASAE's Hotel Training Program, Mondejar says she discovered that even the resort's executives were willing to step in and solve problems.

"The president assured us that it will not offend the salesperson if we call on him," she says. "Rarely does a meeting planner want to go over the salesperson--it's a matter of respect--but there is a chance someone else can help."

Vocate, of the Colorado Bar Association, also emphasizes the importance of developing a clear line of communication with the conference manager, who most likely is juggling numerous meeting accounts. "Let |staff~ know how important something is. Say, 'Can you get back to me today or tomorrow?' See if you can do some things by fax.

"I was getting very frustrated with not getting calls back as soon as I thought I should, and developing that clear line of communication with my conference manager has been very helpful."

Resort conference managers are proud of their properties and want to help association executives make their meetings memorable, enjoyable, and productive. "The way that both the planner and property can have a win-win situation," says Vocate, "is for them to be honest about what their bottom lines are and have an understanding of how to be fair with each other."

ASAE's Hotel Training Program

To help executives and meeting planners understand how the hospitality industry operates, ASAE's Meetings and Expositions Section sponsors the Hotel Training Program. This innovative on-site seminar brings ASAE members behind the scenes at convention hotels, conference centers, and resorts, where they gather hands-on experience. Participants spend four and a half days staying at the property, learning about every aspect of operations from housekeeping to accounting. Touring laundry rooms, discussing labor unions, learning reservations systems, and preparing hors d'oeuvres in the kitchen may sound like an unusual way to develop meeting planning skills, but Hotel Training Program participants learn how hotels work, how to communicate with hospitality industry people, and how to structure their negotiations so that the result benefits both the association and the property.

Program participants agree unanimously that having the opportunity to see things from the supplier's perspective definitely raised their awareness of the numerous elements involved in managing a resort.

"They didn't hold anything back. They let us sit in on one of their executive committee meetings, and I was just stunned that they would let us do that," says Linnea J. Noto, director of marketing and advertising for the American College of Physician Executives, Tampa, Florida, of her experiences at The Broadmoor in Colorado. "I thought it was a wonderful program," she added.

Marily Mondejar, executive director and chief executive officer of Image Industry Council International, San Francisco, agrees. "I learned a lot, and I think looking back at how the training really affected me, the first thing is that I understood the hotel's side of planning a meeting." As a meeting planner, she felt it also helped the hotel to be able to discuss negotiation strategies with meeting planners in a relaxed situation.

The hands-on nature and ability to communicate openly with the staff also impressed Dana J. Vocate, director of administration for the Colorado Bar Association, Denver. "The whole program, I must say, was incredible. It was an educational process that could not be beat. I would recommend it to anybody who does meeting planning," she says. "You cannot re-create this kind of education in a seminar."

For information on ASAE's Hotel Training Program, call Beth Goldberger, (202) 626-2761 or fax a request to her at (202) 289-4049.

Stephanie Faul is a senior editor of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:planning resort meetings
Author:Faul, Stephanie
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Managing the healthy association.
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