Retreat Planning 101: Finding the Perfect Venue
Deciding on a retreat venue is your team’s opportunity to solidify your vision while putting your goals and budget into action. There are a lot of factors to consider, but through building a strong foundation of your retreat’s goals, vision, and budget as a team, your process will become much more streamlined and the clarity will help you in finding the right space without the extra hassle!
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Now, remember that initial dream of kayaking down the Colorado River or Hiking along the Pacific Coast? It is time to bring that vision to life! Which activities were your team most excited about? Is your team envisioning activities on or near the ocean or perhaps glamping in the mountains was top of the list? The very first step in honing in on the perfect venue is narrowing your search to a particular region that offers the right experiences for your team. This should be chosen not only for the amazing activities that the city offers, but also making sure that the destination is comfortably accessible for your team and their budget.
Most important to keep in mind when beginning your search is the distance from your origin. If your co-workers will be driving or taking a charter bus, we always recommend two hours or less travel time for each night of your retreat. If you are setting out on a three day, two night retreat, we advise no more than four hours of travel time to maximize your team’s experience on site. When it comes time for your team to RSVP, the last thing you want to hold your guests back from joining the party is accessibility and travel time.
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If your team is flying in from multiple destinations for their retreat, be sure to keep in mind airport accessibility. Typically, it is much easier for international guests to reach a destination such as Denver or San Francisco with a larger airport than a more remote location like Arches National Park with only a few expensive regional flights per day.
Check out our review of THE TOP RETREAT DESTINATION FOR REMOTE TEAMS.
When looking at your goals and requirements, start to outline an experience that checks every box. If employee bonding is central to your retreat experience, we suggest looking for a full property buyout. This can be as small as a local AirBnB or as large as a Mountainside Resort, depending on your group size. By creating a feel of exclusivity, your guests enter a space that is completely yours for the time away, allowing creative reign over the space as well as your ability to manage all aspects of the environment to best fit your team goals and message.
Review our comprehensive outline of Defining the Goals, Vision and Budget for a Company Retreat.
If you have a much larger group and have centered your goals around relaying a new team initiative, such as an Annual Business Review, expansive meeting space will be key in creating a successful retreat. Therefore, we recommend gearing your search towards a property with large, convertible meeting spaces with great on-site catering and dining options to maximize efficiency and comfort for you and your team.
Now that you have an idea of the region and property needs, it is time to begin the search. It is best to start your search with as clear of a vision as possible to eliminate lengthy phone calls and long email chains with properties that are simply not the right fit for your group. Properties will be excited about earning your business, and it is important to keep in mind the value of your time throughout this process. You only want to be reaching out to venues that immediately meet your top search criteria.
There are many methods to searching out possible venue options, so we recommend starting with larger websites such as cvent.com, wedding-spot.com, or groups.hotels.com that provide a lot of upfront details about the property. This will help gauge the distance, quality, price, amenities, total property size, and much more. We can’t say it enough, you want to eliminate as many properties from your initial search. It will save you loads of time and energy and really present you with clear, viable options for you and your team.
Let’s say you’ve settled on a 50 person, single occupancy, coastal retreat within two hours of San Francisco. Knowing that you are open to coastal options both two hours north and two hours south of the Bay area, we suggest performing two localized searches in these areas. You are looking for a full property buyout, so you will immediately want to eliminate properties over ~55 rooms, as it will not likely be financially responsible to secure a property larger than that. From here, you can now look at which remaining venues fit well into your per person budget and compare the amenities that each offers. We suggest contacting your top three to five searches in each region for availability to give you a broad range of options.
Be sure to keep a running list of all non-negotiables current with your team. As you start to contact properties, this is the perfect way for you to fine tune your list of incoming proposals by knocking off any that don’t meet the minimum requirements!
Meeting Spaces and AV needs are important factors that can help rule out incompatible venues. Inquire about the maximum capacity of their spaces, convertibility, as well as breakout rooms for your group. You want to be sure you’re choosing a space that comfortably fits the size of your group and allows for maximum engagement, while offering comfort during longer work sessions. Too often properties will have guest rooms available, but not mention that their Conference Room is booked up. Be sure that their meeting space that fits your group size is also available on these dates to avoid any confusion down the road!
Finally, don’t forget food and alcohol. It is always good to be aware of all food allergies and dietary restrictions of your team members to be sure the catering is up to par with the needs of your group. This is a great time to note if a private chef will be needed and if the property supports outside catering. Additionally, lots of venues have differing liquor policies from dry properties, beer and wine only, to unlimited BYOB. Be sure that you eliminate any options that don’t fit the drinking standard of your co-workers.
Once you have eliminated your short list to a few options that you are really excited about, it is always a good idea check back in with your leadership team to present your findings. We recommend presenting four diverse options in the first round of your venue search to highlight the pros and cons of each space and to get a feel for your team’s response to the different experience options.
At this stage in the game, we also suggest presenting one option over budget to show your executives exactly how far their dollar will take them on a more elevated experience. This also gives you raw insight into their budget flexibility, so you can accurately manage all expectations throughout the planning process.
When first approaching your management team with options, don’t overstress having all of the pricing mechanics figured out. Lots of items such as the specific menu details and audio-visual requirements don’t need to be finalized until after your retreat venue is booked. The most important figures to show are the room rates per night and any required food and beverage minimum with all applicable taxes and fees, as these will often be the most substantial cost of your retreat. These are what we call Out The Door prices. Always ask the venues you are getting quotes from for OTD pricing.
We’ve found that the best way to present your options is to compile the venues into a neatly organized slide deck that highlights the guest rooms and price, meeting spaces, culinary program, on-site amenities, and local attractions that make each property unique. This will help paint a clear picture of not only the quality of the venue and its amenities, but also the accessibility to all of the reasons why that destination would be the perfect spot for your retreat.
Has your team decided on budget that feels too low to lock-in any venues that you’re really excited about? No Stress! Check out our post Baller Retreat on a Bootstrap Budget for the best tips and tricks.