The great outdoors

The downturn in the global economy has prompted companies to re-evaluate all aspects of their budgets including travel and meeting planning. Instead of springing for exorbitant plane tickets and lavish rooms in exotic locales, they are literally looking in their own backyards and many are turning to resorts.

These sites, usually less than two hours, provide greater flexibility to the meeting planners. Hosting a meeting at a resort offers benefits including adaptable planning, reasonable transportation and accommodation costs, and a relaxing environment while having a captive audience in which the participants are not distracted by the hustle and bustle of the city.

All the while, there is also a desire on the part of the company to break away from the four walls of the big city meeting room and relocate to the quiet confines of a tranquil resort for a change.


Muskoka landmark Deerhurst Resort has long been known for its entertainment value. Shania Twain sang there, Second City and Yuk Yuk’s have performed, and its two current shows are directed by Dave Campbell, choreographer of that pop phenom Canadian Idol. Not to mention the on-site bands, improv and dance classes that can keep your group on its toes. But these days the lakeside resort two hours from Toronto is also generating its share of political buzz.

Earlier this year, Deerhurst was selected as Canada’s host venue for the G8 Summit of world leaders in June 2010, with the high-powered group including U.S. president Barack Obama. Preparations are already getting underway for what Deerhurst general manager Joseph Klein refers to as “a small executive retreat with pretty big expectations.”

And while Executive Chef Rory Golden is far from completing the G8 menus, he definitely plans to incorporate Canadian and Muskoka flavors including resort-harvested maple syrup, honey, herbs and shiitake mushrooms.

And while Executive Chef Rory Golden is far from completing the G8 menus, he definitely plans to incorporate Canadian and Muskoka flavors including resort-harvested maple syrup, honey, herbs and shiitake mushrooms.

“Everybody is starting to understand the environmental and economic importance of eating locally these days, and that’s something Deerhurst wants to continue to grow,” he says.

Like any multi-faceted event, the availability of lots of flexible, varied venues was a key criterion in the G8 selection process. In 2008, Deerhurst enhanced its 40,000 square feet of interior space with a new lakeside meeting room, in addition to renovating its full-service spa. But it is the resort’s 780 acres of exterior “break-out room” that really gives meetings a fresh perspective.

Unique locations at Deerhurst include outdoor decks and patios, a barbeque point and gazebo on the beach, winter ice bars or even dinner on a dock.

“From building 24 rinks on the lake for the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships to transforming our indoor tennis courts and sports complex into a massive tradeshow area, the team at Deerhurst definitely goes beyond your usual dinner or classroom set up to make unusual events happen,” says director of sales and marketing Clee Varon.

Given that about 60 percent of its annual business comes from groups, it makes sense for Deerhurst to offer turn-key programs. These range from an acclaimed Adventures in Excellence teambuilding set-up including ropes courses and CSI: Muskoka to themed dining events with a twist including a beer tasting and Chef of Steel group cook-off evening.

“Planners, like all of us, are crunched for time,” says Varon. “So, to stay successful, all our Deerhurst offerings have to be ready-to-go. At the same time they need to be easily customizable, so that they can meet each group’s specific size, goals, time and finances.”

The current business climate means clients are more budget-minded and short-term in their planning.

“Economic realities only emphasize the importance of continuing to offer value and variety to every client,” says director of communications Anne White. “Deerhurst is also motivated by the potential opportunity to offer Canadian companies who may have met abroad previously exciting programs that are closer to home, but still feel like miles from ordinary.”

Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain, Ontario’s largest mountain resort, is nestled on the shores of Georgian Bay, 90 minutes north of Toronto. Spanning more than 700 acres, Blue Mountain has become the four-season destination of the north, visited by more than 1.5 million people a year. No matter what season, visitors find luxurious accommodations, incredible dining, exciting shops and an irresistible village culture.

Blue Mountain provides meeting planners the opportunity to host their event within a unique resort environment supported by readily available professional meeting services.

Recognized as Ontario’s largest conference facility — it features 37,000 square feet of meeting space located in more than 30 meeting rooms — the resort provides groups with the opportunity to coordinate their event from a choice of locales.

And with the addition of the Village Conference Centre, it is now able to accommodate larger association and conference groups and tradeshows.

Following meeting time, delegates are only steps away from a wide variety of outdoor recreational options. The Village at Blue Mountain provides the opportunity to informally congregate and experience a variety of shops, bars and restaurants that overlook the plaza square.

Oak Island

For centuries, Oak Island has been heralded as the burial ground of great gold and mysterious treasure. This elusive prize has puzzled treasure seekers for years. No one knows for sure if the treasure exists, but the hopes of fortune keep people wondering even to this day.

Meeting planners have also discovered this hidden treasure located less than an hour away from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Oak Island Resort offers meeting planners the support to create memorable and effective meetings and events. The staff can assist planners in realizing a vision with menu options tailored to individual needs, including flexible meeting space, customized team building activities and entertainment options to keep any group engaged.

With more than 50 percent of its total business attributed to meetings and events, including group business, Oak Island Resort offers the perfect balance between traditional meeting rooms and a tranquil waterfront setting.

From its largest meeting rooms, with space for more than 300 people, delegates can enjoy the breathtaking views of Mahone Bay. Or, for smaller meeting groups, retreat to a waterfront chalet, or take the meeting outside on the waterfront patio or in Adirondack chairs along the water’s edge.

Meeting planners are looking for flexible meeting space — large meeting rooms, break out rooms and alternative spaces for dining. But beyond this, planners are looking for more than just a room, they are looking for ways to bring their team together. The resort’s onsite facilities make it easy.

Delegates can take a charter boat from the marina or participate in a scavenger hunt along the waterfront. When guests aren’t meeting, planners want to make sure that there are options for their entertainment. With surrounding communities of Lunenburg, Chester and Mahone Bay, Oak Island Resort offers a wealth of unique attractions for guests, not to mention on-site attractions like a full-service spa.

“From the smallest afternoon meeting to multi-day events of over 450 guests, we’re able to adapt our facilities to the unique needs of each group. We recognize that in the world of meetings and events one size does not fit all,” a company spokesperson said.

“We seek to get to know our planners so that we can provide them with the best options for their specific meeting needs.”

It may be a unique venue, set apart from traditional downtown hotels, but to make meetings easy and effective it has evolved to offer the convenience of a more urban setting, like wi-fi internet access and full audio-visual capabilities. And when the sun sets, it is able to bring “night life” to a group with DJ services, or live entertainment.

Meetings at Oak Island Resort have followed a wide array of descriptions. Strategic planning sessions, team building activities, conferences and conventions. The setting has been ideal for incentive meetings including activities for spouses, like golf, spa services, wine tours and maritime-inspired feasts.

Themed weekends are also popular. As it draws its name from Oak Island itself — the subject of some of the most infamous and oldest treasure mysteries in North America — pirate themed events have been historically popular.

Prestige Hotels and Resorts

Prestige Hotels and Resorts is a privately-owned chain of first-class properties located in the most picturesque areas of the Okanagan and Kootenay-Rockies regions of British Columbia and offer easy access to world-class golf and ski resorts and outdoor adventures.

Each hotel and resort features beautifully-appointed guestrooms and unique designer suites. Facilities include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness centre, restaurant and lounge. Numerous Prestige Hotels and Resorts properties also feature a day spa, hair salon, athletic club, cappuccino bistro and shopping boutiques.

From small, intimate meetings to conferences of up to 450 delegates, the staff is committed to assisting meeting planners in organizing a successful event.  Convention/conference managers are available at all properties and offer professional and personalized service and attention to detail. Up-to-date audio/visual equipment is also available.

Prestige Hotels and Resorts offer flexible convention, conference and banquet rooms and services that can accommodate functions from a casual luncheon to a corporate convention. Onsite professional conference specialists are available to assist meeting planners in customizing their event.

One facility recently arranged a unique event demonstrating the flexibility of the sites. A Government Service booked an event which included one of the area’s aboriginal bands. The leaders of the band wanted to start each day with a ceremony called a “Smudge.” This involves the burning of various herbs creating smoke.

The resort arranged for the ceremony to be held on the patio in order not to affect the alarm and sprinkler system. This event was held just after renovations to the grand ballroom were completed. Had the ceremony been held in the grand ballroom, the sprinklers and alarm would have disrupted the ceremony and caused considerable damage.

Food, beverage and conference facilities at all Prestige Hotels and Resorts are leased to independent operators. In order to assure meeting planners that their event will be seamless, the hotel/resort management and staff work with the lessees on all functions.

Specialists are also available to recommend various area activities and excursions from golf tournaments, houseboat tours and other recreational activities.

Standard meeting rooms are available at all Prestige Hotels and Resorts. However, some locations feature larger meeting rooms with natural light and exterior reception plazas. Two properties are lakeside: the Prestige Lakeside Resort and Convention Centre in Nelson and the Prestige Harbourfront Resort and Convention Centre in Salmon Arm, which provide meeting planners with options for extra-curricular activities such as boating, house-boating and fishing.

The Scottsdale Plaza Resort, Scottsdale Arizona

For a real dessert oasis, head south-west to The Scottsdale Plaza Resort, in Scottsdale Arizona.

The lavish resort features a 40,000-square foot conference center and 21 versatile meeting rooms. Its acoustically-perfect El Teatro amphitheater is one of The Plaza’s most functional group settings — providing tiered classroom seating for 90 people. Other standout options include the 10,000-square foot Grande Ballroom, an elegant conference foyer and an outdoor pavilion.

Not to mention the newly-created Cypress Court that offers planners many outstanding options for an event under the Arizona sky. In-house audio-visual professionals deliver high-tech multimedia presentations, and the fully-equipped business centre is adjacent to the conference centre. High speed internet connections are accessible in all lodging and business areas.

“The Scottsdale Plaza Resort offers many alternatives to the standard meeting room such as meeting rooms with windows that offer natural light, meeting space outdoors allowing groups to enjoy the luxurious Arizona weather,” says Kelly Reading, general manager and vice-president of operations for The Scottsdale Plaza Resort. “Our in-house Plaza Planner can accommodate all requests and really helps takes care of all the little details for the planner.”

Located on 40 beautifully landscaped acres in the heart of Scottsdale, The Scottsdale Plaza Resort is only 12 miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and conveniently situated for business and leisure. On-site Plaza Planners provide experienced assistance and personalized destination management to fulfill every group’s need — from product launches, training seminars and sales meetings to corporate golf tournaments. Attentive concierges are available to make arrangements for groups or individuals long before check-in or during conference times.

Luxury accommodations await all guests at the resort. The 404 guestrooms are richly decorated in a blend of southwestern tradition and Mediterranean flair. Options include 170 villa, patio or bi-level suites plus 10 exclusive executive lodges designed as private residences. All rooms feature high speed internet access, telephones with voice mail and data ports, color cable televisions, high-speed internet access, Turkish robes, hair dryer, coffee maker and Servibar, iron and ironing board, in-room safe and full length mirrors. Some rooms include fireplaces, private patios and balconies.

Complementing the conference services are numerous amenities. The resort features five sparkling swimming pools, Arizona’s largest outdoor Whirlpool spa, lighted tennis courts, a 1,600-square-foot fitness center with Magnum and Precor equipment, an indoor racquetball court, putting green, gift shop and salon. In addition to its English-style pub and JD’s Lounge sports bar, breakfast buffets and traditional café selections are served at Garden Court Restaurant throughout the day.

Café Cabana is a fun choice for those guests wishing drinks, refreshments and lighter fare while they lounge away the day poolside. The Executive Chefs and the award-winning Remington’s Restaurant & Lounge are renowned for innovative American cuisine accompanied by exceptional selections of wines, spirits and cigars. Dine in the casually elegant ambiance of the restaurant, or under the western sky filled with stars on the relaxing vine-covered patio with fireplaces crackling. Open for lunch and dinner, live jazz and good times are part of the menu in the lounge at night.

Just minutes away, other activities beckon, such as golf and horseback riding, shopping and sightseeing. A conference service manager can arrange ground transportation for a special tour, jeep treks, sporting events, theatre, concert or other off-site activities.

“We cater to all of our groups’ needs. Whether it is organizing a cattle call at a ranch or a cookout in the middle of the dessert, tell us what you need and we will deliver,” Reading says. “From Gala night under the Arizona sky or specific theme events, such as Western, Fiesta, African, Disco, Star Trek and many more our goal is to exceed your every expectations.”

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