There has been a decade-long movement towards corporate retreats that are authentic, local, and experiential. While the trend isn’t new, it is just now having its moment. Here’s what you need to know before planning your own corporate retreat to keep up with your employees.
Prior to the American financial crisis of 2008, a trend was happening in corporate travel. Traditional large-scale events were going away in favor of smaller groups getting together to, for example, take an African Safari or go glamping. But then the crash hit and the presence of corporate retreats was diminished—it just didn’t look right to be spending thousands of dollars on seemingly frivolous activities like yoga retreats and shark diving. As companies begin to reemerge and resume the practice of rewarding their employees, smaller group activities with an emphasis on bonding have come to the fore.
Patric Douglas is the CEO of Big Mountain Helicopter Tours, based in Bend, Oregon. He’s been in the tourism industry for more than 30 years, and he points out that company bonding trips are not only fun, but productive. “The trend is towards smaller, bigger bang-for-buck retreats where the team can get to the nut of any problems they have and chart a course while having a unique experience.”
The old-but-new corporate retreats movement centers around team bonding that contributes to a company’s long-term success.
What does the impact of new technology have on corporate retreats? Douglas explains: “The sudden and profound change technology has had on every industry needs to be addressed by companies. The best way to address it is for the leaders to go away for a while, and then come to the table with something that works. You can’t get that from a boardroom setting.”
Andrew Sheivachman, Business Travel Editor for Skift recalls his company’s most recent annual retreat, which took place in Montreal. “We weren’t just stuck in a hotel boardroom talking about sales goals and editorial work—we were also out doing scavenger hunts, food tours, and biking.”
“After you take a corporate retreat, something fundamentally has shifted,” says Douglas. “The team members are starting to truly listen to each other for the first time, and that shared experience has brought them together in a way nothing else has.”
In Sheivachman’s view, for companies to remain competitive when hiring millennials, they have to make positive business travel part of their sales pitch. He says that companies are becoming more willing to treat travel as a perk, whereas before it may have been seen as a nuisance.
More and more companies are starting to allow employees to extend work or conference trips for a few days either side to actually enjoy the destination. Others are giving their workers the freedom to stay where they choose during trips, such as Airbnb apartments, instead of at a list of pre-approved hotels.
It’s clear that experiences are becoming an ever more important part of any corporate retreat, but the ones that succeed are those that bring travelers closer to discovering the culture of their destination. Mike May, President of Brightspot Incentives & Events, says his company is getting more requests for local experiences, especially when it comes to food. To be truly authentic, experiences need to be delivered in a personalized way.
“Recently we’ve seen a growth in cooking classes, especially those that use the spices and flavors of that local destination. Or instead of dinners at a local restaurant, we’ll see dinners at a private home hosted by the family that lives there. People are looking for activities that tap into what you can only do in that market.”
Avoiding large metropolitan cities can have great benefits for hosting productive corporate retreats. By avoiding the noise and distraction a city has to offer, you can get more done, and provide better opportunities for your team to get to know one another.
A remote or small-town location can also be less expensive and can set your group up for some fun activities. From ski-in, ski-out lodges in Colorado to private beach villas in Mexico, going remote opens you up to new destinations and luxurious properties for your company outings and incentive trips.
“People are looking for something different,” says May. “They’ve been doing the same type of event at the same type of space in the same type of destination for years. They’ll be looking for new places to meet, whether it’s in the mountains or along the beach—they want to break from the norms.”
The shift towards small-scale group travel leads to a better opportunity to connect between colleagues. Douglas cites the old-school large-scale corporate events that typically take place in big cities like Las Vegas. These events are hosted in large meeting rooms holding several hundred people. “You would shake a few hands, pass out a few cards, mumble a few platitudes, and then race back to your hotel room. These newer trips are in-depth, intense retreats. You get more out of it because you get to see people free of their corporate costumes and get them immersed in activities that fill the soul.”
Connecting with colleagues on a personal level is more important than ever. New technology has made remote teams a reality in recent years, which means fewer opportunities for facetime within teams.
“You may think corporate life is all about relationship-building, but it’s subject to modern corporate lifestyle, which can be the antithesis of connecting these days,” says Douglas. “We hear over and over again from people who do this sort of trip: ‘Thank heavens we took the time to be here, just us, to really start to develop those relationships.’ This trend is growing year over year.”
Another trend popping up across corporate travel is ditching hotels in favor of actual homes, which offer a more comfortable experience. Not only are vacation rentals great for housing a large group all in one place, but they also eliminate the need to go offsite for an important meeting. “There’s a movement toward finding new spaces to meet; something that’s not a rectangular room with no windows,” says May. “E.g. Can we have a board meeting at the giant dining room table in a private home?”
You can. For groups looking to turn a dining room into a boardroom and back again, renting a vacation home for the entire group makes a lot of sense. These types of homes present more flexibility, more comfort, and more services than other accommodation types. In a villa, each person typically gets their own room and most often their own bathroom, while the whole team can gather in comfortable living areas, cook in a high-end kitchen, or relax in a hot tub. Of course, with vacation rentals, you’re not simply renting a home. The top travel companies know how to work with executives to fulfill their exact needs and requirements in order to create exceptional travel experiences. “A few years ago, corporate travel managers didn’t even want to deal with vacation rentals,” says Sheivachman. “Now, they’ve come to the realization that their employees want that, and it’s safe and reliable.”
When all the planning details are taken care of for you, you get to focus on what’s truly important: building great work relationships. Says Sheivachman: “As the ecosystem becomes more mature and people continue to appreciate the concierge service you can utilize and the amenities like spas and chefs, you’ll see more adoption.”
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