ROE: Return on Engagement

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The Villas at Grand Cypress, Orlando
The Villas at Grand Cypress, Orlando

Break out the clubs and pass the loofah. Across the board, groups in 2011 are booking more travel and more incentive programs. Visitation is up at hotel golf courses, spas and the better restaurants, and groups are starting to enjoy their time engaging with colleagues and clients more, as long as the ROI metrics add up. Dare we say, it’s okay to start having fun again? And how as planners can you pump up the ROE?

Christine Duffy delivered a keynote address in December at the annual Site International Conference in Cape Town that put a crowning cap on her impressive career with Maritz Travel Company. The outgoing CEO (now President of Cruise Lines Int’l Association), pounded the message home that the industry is still only in the early stages of advocating well enough the business case for meetings and incentives.

“Just when you think you’re out of the woods, you’re not,” she said. “We need new industry advocates that can carry the message of the true impact of this industry to government and business leaders. But before that, the industry itself has to understand its own value.”

Clearly, we’ve all been focusing on that for the last two years—empirically quantifying ROI. But Duffy says it’s not enough because we’re living in a different era. In the industrial era, Christine explained, value existed in tangible “things.” In the knowledge/creative era, value exists in intangibles.

So measuring ROI is only half the equation.

“This is the age of innovation and creativity,” said Duffy. “We have to build a credible measure to establish the value of the Return on Engagement (ROE)… and create the linkage between ROE and ROI to make it accessible and usable for organizations to apply to their events.”

How do you accomplish such a thing?

“You have to let your participants drive,” she said. “What’s going to motivate participants for maximum performance? Let them choose the destinations…. People have a yearning for what’s really important and memorable experiences. We need to provide programs that truly impact people’s lives.”

We have some ideas about that.

THE RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL COMPANY

Few hotel groups incurred the wrath of the incentive perception issue like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, because during those rather surreal last two years, it was possible to have too strong of a brand identity. But in terms of sheer drama, many of the hotels deliver ROE just by walking in the door.

The design of The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Colorado was inspired by The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, considered the first example of early 1900s “parkitecture.” The 180-room ski-in/ski-out resort is constructed from hewn logs and natural stone on the side of Beaver Creek Mountain overlooking Eagle River Valley. The Great Room is a 3-story, homespun masterpiece with massive timbers, a huge rock fireplace and big comfy brown leather couches.

“The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch certainly captures its unique sense of place with things like the cast iron door handles and over 100 fireplaces spread through the public spaces and guestrooms,” says Nathan Boyd, President of Rocky Mountain Connections DMC. “It’s a cookies and hot chocolate kinda place, but with the relevant luxurious standards one would expect from a 5-diamond resort hotel.”

The menu at the resort’s Spago outpost reads: “Seasonal American cuisine with Asian Influences & Rocky Mountain Sensibilities.” Translated, that looks like: Mishima Ranch Kobe New York Steak with horseradish potato puree and whole grain brandy mustard sauce. To work it off, book a 90-minute group hike through winding forest trails to Anderson’s Cabin, a homestead built in 1910 that’s available for catered BBQs.

Across the globe, The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street is a modern chrome and glass building within walking distance to over 1,000 global companies. We were slightly ga-ga pulling into the sleek Zen-like lobby space with a distinct residential vibe. The spa is the killer venue however, occupying an entire floor of the hotel, with 11 treatment rooms and two relaxation lounges that can be used for private events. We spent 140 minutes soaking in aromatherapy oils to balance mind/body and dunking our feet in lavender baths before indulging in a silk body scrub and rain shower.

“A convenient business location, high levels of attention to detail and personalized service are always the priority,” says Mark Lettinbichler, VP & Area GM. “We can offer personalized activities to entertain both large and small corporate groups, such as a gala at the Forbidden City, teambuilding at the Great Wall of China, or a group Tai Chi class at the park in front of the hotel.”

Side trip: Approximately 90 minutes from the hotel just below The Great Wall, The Schoolhouse is a sustainable-minded restaurant housed inside the campus of an abandoned village elementary school. The classrooms have been converted into dining rooms offering space for groups up to 250 pax.

“Visiting the Great Wall is the unforgettable hallmark of a visit to China,” says owner Jim Spear. “Our staff is nearly 100% comprised of local villagers, and they are proud of their jobs and the chance to welcome visitors into our village community.”

STOCKHOLM 

Getting the royal treatment takes on new meaning in the new Raison d’Etre Spa at the 310-room Grand Hotel Stockholm, located in the city center. The recent addition of the 2-floor spa marries the dignity and bearing deserving of an opulent lady brought forth in 1874 with ancient Northern European treatments and ointments. The view isn’t too bad either, overlooking the Royal Palace, Old Town and harbor.

In terms of decor, Raison d’Etre celebrates the pristine natural environment of the Swedish landscape with a soothing palate of granite, Nordic ash, creams and whites in eight treatment rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and two exclusive double Spa suites. Each Spa suite invites small groups up to seven to luxuriate within the two rooms: a private treatment room and another containing a jacuzzi, sauna and shower.

Sweden’s rich history with spas began with the first bathing house in 1269 when women used birch twigs to “pink” their client’s skin, a sign of radiant health. Today, one divine experience is an invigorating birch-scented combination of sauna and cold water, organic exfoliating scrubs, and an original line of massage butters to crown the royal experience.

“Raison d’Etre Spa at Grand Hotel is a tribute to health and the environment,” says Anna Bjurstam, Concept Director/Partner. “With the unbeatable view of the Royal Castle combined with our natural products, organic linens and ECO-FSC certified wood, we want to be a world leader in wellness spas.”

MONTREAL

At the 1,037-room Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, the Ted Gibson spa infuses little French-inspired accents into its treatments sure to impress the most franco of francophiles. It recently introduced La Biosthetique Paris products to the spa line up, and new food/wine-infused therapies like the Grape Seed Therapy. You’re gonna love this. They take Chardonnay grape seed extract from the vineyards of France to create a sensuous antioxidant and detoxifying treatment. Or, the Citrus Fruit Therapy is an all-natural treatment with strong antiseptic qualities meant to stimulate circulation. And the Cranberry Fructus Therapy uses local fruits and cranberries known for their high-quality antioxidants and moisturizing substances to nourish skin.

For a truly unique experience, order lunch to the spa from the hotel’s fine dining menu or the Boutique Gourmandise, a gourmet food counter stocked with local Quebecois fare.

“Lunches, cocktails and champagne are regularly ordered while our guests are resting before or after their services,” says Spa Director Arnaldo Ciarlelli, “or while taking advantage of our private pedicure room.”

CARIBBEAN/MEXICO

When the all-inclusive hotel group AMResorts set up operations in the Dominican Republic and Mexico a decade ago, many of the hotel companies operating in those two regions targeted a global audience. AMResorts instead directly focused on the US market with well-known American food brands, all-English TV channels and in-room irons/coffeemakers, etc. It also differentiated itself with a no reservation policy in the restaurants, and you never have to wear all-inclusive wristbands.

“When American groups come to an AMResorts property, they feel comfortable, like they’re in a home away from home,” says Violeta Sales, CMP/CMM, Corporate Director of Groups. “For us, group travel is definitely a growing market because we have great meeting facilities and theme parties.”

AMResorts is setting itself apart again with a new online Master Planner loyalty program. Planners who sign up for product education online will receive incentive rewards for booking AMResorts. All planners can access the online meeting specs, group menus, party packages, etc.

Scheduled to open early 2013 in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the Gems of Cap Cana complex of hotels will encompass three of the four AMResorts brands: the top-end Zoetry, the adults-only Secrets Resorts, and family-oriented Now Resorts. Within the cluster, groups will have access to a 30,000-sf conference center, two Jack Nicklaus signature courses and miles of white sand beaches.

Also according to Sales, AMResorts is well-situated to capitalize on “Bleisure” groups, mixing business and leisure, due to the availability of multiple resorts in a single destination.

“The trends we’re seeing in the incentive industry are changing—the market has shifted with what’s been going on in the world lately,” she says. “A lot of incentive participants are finding it more motivating if they can make these trips with their children and families. They want to be closer together.”

HAWAII

Coming off a $50 million renovation in 2009, the 780-room Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort anchors the best beach in Maui. We checked in for three nights to try out a few spa treatments at the 50,000-sf Spa Grande, the largest wellness facility in the Hawaiian Islands. It is consistently ranked year after year among the top 10 spas in the country.

The peaceful setting overlooks the sparkling ocean and flowing fountains with sculptured dolphins in flight. Warm breezes flow through the palm trees and alight upon your skin as you relax in the outdoor spa hale and prepare for your spa journey.

The spa theme here is all local. They do a cool thing where you can “island hop” via a series of spa baths specific to each island, such as: the Kilauea Black Sea Salt & Vanilla Orchid Bath (Big Island), the Wailea White Sea Salt & Coconut Nectar Bath (Maui), and Crystal Pink Sea Salt & Golden Pineapple Bath (Lanai). Afterwards, you rinse off in a cascading waterfall with eight hydrotherapy jets splashing 30 gallons per minute over your shoulders. From there, you step into the “Rainstorm Shower” with 50 hydrotherapy jets shooting water at 20 gallons per minute. Afterwards, you’re totally invigorated from head to toe.

But we’re not quite finished yet. Bask in the large mosaic tile Roman hydrotub to align the synapses, and then hop in the cold water plunge. Lastly, we end the journey in the gentle bubbles of a 104° Japanese Furo Bath, followed by a personal spa attendant who polishes your body with a honey mango loofah.

MONACO

The 403-room Le Meridien Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo is the only hotel in town with an exclusive private beach connected to the hotel. Right above the sand, a gorgeous lagoon pool hosts receptions for up to 1,000 attendees. Meaning, you can create a gala reception with a fabulous fashion show, foie gras canapes and a floral arranging class for a large group on the French Rivera while the sun sets slowly over the Med.

Yes, we know, it does sound fantastic. You’ll also probably want to set up a silent auction with prizes like vintage Veuve and anything shiny and Chanel. Naturally, as an added value, there’ll be a few gazillion dollar yachts parked just offshore to lend a heightened elan to the proceedings.

The sleekly modern resort just created a tres chic series of cooking and wine classes that groups can do either inside

L’Intempo restaurant around a live cooking station, outdoors in Muse, where people tend to dress like Audrey Hepburn, or the new oceanview 6,200-sf Atlantique Plenary room.

For the wine classes, you can organize tastings around various regions like Cote du Rhone or Piedmont. For the cooking classes, you’ll learn how to prepare fresh calamari sauteed with artichokes and chorizo. Or Pyrennes lamb with Tandoori spices and baby carrots.

After that, take everyone to the Grimaldi Forum Monaco to see the new exhibit showcasing 40 years of the world’s best graffiti art. Over 300 canvases from artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat will be on display July 21-August 19.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

Centrally located close to all of Orlando’s major theme parks, restaurants and attractions, The Villas of Grand Cypress is unlike any resort environment in the city. A private entrance just off the Interstate leads you deep into 1,500 acres of lushly landscaped grounds thick with native forests and 45 holes of prime Jack Nicklaus golf.

The overall vibe is like being a guest on an estate. The 146 accommodations are spread among 2-story villas facing the fairways. There are two restaurant onsite at the 4-diamond property including Nine18, which does a nice fire-grilled black angus with a wild mushroom demi. But then you also have half a dozen more restaurants that you can sign to the master at the sister Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress next door.

“People come in our front gate and just calm down,” says Drew Toth, Director of Sales/Marketing. “There’s an expression we use, ‘It’s 1,500 acres, not 1,500 people.’ You’re not walking in halls, being cooped up with crowds. You walk outside your ground level villa and look around and see trees.”

The opulent array of golf options includes three 9-hole courses and the 18-hole New Course. Grand Cypress has hosted the LPGA, The Shark Shootout and other top events. Pros also routinely prep here for the British Open on the New Course because the design layout is a Nicklaus tribute to the legendary Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.

The golf academy is among the top 25 in the country, and they work consistently with groups to set up shotgun tourneys and golf teambuilding exercises that apply golf strategies to business.

For non-golfers, there are free shuttles to Disney next door. So trips to the park, group scavenger hunts and behind-the-scenes tours are all options. On-property, your group can fish, play tennis and rock climb.

And this is special. It’s not advertised but groups can book horseback riding tours at the private onsite Equestrian Center with prior arrangement. The regal stables house a fine collection of horses for small groups to take out into the backcountry, and the top-ranked catering department will provide al fresco hunting party-style repasts with delish food and wine. Total group capacity is 10,500 sf.

UTAH’S ‘SKI BEACH’

White powder in the winter. Green fairways in the summer. And a Golden Door year-round. The Canyons in Park City is specifically designed to woo CMI business year-round with an impressive wealth of amenities, like the new environmentally sensitive 18-hole golf course set to open in 2013. The 2011 ski season also premiered a flurry of enhancements: 300 acres of new skiable terrain, the launch of the first chairlift with heated seats in North America, a slew of fresh dining options, and the debut of “Ski Beach.” This new area at the base of the ski runs was designed as a central meeting place for pre-run breakfasts and après ski cocktails.

And now with the new 170-room Waldorf Astoria Park City part of the inventory, The Canyons is clinching top-tier group business.

“The Waldorf Astoria adds another high-end option to the destination,” says Jim Hipp, Director of Sales/Marketing. “So our different price points have broad appeal to planners with a range of budgets.”

Hipp adds that all properties are ski-in/ski-out. “Our guests want to be able to walk right outside and be on the slopes,” he says. “Here, they can. And The Waldorf Astoria brings the Golden Door Spa into the mix as well.”

The split-level, 16,000-sf sanctuary with 15 treatment rooms fuses the brand’s signature Asian ambience with the healing energy of its pristine mountain forest surroundings.

Additional products managed by The Canyons include the 4-diamond Grand Summit Hotel, the Vintage on the Strand townhomes, and Sundial, Silverado and Escala lodges. Within that 1,894-room portfolio, the enclave maintains over 35,000 sf of flexible function space.

For special events, we love the rustic yet refined Red Pine Lodge reachable via a direct-connect gondola. Tucked among the Wasatch Mountains at 8,000 feet, the 2-level retreat pulls double duty as a restaurant by day and function site by evening. It handles 300 for winter dinners and 450 in the summer with spill-out onto a tented patio area.

“You can imagine taking a gondola ride up to the Lodge at night with the snow outside lit by the moon, then having a cocktail reception followed by dinner,” Hipp says. “It’s really spectacular.”

MONTEREY COUNTY

As a boy growing up along the rugged Portrush peninsula in Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell would fantasize that he had two putts to win the US Open. When the PGA pro actually fulfilled that dream in 2010 by capturing the championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the story became local lore.

“Any serious golfer knows they want to golf at Pebble Beach,” says Annette Gregg, VP of Sales/Marketing for the Monterey County CVB. “There’s a legacy of pro golfers who have helped shaped that overall golf experience. But we have 25 other courses here with some municipal layouts running right along the coast.”

Even if you take golf out of the overall scenario, Monterey is so flush with diversions that it commands a planner’s attention.

“Groups are getting into Ag-Tours now, especially in our wine country,” says Gregg. Monterey County boasts nearly 70 wineries, with more than half of them offering individual tasting rooms for group events.

The mighty grape isn’t the only crop flourishing in this fertile region. Companies like Ag Venture Tours picks through a working artichoke ranch to observe harvesting, planting, irrigation and other organic farming aspects. The company will also customize winery visits with stops at the Steinbeck House and National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

Gregg notes that breathtaking scenery aside, the wow factor is the scope of what’s packed into such a small area.

“Everything is about a 10 to 15 minute drive, from luxury shops in Carmel-by-the-Sea to the huge cliffs of Big Sur,” she says. For an added touch of exclusivity, Gregg says that groups have taken over the entire village of Carmel by booking bed and breakfasts converted from private homes.

She adds, “Not only do attendees get to meet in a top California destination, but they also get to experience our region’s diverse activities and accommodations. We’re really a seaside incentive destination that makes people feel like they’re a million miles away.”

Further validating Monterey’s appeal, the Site International Foundation will convene here in September. This year’s Site Classic will take in nature hikes through Big Sur’s famed redwood forests, cooking classes and sustainable wine demos, Land Rover treks across Carmel Valley’s lush wildlands and glass blowing sessions with local artists.

Sustainability is king in Monterey. There are no official records of who gave the first rallying cry to “Save the Planet,” but some say it was the folks at Monterey Bay Aquarium. The world-class facility constantly seeks creative ways to keep the momentum going, from exhibits like The Secret Lives of Seahorses to its militant-green Seafood Watch initiative.

For group events, the facility offers an Oceans of the World program, which Carol Chorbajian, Managing Director for CCM&E Destination Services, organized for 600 pax with the Northern California SITE chapter.

“It’s such a great green event,” she says. “They set up food stations in galleries dedicated to each of the seven oceans of the world. So the menu, music and decor match that particular ocean.”

Chorbajian also likes Airship Ventures’ zeppelins, which fly at 1,300 feet to provide planners and their groups with another perspective of the world. Lots of ROE there.

“It’s hard to beat flying over Pebble Beach during AT&T’s Pro-Am in February,” she says, “and see whales splashing below at the same time.”

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