Bringing the Outdoors Into Your Next Group Event to Elevate the Overall Experience
By Dan Surette, Chief Sales Officer, Omni Hotels & Resorts
Never one to overlook the intrinsic benefits of the great outdoors, Omni Hotels & Resorts has elevated its outdoor meeting space to not only meet the needs of groups looking for a next level of comfort and care in regards to COVID-19 protocols, but also to showcase the phenomenal spaces that already existed at Omni branded properties.
With the resurgence of in-person meetings, it is imperative for hotels and venues to remain responsive and proactive as they navigate the requirements that are in place in each respective state, while also providing the comfort factor that meets the expectation of its attendees. However, it is important to ensure that any changes and offerings that are being added, or considered, should not only address the current needs, but also incorporate existing surroundings to provide a long-lasting property enhancement that will endure well beyond the current concerns.
"Oddly enough, the last 18 months really gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate and accentuate the outdoor spaces that we have at many of our properties," said Cara Banasch, Vice President of Sales for the brand. "We were given the time to truly evaluate what meetings and events would look like post-pandemic, and I believe that our abundance of unique spaces will welcome, appeal to and entice groups to our hotels more than ever before. We have meeting planners using outdoor spaces for meetings, not just food and beverage or social events."
According to Northstar Meetings Group's latest PULSE Survey, findings show a rise in sourcing and booking activity, and a dip in the number of respondents who are not working on in-person events. At the same time, the second half of the year still looks strong. Further, finding show that two-thirds of the 826 respondents in the latest survey will hold their next in-person event in Q3 or Q4 of this year. Clearly, resiliency is critical, as requirements and policies change on a daily basis, and vary from location-to-location. Therefore, flexibility for meeting planners, hotels and venues is paramount to provide a program that is productive, comfortable and safe to all parties.
"We have been proactive in not only creating programs that meet the needs of our guests and customers, but by creating outdoor spaces that are especially functional, inviting and accommodating, I also feel that we are offering a new sense of wellness by highlighting the benefits of being outdoors, which is always invigorating," said Peter Strebel, President of Omni Hotels & Resorts.
Promote Wellness as Part of the Program
In mid-2021, a study from the WorldHealth.net report concluded that spending just 29 minutes outdoors can result in a 45% increase in productivity; and 63% of the employees reported feeling much better after getting some fresh air. Moreover, as business needs and workloads evolve alongside the pandemic, many workers struggle to maintain work/life balance and report burnout and fatigue. An outdoor meeting breaks up the monotony of the home office and provides some much-needed fresh air and change of scenery to reinvigorate associates.
Hotels and meeting venues have the opportunity to elevate the typical meeting environment by utilizing outdoor space and coupling that with physical activities and healthy food and beverage offerings, helps set the stage for wellnes wellness. A morning yoga session prior to the meeting, or even a mid-day meditation session in between breakouts, can not only add to the outdoor experience, but also promote a sense of well-being and support after a long drought without in-person meetings. At the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Palms Springs, guests can enjoy one of the resort's most popular meeting spots – the 5th Hole Fairway of its golf course – which can be completely transformed into a themed event, a corporate dinner or reception, or a wedding venue.
"Our executive chef and food & beverage team do a great job, and are easy to work with," said Stephanie Torres, associate director of sales at the resort. "They can customize any menu based on theme or dietary restriction, and they are very creative with their displays and fare. We try to keep in mind the bounty of California and utilize ingredients indigenous to the area."
To further enhance the outdoor theme, meeting groups can organize desert jeep tours or visits to the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Aerial Tramway or the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens – which are all activities that create team-building opportunities and provide opportunities to explore the local area. Being a "tourist" while attending a meeting is an option that many meeting planners and groups are entertaining after many months without travel or in-person meetings.
Safety & Creativity Take Center Stage
At Omni Hotels & Resorts, we implemented an entire list of Omni Safe & Clean protocols that continues today, and the company remains committed to the health and safety of our guests and associates. Omni's Safe & Clean program actively monitors and evolves its solutions to ensure that it aligns with guidance from government mandates, to provide an added level of safety.
In addition to the type of team building and camaraderie that is best cultivated in person, many people find that just having the opportunity to meet face-to-face, in an outdoor setting, alleviates some of the present concerns and stresses. Incorporating the local environs allows people to "think outside of the box," in a literal sense, because they are not confined to a meeting room or convention space.
People will feel safe, creative, energized and more likely to engage with the event programming, creating a "win-win" scenario for the attendee and the host. In fact, recent Forbes survey showed that 84 percent of executives say they prefer in-person meetings for their ability to build stronger and more meaningful business relationships.
Unsurprisingly, this more creative and liberating face-to-face environment has also been found to be more conducive to generating engagement and spurring more expeditious decision making amongst attendees.
People are not able to "hide behind a Zoom screen," and, instead, are able to experience the venue and event programming first-hand, and create and foster stronger business relationships with fellow attendees.
Making Plans for a Return to the 'New Normal'
During the year that the travel/hospitality/meeting world was put on pause, Omni Hotels & Resorts used the time to spotlight, upgrade and enhance its outdoor space in many of its existing properties, as well hotels that would be opening in 2021 and beyond. Omni's renovations were completed with the mentality that, when meetings and groups did make a come-back, the meeting spaces would be welcoming and adaptable, and provide a safe environment for in-person meetings, while creating unique and memorable experiences.
Bringing the outdoors "in," and designing creative, multi-faced spaces has been a focus for Omni's new hotels and major renovations throughout the brand. For example, at the Omni Las Colinas Hotel, a $13M renovation of various common spaces includes a new, private 10,700 square-foot, outdoor, state-of-the-art event space overlooking the scenic Mandalay canal.
In October 2020, we opened Omni Vikings Lakes Hotel, which is anchored by the Minnesota Vikings team headquarters and practice facility. This hotel features four incredible patio spaces with floor-to-ceiling accordion doors that open the outdoors to the meeting space and recently we hosted a group meeting that had an RV that was stationed right in the meeting space.
At the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort, following a $60M enhancement and expansion project, guests can now enjoy a year-round facility that boasts breathtaking mountain views of New England's highest peaks, and expansive outdoor decks that provide additional access to the landscape. And at Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, which will open this month, the outdoors are highlighted throughout. This hotel features the largest hotel ballroom in Boston and 100,000-square-feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space, with special innovations on the third floor that opens to a balcony with westward views of the Boston skyline. In addition, the Lifted Bar on the fifth floor, offers garage-type doors that open to a patio with expansive cityscape vistas.
As we carefully chart a path for what meetings and group events will entail for Q4 2021, and well in to 2022 – and beyond – resiliency, flexibility and creativity will play key roles in servicing our discriminating guests, while also staying true to our service levels and hospitality hallmarks. Without question, we will all be forging a new direction for meetings and events, and outdoor venues and flexible group options are sure to remain a mainstay.
It's also safe to say that these demands will inspire future renovations and new-construction designs, providing event planners with ample opportunity to flex their creative muscles and re-focus on attendee wellness and relationship building, while enjoying the great indoors and outdoors.