Vol III: The Tropical Edition: New Luxury Hotels

I am completely biased. “But Neil”, you say, “we trust you to give us an unbiased opinion on all of the really cool things out there for us meeting planners to use and share. How are you biased (say it ain’t so)?”  “OK”, I say…”I’ll tell you. I am biased in two big ways… 1) I really, really like high levels of service and 2) I like people I have known for a long time that have never steered me wrong (the trust thing).”

This month’s editorial?. I’m pretty sure I like them but, being new, I have never actually stayed at any of them. How can I recommend them? Two reasons… 1) Their brands have always provided me with a high level of service and 2) I trust the people who have told me about them.
Not that I would ever book a group anywhere, site un-seen, but at least these new properties will make it into my “consideration set” when I recommend a destination to one of my clients (and forgive me for using the phrase “consideration set”).
Special note… if anyone from any of these hotels really wants me to site so I can write about them first hand, e-mail me and I will tell you my preferred seat assignment.

Second Note – When I decided to write about hotel openings and reached out to my various connections for ideas, I was inundated with information about new properties… so much so that I have to divide it into parts… so for now… The Tropical Edition…
As with all of my newsletter/blogs, the information here will be posted on our website allthingsmeetings.com (bookmark it) and then put in our Resource Library so you can always check them out. Oh… although I am sure the hotels I talk about are happy to get free press, they may have to endure my de-constructing their press releases… here goes…

First up… Hacienda AltaGracia, “a luxury resort teeming with life-altering experiences”.  OK… let the de-construction begin… ah, never mind… too easy… we continue…

Located in the mountains of southern Costa Rica, this 50 hacienda-style casita resort was originally a family retreat and coffee farm but now boasts one of Central America’s finest spas (the press release actually calls it a “wellness haven :), gourmet fusion cuisine, a world-class equestrian program, all sorts of Costa Rica-style “critters” (my word) and Auberge-Resort level service.
One thing about it… you have to want to be there. It’s a three-hour drive from San Jose Intl airport (their San Jose, not ours), or a very short flight on one of the resort’s private planes (that’s extra). Seems like an incredible destination for a top-tier incentive or a high-end Board retreat. Combine all that with nature stuff, waterfalls and horses (I like horses)… I am now officially biased.

A little closer to home (assuming you do not live south of Costa Rica) the 299-room JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa, offering over 38,000 square feet (a lot) of meeting space, is located within the exclusive (as in gated) 2000-acre residential development of Puerto Los Cabos. Just 20 minutes from the airport, the resort overlooks a “pristine” beach (de-construction question – can you combine the words development and pristine in one paragraph?) with “breath-taking” (their word) views of the Sea of Cortez. The pristine development also has golf. And just to make it even more interesting, the resort includes The Griffin Club, a 45-room luxury hotel within the luxury hotel. Yes, it also has a spa, several restaurants and bars and pools and lots of things to do. My experience with JW is that they are good.

And while we are in Cabo… The recently opened 161-room The Cape (a Thompson Hotel) has been getting rave reviews. Positioned on a secluded (define secluded in Cabo) beach only three miles from downtown Cabo, the resort features unobstructed views of El Arco (presumably a good thing).  The hotel p.r. people want you to know the “beach boasts a left-breaking wave” (presumably also a good thing). The hotel has 2,000 square feet of meeting space, which does not include a very, very cool rooftop venue for special events.
They describe the hotel as a “1960's Baja-meets-SoCalsurfer style environment that reflects the Thompson brand's urban roots yet honors the resort's Baja setting.” I have no idea what that means. Can I still order guacamole’? If not, no worries, because their restaurant’s chef, world renowned Chef Enrique Olvera’s other restaurant, Pujol in Mexico City, is ranked #17 of the top restaurants in the world. I bet it’s good.

Speaking of good… any Four Seasons opening is a good thing. Another Four Seasons in Hawaii is a really good thing. It’s not “new” new, in that it used to be the JW Ihilani, but since everything will be different… Enter the new Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina.
Adjacent to the Lanikuhonua (“where heaven meets earth”) Cultural Estate and nature preserve, the newest Four Seasons in Hawaii is located on the ocean in the resort community of Ko Olina, meaning “place of joy.” Note… I have a very stupid cultural question… when Hawaiians are talking does one say, “Hey where are you going today”, and the other replies… “To the place of joy where heaven meets earth. Wanna come?” And the first guy answers, “Nah… been there, done that.”?
Sorry… getting back on track… just 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport, the 358-room resort also has over 16,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, five restaurants… and as a total surprise for an Hawaiian resort… a great beach and a bunch of pools. And remember, after relaxing for a few days at this resort, you can head over to the Four Seasons Lanai and un-wind.

OK… let’s all head back to Costa Rica and turn right. Opening December 2015 –Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa. This adults-only all-inclusive 310-room resort has what every luxury resort in Panama should have…golden sand beaches, jungle walkways, a freshwater infinity pool and a Spa. The resort has over 20,000 square feet of meeting space (the ballroom can accommodate banquets for up to 800) and if you really want to, you can swim in two oceans in the same day.
Assuming you know the geography of Panama… the resort is minutes away from the colonial and shopping districts of Panama City, the Panama Canal, and the Punta Bruja Nature Reserve. Great opportunities for eco-stuff. Fun Fact… The average daily temperature in Panama is 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Ah, you say… that’s the average. True… averages can be deceptive…except in Panama. Seriously, year-round…it’s 82 degrees. I mean it might get up to 87 during the day and 77 at night… but really… it’s 82 degrees.

And one more… keep going way southeast… and…Bem vindo ao Brasil!
Specifically, the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro. The 436-room hotel occupies a privileged position on a beautiful stretch of beach in the heart of the “prestigious and exclusive” Barra da Tijuca neighborhood (translation… the rich people live there) and so you can retreat in style from the craziness that is Rio. Not necessarily too crazy, but crazy enough…and that’s why we go. With over 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including an 8,500 sq. ft. ballroom, the property can handle meetings of up to around 300 classroom style (or almost double that for a banquet).

Galeão International airport is approximately a 50-minute drive (and when the PR department says approximately… ha ha).


Volume II: Cool Online Resources

In the same way that the universe is continually expanding (or so I am told), I am compelled to continually add to and expand my web site’s Libraries. It’s a force of nature. Found two very interesting ones…

Micebook.com. Yes, that is its name, and for those of you snickering about it, MICE stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events. At least that is what I think it stands for since everyone seems to have a different answer for the C and E… but close enough for jazz.

The site is positioned as a “Supplier Relationship Management” tool (SRM). Now when someone says SRM you can nod like you know what they are talking about in the same way I nod when someone says CRM and I have no idea what they are talking about. The good news is this is a tool to manage the supply base, except Micebook keeps the contact details up to date for everyone. And the site is FREE to Meeting Planners.

Event planners can use MICEBOOK to search for CVBs, hotels, venues, DMCs, airlines, representation companies and an ever-growing database of other Meeting, Incentive, Conference and Exposition suppliers.  At the moment there are about 4000 global suppliers. It keeps growing.

I asked CEO Chetan Shah how positioning is determined when a planner does a broad search for a supplier in a particular destination. Do the highest paying vendors get the best positions? The answer… No. The order they appear is related to how many event planners have saved them as a “favourite” (and I spelled favorite with a “u” because the company is HQ’d in London and for some reason they put an extra “u” in for no apparent reason).

When I was in graduate school (impressed?), they made us read a small book called How to Lie with Statistics. Besides making me never trust anything anyone says, ever, it taught me how data can be skewed in just about any direction one wants. The point being, if you have a small sample of planners choosing favorites, the positioning near the top may not mean that they are the best supplier, only that the limited universe choosing favorites knows about them (or are their cousins).

At the moment there are only about 1000 planners registered (the site is new), but Mr. Shah says they expect that number to grow exponentially. Presumably the positioning of suppliers will change as more planners enter the system and will eventually become broad enough to eliminate the “relatives” factor.

You can even earn rewards for adding unlisted suppliers to MICEBOOK. The site folks vet them, and for every profile that becomes a paying member of MICEBOOK, you earn $25USD. (Wheels turning).

Next… livenation.com

Yes, yes, I know everyone knows about LiveNation and that they manage like a million (over 100) really cool venues around the country… but did you know about this “secret url"? http://specialevents.livenation.com/contact-rfp

Ah ha. You just learned something. Want to have an event in some iconic venue (I consider San Francisco’s The Fillmore my equivalent to the Vatican) or at any House of Blues or the Hollywood Palladium or Irving Plaza in NYC, or SF’s Masonic Auditorium or all of the other really cool places they manage? Fill out the rfp on-line for any one venue OR… use it to search multiple venues like… all at once.

They also have “people” you can work with for Entertainment and Production, Food and Beverage, Themed Events, Private Concerts and a bunch of other stuff for which meeting and event planners like to have “people”.

OK… that’s it for the moment, but I will keep adding as we go, along with the other Subject blogs and Resource Libraries.

When I told a friend that this month’s editorial would be about recommending cool online resources, she said, “Aren’t you afraid of giving away all your secrets?” My response… Combine the Internet of things with Google’s algorithms, add in a tech-savvy generation of buyers armed (and seemingly connected to) powerful hand-held smart devices… and so (other than anything that appears after Page One of a Google search), there are no secrets.
On the other hand, there is now so much information out there, it is almost impossible to tell who is good and who is not. Travel Advisor and Yelp may be good for individual experiences, but a) groups are different and b) I don’t know anyone who actually writes those reviews anyway. Why should I trust the crowd if I don’t even like the crowd?
I digress.  That’s kind of what I do for group stuff… vet the suppliers and vendors and then recommend them to meeting planners who don’t have the time to wade through it all. It’s the relationship thing (if you’re into that).
So these “Cool OnLine Resources” are no secret unless you did not know about them already. Check them out (since they are cool). And of course, all this info gets posted on our web site and in our Library Archives. We’ll keep adding as we go so that we, too, will remain a very “cool on-line resource” for All Things Meetings. And I am not anonymous. You can actually talk to me.
First up… PeerSpace.com
Think of it as “AirBnB” for private event spaces but with lots of added value stuff thrown in. It’s a simple concept (now that someone thought of it). Want to have a private event in a cool venue in (for now) San Francisco, Los Angeles and soon to be New York City (and then the world)?
Go to their web site and create a free account (and say I sent you), and you can browse through their entire inventory of cool places, or use one of their many filters… and once you find something you can connect directly with the venue OR… you can chat with one of the PeerSpace people and they’ll help you find what you need. And they are nice too. I use these guys a lot.

And I should mention… it’s not just for “events” in the “let’s have a party” mode. Their staff works closely with their users to help them book space and plan for all kinds of activities, from client meetings and team off-sites to product launch events, photo shoots, executive retreats and all of those other “events that need space things” that I decided not to mention.

An important note… the way they make their money. The venue pays PS most of the finder’s fee…so that’s good… but you pay PeerSpace a fee equivalent to 5% of the venue rental. For example…if the venue charges you $1000, you pay the venue $1k and PeerSpace $50. If the venue charges $300 an hour, you pay that to the venue plus $15 an hour to PeerSpace. And like that.

Yes…it’s money. But you just saved yourself time and found some places you never would have found on your own. Click Here

Next up… LuxuryVIPSuites.com
You’re a meeting and event planner. The boss says… “I want to entertain our 25 best customers at the next big game. Want one of those VIP suites. Set that up.” And you say OK… and then stare at your computer screen trying to figure out what to do next.

The answer? Go to LuxuryVIPSuites.com (makes sense). They just happen to be the main supplier of luxury suites at all sporting events and concerts in North America. And they are also really nice (at least to me, so far).

Important - They are NOT just another ticket broker. Truth be told, in a world of over 10,000 ticket brokers, nearly every suite purchased from a broker is coming from LuxuryVIPsuites. LVS is contracted with corporations and private suite owners who have long term contracts with the venue. They are the source! Hey… I can get it for you wholesale! (Just kidding). 
Anyway…good deals. And I say good deals assuming you understand that VIP Luxury Suites at major sporting events are not what you would call… cheap… but considering the ROI one gets from hanging out for a few hours with your top customers… worth it. Visit their web site… Click Here
Oh…this is an editorial and these guys have not paid me anything to say all of this about them. I chose it because I like them… but they said… tell your readers that if they mention All Things Meetings when they buy something, they’ll get a special gift. I have no idea what that is, and like I said, this is an editorial so you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say. Just saying.

And finally (for today)… SFPDV.com
I get asked all the time… hey, can you recommend a restaurant in San Francisco with a private room that can seat x number of people on such and such a date? Easy question. Dilemma: It takes a lot of time to figure out what matches the client’s demographic and budget, and then find out what’s available. (Unlike many places in the world), SF restaurants usually don’t pay finders fees or commissions… (don’t get me started). What is the solution to the “lots of time for no money” dilemma? If I can’t convince my clients the benefits of having an exclusive event in a really cool private venue so they can theme it, choose the perfect menu… and all of the other things I say to them, then I recommend my clients go directly… and here’s why…

San Francisco Private Dining Venues is free search engine and RFP platform for event planners to locate the best possible venue for their private dining needs. Venues range from fun and casual to fine dining with lots of choices in between. You can submit an RFP on the web site and choose which restaurants should receive it. It’s actually pretty cool. Click Here

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Please share your "Most Wow" Team Building experience, or your recommendation for the "Coolest On-Line Resource" with us (and everyone) on the Blog on our new site (so we can all check it out).

Volume I: Team Building

(Like Love) Team building is one of those things that mean something different to everyone.  To the Organizational Development guy, Team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but also learn to trust and support one another and respect one another's individual differences.

You know, that team building stuff. On the other end of the spectrum… let’s call them Company Outings. As much fun as they are, taking your group to a Giant’s Game is not really team building in the true sense of the word. It’s fun, and a good thing, and let’s people get to know each other as real people, not just as fellow workers… but still…it’s a company outing (side-note…take me). 

If I am an “attendee” and hear the event organizers announce team building, my brain groans and I think… "Can’t I just go back to my room and take a nap... or since I don’t have a TV at home, can I just find some Cops re-runs on Cable, lay on the bed, and relax until it’s time for the reception?"

But… I go, I participate, and (almost) always have a great time and feel closer to the group and to my fellow humans in general. That lasts for a few minutes, but it’s a great feeling. Just kidding. The reality of it is that  if done right, and with the proper follow-up, it actually changes the way you view yourself and how you work with people. You know, the relationship thing (that is, if you’re into that).

What is critical to the success of any team building exercise, or a company outing for that matter, is the follow-up. How do you translate the positive experience into something that can be used to increase harmony and productivity, because my friends… no matter what anyone says, that’s why it’s done. You know…the money thing.

So let me take a moment to highlight a few cool ideas you can do for your group right here in northern California…  there are dozens of possibilities but in deference to space and attention spans, we’ll have to grow the library as we go… just remember, whatever you do for your team, develop a strategy to follow-up, either with your team-builder or with your HR department. Like the Organizational Guy said, it’s an ongoing process. Otherwise it’s just a very expensive memory.

First Up Comedy Sportz The performers use improvisation skills onstage to get people laughing, but they specialize in teaching people HOW to use improvisation techniques in their work lives. Improvisation is not "winging it". It's a highly refined system of observing, connecting and responding.

  • Listening - with true focus, staying in the moment
  • Accepting - circumstances and what others bring to the table 
  • Supporting - making others look good
  • Taking Competent Risks - trusting and using your intuition
  • Letting Go of Mistakes - learn and move on

One of the most valuable team building skills… laughing together. There’s a lot more to it.  Click here to visit their web site

Want a little more physical action… try ACSailingSF…The “only” America’s Cup yacht in SF….’USA76’ (84 Ft of “awesomeness”!).

Your group races the yacht against the clock to get ‘USA76’ across the 2013 AC race course, around the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the starting line. Groups up to 20 are divided in two, team captains are educated in a short separate session and those leaders then have to dispense their new knowledge upon their team members to get this big yacht around the race course as quickly as possible. Four professional crew members are there for guidance and to make sure no one is left behind (important in a boat).

Want to sail but have a larger group? SF Sailing Company has multiple yachts (not Americas Cup yachts, but… still really cool yachts) and offers Intro to Sailing lessons - They divide up the groups and practice maneuvers such as tacking and jibbing which both require very clear communication and coordination not only for safety, but also to maximize the speed and efficiency of the boat. They then follow it with a race between multiple boats.

This 3  hour team builder is the standard event, but they also have full day activities built around sailing. Lots of possibilities. Click here to visit their web site.

They have two identical vessels that carry 28 and 36 passengers and with their partners can organize regattas and team building events for many more.  Click here to visit their web site.

We want to build on what we started last month and create a Library of some more cool “team-building ideas. So… here are a few more for you to consider, and please feel free to add to the conversation with some of the team building experiences you have had that proved successful. The idea is to let these ideas give you more ideas. You know… the sharing ideas thing.

rome urban safari.png

When in Rome… Gastaldi Travel presents the Urban Safari (with Flash Mob)

OK, you’ve got your normal Treasure Hunt with clues, puzzles and the need for creative thinking and team cooperation and then…. Add in a team building adventure powered by modern technology – TABLETS- SMART PHONES – GPS… and Rome.

Divided in teams each one equipped with devices to receive the game instructions and clues, guests will take Photos with their smart phones, send them to the “board”, that will assign scores, coordinate team positions via GPS, and then assign the next clue.

Participants will also prepare a short artistic flash mob, helped by Gastaldi’s choreographers (!), in some suitable location in Rome (there must be some somewhere). Connect with Gastaldi Travel

Maybe you’re not in Rome but still like the ‘teams of people wandering around an international city” idea?

Then… San Francisco Bay Area based Corporate Games might be just the thing.

The Amazing Journey - It’s part “foreign mission,” part intercontinental race. Teams must figure out the 10 cities in the world that comprise the “race route” by finding and deciphering clues, along with attempting fun challenges from facilitators stationed at different places around the city. There are creative elements that draw upon the skills of every team member. Resourcefulness, access to technology and the internet play key roles. The teams are also challenged to amass as much (play) money as possible as they go, since money is what would be needed to finance such a trip. CFO’s will like this part.

The Journey can be customized to fit your company’s current theme or history… or whatever. Visit Corporate Games Website


Don’t want to wander around too much? Hungry? How about Teambuilding ROI’s Food Truck Challenge?   http://www.teambuildingroi.com/

You do the “divide into teams” thing and assigned to a truck, and the number of food trucks depends on the size of your group. When the Giant Clock starts ticking, the teams compete to earn necessary items (like ingredients, décor, chalkboards etc), and then work with their Food Truck chef to prep, cook and serve their creations to the rest of the group and a panel of judges. You get the idea… fun, food, and more fun.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Join the conversation! Share your thoughts, ideas, and/or experiences in the comment box below.

Next month we'll be talking about International Team Building Ideas… and whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.