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The Corporate Retreat makes a comeback

No longer too lavish or expensive, the corporate retreat has arrived. Again

Mar 3, 2014

by Alberta Venture Staff

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ILLUSTRATION KYLE METCALF

The trend was given a name that became ominous – the “AIG effect.” In 2008, as the U.S. financial system approached the precipice, and mere days after the insurance company was bailed out – to the tune of US$85 billion by the U.S. government – AIG held a corporate retreat for several executives at a posh California resort. The price tag was nearly half a million. Such spending on retreats was normal, pre-bailout, of course, but as stories of the event’s cost spread, AIG cancelled other corporate retreats it had planned, to avert what was becoming a PR disaster. And many companies followed suit. The AIG effect was a disaster for high-end resorts and the North American hospitality industry. Austerity was the new fashion. The optics of looking entitled and lavish during a downturn were just too risky.

Well, that was then. “It did disappear for a while but corporate retreats are starting to make a comeback,” says Joann Chatterton, at E=mc2 Events in Calgary. “Now that the economy is becoming more stable, corporate retreats and their incentives could be growing again. It’s good news for our industry for sure.”

The reason for the comeback, Chatterton says, is that corporate retreats work. “I think companies and organizations are taking note of the necessity to be face-to-face, and to have discussion and discovery, and bonding, and how important that is to a company and corporate culture. At the same time, the attendees feel they are being recognized by being invited to something exclusive,” she says. And that mix is critical. For a corporate retreat to be successful, everyone involved has to feel they’ve been taken care of, Chatterton says.

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ILLUSTRATION KYLE METCALF

Just like a meeting or conference does, then, getting a corporate retreat right requires planning and thinking. What’s critical? The right environment, Chatterton says. You want to make sure you’re encouraging bonding. Another critical ingredient is the ‘Wow.’ “You need to look at what’s going to be an appealing destination that’s going to have exclusivity,” Chatterton says. “It’s got to be that kind of coveted thing.” She says the industry is always exploring new experiences and locations as a result. Still, the traditional golf tournament appeals to a large portion of Alberta’s corporate demographic, and that remains a favourite option, Chatterton says. Regardless of whether it’s the one selected, Alberta offers a diversity of experiences built out of a few geographical wonders that it has as its gifts. “Banff and the Rockies is one of my favourite destinations to pitch [as a corporate retreat location] because it’s so beautiful and there is lots to do out there,” Chatterton says. “It’s just a really nice experience. They would be my go-to places – Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise.”

Who Speaks?

A keynote speaker at a corporate retreat? Chatterton says she wouldn’t go there. “If you’re going to have a meeting component, I think it needs to be really brief,” she says. “At the most [the speeches can run] two hours. And the message needs to be really general, but thoughtful.”

If you do go for a keynote, Chatterton says, who you pick is critical as they set the tone for the entire event. “They can’t get into the weeds too much. Especially in this scenario, if you’re doing an incentive, it has to align with the corporate culture and message, but it’s got to be light, because if it’s not I think it takes down the whole purpose of having the incentive in the first place.”

Who to Invite

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ILLUSTRATION KYLE METCALF

Another point to consider when planning or considering a corporate retreat is who you plan to invite and what the basic sell to them is.

That’s why exclusivity is so important, Chatterton says. Invite a business client to your company’s event in a rarified environment, and they’ll feel special and warm toward your company, and its message and goals. Invite your junior people and they’ll feel warm, too. A corporate retreat can go a long way to improving in-house as well as external relations. “I think that really bolsters what happens in the office – to be able to do it in a more relaxed environment,” Chatterton says.

Corporate Retreats Are Getting Icy

The event-planning industry is always looking for new experiences, Chatterton says, and the pressure is on planners to find unique things. One location that has become hot in the past few years is not hot at all – Iceland. “It’s kind of a cool location that most people wouldn’t consider going to,” she says. Planners are looking for exclusivity and something “a little bit different than the golf weekend.” One win for Alberta is that Icelandair now offers direct flights to Reykjavik from Edmonton.

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