November 1, 2009

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Get Out, Way Out

Niche Tours are the New Executive Retreats

By Heather Beers

November 1, 2009

The roar of the surging water fills your ears. You feel the current resist every stroke of your oar. You look to the left and see an odd mélange of delight and horror-film terror in the eyes of your CEO. You’re rafting Cataract Canyon on the Colorado, and this is your executive retreat. Brainstorming and strategizing don’t have to take place under fluorescent lights. When it comes to management retreats, more Utah companies are matching executives’ interests with interesting getaways—and executives love it. Western River Expeditions has hosted several executive groups on day-long and multi-day excursions on the Green and Colorado Rivers. Brian Merrill, CEO of Western River Expeditions and its sister company, the Moab Adventure Center, says that companies find high adventure lends itself to team-building, and the remote, natural environment provides an opportunity to disconnect from distractions and focus on company issues. “We raft during the day, stopping along the way to hike to Native American ruins, petroglyphs and waterfalls. We camp in the evening, and that’s when groups will gather to discuss goals and plans.” From white water rafting, to guided Hummer tours, hiking and canyoneering in Moab, the options are varied. And if there are some on the exec level who have never so much as dusted their Ferragamos or Manolos with red dirt, Merrill’s professional guides and state-of-the-art equipment can help even the indoorsy get outdoorsy. And the well-appointed are often pleasantly surprised to find the meals—fully prepared by guides—include New York steak, salmon and fresh produce. Peggy Larsen, senior vice president of marketing for Workers Compensation Fund, says that getting away as an executive team to enjoy specific interests can make a difference. She says WCF’s board and management teams have done just about everything available in Utah, including golf trips to St. George, a tram ride and hike at Snowbird and pottery and jewelry-making classes at Sundance Resort. She also says mixing in fun brings about good results—and staying local helps the economy, and the company budget. Specialized getaway options are endless in Utah, says Rusty Chambers, Christopherson Travel Group team lead for groups, incentives, meetings and conventions. Chambers is one of Utah’s pioneers in organizing innovative retreats. While she has planned executive trips as imaginative as yacht racing in St. Martin, four-wheeling safaris in Barbados and sports adventures on Hawaii’s beaches, she says staying close to home doesn’t have to limit you. Sailing on the Great Salt Lake, racing at Miller Motor Sports Park, attending cooking classes or theater and stage productions, or going horseback riding can facilitate executive team building. She recommends discussing your goals with your travel planner, as well as the dynamics of your group, your timing and budget. Your planner should come back with a range of choices for a retreat that’s right for you. Becky Potts, president of Morris Murdock Travel, also encourages companies to consider options before booking a retreat. “Everyone’s been more cost-conscious lately; all companies are looking at making sure they’re getting the best value for their dollar,” she says. “If you are staying in-state, it might be attractive to stay at places like Zermatt, Hotel Park City, or Red Mountain Resort, a great spa in St. George. That’s the nice thing about Utah—it doesn’t matter the time of year, we are so fantastic when it comes to spring, winter—all the seasons—we have an abundance of activities.” Year-round appeal is definitely a draw at Johnson Mill, a distinguished bed and breakfast in Midway. Its 30-acre property offers meeting space and breathing space, attracting executive teams for day trips or two-to-three day getaways. Johnson Mill’s river, ponds, waterfalls, gardens and trails helps Lani Lively, Johnson Mill general manager, plan activities to suit groups’ varied interests. Some groups come for the fly fishing in the summer (the ponds are fully stocked with rainbow and brown trout), the snowshoeing in the winter, and excursions to nearby resorts all year long. So think beyond the walls of your office—and imagination—when it comes to planning specialized retreats. Besides, you have to admit, it would be rather enjoyable to watch the CEO scream her way down the Colorado.
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