Thursday, April 18, 2024

NC resorts combine business and pleasure

Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chetola Resort and Conference Center at Blowing Rock encompasses 87 acres and adjoins a 3,600-acre national park. Lodging options include the Chetola Lodge, condominiums and the Bob Timberlake Inn.

Appeared as a sponsored section in the March 2018 issue.

By Kathy Blake

From 3,500 feet above sea level, guests of Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock have the opportunity to take in fly fishing, indoor swimming, hiking trails and snow skiing. An 800-square-foot interactive play area occupies children, while massage and spa services cater to adults. With Wi-Fi and cloud-based computing, staying in touch with the world below this Blue Ridge Mountain perch is easy.

The scene could be a relaxing, getaway vacation. Or a business trip. Or it could be both.

Chetola is among several North Carolina resorts catering to “bleisure” — business groups that combine work-related meetings with leisure time. Travel packages, rates and incentives lure corporate clients who venture to the mountains, beaches and Piedmont to work and team-build.

However, some business travelers want to take advantage of amenities and attractions that hotels and resorts offer, so they choose to tack on a couple of days after the work trip for a mini-vacation.

“Potential guests that are looking to stay for multiple days are typically looking at what a property offers in regards to amenities and services beyond meeting facilities, and what is in walking distance or nearby that they can experience that would provide a local experience versus being in a meeting room the entire time,” says Mark Sherburne, area general manager of Englewood, Colo.-based Destination Hotels’ The Carolina Inn and Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill along with Aloft Charlotte Uptown. “They would like to get a flavor of the community and experience a sense of place.

“Millennials and beyond are searching for creative food and beverage offerings, programs and events that play a big deciding factor in decision-making. If your area is known for small-batch beers or fresh seafood or barbecue, the guest is going to feel they missed out on an exciting opportunity if they leave before having a chance to enjoy some of the local flavor. All ages are looking for experiences that capture the essence of the area.”

The economic benefits for resort cities exist in added tourist-type spending. A Forbes magazine article states that 74% of frequent business travelers favor a travel policy with a budget for extracurricular and personal entertainment.

“From my chair, I see corporate travel remaining strong, but it needs to be relevant. Business needs to get done, objectives need to be met and goals need to be set for the group to have success,” says Bryan Moore, Chetola’s director of marketing, meetings and events. “We feel that we can help make sure that success happens. As a business partner to the groups we work with, we want them to come back again and again.”

He cites three incentives. “The first way is when a company has a corporate retreat, training session or leadership outing, we always offer the group a discounted rate for the business rooms and for the dates of the conference, but we then recognize that the attendees of these events came here because the boss or the company mandated they attend the meeting,” he says. “We gracefully extend the discounted group rate to those visitors for two days prior to or two days following the event so that employees can bring their family, spouse or significant other with them at a discount.”

A second incentive is Chetola’s internet and bandwidth, which keeps guests wired in despite the remoteness of the mountains.
Lastly, Moore takes the time to welcome the individual guests of every meeting and then later provides them with a discount coupon for a return trip with the family.

Business-leisure trips often cater to single millennials who can travel without the obligation of returning to a spouse or children. But Moore says Chetola hosts an expansive list of baby boomers and families as well, with repeat corporate customers from the Charlotte, Hickory, Greensboro and Raleigh markets.

“Many event planners are looking to get their attendees away from the concrete jungle of the metropolitan cities and head to the hills,” he says. “Our No. 1 thing we ask when an organization is planning an event with us is, ‘What is your objective?’

“It is important for our team to know what they expect to accomplish from this event: Is it a strategy session, is it a planning session, team-building, training — or do they just want to reward their associates with a chance to go somewhere special? Our event planners will then help create a unique event around the needs of the business objectives.”

Chetola offers a promotion called The 208. “We can’t make any more weekends in a year, and our weekend business is good year-round. So the important part of our sales and marketing effort is to grow our business based on the 208 nights of the year that we might want more reservations, and that is every Sunday through Wednesday night,” Moore says.

“A strong 25% of our business is from groups, and we also have a strong relationship with the local businesses in Boone, Wilkes and Lenoir to help them with overnight business travel and relocations. We take this so seriously that we now have a dedicated sales person living in Charlotte helping us grow our relationship with the organizations and businesses in the region.”

Across the state at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, between the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean, bleisure guests with ocean-view rooms complement their job agendas with harbor cruises, kayak rentals, beach volleyball and sandcastle-building contests.

“About 30% of the Blockade Runner’s business is corporate or group-related. We have a high percentage of repeat business travelers and groups,” says Director of Marketing Karen Pennington. The resort hosts a mix of ages from millennials to seasoned executives, many from the Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte areas.

Pennington says team-building is popular with business clients, and the resort’s packages cater to that. “Many plan their itineraries to include a half-day meeting and a half-day activity. The most unique of these are a sailing challenge, kayak scavenger hunt and kayak relay race,” she says. “The ocean views and the on-site activities like cruises, sailing and kayaking are our biggest draws for business travelers.

“Regularly, guests here for business will extend their stay a night or two to enjoy the serenity of the coast. And while a guest might be here attending a meeting, there are many family-friendly activities and attractions for a spouse and family to enjoy.”
The Fort Fisher State Historic Site and N.C. Aquarium are about 20 miles south. Across the waterway in Wilmington, sites such as the downtown Riverwalk and USS North Carolina battleship tours add to the to-do lists.

“Almost all of our business travelers take advantage of one aspect or another of our coastal amenities,” Pennington says.
For Sherburne, amenities at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill stretch beyond Tar Heels sports. “Groups that come to the inn want to get out of the rigid corporate environment, and with the inn as a backdrop and located in Chapel Hill, a guest definitely feels like they are in the South,” he says. “Being located on the campus and owned by the University of North Carolina, there is a strong bonding with today’s students, faculty and staff that extends out much further to returning alumni, athletic fans and those who love the look and feel of a college town.

“Guests at The Carolina Inn are looking for an upscale environment that is comfortable and welcoming, combined with the ability to step out of the front door and experience Franklin Street, the UNC campus, the local art and music scene, and phenomenal local dining options.”

Bleisure, he says, is not a new concept at the inn. He regularly sees corporate guests in health care, pharmaceuticals, technology and finance, many with ties to the university and Research Triangle Park.

“We’ve welcomed groups from 15 to 250 people and created customized packages for them, from private bluegrass bands and pig pickings on the front lawn to evening receptions and dinners in one of our courtyards. Or, they may take advantage of one of the inn’s regular events such as Afternoon Tea, Fridays on the Front Porch or tailgating prior to a football game, he says.

“The historic inn itself is a draw and destination on its own, but combined with our setting on campus and in Chapel Hill, it’s a combination that makes a guest know that they are getting a true Southern experience.”

As the line separating business travel and leisure continues to blur, hotels and resorts are fueling guests’ flexibility. Acting like a local can be as easy as mentioning where they’ve parked their luggage.

“We do have great relationships with outfitters, attractions, shopping and just about everyone nearby, and many times we will negotiate a cost savings for you,” says Chetola’s Moore. “Or our relationship with the attraction is already in place, and that discount is available via our concierge or via your room key.”

Busy traveler winds down with ‘bleisure’

Shawn Cosner owns Charlotte-based Third Rock Events, and when a business trip took him to New York last November, he extended his stay, taking time to go sightseeing and Christmas shopping with his fiancee, who joined him for the weekend. Sure, they could have scheduled a separate vacation to the Big Apple. “But as a business traveler, I don’t want to see an airport on my vacation,” Cosner says. “When [I] do have a week off, the last thing I want to do is see an airplane.”

Using the Kimpton hotel — the brand he almost always uses for work travel — as a base, Cosner and his fiancee visited Gotham West Market, a popular food hall in Hell’s Kitchen, plus High Line park and holiday markets.

Cosner has even stayed at his local Kimpton, the new Tryon Park in downtown Charlotte. The hotel was built for business travelers — it’s connected to the 300 South Tryon office tower — but it’s also a draw for locals who line up on weekends for Merchant & Trade, the popular rooftop bar. Merchant & Trade offers indoor and outdoor seating, and space in between thanks to a retractable roof that can cover guests lounging on sectional sofas or oversized rocking chairs on a green “lawn” of artificial turf. “That’s just for fun,” says General Manager Robert Hannigan.

Before anyone used the word “bleisure,” Hannigan says Kimpton understood that guests wanted spaces where they could be productive and relaxed. “It’s something that has been in our wheelhouse for a long time.” Certain rooms in the airy, contemporary Tryon Park have a divider between bed and desk, with views of Romare Bearden Park and BB&T Ballpark from both. It’s a short elevator ride from the conference rooms to the outdoor yoga deck on the fourth floor. If guests want to visit a nearby museum or restaurant, the staff might even offer a lift in the hotel-owned Maserati.

“When you travel so much for work, it can be exhausting, it can be lonely,” Cosner says. At a Kimpton, “You can also have a good time when you’re there because other people are having a good time, too. It’s not just a bunch of your fellow tired business travelers.”

Cosner also encourages his three employees to mix fun into their business trips. Third Rock produces festivals, specializing in events like annual fundraisers for nonprofit groups, work that takes Cosner and his staff all over the country. The company has already picked up the tab to get them to the destination, he says, so why not enjoy what the city has to offer?
— Allison Williams


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