Meetings & Conventions: Incommunicado - June
Nature's way: Guests at Hawaii's Molokai Ranch are
lodged in solor-lit bungalows.
All’s quiet at these remote hideaways, where the perpetually
wired escape from modern intrusions and reconnect with themselves
and each other
By Dale Leatherman
Earlier this decade a sociologist coined the
term “cornucopia kids” to describe disenchanted youngsters who are
blessed with too much of everything. In essence, we are all members
of a cornucopia generation, living in a time of rampant and
exciting technology that keeps us perpetually connected to the
workplace, business associates and the Web.
It has become almost impossible to hold meetings without the
warbling of cell phones and the certainty that attendees will
disappear into their rooms to interact electronically rather than
talk to each other. Almost impossible. Some resorts have chosen to
eschew connectivity and let nature take its course. Without phones,
computers or televisions, guests commune with each other and draw a
renewal of energy and spirit from the natural setting around
“It doesn’t surprise me that meeting planners are looking for
remote locations that offer a chance to break away from an
increasingly interconnected electronic world,” says Gary LaBranche,
vice president in charge of professional development for the
American Society of Association Executives. “Sometimes business
professionals need a chance to get away, reflect, think and be a
little unconnected. It allows us all to focus more when we have
When it came to choosing a conference venue for 50 top managers
at Title Guaranty, a Honolulu-based title insurance company,
planner Jim Pietsch selected Hawaii’s 54,000-acre Molokai Ranch,
which includes firms like Anheuser-Busch on its client list.
“[The attendees] were apprehensive at first,” says Pietsch, “but
they enjoyed having a chance to relax in a non- stressful
environment, not at the beck and call of realtors and it was
Sound enticing? Following are a selection of properties more
notable for what they lack than what they offer. Few are equipped
with state-of-the-art A/V, although for those who insist on
technology, they will arrange to bring in whatever a planner needs.
These are places where groups can disconnect to reconnect.
Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge
This 2,000-acre Rocky Mountain dude ranch lies just south of
Glacier National Park. The Averill family established the ranch in
1945 and continues to offer a genuine Western experience. What
makes it unique is that the ranch fronts on a secluded bay on the
largest freshwater lake in the West, with a backdrop of the
Rockies. It offers activities as diverse as horseback riding,
rodeos, remote mountain cookouts, waterskiing, sailing and cocktail
cruises for 150 guests. Along the tree-lined lakeshore are 46 guest
cottages accommodating 90. Four meeting areas for 20 to 125 people
overlook the lake.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
At the Caribbean resort of Caneel Bay, the wake-up call has been
replaced by a gentle “wake-up knock” on the door. The resort
provides a luxurious natural setting intentionally lacking in
technology and sweetens the experience with sublime personal
service. The former Rock Resort lies within the tranquil wilderness
of the 5,000-acre Virgin Islands National Park and fronts on seven
beaches. The 166 rooms and cottages are decorated in native wood
and stone to blend into the surroundings. Hiking and biking trails
wind through the park, and the waterfront staff provides equipment
and instruction for all watersports. The resort has six meeting
rooms and terraces, the largest accommodating 200 guests.
One hour south of San Francisco on a beautiful stretch of beach,
Costanoa is adjacent to 30,000 acres of state parks and a wildlife
preserve. Guests stay in a 40-room rustic lodge, cabins or tent
bungalows. Three meeting rooms, all with natural light and great
views, accommodate from 20 to 65 people. The resort is a base camp
for coastal or wilderness adventures hiking, horseback riding,
biking, kayaking and more. At the end of the day, restorative
treatments await in the Spa at Costanoa.
Gold Lake Mountain Resort and Spa
On a site once favored by Arapaho Indians and gold miners now
stands an intimate mountain resort with a Corporate Escape Program
for groups of 34 or fewer. Guests at Gold Lake (less than an hour
from Boulder or Denver) stay in 18 restored historical cabins.
Meetings are held around an oversized stone hearth in the
100-year-old log lodge; in the three-bedroom Lake House with its
kitchen and private sauna; at Inspiration Point, a peninsula on the
lake; or on the Lakeside Patio. Seven cabins have living rooms
suitable for gatherings of up to 10 people. Activities range from
reading and napping in hammocks to fishing, canoeing, hiking and
snow-shoeing. If the lakeside hot pools aren’t sybaritic enough,
the spa can accommodate up to 20 massage treatments a day.
Cumberland Island, Ga.
It is not easy keeping progress from sullying places like this tiny
barrier island 40 miles north of Jacksonville, Fla. Fortunately,
the Carnegie family and the National Park Service have managed to
do so. The island is three miles wide and 18 miles long about the
size of Manhattan but it has only 30 residents. Guests arrive by
boat. The pristine beach is a protected National Seashore with no
dwellings. The 100-year-old mansion, still owned and operated by
the Carnegie family, is furnished as it was in the early 1900s, and
the cuisine and personal service is as fine as it was in that
The inn’s private compound of more than 1,000 acres provides a
sanctuary guests share with 300 species of birds, wild horses, deer
and other wildlife. Walking, biking, beachcombing and lounging on
the verandah are favored pursuits. In this setting, where not even
a daily newspaper sneaks in to spoil the peace, corporate retreats
for 25 to 40 are very productive.
Grand Marais, Minn.
Not much is more remote and beautiful than this lodge in the
million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the world’s
largest area restricted to paddle craft. Groups meeting here, near
the border of the United States and Canada, share the woods with
bears, wolves, otters, moose and deer, but can count on no
intrusions from the outside world.
The lodge comfortably accommodates up to 100 guests. Also
on-site is a 2,500-square-foot conference center with a big stone
More than 1,500 miles of canoe trails with designated campsites
offer opportunities for the ultimate small group breakaways.
Diversions that do not involve paddling include fishing, hiking,
horseback riding, dogsledding and cross-country skiing.
Title Guaranty’s conference was held in the Ranch’s beachfront
Kapoa Village, one of the resort’s three 40-room villages. The
property also has a 22-room lodge. Guests in the villages stay in
comfortable solar-lit canvas bungalows with private bathrooms.
Designed with open space in mind, meeting areas are covered
pavilions in natural settings with spectacular views. The bungalows
can be used as breakout rooms, and audiovisual presentations are
held in a state-of-the-art 154-seat theater. Guests enjoy all the
comforts of a fine dining room, elegant lounge and day spa, and can
chose from such activities as mountain biking, nature walks,
kayaking and beach combing. Team building also is available.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
There is a surreal quality to this 102-year-old lodge deep in the
Canadian Rockies, north of Lake Louise. The turquoise waters of Bow
Lake reflect rugged mountains and blue-white glaciers. It’s no
wonder Num-Ti-Jah Crowfoot for “pine martin,” a weasel-like animal
is a popular retreat for artists. Guests once arrived on horseback,
but today a road leads to the rustic 25-room log lodge. Guest rooms
are simple but spacious, with thick duvets on the beds. In the
library up to 50 people can gather comfortably, and the lounge,
restaurant and sitting room provide additional meeting space. The
only distraction is the great outdoors, which casts its spell
regardless of the season. Snowshoeing and skiing are popular winter
activities; fishing, hiking and horseback riding take over in the
New Plymouth, Ohio
When you log on to the castle’s Web site, baroque music pours from
your speakers while the image of a medieval castle takes shape on
the screen. Equally delightful is the castle itself, built in the
12th-century Norman-style atop a hill surrounded by a 50-acre
forest in central Ohio (two hours from Columbus). Four guest rooms
are on the first floor; other rooms and suites are in the castle’s
crenelated towers, each with its own distinctive decor. All have
antique stained-glass windows and lamps, gas fireplaces and garden
or whirlpool tubs. Most have private balconies or decks.
Twenty-four guests can be accommodated in the castle or
Common areas suitable for meetings include the Gothic Great
Hall, the library, the dining deck and the terrace. Trails,
gardens, croquet and other peaceful activities are provided on
site, and adjacent state parks offer canoeing, horseback riding and
a variety of other diversions.
Guests who bring cell phones will have to leave them in the office
for emergency calls. But lack of electronics is the only
deprivation in this African-style base camp on 300 acres high in
the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though the setting is rustic, a lot of
pampering still goes on. A maximum of 40 guests stay in heated
tents on platforms with sheltering roofs, electricity and real
The staff includes four chefs (one a vegetarian), who use only
range-fed meats and homegrown vegetables to prepare gourmet meals.
Repasts are served with African wine and followed by sherry, fine
cigars or s’mores around a campfire. The property is experienced in
corporate retreats and team-building, including a unique harambi
(Swahili for “community”) program in which teams barter for
materials to build bamboo huts. Activities range from golf on
nearby courses to hiking, rafting and hot-air ballooning.
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