Whether it’s along the coast of the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific, North America’s shimmering shores are renowned for their natural beauty and well-appointed, group-friendly hotels. For meeting planners, these destinations are also popular for unique, out-of-the-box group experiences.
The allure of the coast can be a big selling point for any meeting or incentive trip, according to Mark McMinn, vice president of sales for the Monterey County CVB.
“The first thing [groups] want to do is see the sea,” he said. “It’s imperative. And they want to touch it. They want to have breakouts or events on the water, whether it’s on a wharf or on the beach or on a yacht.”
Giving activities and events an authentic touch helps to guarantee success, according to Ana Corona, general manager of Tropical Incentives DMC, which operates in various destinations around Mexico.
“The most successful activities, tours and themed events are the ones that include local elements, from the region or from our country,” she said.
Having someone on the ground who truly knows the destination is also important, said Julia Trejo, development and business director at Terramar, a DMC Network company that operates in Mexico and Panama.
“There’s nothing like having a local expert—someone who is at the forefront of activities and who knows first-hand the destination’s latest news,” she said.
Some of the trending coastal activities are long-standing favorites; others are decidedly 21st-century developments. But all promise to make each coastal event a memorable experience.
It only makes sense that water-based diversions are big draws along the coast. In Florida, for example, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding in the mangrove tunnels off Sarasota Bay are big draws for groups, according to Shelby Connett, meeting sales manager at Visit Sarasota County.
“More and more, groups are wanting to incorporate the beach and waterfront into their programs, even if they’re not staying at a beachfront hotel,” she said. “There are endless creative ways to set up a stellar reception or even a full dinner program directly on the beach.”
Mexico’s natural beauty is also ideal for groups, according to Trejo.
“As beach destinations, water activities are the most popular, whether they’re on a boat, smaller craft, snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, etc.,” she said. “There are unique activities in every destination.”
Moctezuma Loza, meetings director at the Los Cabos Tourism Board, said his destination makes it easy for planners to capitalize on the abundant natural beauty.
“Since Los Cabos is well known as ‘land’s end,’ a luxury sunset sailing trip is an unforgettable experience, passing the arch surrounded by the waters of the Pacific and the Sea of Cortes,” he said.
Farther south, planners will find plenty of options as well, according to Richard Zarkin, public relations manager at the Riviera Nayarit CVB.
“There are plenty of fun and exciting experiences for groups in Riviera Nayarit,” he said. “One of the most popular activities is visiting Las Islas Marietas, a protected sanctuary with off-the-beaten path adventures that groups will love.”
Getting active can be a great way to inspire groups, according to Monterey County CVB’s McMinn.
“We have groups that like to do what we call ‘hike-storming,’” he said. “They go out and hike along the coast, and it’s like walking and brainstorming. Another thing that our clientele really likes is to use our bike trails.”
In the upscale Georgia resort called Sea Island, groups are staying active in a number of ways, according to David Furnish, the property’s director of sales and marketing.
“Corporate meetings use our natural surroundings and incorporate activities such as beach Olympics, golf, fishing or shooting tournaments and turtle walks for teambuilding,” he said. “We see incentive programs trending toward total immersion into the destination experience.”
Barb Carroll, director of membership and communications at Reinsurance Association of America, is among the meeting planners who’s enjoyed a positive experience making use of Sea Island’s various options.
“One of our most memorable experiences at Sea Island was a sunset wine cruise aboard their yacht, moving through the river and marsh that are so much a part of their island setting, followed by an amazing dinner on The Cloister Dock,” she said.
Many coastal destinations are as famous for their culture as for their natural beauty. That’s especially true in Hawaii. On the island of Oahu, for example, groups can experience authentic local culture at venues like the Polynesian Cultural Center, Kualoa Ranch and the Royal Hawaiian Center, which hosts a variety of classes including hula, lei making and ukulele playing.
“Many groups coming to the island of Oahu are looking to incorporate tangible experiences for attendees to connect with Hawaii’s sense of place,” said Kainoa Daines, director of sales at the Oahu Visitors Bureau. “Hawaii offers the appeal of an international destination— it’s exotic, tropical, culturally diverse—that no other state in the U.S. can match.”