Teambuilding Opportunities Abound in Pocono Mountains Region
Teambuilding at Woodloch Resort. Credit: Woodloch Resort
The Pocono Mountains region has a storied history as a prime place for top-tier hospitality, whether it’s for a family getaway or a luxe board retreat. But this northeastern Pennsylvania destination—which is within a two-hour drive of New York City and Philadelphia—is not just your grandparents’ vacation spot anymore.
“If you haven’t been to the Poconos in the last five years, it’s really a place you should consider coming back to for a visit,” said Valerie Case, sales manager for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. “What we’ve been able to do in the last five years is not the Poconos of 20 years ago.”
This includes conference space expansions and higher broadband capacity. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the turmoil it’s brought to the travel and tourism trade, the Poconos remain a stalwart destination for the Mid-Atlantic—and beyond.
“We have been lucky enough, because we have such vast outdoor space, to really go on without missing much of a beat,” Case said. “I don’t say that to diminish anything that’s happened, and we’re certainly feeling the sting of the worker crisis as much as everybody else, but in terms of people visiting our region, we’ve been incredibly blessed in the last 18 months and have seen incredible numbers.”
The Pocono Mountains region has seen a steady return of meetings business, with segments that include associations and smaller board retreats. “Things are starting to pick up, and we’re seeing encouraging signs,” Case added.
One of the Poconos’ biggest draws? Its year-round seasonality and ample outdoor space, two things that make it an ideal place for wow-worthy teambuilding.
“We definitely get a lot of requests for teambuilding just because we have such unique opportunities for things that people can do,” Case said. “We have everything from waterparks to ropes courses to culinary classes.”
Below we highlight some of best ways for groups to experience the Poconos while teambuilding.
In the Treetops
Get attendees out and about in the Poconos with an adrenaline-inducing ropes course, of which there are plenty in this region of Pennsylvania. A standout course is the Treetop Adventure Course at the Skytop Lodge. The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau describes this property as a “5,500-acre outdoor playground” that can offer everything from hiking and biking to fishing and boating.
But its aerial ropes course and ziplining put it a notch above the rest, with obstacles that include elevated bridgeways, a cargo net, ladders, 16 ziplines and logs hanging from ropes to walk across.
In Palmerton, at Blue Mountain Resort, groups can hit the ropes after dark. Every Friday night from late May through October, the resort’s Summit Aerial Park High Ropes Course is open at night, where guests can zipline and swing through the trees with laser lights and glow sticks.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Case said. “It’s one of those things where you do it and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t believe I just did that.’”
Culinary experiences are plentiful in the Poconos, where attendees can work under the guidance and supervision of chefs to compete in creating culinary masterpieces. At the all-inclusive Woodloch Resort, planners can choose from a number of “baking wars,” where teams each decorate a baked good—cakes, cupcakes, pizza, etc.—to fit a mystery theme while using “secret ingredients.” The same goes for cocktail competitions.
For something more low key, Woodloch also offers cooking demonstrations with its chefs, where attendees can learn new cooking techniques and how to elegantly present the finished product. Woodloch even has a dedicated teambuilding specialist to help planners select the right teambuilding activity for what their group wants to achieve.
“When you think of the Pocono Mountains, you think, ‘Let’s go outdoors or go on a hike,’ and of course we have those kinds of things,” Case said. “But we have things like culinary experiences, too…Some of our resorts employ somebody as a specialist that works on nothing but teambuilding events, so they can come up with really unique things that fit that group.”
Eventive Productions—a full-service planning company that offers teambuilding planning services throughout the Philadelphia region—works frequently with resorts in the Poconos, including Mount Airy Casino Resort. Eventive founder Debbie Anmuth-Hunt said popular teambuilding activities her and her team organize in this region include game show simulations, scavenger hunts, mini golf and field days.
One standout program, meant to be an exercise in marketing, involves teams conceptualizing their own food trucks. They figure out not only the concept but how they’ll sell their menu and design the look of their truck (on a cardboard truck cutout) and uniforms (on T-shirts).
“It’s a marketing-based program, but it’s a lot of fun because it gets people out of the comfort zone of their day-to-day life and puts them into a group where you have to come up with a cohesive idea and make that idea come to life,” Anmuth-Hunt said.
Any visitors to the Poconos will want to take in the region’s renowned natural beauty, whether it’s hiking Irving Cliff (which offers spectacular views, especially in the fall) or kayaking through the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.
Case said the visitors bureau team recently went on a staff retreat hike, where a guide took them through the trail and pointed out things like specific tree species and where they originated from.
“You’re not just getting a hike, you’re getting a full experience, where it’s something groups can look back on and talk about because they’ve all had that learning experience together,” she explained.
The destination’s outdoors provide an immersive backdrop for teambuilding. Another example: boat building at Skytop Lodge, where teams work together to not only build their own boat, but also make it float with at least two team members. Teams get 20 minutes for strategy, planning and designing, then just under an hour to construct the boat using only the materials provided.
At the Pocono Environmental Education Center, attendees can work through challenging outdoor problems designed to foster leadership, confidence and communication, depending on the group’s abilities and needs. And at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, attendees can really get a feel for the environment through an orienteering teambuilding activity.
Shawnee can organize this activity on either its “mainland” or the resort’s private island. For the former, teams navigate around an orienteering course with nothing but a compass and coordinates. Groups must race to different coordinates, write down the code word at each station and then be the first back to win. The same setup can be done on the island, with groups hiking both on and off trails, or instead of finding stations, the group will have to find their canoe to get back to the mainland.
Shawnee has a bevy of teambuilding options, all rated on a scale from light, moderate to challenging, allowing planners to select the best difficulty and comfort level for their group.
“We Have Everything”
The list of teambuilding opportunities in the Poconos might seem endless, but the meetings-ready resorts throughout the region are well-equipped to organize the right activity for a group’s goals and needs.
“If there was something that a group really had their heart set on doing, we would find a way to do it,” the visitors bureau’s Case said. “Our teams are really amazing like that.”
“My first question [to planners] always is, 'What are your goals and objectives?’” Eventive’s Anmuth-Hunt added. “Sometimes I’ll have groups that really want one activity, but once we start talking about what they want to get out of the activity, that might not be the best fit. The other thing we like to do is make it as easy for them as possible. Once they select an activity, we take it from there. We will work with the venue to make sure everything is set the way it needs to be.”
Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau | 570.844.2001
Bring the Family Along, Too
Meeting attendees who bring their families along to the Poconos can rest assured that the kiddos will be entertained. A stay at properties like Camelback Resort and Kalahari Resorts and Conventions includes free admission to impressive indoor waterparks with wave pools and waterslides. And those ropes courses? They’re suitable for the young ones, too.
“Nearly all of our resorts are family friendly,” said Valerie Case, sales manager for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
The Poconos’ picturesque small towns also house historic attractions, scenic train tours and plenty of family-friendly restaurants. Groups can even plan their Poconos visits around one of the region’s festivals, which take place year-round, with live music, seasonal specialties and children’s activities.
Latest & Greatest
From the past two years, two major expansions in the Pocono Mountain region should be on planners’ radars. We break down the details below.
Last year, right before the pandemic hit the U.S. in full, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos unveiled a multimillion-dollar expansion that more than doubled the size of its convention center for a total of 205,000 square feet. Planners can now expect 18 new meeting rooms (for a total of 33), main ballroom/exhibit space of over 38,000 square feet (in addition to its current 25,000-square-foot ballroom), an Exclusive Executive Conference Center for up to 400 people, and plenty of sun-filled prefunction spaces.
In 2019, Mount Airy Casino Resort, Pennsylvania’s first AAA Four Diamond casino resort, completed a $40 million expansion of a new 20,000-square-foot convention center and ballroom, including 4,000 square feet of prefunction space with custom light fixtures and a wooden bar as a focal point. The expansion also includes 100 new guest rooms.