Feature

Meetings South, May 2009

Beach Community

by Marlene Goldman

From the Caribbean to the Gulf Coast, DMCs are offering a fuller range of beachside team-building options these days. Though the usual suspects like beach volleyball and boat regattas are still in demand, there is also heavy interest in community projects.

“We have really shifted gears as far as our programs in general, team building especially,” says Andjela Kessler, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Incentive Travel & Meetings, which runs programs in Hilton Head Island, S.C., St. Simons Island, Ga., and Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla. “Companies fear being ostracized for having too much fun and spending too much money unnecessarily. The team building we’re doing has become much more community organized.”

Before the focus on corporate responsibility, the company kept groups busy with activities like beach Olympics, volleyball, treasure hunting on the beach and sailing regattas.

“What is happening is budgets are severely cut, so part of it affects team building. Sailing regattas are rather expensive so now we try not to do them,” Kessler says.

More economical beach activities are becoming popular, according to Kessler, including sand sculpture competitions.

“We divide them into teams and give them a theme and they make a sculpture out of sand,” she says. “Groups give out prizes and make a big deal out of it. We have done competitions where prizes are donated to a charity.”

Other options for groups include working with an organization like Habitat for Humanity or purchasing books for local schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Attendees can choose to present the books and spend time in the classrooms.

Rachelle Stone, one of the partners and vice president of sales and marketing at Miami-based Advantage Destination and Meetings, which runs Florida programs from Palm Beach to the Keys as well as in Naples and Marco Island, is also seeing a push for community team building.

“They want to give back to the community where they are having their meeting,” Stone says.

Some groups work a half day building a house or building bikes. One recent group of 300 built 30 bikes for a local Boys & Girls Club of America.

“The trend started before the economy crashed. It started with the whole green and give something back movement,” Stone adds.

There are still groups taking advantage of the beach setting with boat regattas, beach Olympics and volleyball. The company also offers glow-in-the-dark volleyball during turtle nesting season along the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, so no resort lighting is needed, which protects the turtles from losing their way back to the water. The setup includes glow-in-the-dark body paints and balls that glow in the dark.

In Mexico, Tropical Incentives, which services Cancun and Riviera Maya, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, the standbys like beach Olympics are still very popular, according to Adrian Garza, fun and motivation manager for the Cancun-based company.

In Cancun, jeep rallies can be organized in which groups drive their own jeep through the streets and sites of Cancun as they solve riddles for a competition. Participants are divided into teams and start from the hotel lobby where they receive a map with instructions and the check points to be discovered during the rally.

Communication skills are also the target of an exercise called X Marks the Spot, during which Polaroid cameras are given to each team and photos must be taken of all the activities involved. The best shot wins. The Golf Cart Rally on Isla Mujeres takes participants to beaches, old lighthouses and the island’s old town.

Boat building is also popular. Groups are provided basic materials, cardboard and duct tape. The boat is meant to be strong enough to hold two people and host a sailing regatta. The team’s creativity and teamwork are part of the final score, as are the result of the regatta.

Again, bike building is also a hit for groups, as well as a benefit to the local community.

“We organize a rally to search for clues and for the group to face challenges,” Garza says.

After the ralley, the group collects the bike pieces and assembles bikes with their own hands. Children from a school or local community come to receive the bikes.

Other community projects include school restoration, during which groups can participate in simple jobs like maintenance work, painting a fence or tending to the gardens.

“Since attendees are only coming for a couple of days, we like them to see changes with their own eyes, so they can notice how much impact they make in two or three hours,” Garza says.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the most popular team-building activities at Premier Destination Services include the sailing challenge, golf tournaments and road rallies, according to Thomas Hoffman, CEO of the destination management company.

“You look at the team-building events that have been around a long time—beach Olympics and boat building—some of those have gotten worn out,” says Hoffman, whose company caters mainly to incentives.

According to Hoffman, a lot of groups are cutting back on the activities they are organizing.

“They are still doing the breakfasts and final night dinner, but optional activities are gone or cut down and what they are providing for the winners is being brought down,” he says. One sector that has increased in U.S.V.I., according to Hoffman, is the group business from cruise ships.

“In January, we had 300 attendees off a cruise ship and did a catamaran sail competition,” he says. “We also do beach parties with groups off cruise ships.”

Groups can arrange for a catamaran sail or race for the day using three or four catamarans. Another option for team building is a road rally on St. John, the island with the best roads. The DMC places four people in each vehicle and gives each a script. They are given local terms so that the participants are forced to interact with the local people to find out what each of the terms means.

The DMC also offers community projects, anything from help for a local library to organizing a group activity with Habitat for Humanity. Much of the community work is centered in St. Thomas, such as painting a home or organizing toy donations for young children.

In Texas, Fantasea Yacht Charters, serving Greater Houston, Galveston and the Clear Lake areas, offers team-building activities on its new, 117-foot yacht. Groups can host their meeting dockside and not cruise, which cuts the vessel fee in half. Groups can also set sail and still have team building onboard.

Several local companies work with FantaSea Yacht Charters to create team-building activities, such as a game titled Tacky Tourist, during which group participants are provided with costumes and groups are scored on whoever gets dressed and undressed the fastest. Another option is to hold a murder mystery onboard the ship.

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