It’s an incentive in itself to know that the reward for meeting a sales goal is a trip to an ancient land of Harry Potter-like castles, cobblestone streets and idyllic countryside, but the deal is sealed when you learn that journey will be punctuated by tastings of fine Scotch in a slick venue, hotels ranging from classically ornate to chicly restored, and diversions such as archery, gun dog and falconry lessons.
Such were the highlights of a recent trip Meetings Focus took to Scotland, where we discovered a destination chock-full of unique experiences for meetings and incentives, starting with a stay at Gleneagles.
The historic hotel, spa and golf resort, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, meanders over 850 acres of Perthshire countryside and features 232 gracefully appointed guest rooms and 26 suites. It will host the 40th Ryder Cup in 2014, and the PGA Centennial Course, where the matches will be held, is ready for play—a big draw for incentive groups.
“Gleneagles is one of the flagship hotels and resorts we are very lucky to be able to call upon in Scotland,” says Richard Knight, marketing manager, North America and emerging markets for Visit Scotland, pointing to its three championship golf courses, world-class spa, upscale shops, haute cuisine, whisky tastings and wealth of outdoor activities, such as off-road driving, clay pigeon shooting and equestrian school.
Indeed, shortly after our group arrived, we were on the grand lawn receiving gun dog and falconry lessons before heading over to the fashionable Blue Bar, where we learned the art of tasting the peat, vanilla, orange, smoke and other subtleties and complexities of Scotch, namely Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Dinner was just as impressive, highlighted by loin of slow-cooked Scotch lamb neck with Jerusalem artichokes, savoy cabbage and thyme jus.
A leisurely countryside drive brought us to St. Andrews by the Sea, home to the University of St. Andrews. The maze of Old World streets and the ruins of the ancient St. Andrews Cathedral make this town, where Kate Middleton and Prince William met as undergraduates in 2001, a must for groups.
The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa is a landmark not only for golfers but for business as well. Golf has been played in St. Andrews since the 1400s, and event venues throughout the property overlook the scenic terrain of the legendary Old Course. The hotel’s renowned Duke’s Course is another highlight.
Golf is also a draw at the beautiful Fairmont St. Andrews, with a 15,000-square-foot conference center and a two-story glass atrium that can host 1,000 delegates.
“In the Atrium, we’ve had falconry, trapeze artists and team-building events such as Highland games and chariot-building, followed by a chariot race,” says David Walker, the property’s director of group sales.
In Edinburgh, The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, is a recently renovated meetings jewel. Several of its 241 guest units overlook the city’s famous castle.
The Balmoral, with 168 guest rooms and 20 suites, is another venerable meetings choice in Edinburgh. Actor Tom Hanks and crew stayed here during the filming of The Da Vinci Code, and other guest celebs have included Sophia Loren, Paul McCartney and J.K. Rowling, who penned the last chapters of the Harry Potter series in suite 552. The hotel brims with classic, cool character.
In Glasgow, Blythswood Square, the newest addition to The Town House Collection, should be on any planner’s list of hip and historic finds for small groups. The property has 93 guest rooms and six suites.
“The things that set us apart are our service, our stylish product, the spa with the Turus [signature treatments] and the screening room—plus a team on hand that really cares,” says Fiona Strauss, director of sales and marketing for The Town House Collection.
One of those stylish details is the colorful Harris Tweed used in the bedding, drapery and upholstery, including the lounge chairs in the 40-seat screening room, perfect for product launches and corporate presentations.
Housed in a building that dates to 1823, Blythswood Square was previously the home of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club.