Spain has a proverb—“piedra sin agua no aguza en la fragua”—commonly translated as “if you don’t do anything, nothing will come to you.” Where better to apply this wisdom for MICE travelers than in the casual, off-hours networking that happens during outdoor activities?
The fourth most popular country in terms of number of international meetings, according to the International Congress and Convention Association’s 2015 global rankings, blends often-sunny weather with renowned cuisine, richly historic cities and the gorgeous aquatic playground of the Mediterranean.
Spain also boasts a strong infrastructure, including advanced technology and state-of-the-art facilities for business events. Planners can rely on that solid foundation, while adding in breaks that thrill groups with the nation’s traditions and spectacular natural beauty.
Immerse in Iberia
“Uniquely Spanish outdoor activities include folkloric dance lessons and bullfighting lessons, some with a mechanical bull,” explained Patricia Wood Winn, press and public relations manager for the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago, the North American office specializing in conferences and conventions. “We also have climbing, digging for truffles, various beach excursions and scavenger hunts (gymkhana), which are very educational and fun.
“Visitors can dress up as flamenco dancers and learn some steps—or delve into another folk style, depending on where the group is staying. Or they can get more active with bicycle or Segway tours and 4x4 drives into the mountains, like exploring a banana plantation or Mount Teide [Spain’s highest volcano] from Tenerife,” Winn suggested.
In Basque Country and the Navarra region, MICE travelers can get moving with lessons in jai alai —which means “merry festival.” Pronounced “hai lai,” this sport began over 300 years ago, using church exteriors as part of the three-walled courts. Players catch and hurl a hard rubber ball—made of Brazilian rubber covered in two layers of hand-stitched goat skin—with a cesta, a long, curving wicker scoop strapped to one arm. The ball can reach impressive speeds. In fact, Guinness World Records clocked the quickest at 188mph: the fastest projectile of any moving ball game. Attendees can enjoy experiencing jai alai where the sport originated.
Looking southeast to Catalonia, groups can partake of another distinctively Spanish sport: erecting human towers, better known as castells. A superb teambuilding exercise, this 18th century tradition demands participants both load and unload themselves without any participants slipping. The record remains a 10-level structure, three people wide.
Josie Schneider, owner of the U.S.-based tour company A Path Less Traveled, raved: “We’ve taken a group to the medieval city of Vilafranca del Penedes, outside of Barcelona, the home of the Castellers de Vilafranca. Members assist your group in building a human castle, climbing upon each other. It’s about trust, challenge and fun.”
Time for Tapas
All this activity can work up an appetite. Winn recommended central Spain’s Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine, a luxury hotel at a winery, as it pairs a conference venue for small meetings with a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“Additionally, attendees can do outdoor activities like yoga, falconry, horse riding, helicopter flights, exclusive car rentals and visiting the Hedge Museum,” Winn said.
This stunning open-air collection showcases the massive stone sculptures of contemporary German artist Ulrich Ruckriem.