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Posted by Jack Shitama ● Thu, Feb 26, 2015 @ 12:02 PM

5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Retreat Venue

Choosing a retreat venue

I’m not a meeting planner, but I’ve been involved with planning dozens of events from as small as a few people to as many as 350. I’ve also served as director of a hospitality operation for 15 years. I've learned that planning a successful event goes far beyond finding a location that fits your budget.

These five questions will help you get the kind of impact you are looking for.

1. What kind of facility do you need?

For larger groups, there will only be a certain number of retreat venues that can accommodate your event. Smaller groups have a wider range of options.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do we mind sharing with other groups or do we want exclusive use?

  • Do we want a lot of activities nearby such as shopping, golf, attractions, etc. or do we prefer seclusion?

  • Do we prefer to do meals out or do we prefer to maximize program time by eating meals on-site?

  • Do we want people to relax in their rooms by themselves or do we want to encourage informal group time?

There are no right answers here.

It’s a matter of thinking it through for your group.

I remember a friend telling me he was at a hotel for an event and when they walked through the lobby there was someone passing out beer promotions.

Some groups would love this.

Others, not so much. What’s important is to know what is right for your group.

2. Does the host site truly understand your needs?

Getting your participant count and meal schedule is just the beginning.

Your host site should also be asking about:

  • Goals for your event. By knowing what you are trying to achieve, your host’s hospitality team can help you get there.

  • Special dietary needs, e.g. food allergies, vegan, gluten-free, etc.

  • Meeting room set-up needs, including layout, room changes throughout the event, audio-visual needs and hours of usage.

  • Event schedule and program enhancements. You may want to go off-site for part of the time or have you may have a hole in to fill in your schedule and want recreational activities on-site.

I was the head of the planning committee for a 300 person event at a large hotel/conference center. Very early in the process, the host site scheduled a meeting with our team to occur on the day our event began.

Our team met in a conference room with their hospitality staff, which included their heads of food service, maintenance, housekeeping, as well as other staff.

They went around the room and each person introduced themselves, identified their responsibilities, reviewed what they understood we would need from them and told us how we could contact them if we needed anything.

I was impressed.

No host site will be perfect, but those that work to understand what you want will get closer than most.

3. How can the host site help me succeed?

Of course, everyone’s definition of success is different.

Is it max participation?

Quality programming?

Achieving organizational goals?

Building community?

Or something else?

You might want it all. But to get there you’ll probably need help.

Here are some ways the host site can help you:

  • Point you to programmatic resources like speakers, materials, entertainment and off-site activities.

  • Ask you for your schedule so they can help anticipate any glitches or obstacles.

  • Assist you with event registration or even provide event registration for you.

  • Offer marketing and promotion ideas to increase participation.

One host site offered to handle all the registration for a large event I helped plan.

Not only did they provide a website for online registration, they directly handled all room assignments, fee collection and special requests.

The participant cost included our program fee.

At the end of the event, the host site provided a reconciliation and handed us a check for the difference between the total cost and what we owed them for room and board.


4. Is the price really the price?

Some host sites offer a so-called complete meeting package (CMP) price that includes room, meals, meeting space, coffee, etc.

Others provide a la carte pricing with each component identified.

Either way, it’s important to pay attention to what’s actually included. Nobody likes to be nickled and dimed because they add up to dollars.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • A service charge on meals. This is typically 18-20% and can blow your meal budget out of the water if you don’t account for it.

  • Supplies such as easel pads, copies, notepads and pens.

  • Audio-visual equipment including projectors, screens, sound systems and the labor to set-up and operate.

  • Coffee/Tea service.

  • Snack breaks and the option to bring in outside food.

Here’s an example: a host site charges $5/day/person to provide coffee for a four-day event.

That’s $20/person for the event. For a 250/person event that’s $5,000.

That’s real money.

5. What do you value?

For some, it’s going to be budget and nothing else. That means, keeping costs low, even if it means bringing one’s own equipment, setting up rooms, doing a no-cost/low-cost program and keeping meal costs down.

For others, it will be achieving program objectives. This could be developing a new organizational strategy, seeing lives changed for the better, developing teamwork and cooperation or training people in new competencies. This list is endless.

Some value making their participants feel really special. This can be done through pampering, providing personalized materials, upgrading menus and providing in-room gifts.

The point here is to identify what you value.

Then ask, “Is this what I will get at this host site?”

Planning your event is important stuff. The more questions you ask in choosing a retreat venue, the better you’ll do.

Pecometh Group Leader Reservation Guide

Curious how our facilities and program resources match up with your goals? Download our Group Leader Reservation Guide (updated with 2015 rates).

This information packet gives an overview of our facilities and amenities, as well as next steps for making a reservation. 

Reservation Guide


Topics: How To