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Boutique properties like Hotel Walloon are at the epicenter of the trend for smaller, more personalized corporate meetings. Here’s their recipe for creating the perfect retreat experience in Northern Michigan.

With the current uncertainty caused by the pandemic, our past expectations about annual meetings, group events and travel are up for re-imagining. The idea of traveling on packed flights, gathering in large halls and sitting in banquet-style dinners no longer fits our current paradigm. Fortunately, places like Hotel Walloon, located in Walloon Lake, Michigan, fill that re-imagined experience with smaller, personalized business meetings that prove winners for all involved.

And research tells us we need them. We have all learned in our year of Zoom that there’s no substitute for the energy of in-person interaction and the joy, productivity and connection it forges. A recent user-submitted poll on Blind, a popular networking site for professionals, revealed that 26% of Zoom meeting attendees said they were “doing other stuff” during the meeting and “simply listening for their name” to be called, while 27% reported that they are “trying to pay attention, but often zoning out.”

So, what is the answer to the need to find real-time brainstorming, face-to-face interaction and the energy, excitement and productivity that results from a thoughtful in-person event? The planners at boutique hotels like Hotel Walloon say short, sweet, small get-togethers with essential voices.

Hotel Walloon is known for its small group events. “In general, our hotel has been the niche for the board retreat since the opening,” says Emily Jensen, sales and marketing manager for the hotel. Here, she helps share what sets them apart, and how any planner can make the most of a tailored, smaller corporate event.

4 Tips for a Successful Retreat in 2021

What’s trending and important for travel and corporate events? Safety, service and novelty.

Personalized service. With smaller groups, a boutique hotel can really shine—making every guest feel known, welcomed and totally at home. “We’re a very detail-oriented staff, so we try to think of all the little things a guest could want—meeting setups down to food preferences, allergies and more,” Jensen says. Each guest receives a pre-arrival call to note bedding preference, temperature preference and any extra items needed in the room.

“We are really keen to anticipate to make their stay absolutely perfect,” Jensen says. “Our staff is very proactive and always listening. If there’s a particular hard-to-find drink they like, we make sure the bar is stocked, little touches like that.” There’s nightly turndown in normal times (now by request) with chocolates made by Walloon Lake’s Sweet Tooth. Each night guests can expect a little treat—creature comforts like hand cream and lip balm. Goodies and candies are available throughout the hotel, like nuts, chocolates and cookies, as well as complimentary small breakfast items and afternoon hors d’oeuvres.

Safety modifications. With considerations for COVID-19, hotels have pivoted to create flexibility and safety for groups; be sure to ask how any property is handling social distancing, food service, gatherings and guest/staff contact such as housekeeping or turndown services. Globally, hotels have stricter cleaning protocols, fewer shared experiences (like shuttles, buffets or fitness classes) and more individualized items and services.

Safety is, of course, paramount. “At Hotel Walloon, food service such as breakfast is usually grab-and-go in the Hearth Room, but now we put a menu out and guests request what they’d like. It’s then presented on an individual tray for them to take and enjoy anywhere throughout the hotel,” Jensen says. Gourmet meals can be served in their room if guests wish. Masks are required in public areas, and room service continues. Instead of a door card, every room has a doorbell with a light, and if guests indicate they don’t want service it’s red to let staff know. Smaller meetings can be held in their lakeside suites, where staff will set up a boardroom area for groups of up to 10. An outdoor igloo with heaters and wicker furniture creates a comfortable space to gather safely after work is done.

Novelty. Mixing things up is one of the key benefits of getting a group together outside the office, and an executive retreat lets team members who might only mix in a boardroom discover each other in new ways. Surrounding yourself with interesting things and people, or working in an out-of-the-ordinary workspace, helps individuals develop more original ideas and stimulate new thinking, according to a study last year in the Creativity Research Journal.

At Hotel Walloon, one of those novel elements is that the outdoors is always flowing in—whether that’s with a sunset dinner overlooking the lake, a trip to a local beach or an autumn forest hike. It’s the perfect way to keep your event focused, positive and energetic. An added bonus? A series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being in nature makes people feel more alive and energized—without hitting the conference coffee pot.

Luxury. A luxurious property certainly sets the tone, but savvy planners are making sure that high-end touches and experiences permeate throughout the weekend. There’s no denying that an element of most retreats—and a major draw for attendees—is an experience of luxury. Hotel Walloon encourages planners of Northern Michigan meetings to take advantage of the 21 local wineries and distilleries, where tastings and tours can be arranged. There are nine golf courses within striking distance, including the highly ranked Dunmaglas Golf Course, as well as opportunities to wine and dine at iconic local eateries or on a sunset cruise on a private boat.

3 Perfect Days at Hotel Walloon

Emily Jensen, Hotel Walloon’s sales and marketing manager, shares the exact itinerary she’d create if she were in charge of planning the perfect corporate retreat right now.

Day One: “Since we are a luxury boutique hotel, I’d host a hotel buyout for all 32 rooms to ensure the ultimate privacy and relaxation and that everything is geared to our event. I’d have a glass of sparkling wine waiting for each guest’s arrival, along with a gift bag from Symons General Store in Petoskey. After guests settle in, I’d have a host welcome them in the lobby, then buy out the historic Walloon Lake Inn for dinner, which is just a leisurely walk away. Everyone can stroll home under the stars and turn in for the night.”

Day Two: “I’d host a complimentary breakfast, add some gourmet breakfast sandwiches from Walloon Lake’s Barrel Back and arrange patio tables so attendees can dine overlooking the lake. The morning meeting would be a cram session in the Talcott, with plenty of spacious seating; maybe a quick coffee break. A boxed lunch to go from Barrel Back would let guests plan a picnic or grab a bite lakeside.

“The afternoon? Open for adventures. Maybe Mackinac Island for the day, local state parks, beaches, shopping.

“In the evening, we’d reconvene with cocktails in the lobby, then offer a chartered boat tour, rent some pontoons from Tommy’s Walloon and have drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Dinner would be an intimate dinner at the spacious Talcott center with an awards ceremony and catered by Crow’s Nest. Back at the hotel, an afterglow would be the ideal place to reflect and relax, maybe bring in a local blackjack dealer for some cards.

Day Three: “Ideally, the last day is for a leisurely departure. A lazy brunch, a stroll through town to shop for souvenirs and then a private airport transfer to local private airports in Gaylord or Pellston.”

Photo(s) by Hotel Walloon

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