Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island leads the way on modern meeting and conference trends by offering extraordinary experiences—from guided sunrise hikes to farm-to-ferry dining—and exceptional customer service.

Greg Caldwell was so focused on running two days of his conference’s education sessions this past summer that he didn’t come close to experiencing all that Mission Point Resort had to offer.

He did squeeze in an island hike past a storybook marina and Victorian chapels, a bike ride around the island and, at the meeting’s end, the chance to decompress with his conference business partner. They went to the resort’s front lawn, pulled two Adirondack chairs together and—watching ferries in the distance and listening to the clip-clop of passing horses and the clanging of the buoys—toasted to a wildly successful event and serendipity.

Caldwell’s group, which runs education sessions for optometrists, ended up on Mackinac Island after a Canadian border closure canceled their plans for a Quebec City trip. Caldwell and his partner wanted something still “north,” something safe and something out of the ordinary. What they found, he says, was a place that is family-owned, that made logistics seamless and that was “stuck in time but still exceptionally comfortable.” He has already booked an even larger meeting for 2022 and is working on a contract for 2023.

It’s no coincidence that Mission Point has been a gathering place for decades—in some ways, for centuries. It has long been sought out as a spot of natural beauty for sharing visions, missions and ideas. The island’s easternmost point, or mission district, was once the spot of a mission school later turned into the island’s first tourist hotel. In the 1950s, an international peace movement set up headquarters there, drawing idealists from around the world to find ways to forever avoid another world war. Where the resort now sits “was the first area on the island purposely designed to bring people together,” says Liz Ware, vice president of sales and marketing. “We’re just continuing that.”

While Covid-19 has changed the face of business meetings and events, Mission Point has valuable assets that meet those challenges, Ware notes, offering a wealth of outdoor spaces and creative team-building opportunities.

Chairs overlooking the lake at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Outdoor meeting area at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Business gets accomplished on sunrise hikes to a rocky outcropping called Robinson’s Folly, in a U-shaped circle of Adirondack chairs overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and in small groups around fireplaces and newly remodeled outdoor dining spaces. And there’s an intense emphasis on local, whether it means a booked chat with a resident about island life, the pairing of island-made fudge with cordials, a watercolor class run by an area artist, a kite flying competition or a dinner menu focused around local fish and produce. An entire meeting—and after-meeting fun—can be accomplished without leaving the grounds.

The Ware family is entering its eighth season of ownership, and their renovation investment is up to $15.5 million—making conference spaces light, airy and reminiscent of island colors; remodeling and updating guest rooms and, this year, adding heat and cover (in an architecturally spectacular way) to the popular outdoor dining spaces at Round Island Kitchen. Some 24 meetings are already booked for 2022, and the resort is in a prime position, says Ware, to make any meeting vision a reality, with unexpectedly cool and uniquely Mackinac twists.

“What we like to say is ‘It’s not just a family that owns it,’” says Ware, one member of the ownership family. “It’s the whole Mission Point family taking care of families (and others) who come to visit.”

While Caldwell says he and his attendees appreciated the authentic amenities, the fact that the resort is family-owned was key and made evident in the exceptional customer service and access to staff, including several members of the Ware family. A highlight was the chance to sit down with owner Dennert Ware and talk about the more recent history of his family’s ownership and future plans.

“It was such a joy getting to talk to him about all they’ve invested,” Caldwell says. “And he has a five-year plan of taking the hotel to an even higher level.”

Watching the sunset from Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Investments Change the Face of Mission Point Resort

The same architectural firm that designed the new-in-2021 elevated promenade deck that offers group dining with an elevated view of the Straits is putting a pergola with louvered walls overtop the outdoor eating area at Round Island Kitchen. The effect from a distance will give a grand porch feel, Ware says, and it offers shelter from the elements and the option of outdoor dining all season long.

Current renovations include adding a small lobby bar and more convenient restroom access for weddings and other guests. The team is also renovating 30 rooms in the main lodge, and adding new hot tubs, outdoor furniture and awnings to popular hot tub suites.

Other changes are evident not in physical renovations but in staff attitudes, enthusiasm and experience, says Debbie Denyer, senior sales manager for association markets. The resort staff follows clearly stated values and mission statements that promise things like “hospitality from the heart,” “service that goes the extra mile” and “island experiences that are extraordinary.”

Bedroom at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Living room at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Mackinac Island Farm-to-Ferry Dining

Culinary adventures with a local twist are a special focus under Executive Chef John Clements. The ACF (American Culinary Federation) certified chef is working on his accreditation as a certified master chef that would place him in an elite group of just 80 or so people across the nation. He says he wants to take conference meals to the highest level possible and also keep them fun—and local, taking the farm-to-ferry philosophy to another level.

Groups will be able to make their own lunch, so to speak, when they book a hands-on cooking class with Chef Clements. He’ll help them create the perfect bowl of ramen, pasta topped with local ingredients or a special taco or burrito. But even his menus, he says, are his way of greeting conference guests, and he wants his hello to be a greeting from the region.

If someone goes to a conference in New Orleans, they’ll be looking for jambalaya or beignets; Clements is making sure that in Northern Michigan conferencegoers get the freshest whitefish, walleye or perch sourced from a fisherman he knows, in-season berries and produce from an area farmer or a chicken piccata from chickens raised by the Amish farmer he recently visited.

“Even if they come to an event and pick that safe-bet chicken, I want to be sure it’s the best chicken you can find,” Clements says.

Farm to table goodies at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Customize Your Experience at Mackinac Island’s Mission Point Resort

Other staff members help planners achieve conference visions in other ways, Denyer says. The grounds staff did a breakout session with a group of funeral directors once, showcasing how the then-staff dog Nick would chase geese off the lawn. The retail manager gives fashion and merchandising presentations, and the grounds team gives private garden tours.

Julie Von Ins with Request Foods is loving the planning of her corporate retreat for 2023, she says, because the staff makes planning so easy and fun. Von Ins knew Mission Point was where she wanted the retreat after heading to the resort for her husband’s 50th birthday.

“It was absolutely amazing in every way—the rooms, the service, the grounds and the lake view,” she says. “They even had Happy 50th Birthday Shawn on the screen in the lobby, which was delightful and fun.”

Just as delightful has been planning with Denyer, the conference specialist. “She is extremely helpful, responsible, thorough, efficient, fun-loving and personal,” says Von Ins. “Outstanding customer support is huge!”

Von Ins has already booked spa treatments for her staff as well as matching king rooms with Straits views, and she’s looking forward to the fun of filling in the rest of the weekend schedule. Ware says she’s excited about the meeting planner guide, one filled with special team-building ideas from a guided sunrise hike to the making of cocktail infusions from the kitchen garden.

“Depending on what people are looking to do,” she says, “we can make a lot of visions come to life.”

Garden at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Kim Schneider is a long-time travel writer specializing in Michigan adventures, food and wine. The Midwest Travel Journalist Association has named her Mark Twain Travel Writer of the Year, and she’s the author of “100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die.”

Photo(s) by Mission Point Resort