Beaches, mountains, history, hot springs, antebellum architecture and legendary hospitality: Southern resorts have so much going for them, it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to have a meeting anywhere else.
The Southern resort space is filled with big names and glamorous resorts with hundreds of years of history; in addition, one of its most attractive qualities for meeting planners is the sense of complete isolation and distance from the distractions of everyday life that many of these properties offer. These factors make Southern resorts relaxing and inspiring natural settings perfect for enhancing focus and strategizing during meetings.
Thankfully for planners, however, a natural setting no longer means being disconnected from the world as most of these top resorts offer state-of-the-art meeting amenities as well as the opportunity to take your meeting beyond four white walls.
Roanoke, West Virginia
West Virginia is not lacking for landscape that offers an idyllic background for a resort retreat environment, but Stonewall Resort, the state’s only lakeside resort, marries the great outdoors and resort-style amenities in a distinctive setting: an 18,000-acre wildlife management area.
With a 15,000-square-foot International Association of Conference Centers-approved conference center and a AAA Four Diamond resort, “we have all the modern elements to host a successful meeting, even though when you look out the window, you’re really in the middle of nowhere,” said Steve Ludwig, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.
Merging the outdoors with meeting agendas is one of the highlights of a trip to Stonewall, whether your group’s interests run more to taking in the Arnold Palmer-designed championship golf course, exploring the resort’s 16 miles of hiking trails, playing lawn games on the sweeping lawns that surround the main buildings on all four sides or simply taking in the lake view from one of the eight lakeside meeting rooms.
The golf course, lauded as the No. 1 public course in the state, has also been revamped this year to offer a shorter, two-and-a-half-hour 18-hole version for groups that aren’t quite up for a championship-level course.
Stonewall’s location, south of Pittsburgh; north of Charleston, West Virginia; and equidistant from both Columbus, Ohio, and the D.C. metro area, makes the resort an easy drive-in location for planners, and “it’s an easy interstate drive all but the last three miles,” said Ludwig.
Village Inn Event Center
Clemmons, North Carolina
When Chamber of Commerce chair Dana Lu Bryson took over the Village Inn Hotel, Golf and Conference Center, as it was then known, in October 2011, she poured $1.1 million into renovating each of the 141 guest rooms into a representative of the greater community.
“I purchased everything locally,” said Bryson. “It’s important to keep the local community active by patronizing each other, and I wanted to demonstrate that to our local and regional corporate clients.”
The event center offers two ballrooms, the 8,190-square-foot Grand Ballroom, which can be divided into five sections, and the 3,354-square-foot Crystal Ballroom, in addition to two 500-square-foot boardrooms and nearly 3,000 feet of prefunction and reception space contiguous with the Crystal Ballroom. The grand ballroom can accommodate up to 600, and 1,000 people can fit in the entire venue for a buyout.
Aside from the gracious 15,556 square feet of event space and the full-service capabilities, rare in an area with chains with minimal meeting space and on-site catering options, Bryson said what sets the Village Inn apart from other similar venues is her staff, which has an average tenure of 14 years.
“Our catering director has been here 18 years, and when you’ve got a staff like family that almost reads each others’ minds, your event planner is like the meeting planner’s best friend,” she said. “A staff that’s been working together for many years is able to communicate well and respond much differently.”
Whitestone Country Inn
For smaller groups, board meetings and strategy summits, Tennessee’s Whitestone Country Inn offers a mix of natural beauty, high-end surroundings and an accessible but private location that practically guarantees a productive event.
“We’re fairly close to major towns, but we’re on a dead-end road in a wildlife refuge, which is great for planners because if you go to a big city, there’s a tendency to disperse,” said owner and designer Paul Cowell, who himself has experienced his share of corporate meetings as the CEO of a television home-shopping network in his prehospitality life.
Whitestone includes two indoor meeting spaces for 25 to 50 people, a dining space for up to 175 and two covered outdoor spaces that seat up to 50. But what distinguishes the venue’s events are the outdoor recreation options. Cowell can take groups out along the 5,400 acres of river shoreline on his two-deck Triton, arrange an evening fireside chat accompanied by a bluegrass band or set up a bald eagle nest-spotting expedition on the eight miles of adjacent nature trails.
“We’ve got 65 species of birds in the reserves, and you can also see a lot of migrating birds,” Cowell said. “You can also see deer and wild turkey, but our reserve focuses on waterfowl.”
Despite being part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection and receiving the AAA Four Diamond rating since 1996, Whitestone offers planners both value and a laid-back environment due to its size.
Seabrook Island Club
Seabrook Island, South Carolina
Between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, the Atlantic coast is spoiled with stunning islands that have hosted well-heeled vacationing Northerners for centuries. Often overlooked between holiday heavyweights Hilton Head and Kiawah Islands, 2,200-acre Seabrook Island has grown very differently than its neighbors, with an eye more toward nature and community than a single blockbuster resort.
The Seabrook Island Club comprises a conglomeration of villas spread around the island’s varied coves and beaches. They surround the 30,000-square-foot Clubhouse, which holds the executive boardroom; the 6,000-square-foot Atlantic Ballroom, with an additional 1,400 square feet of prefunction space; and a variety of verandas that can be booked for smaller groups.
The resort’s villa accommodations and the island’s natural attractions lend themselves to smaller corporate retreats, and meeting staff can organize custom naturalist- led tours to highlight the island’s rare marsh rab bits, white-tailed deer and red foxes, or visit a sea turtle nesting ground. Groups can also kayak by the island’s 30 species of indigenous reptiles or catch the 80 species of birds that visit the island, among them endangered species like the bald eagle, and have earned the island top bird-watching honors for more than 15 years.
Cypress Bend Resort Golf and Conference Resort
While driving to Cyprus Bend Resort Golf and Conference Resort, it’s easy to wonder what brought you out to this unassuming corner of western Louisiana, just over an hour south of Shreveport, Louisiana, and two hours north of Beaumont, Texas. But the remote location hides an incredibly modern facility with a luxuriously serene natural background that more than justifies the drive.
Cyprus Bend sits on the 186,000-acre Toledo Bend Reservoir, the largest manmade body of water in the South and one of the top areas in the region for fishing for white, striped and largemouth bass. If fishing is not a good fit for your group’s interests, the resort has developed a full menu of outdoor team-building challenges, from glow-in-the-dark golf to a garden scavenger hunt for the season’s new blooms.
With 11,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 3,500-square-foot ballroom, an executive boardroom and a state-of-the-art learning center, Cyprus Bend caters to groups of up to 250 guests. The learning center is set up for even the most techheavy groups and includes ergonomic chairs to make all-day training sessions more comfortable all around.
Legacy Lodge and Conference Center
For folks working in the city every day, it can be easy to forget that a whole different world lies a short drive from your office door. Meeting planners from major local corporations like Coca Cola that have brought their groups to Legacy Lodge and Conference Center on the Lanier Islands, just 35 minutes from midtown Atlanta, continually tell staff they love being in Atlanta yet so far away at the same time.
Spread over 1,500 acres and including 287 hotel rooms, villas and lakehouse cottages and 25,000 square feet of meeting space, the resort is well suited for larger groups.
“We recently had an association event of upward of 800 attendees,” said Michael DiLeone, director of sales. “While we do have leisure business on the weekends, we’re primarily a group meetings and convention destination resort.”
The resort’s acreage allows it to offer group activities like scavenger hunts in pontoon boats, year-round zip-line canopy tours and combination wine-tasting and watercolor-painting classes that create one-of-a-kind meeting swag. Beyond its facilities, activities and location, one of the resort’s huge pluses for meeting planners is the amount of flexibility with scheduling that the sprawling resort affords.
“I work executive meetings two weeks out at times, but we typically see a booking window of 90 days,” DiLeone said. “Our season runs May 1 through August 31, and during the weekend in the season, we have a tough time with availability. But when it comes to the offseason, there’s a lot of opportunity.”