Mountain towns that blur lines of business and leisure have long been a part of the American West’s landscape. Strategically crafting agendas for outings that are both productive and family friendly are not only possible, it makes being on the road a treat for employees and attendees. Four groups demonstrate how they are masterfully blending mountain magic, meetings and family involvement.
Ride into the Sonoran Sunset
Family Travel Association Executive Director Chris “Chez” Chesak is ecstatic about the “bleisure” trend because it means family travel and big business. “We’re a new organization, and we can’t believe our exponential growth amongst journalists and trade experts,” Chesak says. “We just wrapped up our second conference at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa [in Tucson, Arizona] this past October with over 150 attendees. People want to know more about the bleisure angle to family travel and learn how to get involved and market correctly.”
Chesak hosts a conference-style, threeday event with presentations and educational seminars as well as a city dine-around with several restaurants, networking activities like horseback riding and hiking in the foothills, and museum tours. FTA culminated its 2016 conference with a cowboy cookout at Tanque Verde Ranch. This year, attendees stayed beyond the conference, some with families and some without.
“Last year we hosted our inaugural conference at Mountain Sky Ranch in Emigrant, Montana [a little more than an hour from Bozeman] and had 75 attendees. It was a fantastic event, but most people just flew in and out and didn’t stay longer than the three nights. Some had families and brought them, but we were limited on total capacity by the number of guest rooms,” he says. “This year, we still picked a mountain-esque location with the Westin La Paloma and that gave people more of a jumping-off point for other adventures. There is just an abundance of activities all around the Tucson area and throughout the valleys, activities suited for both the business and the family travelers.”
Guests responded positively in a postevent survey, rating the venue 4.3 out of 5 stars and Tucson 4.39 out of 5 stars. Eightysix percent of respondents said they would considering returning to Tucson for a family vacation and 63 percent said they definitely could return.
FTA might be one of the first professional associations with children running around its annual meeting. “We talked about moving the conference to the summer so that more families can come before, after or during. This will also play a critical role in where we decide to meet. We need a good, central location, easy to fly to and plenty of highaltitude fun—somewhere that’s natural to tack on a few days,” Chesak emphasizes.
Service, Solitude & Spectacular Scenery
SUN VALLEY, IDAHO
The Utah Bankers Association (UBA) appreciates legacy and mountains. Its inception in 1908 has provided for many annual conventions—more than 100 in fact. Since 1946, the group has been traveling to neighboring Idaho and the intimate mountain resort town of Sun Valley for its annual meeting of bankers.
“Sun Valley offers a wide variety of accommodations, including the Sun Valley Inn, Sun Valley Lodge and condos and houses in all sizes. It works for the Utah bankers as we host a family-style event that typically includes 500 to 800 attendees, including bankers, business partners, spouses and families,” explains UBA Senior Vice President Wendy Holloway, who has been planning the association’s conference for more than 40 years. “It’s the service, scenery, solitude and privacy that keeps us coming back, now generation after generation.”
Utah bankers have anticipated the annual event for as long as many of them can remember. “We have a number of attendees who come as bank CEOs and executives and once came with their parents and/or grandparents as children. Attendees register and bring multiple generations of family members. Last year, one family had over 28 children and grandchildren with them,” she says. “There are activities for everyone including hiking, biking, horseback riding, trap shooting, golf, river rafting and much more.”
The association gathers the last week of June each year. A highlight of the event is the annual entertainment that ranges from a private ice show on the beautiful Sun Valley Ice Rink to concerts in the worldclass Sun Valley Pavilion featuring artists like Kenny Loggins.
“Sun Valley offers more options than any other surrounding resort, plus it’s the perfect distance from Utah. The 300-mile drive from Salt Lake makes it close enough for convenient travel, yet is far enough away to keep bankers out of the bank and enjoying the event,” Holloway explains. “The event is a true mixture of business and pleasure. But don’t be deceived by the party-like atmosphere; more than one deal has been conceived, signed and sealed at this meganetworking event.”
Attendees have adopted Sun Valley; they come early and stay late to enjoy the recreational opportunities and the beautiful scenery, some even buying homes nearby and hosting corporate events of their own.
Wild West Adventures & Yellowstone
William Frederick Cody, otherwise known as Buffalo Bill, left his namesake on the town of Cody and also much of the mystery and allure surrounding the Wild West. Cody also has other honorable and notorious draws for attracting meetings and events and keeping attendees entertained for extra days, including visits to nearby Yellowstone National Park. Located in a basin with the gorgeous Shoshone River running through the town, Cody is surrounded by mountain ranges. With a population of only 10,000 year-round residents, an incredible mountain adventure without many people around make the area a great destination for add-on fly fishing, hiking, horseback riding and pretty much any outdoor activity imaginable for families in warm and winter months from snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, skating and ice climbing to fishing, rafting, kayaking, hiking and more.
Quintin Blair, director of sales and marketing for Blair Hotels, helps organize numerous conferences throughout the year for his family’s hotels in Cody and is able to provide jam-packed programming for attendees. “We just hosted a retreat for top managers of a company based in Casper,” Blair says. “It was a combination of a corporate retreat and team-building with families. We had scavenger hunts, obstacle courses and many hours spent at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is actually five museums in one and covers over 40,000 square feet of exhibition space, including hands-on biology programs, falconry programs and so much more.”
Blair didn’t stop there when planning the most recent excursion. On tap were trail rides, whitewater rafting and even options of guided Yellowstone tours for guests who wanted to add extra days to their itineraries, and many did. “There are two entrances to Yellowstone very close to Cody, the East Entrance is 52 miles via the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway and the Northeast Entrance is 78 miles from Cody via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway,” he says. “Cody is much more affordable and many people who come to the hotels for conferences stay on to do a few days in the national park.”
As demonstrated by these examples, the location for gatherings that include families can be isolated square in the mountains or in a city center on the fringe of peaks. It’s the attractiveness of the conference and leisure elements planned that land attendees and their loved ones. Bleisure travel doesn’t have to mean only adults; on the contrary, it’s a great chance to not leave your family behind!
The Ultimate Combination & Day Trips
TAOS , NEW MEXICO
Taos has a long-established atmosphere and elevation for successfully mixing business gatherings with outdoor adventures such as the annual Ski Lift Pitch. Startup entrepreneurs are picked to ride the lift alongside venture capitalists, angel investors, industry experts and serial entrepreneurs, pitching their businesses while swooshing through high alpine forests at Taos Ski Valley. There’s even a winner at day’s end with funding awarded. Other entertaining options for working in the bleisure angle is a side trip to Santa Fe, about a two-hour drive from the slopes with adobes and arts and 45 minutes from Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa with full conference facilities. skitaos.com; taos.org; skiliftpitch.com