Groups continue to seek out distinct open-air settings to elevate their event. Whether it’s at the top of a mountain or on the deck of a river cruise ship, the opportunities are abundant.
The Sky Deck at Queen’s Wharf Brisbane is set to open in 2024, bringing a new open-air event space with capacity for up to 1,500.
“Our signature arc-shaped building is home to Sky Deck and offers unrivalled 360-degree views of the city,” says Nicole Barclay, marketing communications manager for the Queen’s Wharf. “Perched 328 ft above the Brisbane River, the 820-ft-long rooftop space features amazing restaurants and bars and will be a landmark destination.”
Wharf Brisbane will undergo a staged opening from April 2024 and will include the five-star, 340-room The Star Grand hotel as well as an 11,500-sf Event Centre anchored by Brisbane’s largest hotel ballroom, with capacity to host up to 2,000. The facility will also offer a pre-function area and six breakout rooms that can accommodate up to 120 attendees.
Additionally, The Star Brisbane offers a 130,000-sf Leisure Deck with more than two-football fields of mixed-use space and direct access to the Sky Deck. The Landing is a 70,000-sf space that includes a series of grassy knolls and terraces with connectivity to Queen’s Wharf Plaza, making it ideal for riverfront activations: food festivals, art and light exhibitions, music festivals and events.
“New Zealand’s awe-inspiring landscapes lend themselves perfectly to outdoor experiences,” says Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager, NZ & business events, Tourism New Zealand. “We have venues opening on to the harbor front or lakefront; set in vineyards and amongst towering redwood forest; or accessible by an uphill gondola ride. We’ve had mountaintop awards ceremonies accessible only by helicopter and dine around dessert stations set on the platforms under the night-lights of an elevated treetop canopy walk.”
Incentive program operator NewZeal offers experiences within the pristine South Island wilderness, such as using high-end tepees as the setting for a gala dinner set beside a river for up 150 people or luxury glamping experiences in the snow.
“Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique Indigenous Maori culture means New Zealand can offer experiences found nowhere else in the world,” says Spreitzer. “Recognized as the tangata whenua—or people of this land—Maori have a strong cultural emphasis on hospitality and respect for the natural environment, and there are some unforgettable options for incentive programs.”
MICE attendees can learn a bespoke haka (war challenge) to rally their organization or forage in the forest to discover the healing properties of nature on a guided tour of New Zealand’s native plants.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, groups can be the first in the world to see the sunrise, with a dawn tour to Maunga (Mount) Hikurangi, accompanied by local guides sharing Maori mythology and origin stories.
Rotorua offers a range of options for meaningful Maori cultural experiences for groups. At Te Puia, attendees can witness a cultural performance and haka, dine on a traditional hangi (fire pit) meal and enjoy a guided tour of Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, witnessing the Pohutu Geyser, the biggest, naturally active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.
At Te Pa Tu there are culture and kai (cuisine) events which share Maori history and traditions. Guests can enjoy a whakatau (welcome), a kapahaka (song and dance) performance within the Tawa Forest, and special menus curated by Maori chefs that fuse traditional fare with seasonal produce.
“Our pool area, which has a large waterfall, can actually be converted into a really stunning group setting area,” says Amaury Piedra, managing director, Caribe Royale Orlando. “We also get very creative and have done a lot of events in the porte-cochere of the convention center. When it gets transformed into, for example, a food truck event, meeting planners completely forget that they are in the porte-cochere of a convention center and not at a food truck festival.”
In October 2023, Caribe Royale Orlando will be opening a 20,000-sf outdoor events lawn called The Grove, which will be attached to its convention center. The lushly landscaped space will be able to accommodate events up to 2,000 and also has the option for a tent that can cover the entire space for shade in the summer months.
Also anticipated in late 2023/early 2024 is the new Stadium Club, a 360-seat, 500-capacity entertainment venue that includes a sports bar, 360-degree bank of TV screens designed after the SoFi Stadium in LA, and eight state-of-the-art golf simulators.
“It’s really going to be a game changer for us,” says Piedra. “We already have about seven buyouts of the venue, even though it’s not even built yet, all in the first quarter of next year. It’s going to be fantastic for our meetings customers and it’s really going to be the highest energy spot in the entire property.”
The resort’s pastry chef Josh Cain specializes in chocolate artistry and can lead experiences where groups can learn the art of chocolate making from scratch, or participate in teambuilding events where attendees compete to shape chocolate creations in elaborate shapes such as a swan or a castle.
Transcend Cruises will begin its operations with Advance by Transcend in 2023, a leased vessel designed to provide an introduction to the brand ahead of the launch of its newbuild ships anticipated for 2025. Advance features an expansive top deck with options for MICE groups such as a silent disco for all on board, or a cocktail party using the Pop-Up bar that magically descends to avoid low bridges, movie night under the stars, or breakouts on the loungers and tables in the shade.
“However, what is most unique is not the actual space itself but how Transcend approaches the planning with each of our MICE clients,” says Sean Mahoney, sr. VP of sales, Transcend Cruises. “As we only produce charters, every single one is customized to the client’s desires. Thus, the creativity is only limited by their imagination.”
Transcend’s newbuild ships have been specifically designed for meetings and events. Accommodating up to 120 passengers, the ships offer 60 staterooms that can be converted into 2-room suites, as well as charter-focused spaces and services. The ships will provide the ability to create unique breakouts on the top deck, such as a “drive-in movie experience” in a river cruise lounge chair while watching a 144-inch self-raising super resolution AV system. The ships will also feature a wellness space that includes an open-air yoga pad and a barefoot walking path.
“MICE groups especially want their own private event,” says Mahoney. “We went to planners across the industry to identify the roadblocks and stressors they encountered in booking private group travel, and especially those on a river cruise ship—and we designed ships, and a business model to respond to their desires.”
Shore experiences could include participating in a branded driving experience for the day, where icons of the industry such as a sponsored race car driver or the designer of a car model will be brought onto the ship upon their return to extend the experience. Or a group could spend a day visiting a vineyard and learning about the organic farming experience, and then the produce and local grapes will then be used on board for an interactive cooking experience.
Marina del Rey is located just four miles north of LAX along the Los Angeles coastline. Its venues combine to offer more than 100,000 sf of flexible event space—including many expansive outdoor spaces.
“What’s unique about Marina del Rey’s outdoor spaces is almost every venue features spectacular waterfront views,” says Janet Zaldua, CEO, Marina del Rey Tourism Board. “Groups choose rooftop spaces overlooking the Pacific Ocean or waterside terraces or post-conference cocktail hour and outdoor receptions. Oftentimes, incentive groups charter yachts, either large party boats that cruise in the harbor or a sunset sail to Santa Monica Bay for smaller groups.”
The Marina del Rey Hotel has invested $1 million in a redesign of its indoor and outdoor dining spaces including its pool deck and bar area. Jamaica Bay Inn, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, is undergoing a renovation of its guest rooms in late 2023 with anticipated completion by spring 2024. Hilton Garden Inn will undergo a renovation of its guest rooms as well toward the end of 2023.
“MICE groups enjoy being in the Marina because of its laid-back resort-style vibes,” says Zaldua. “Wellness is one of the hottest trends in meeting planning and, naturally, Marina del Rey meets the growing demand for meeting-friendly health and wellness experiences with ease. Within the Marina’s 1.5 sq miles, we offer stress-reducing “brain break” opportunities for MICE groups. Here, they can strengthen their team’s collaborative skills with a group sailing lesson, kick-start the morning with paddleboard yoga followed by breakfast on the beach, or bike along the 22-mile paved Coastal Trail.”
“Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau features an impressive 40,000 sf of indoor and outdoor space, offering a variety of stunning venues to meet all your needs,” says Craig Martin, general manager, Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau. “Our premier space is the breathtaking Compass Rose Ballroom, spanning 4,880 sf and boasting floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic natural views. In addition, we offer five private function rooms, including an executive boardroom, ensuring every kind of event can be accommodated.”
The Garden Lawn offers 2,250 sf of space ideal for outdoor receptions while the Boardwalk is perfect for Junkanoo Parties. Groups can host an event on the beach with 20,000 sf of beach space, or at the SOS Bar & Terrace with 2,400 sf of outdoor space for a more laid-back setting.
“There are numerous cultural experiences within the vicinity of the resort, including the historical landmarks of Nassau, the world-renowned Queen’s Staircase and the vibrant Junkanoo Beach,” says Martin. “The property is within walking distance to all of Nassau’s hotspots, such as the Straw Market, Arawak Cay or “Fish Fry,” shopping and dining. These locations provide an escape from corporate meetings, enabling guests to connect with the Bahamas’ rich history, arts and culture.”
The British Colonial, a sister hotel within The Pointe’s 6-acre development, is set to reopen in December 2023. After a complete renovation, the hotel will offer 288 guest rooms and 18,000 sf of indoor meeting space.
businessevents.newzealand.com; cariberoyalemeetings.com; transcend.cruises; queenswharfbrisbane.com.au; visitmdr.com/meetings-in-marina-del-rey; pointebahamas.com