Differences Between Business Retreats and Meetings

By Beth Buehler

Knowing the distinct purposes of business retreats and business meetings is very important for people who are assigned the task of planning such gatherings or who part of a larger planning team. The leaders of four Colorado-based destination management companies (DMCs) help explain the difference.

What is the difference between a business retreat and a business meeting?  

A business retreat is focused much more on high-level strategy, combined with lots of “white-space time” for the participants. Typically, the objective for a retreat is to take high-level thinkers out of their busy day-to-day schedules and to an intimate setting that allows them to really free up their creative thought process. I would envision a more relaxed setting, lots of outdoor time, informal roundtable gatherings, guided hikes, etc.—all to inspire a more strategic thought process. A business meeting is typically very structured and focused on a critical department within an organization. In many meetings we have experienced, the attendees are listening more than they are participating, and the content is driven by executives of the company or the department. – Kathy Fort Carty, DSC, Allied PRA

A retreat is usually a smaller meeting that convenes in an off-the-beaten-path destination; examples include dude ranches and experiential properties that offer the attendees an unusual setting that inspires organic networking and bonding opportunities. A business meeting typically takes place at a hotel not far from the airport, with meeting space and audio-visual support to accommodate the size and scope of the meeting. A business meeting is content-driven, while a retreat is focused on attendees experiencing the destination as a group. – Melissa Layton, Operation Altitude 

It’s hard to beat the aura of historic properties like C Lazy U Ranch near Granby. Courtesy C Lazy U Ranch.

The main difference we experience is that a retreat includes more elements on the agenda outside of the business meeting such as group activities, team-building or outings to explore the destination. Often, there also are elements of rejuvenation or relaxation as well. – Nicole Marsh, Imprint Group

A business meeting is focused on the immediate needs of a business or a specific topic that needs to be addressed. A business retreat is a time for team-building, reflection and focusing inward on the people and how they work together to accomplish goals. – Deana Mitchell, Realize Colorado, a Global DMC Partner

What is your top tip for planning a business retreat?   

Find a compelling venue that entices the guests to attend, unwind and connect with colleagues. – Melissa Layton

Be sure to have a good balance of meeting topics/sessions as well as time to bond as a team. – Nicole Marsh

Plan a speaker or activity that bonds the group, helping them to better know and understand each other so they will be more productive as a team moving forward. – Deana Mitchell

Pick a unique location in Colorado that allows attendees to get plenty of exercise, outdoor time, healthy meals and sleep. Let them recharge their batteries while participating in a strategic planning event. – Kathy Fort Carty

What is your top tip for planning a business meeting?

Select a location that is conducive for meetings, including ease of accessibility, solid meeting amenities and perhaps not too many distractions from the meeting agenda. – Nicole Marsh

Find a space that is conducive to focusing on the topic at hand, but close to something fun during a break or for the evening. – Deana Mitchell

Make certain the meeting objectives are well integrated with destination experiences. While there are always learning/business objectives that have to be met by the organization, you can typically take attendees out of a standard meeting room to participate in activities that allow them to collaborate, communicate and solve problems together. By getting the attendees engaged and experiencing situations together, it will create a stronger corporate culture and encourage innovation and creativity on the job. – Kathy Fort Carty

Selecting a centrally located hotel with easy access and meeting space that is conducive to the group’s agenda and specific requirements. Denver is an ideal destination for meetings with easy air lift from the east and west and unlimited hotel choices within 30 minutes from the airport. – Melissa Layton.  

In Colorado, it’s possible to enjoy both the outdoors and city action. Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Denver.

How does your approach to selecting a venue and/or destination change when planning a business retreat vs. a business meeting?  

For a business meeting, you need the connectivity/technology. For a business retreat, take advantage of the great outdoors Colorado has to offer and minimize the technology! – Deana Mitchell.  

There are many options to get outdoors in Colorado. Courtesy Visit Vail Valley.

We start by listening to our clients and the meeting stakeholders to really understand the objectives and priorities for the program. Some clients may state they want a business meeting, but when they describe the “feel” they want for their attendees, we may direct them to a less traditional venue. The venue for a business meeting is most often driven by the size of the group, access to an airport, and an appropriately sized hotel and meeting space. If the group is small, they might select a hipper boutique hotel in downtown Denver versus a large corporate hotel with access to the Colorado Convention Center. Retreats tend to be more intimate, so selecting the venue is often more about finding the right location/destination that is still readily accessible but allows for the type of experience the client is seeking. For instance, a yoga retreat will have to book a location that offers access to indoor/outdoor yoga space and most likely a healthy style of food. A strategic planning retreat for executives may still want a highly accessible hotel/lodge, but perhaps would select a mountain resort that really allows the execs to relax, disconnect a bit, and gather in a variety of intimate spaces in and around the property. – Kathy Fort Carty

A business retreat venue provides a unique experience that showcases the destination. – Melissa Layton

When planning a business retreat, one should seek out a venue or destination with a good mix of amenities and options to balance work and play. It is important to allow the team to focus on both and enjoy the moments. When planning a business meeting, it’s great for attendees to experience the destination during their free time, but it is not as necessary to cater to the free-time activities and options. – Nicole Marsh

What is one standout reason that Colorado is a good place for either a meeting or retreat?  

We have so much diversity in Colorado—from exceptional citywide convention hotels like the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center and the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center—and still can offer an amazing resort experience for a large group at The Broadmoor. As it pertains to small to midsize meetings, we have hotels in our mountain resorts that range in size, style and rate to suit groups that are budget conscious or very high end. – Kathy Fort Carty.  

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs offers great options for both business meetings and retreats. Courtesy The Broadmoor.

Colorado has hotel options ideal for business meetings as well as out of the way retreat locations where attendees can unplug, bond and brainstorm. – Melissa Layton

Colorado is an excellent location for both meetings and retreats. For meetings, we are centrally located, allowing attendees to get in and out with ease, and have an abundance of direct flights. For retreats, our city and mountain destinations offer an unrivalled mix of opportunities for attendees to work and play. – Nicole Marsh

Colorado has a way of inspiring people and changing their perspectives to think out of the box. Even if the focus is a business meeting, there are lots of opportunities to have a mini-retreat as a 30-minute break or an evening networking event to experience the outdoors and nature! – Deana Mitchell

Additional thoughts …

When planning a retreat agenda, it is important for leadership to feel there is enough content and return on investment (ROI) from a meeting perspective to make the expense (whether time and/or money) worth it. The meeting agenda and focus on the outcomes is just as important as the time for the team to bond and feel refreshed and rejuvenated upon return. It is a delicate balance, but when planned correctly has tremendous benefits to the organization. We recently “rebranded” our own internal incentive trip to be called and formatted as a retreat instead. We felt the term incentive eluded to pure fun with no content and have found a good balance with meeting content and free time. – Nicole Marsh

Colorado has so much to offer in multiple destinations! As a DMC, we specialize in finding the right location and spaces for clients to accomplish their objectives with the maximum inspirational impact of our surroundings. – Deana Mitchell

Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events, and enjoys exploring Colorado.