4 Tips to Help Plan Colorado Incentive Travel

By Beth Buehler

Not long ago, I wrote an article about the experience economy. Ho-hum meetings and events with a speaker going on about a topic at the front of the room and a huge banquet luncheon with lackluster plated food no longer make the cut in world that moves fast and furious. People are short on time and choosy about taking time out of the office, and incentive trips are no different. Plus, they are intended to help drive employee and client performance.

Here are four trips to plan Colorado incentive travel that will both grab attendees’ attention and create great memories for all involved.

Offering Wow Experiences 

Incentive trips must provide wow experiences, and Colorado specializes in doing just that. When selecting a location and exploring the options, ask destination marketing organization, hotel and destination management company contacts about the top four wow experiences in their areas. After looking at the options, consider which ones plug into your group and attendees best. Do you have adventure seekers who thrive on whitewater river rafting, snowcat skiing and zip lining in the forests? Or would your group be more into things like casual bike outings between vineyards on Colorado’s Western Slope or microbreweries in Boulder and Fort Collins or hands-on food tours and cooking classes in Denver?

Wine Country Inn in Palisade is rich in views and options. Courtesy Wine Country Inn.

There also are amazing experiences that involve animals at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide with interactive alpha tours, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs with giraffe feeding, and Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg with a 1.5 mile “Mile Into The Wild” elevated walkway that overlooks lions, tigers, and bears spread out on nearly 9,800 acres. Or catch a glimpse of animals in the wild at Rocky Mountain National Park and other mountain towns.

Feeding the giraffes at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. Courtesy Visit COS.com.

There also are plenty of extraordinary and intentional team-building options that feel more like free-time activities when completing a community service project for local trails and community gardens or engaging in a Rocky Mountain River Challenge or 4X4 GPS Orienteering Challenge with CBST Adventures.

Partnering with Extraordinary Places & Spaces

Colorado is home to several destinations and resorts that regularly land on top of travel media lists as well as individual traveler’s bucket lists. Places like Beaver Creek, Aspen, Vail and Telluride are internationally known and pack a powerful punch when announced as an incentive trip destination.

Sonnenalp Hotel is part of Vail’s alpine charm. Courtesy Sonnenalp Hotel.

Or go for a very exclusive and private experience at places like Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in Gateway, C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, and The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp, Fishing Camp and The Ranch at Emerald Valley, all part of the iconic resort’s Wilderness Experience options.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash offers a wide range of meeting spaces with views. Courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

Among my favorite Colorado excursions are food, beverage and activity experiences on mountaintops or mid-mountain like Elk Camp and Lost Forest (opening this summer) at Snowmass and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs.

Plugging into Colorado’s Spirit

The spirit of the West is alive and well in Colorado. Book a stay at a working ranch, a horseback ride that wraps up with a chuck wagon or barbecue dinner, tickets for a rodeo in Steamboat Springs or Durango, or a cowboy poet who can interact with and entertain guests.

Cowboy Poet Train on the D&SNGRR. Courtesy Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Health and wellness also is big in Colorado, and it doesn’t have to involve hardcore athletic activities. Yoga classes on an outdoor deck or on stand up paddle boards, spa treatments that utilize local ingredients and products, and nutritional break foods such as smoothies made with peaches grown on the state’s Western Slope are all fairly easy to accomplish.

The state also is filled with creative people, places and activities that inspire. Plug into top-notch speakers without having to fly them in, stay in creative districts that are popping up around the state (e.g., Golden Triangle Creative District in Denver), and plug into concerts, art walks and festivals that are already happening.

Thinking Beyond the Transportation Norm

In my opinion, transportation can be one of the most lackluster items on an itinerary, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a gondola to dinner or to access some of the best ski slopes in the world. In Telluride, the gondola between the historic downtown and Mountain Village is free! Amtrak connects several Colorado towns and weaves through the mountains along the way, and trains like the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, Georgetown Loop Railroad and Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offer truly memorable outings including several with specific themes.

Bike-sharing programs in communities like Aspen, Denver, Golden, Fort Collins and Boulder make it easy to get groups on bikes inexpensively or book an outfitter to get groups between points A, B and C on two wheels with good food and beverage or great attractions along the way. I also love riding in pedi-cabs in downtown Denver. It’s a fun way to get to a restaurant, concert or Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field.

For those who like to walk or hike, utilize local trails and provide a scavenger hunt or photo safari along the way to keep groups engaged and moving. Or stay a couple nights in Crested Butte and hike to Aspen for a couple more nights for an incentive trip that incorporates two iconic ski towns. For those not up for the 11-mile hike, book a shuttle that stops in towns like Redstone and Carbondale along the way and greets the rest of the group upon arrival.

Hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen with friends for a meeting was better than driving a car, plus there was a champagne toast at the top of West Maroon Pass. Photo by Beth Buehler.

These four tips should provide a great start to planning Colorado incentive trips that both intrigue and impress!

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