Annual Sales Kickoff:
Many tech companies host an annual sales kickoff every January or February to help recap the previous year, set goals for the upcoming year, and announce new product launches. These kickoffs have evolved from traditional Webex meetings with content delivered to live, hands on sales trainings and/or simulation tests. With the shift in these kickoffs comes many added costs. Webex/Zoom is the low cost non personalized solution that allows companies to share their updates and changes in a concise meeting format up to 3 hours. Anything over the battery life of a computer and you start losing attendees on the other side of the screen. And to be honest after 70 minutes you lose the focus of a majority of dial-in participants. The more popular solution today is getting employees together for a 3-4 day intensive kickoff event. An important part of these events and the shift towards in person events is the positive effect on company culture. What better way to boost employee morale and get your employees to "drink the Kool aid" than put them together for 3 days in a sales training environment during the day and at night social networking events. Most kickoffs only include 4-8 hours of content and the rest has moved to a more hands-on experience. So this all leads to the most common asked question of meeting planners. Where should we go next year?
And unfortunately for most growing tech companies this comes 6-9 months before their 300-600 person event! The tech market is constantly changing with IPO's, funding, and acquisitions so meeting planning time-frames have continued to shrink while cash is watched more closely.
Most of the common locations get asked about first and sadly those are usually the worst options for growing tech companies: Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami. Again if an important piece of your Kickoff event is culture and networking then throw Las Vegas out the door. There is too much to do each evening in Vegas that it pulls people in different directions and instead of networking as a large group at a local bar, guests are off attending shows, walking the strip, hitting the blackjack tables, and exploring everything Vegas has to offer. Is it fun, yes. But are you creating an environment for employees to bond with a larger group, probably not. Planning Orlando under 9 months is unrealistic, room blocks are booked 2-3 years in advance. The cost is high and again it’s a large area and it spreads guests out. Plus you are paying a premium for the proximity to Disney and usually for millennial US based sales reps the value is lost on them. Miami has a few perks: easy airlift, smaller manageable properties in which you can own the meeting space, warmer weather, and the sexy nightlife of being in South Beach. With all of this comes a premium and Miami in January/February is their busy time of the year. Again the properties book up well in advance and at night guests are going to look to explore the different nightlife options provided in Miami.
Then you get to the next level of US based options: Nashville, Scottsdale, San Diego, New Orleans, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Dallas. If budget allows it, all of these options are perfect for growing tech companies. New Orleans might be a reach given the distractions but you can still make it work. The airlift in Atlanta and Dallas is exceptional for worldwide kickoffs despite the average weather. The weather can be better in Ft. Lauderdale, Scottsdale and San Diego but average airlift and elevated costs due to weather.
But let's think outside the box and look at All-Inclusive options if you really want to get the most value for your dollar and build the best networking opportunity.
You ask why an all-inclusive? First, the value for your dollar
Yes single occupancy rooms can get expensive but let's look at a pricing example. For a 5 star all-inclusive in Dominican Republic, Mexico or Jamaica you are looking at the cost of approximately $400 per night. For Panama you can get closer to $250 per night.
For that $400 per night per person you are receiving a sleeping room (compared at $209++ so with taxes/fee $260 per night for US based event), meeting space, breakfast (compared at $43++ so with taxes/services approx $52), lunch (compared at $48++ so with taxes/services approx $58), morning and afternoon breaks (compared at $38++ total so ~$46). Again this includes bottomless coffee, tees, sodas, waters, etc for attendees during all meeting days.
So without dinner or any evening events the pricing compares:
European Plan (no food or beverage included) $416
Now add dinner, cocktail reception, and late night drinks at the bar.
Dinner estimate $89++ = $108
Open Bar 3 Hours $46++ = $56
After Bar Estimate $30++ = $36
So with dinner and beverage spend
European Plan (no food or beverage included) $616
Keep in mind not all of the all-inclusive resorts will include all breaks and evening events without a surcharge but almost all of them will negotiate it into the contract if you push back on them to include it.
So as you can see for the budget it makes complete sense.
Now for the culture and networking aspect
When an event is held at an all inclusive property it keeps all attendees on site for their entire stay. This forces natural networking. When an attendee heads to the bar before the evening event they are likely to find a co-worker and strike up a conversation. When the attendees head to the disco on site or the sports bar on site they will run into other co-workers. You are no longer forcing attendees to hang out but it happens naturally in a more social setting. You no longer find employees texting just their friends at the company to meet at specific times/places and instead you find people heading to the lobby bar or sports bar on site to see what other attendees are doing. When you plan the middle night free, all of a sudden you find groups of 10-20 employees joining each other at the hotels steakhouse or hibachi table. For those who are new to the company or a more quiet personality it is easier to infiltrate groups in an all-inclusive setting where everyone is on one small property.
Finally, the ease of planning
The all inclusive properties provide a more packaged experience so it creates an easier experience for the planning process. The menus are more concise and standard. The individual incidentals play a smaller role. And guests can be provided more flexibility and less structure since they will naturally end up networking together! All of a sudden a middle night free makes sense versus a structured evening event.
When there are only 450 rooms at a resort and your company takes up 350 then its guaranteed employees will be running into each other every day and all day!
Most all inclusive properties are machines at producing corporate events and will go a step above what you would normally expect (especially in Mexico and Panama). There are less unions to fight with (see Las Vegas and Orlando) and the hotel will jump through hoops to provide an experience that will make you want to come back each and every year. And do not sleep on the AV teams at these properties. They are not the Wynn team but they can plan a production that includes everything from LED spotlights to video mapping.
Overall, as the makeup of these kickoffs continue to evolve and tech companies grow globally it will be interesting to see if more companies move their annual kickoff events from domestic hotels to international all-inclusive resorts. The value and benefits is there. Now the challenge is finding the appropriate 5 star experience in a foreign country.
Here are a handful of properties that are a great fit for corporate kickoff events.
- Westin Playa Bonita Panama
- Hyatt Ziva Montego Bay
- Paradisus Palma Real Punta Cana
- Unico 2087 Riviera Maya
- Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos
- Grand Velas (Los Cabos, Puerta Vallarta, Riviera Maya) - Higher Budget Hotel