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Meeting in the Great Outdoors

Studies on the benefits of being outdoors indicate that a dose of nature can boost self-esteem and creativity, so why not hold your next meeting outside. Zoe vernor scans the globe for venues with outdoor spaces.

Getting some fresh air every day has long been considered as beneficial to our health. Studies show that being outside can alter self-esteem and increase vitality and creativity.

A series of studies led by Richard Ryan, US Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester in 2010 revealed being outside among nature makes people feel more alive.

“Nature is fuel for the soul,” says Ryan. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energised is to connect with nature.

“We have a natural connection with living things,” he adds. “Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it as a greater part of our lives is critical, especially as we live and work in built environments.”

With this study in mind, taking delegates or guests outside for an event could have a positive effect
and contribute to the event’s success.

The Grand Mecure Cypress Lakes Resort in Australia, New South Wales is surrounded by native Australian bush land and gardens, and makes the most of the sunny climate with its outdoor breakout room, the Lagoon Pool Marquee.

“Located in an ambient setting among the local flora and directly adjacent to Cypress Lake, this venue is the ideal outdoor venue,” says Marketing and Event Coordinator Chantelle Bennett. “The recently extended marquee is often used for outdoor lunches, welcome barbecues, or as a conference venue.”

Cypress Lakes held the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic gala dinner in the Lagoon Pool Marquee, and received positive feedback from Newton who describes Grand Mecure Cypress Lakes as “a great location for The Classic, and an ideal spot to have a conference”.

Many venues now offer both indoor and outdoor space that can be combined, especially for events with a large number of guests.  “We have noticed a trend in larger conferences requesting outside space as they want a change of scenery for their dinners,” adds Bennett. “With the views across the Lagoon Pool and a private Cabana Bar, the Marquee can provide a relaxed environment that encourages socialising.”

Business Development Director at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Meetings and Events, Jane Baker, says: “Our clients like to have outdoor space so executives can stretch their legs and get some fresh air between board meeting sessions. Brainstorm meetings work well outside as a change of environment and some delegates like to have an outdoor option so that they can smoke, which is important for our Spanish and Italian guests in particular.”

City in a garden

Singapore has embarked on a programme to enhance greenery and flora in the city. The Gardens by the Bay (GB) development, occupying 1m sqm of land by the water, is an integral part of Singapore’s ‘city in a garden’ vision. GB comprises three waterfront gardens: Bay South, Bay East and Bay Central, and offers new green spaces to host events.

Bay South, which opened in June this year, offers a choice of unique event spaces, including The Meadow, Singapore’s largest outdoor garden events venue with capacity to accommodate up to 30,000 people. Shaped like a flower bowl with cooled conservatories, man-made solar-powered Supertrees and Marina Bay cityscape, The Meadow can host MICE events, community functions, concerts, and product launches.

The Silver Leaf event space, tucked under a cluster of silver-hued Supertrees and overlooking the Dragonfly Lake, offers a scenic garden for low key, intimate outdoor events for up to 1,500 people.

Spirit of freedom

As well as health benefits gained from being outside, holding an event outdoors can allow more scope to be creative and make an event stand out from the crowd.

Rachael Cotton, Head of Trade and Corporate Sales at Alton Towers Resort in the UK says:

“Taking people outside of their normal working environment encourages creativity and imagination while building valuable relationships that can be taken back to the workplace and utilised.” Merlin Entertainments Alton Towers Resort is set in 500 acres of Staffordshire countryside in the UK and offers exclusive ride hire and the opportunity to take over the whole theme park for a minimum of 5,000 delegates. “Your imagination can run free with an event at Alton Towers,” she adds.

The Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel in Play d’en Bossa, Ibiza has an open-air space at the centre of the hotel with capacity for more than 5,000 guests. “Companies are always looking for ways to stand out from the competition. The constraints of an indoor venue limit the possibilities in terms of activities that can be held,” says Belen Madrid, Meetings and Events Director, Fiesta Hotel Group.

The venue receives requests predominately from entertainment, auto, banking and food companies and recently hosted UK radio station Radio One for its annual Ibiza Weekend. While the venue hosts more party orientated events in the summer months, out of season it is popular for product presentations, and incentive meetings. Madrid says that going forward the venue hopes to work with more conference bookers.

“Our venue works well for any event that requires a more informal, relaxed atmosphere, where participants can wear flip-flops to a meeting and dive into the sea afterwards,” she adds.

Ushuaïa hosted an outdoor event for Heineken and provided wristbands that when swiped over totems automatically posted a message onto Facebook, while photobooths around the venue posted pictures straight onto Facebook walls.

“Technological innovations available for events (including Facebook totems and pods that post automatic updates to Facebook and Paytouch technology), allow us to stand out from the crowd and attract more innovative and forward thinking brands,” says Madrid.

Indoor-outdoor: marquees and tents

When deciding whether to choose an outdoor venue for a meeting or event, a major consideration will always be the weather. “Weather is definitely one of the most unpredictable elements organisers have to face when considering an outdoor event,” says Madrid. Marquees and tents provide a temporary, undercover space that could be a good option if weather is in question.

The Sa Talaia Boutique Villa in Ibiza offers outdoor event space in the form of its new 660sqm pop-up tent.

The tent-shaped neoprene or ‘Haima’ differs from that of classic tents with a more elegant design originally inspired by the Bedouin tents of North Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The pop up space is surrounded by gardens, an outdoor pool and solarium terrace, and offers protection from the elements whether it be rain or hot midday sun. “In Ibiza, noon temperatures during summertime can easily reach 30 degrees and this must be taken into consideration for outdoor events,” says Madrid.

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) in Malaysia recently unveiled its new outside marquee space, Hall 6, which offers 2,600sqm of extra space to the large venue. Secured for the 25th World Gas Conference in June, Hall 6 is available for the next 12-20 months.

“The need to get away from the four-walled classroom or theatre-styled seating allows the creative offerings by venue providers to give clients what they want for their events – flexibility and adaptability, which has seen outdoor events generating a positive buzz among meeting planners,” says KLCC’s General Manager, Datuk Peter Brokenshire.

“With the increasing need to provide unforgettable meeting experiences a trend for holding events outside the building is surfacing,” he adds.

New outdoor spaces

A host of new outside developments are poised to open in the coming years. The Anaheim Convention Centre (ACC) in Orange County, California will unveil a new 9,300sqm outdoor event space, The Grand Plaza, in January 2013.

The centre has seen a steady increase in the use of the outside space surrounding the front of the
ACC Arena, and the Grand Plaza is a “manifestation of this increased interest”.

Elaine Cali, Vice-President of Communications at ACC said that while weather is the most important consideration for outside events, the “consistently sunny” weather in Southern California means the multi-purpose space can be utilised year-round. “The average annual rainfall is 10-14 inches and approximately 70 per cent of days are bright and sunny.

“People love being outdoors and meeting planners love offering their delegates the chance to participate in outside events. The Grand Plaza aims to take full advantage of the great year-round weather Southern California offers.”

Managing Director of Alpine Sterling, Warren Zahra, says that outdoor events are increasingly popular with delegates in Malta. “While choosing an outdoor venue can create some extra challenges, the Southern climate in Malta means outdoor events are ideal and delegates from colder climates always appreciate being able to spend time outside in the good weather while at a conference or event,” he says.

The ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre in St Petersburg, Russia is launching 40,000sqm of outdoor exhibition space in 2014. Of this, 20,000sqm is the space between pavilions and the remaining 20,000sqm is part of the outdoor parking area, which can be used for events. The space will not be promoted separately but as an optional and seasonal addition to the pavilions.

In his study Ryan says: “We can’t just be around artificial environments all the time. We need access to the green world,” so why not free the meetings spirit and explore the option of taking your next meeting or event outdoors.

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