One Size Fits All

Meeting Planning

Back in 1950, if you were on an all-inclusive, you’d be on the Spanish island of Mallorca, barefoot in the sand, salt water in your hair, sleeping in a straw hut at water’s edge and sharing a communal bathroom. For that mid-afternoon sangria, you’d fork over a few beads, but, otherwise, you remained deliciously decision-free because everything you could possibly eat, drink or do was included in your weekly, and very reasonable, fee. Bienvenue á Club Med!

The all-inclusive—recognized as a really good idea by resorts worldwide—was eventually picked up and modified by people with more serious agendas, for a lot of the same reasons; namely, it’s easier to manage and generally cheaper.

“I think that once you go there, you never go back!” declares Stephanie Hoffman, director of sales at Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge in Tahoe City, Calif.

In fact, offering a meetings package is mandated of any place that wants to have its conference center IACC-certified, as did Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa ( in north San Diego County, Calif. Terry P. Buchholz, director of conference services at Estancia, comments that they actually saw the IACC standards as a starting point. “We took it a step further, because we wanted to have a package that would work for anybody,” he says.

The meetings package at Estancia includes breakfast, lunch, dinner; a.m. and p.m. breaks; plus general session meeting room, LCD projector, podium, microphone, screen, flipchart, meeting room rental and service charge for all food and beverage. “For one price of $60–$170 per day, per person, you get all that,” he says. Then, attendees just have to pay for their room, even if the company will be reimbursing it later.

For the complete meeting package that includes the guest room, prices vary, driven by room type, but the meeting package chosen stays the same regardless.

The average meeting here runs four-and-a-half days; some go for two weeks. At the end, the bill for the meeting package is simple: “The cover itemization is one page and the food and beverage is anywhere from two to three pages,” says Buchholz, not including the backup.

Food, of course, is the big expense in a package, yet this AAA Four Diamond-honored property has a system for keeping the costs relatively low—in two words, the Grande Room, where groups dine together. “It’s set up restaurant-style and keeps restaurant hours,” explains Buchholz. They are greeted by a hostess and taken to their table, clustered with their group. For those with sensitive materials (80 percent of Estancia’s groups are pharmaceutical), who have scheduled a speaker, or who want to be outside, the resort does have the ability to offer privacy.

“The way we present our food gives us substantial savings on labor and food costs. We’re working with one buffet, one menu and one staff group,” he says. “We might have 7–10 groups on-property, and if we had seven different dining rooms to staff, with seven different buffet set-ups (with the food waste), the costs would really multiply.”

Sometimes, it’s not an easy sell to planners. “Everyone’s fine with the A/V, the rooms, but it’s the food and beverage that comes up, because they’re so used to having control after 10 to 20 years in the business,” he says. “They’re thinking of pre-packaged food, so we make sure to involve them from day one. We let them know that we only work with local growers, but by consolidating all the groups together, it gives us the opportunity to maintain the quality and do bulk. If you look at our package meals, it’s equivalent to a $50–$80 buffet per person.

“Also, because we have a 14-day menu rotation for the three meals and breaks, the planners don’t have to go through hundreds of pages of menus to appease every attendee.” That alone should make their all-inclusive a winner.