For your next offsite, opt for offbeat destinations
Note to human resources heads: if you want productive and happy meetings, move away from the five-star location down the road
Recently, the company that I work in organized an offsite conference at Amritsar. This was a big change from common offsite locations that companies tend to head to—Goa, Phuket or the five-star hotel down the road. Amritsar was a refreshing change. Apart from a very productive conference, and some delightful Punjabi food (Amritsari chole are heavenly), many participants made time to visit places that only a few people had seen before—the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Wagah Border and the evocative Partition Museum.
Whether you have a big budget (unlikely) or a small one (more likely), there are many unusual places you can choose for your organization’s next offsite. Here is a possible list.
For offsites that involve engaged sessions, such as case-studies or lectures, universities and business school campuses are good options, and cost-effective too. They have the required teaching infrastructure, and, for many managers, a return to the classroom subliminally signals new learning. The mind opens up better when seated in classrooms, I think, rather than at a glitzy hotel. University campuses generate a happy sense of student nostalgia, particularly when you sit at the chaiwallah’s shop after the day’s agenda is done.
If you are planning a conference where some good and sharp thinking is required, museums are great venues. Many museums have attached conference halls, and also large lawns adjoining them. By their very nature, museums encourage curation of the best thoughts, and wonderful storytelling. And a conducted tour of the exhibits at the museum can provide participants an intellectual voyage that few other places can.
On the high seas
A conference on board a ship is an interesting idea. Ships are not so accessible or affordable, though, so some extra planning will be required. But a conference that also doubles up as a cruise certainly has a romantic flavour to it. I also think the vastness of the sea induces a sense of calm, and therefore makes for far more congenial conferences. Particularly if there are contentious topics on the agenda.
Towns with themes
There are many towns in India which are generally not high up on the conference map, but can make for excellent offsite locations because they have such interesting themes. For instance, Amritsar is about the Sikh religion, the independence struggle and Partition. Similarly, Munnar is about tea plantations, and, of course, sheer natural beauty. Think of Vishakapatnam, Mysuru, Madurai, Udaipur, Guwahati, Kochi or Leh. All towns with wonderful themes.
If your offsite conference requires lots of space and a dollop of creative thinking, then your local theatre is a good place to consider. Theatres are generally perceived as creative hubs, they have the seating capacity required, and also a large dais for speakers. To make the conference unique, you could consider adding a play by a local theatre group to the agenda, or even encourage participants to stage a play themselves, which is fun and encourages teamwork too.
Ashrams and Yoga Centres
For offsites where a key objective is to relax and recharge, ashrams and yoga centres can potentially deliver the goods. If you have the budget, you could choose Rishikesh or elsewhere in the Himalayas. Otherwise, there are good ashrams on the periphery of many cities , with meeting room facilities as well. Here, a conference packaged along with a yoga programme could be a bonus. An added advantage is sattvic vegetarian food, and a no-alcohol rule, which may enable everyone to detoxify themselves, and, with some luck, also lose a kilo or two.
A corporate campus (not your own, silly)
An offsite conference at the campus of another corporate that is not your competitor, is an interesting idea. Many corporates have large and interesting campuses today, equipped with conference centres. Typically, these are located in city suburbs, or in IT parks. An added bonus can be a learning mission to that organization’s facilities. Taking forward this idea needs some networking, and may also require you to offer a reciprocal arrangement to the other organization.
Back to Goa
If every other option fails, there is always Goa. We love going back there, for offsites of all hues. Goa has the beaches, affordable wine (important) and bohemian air that make for a perfect combination. Every time I land in Goa for an offsite, I smell the totally relaxed, salty air and fall in love with the place all over again.
Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He thinks every offsite requires a great disc jockey, because there is nothing like some inspired dancing to round up a great conference.