Cabins at B’nai B’rith Camp on Devil’s Lake in Oregon. View this property.

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The challenge of thinking beyond traditional retreat venues such as hotels or conference centers is simply a matter of being able to imagine a new experience.  It’s no surprise, then, that forward-thinking meeting planners are turning to non-traditional retreat venues, like summer camps. Whether the initial purpose is to save money, provide a unique attendee experience, build stronger teams or simply try something new, trying out a new or unique facility can result in unusually productive, memorable meetings. Here are six reasons why planners should consider non-traditional retreat venues:

1. They’re designed with groups in mind.

Whether it’s a camp or a formal retreat center, these facilities are not made for leisure travelers.  They are designed for learning, collaboration and growth–the same things reflected in many planners’ goals for a retreat.

2. They’ve got great meeting rooms and amenities.

With both attendees’ and planners’ growing desire for retreat centers outside of the hotel market, retreat centers have stepped up to provide more formal meeting spaces, A/V support, catering menus and room sets that allow for formal or informal meetings, large or small.

3. They generally allow the run of the space.

Many retreat centers are available for groups to rent out exclusively without added costs, which is a huge benefit. Not only can attendees feel more relaxed because they are the only group on property, but they can access all the recreation and special places on the property without having to juggle schedules with other groups. Most camps and retreat centers have many more options than do hotels for unique meeting spaces, team building and trust programs. This includes outdoor gatherings such as amphitheaters, as well as myriad porches to relax and spend time talking to each other rather than being locked in windowless rooms all day.

4. They’re surrounded by nature.

Being outdoors in nature spurs creativity and motivation–not to mention it allows attendees to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Breathing fresh air, seeing trees and birds and natural creations can help attendees perform better and be open to learning in new ways. Additionally, they’re able to perceive their colleagues through new eyes, which can diminish “baggage” that people often bring to meetings.

5. You get more bang for your buck.

  • Traveling to a camp or retreat center can be easy and cheap: There are hundreds of centers located less than an hour from major metropolitan areas, which allow a group to experience a new setting without the traveling hassle.
  • The rates at nontraditional retreat venues are often significantly less than hotels because they have no pressure for return on investment, as do for-profit facilities. Camp and retreat properties are often mission-driven organizations, seeking only to meet their budgets. As such their rates are much more competitive and reasonable. This makes them especially valuable for groups with smaller budgets, such as nonprofit groups, churches and universities.
6. You get a personalized experience.
By offering only group rentals, camps are able to extend their passion for group collaboration beyond the two months of summer camp to include many more people. The mission of camp and retreat center staffs is only to make sure your group’s experience is a success, meaning they can customize a group’s dining hours, menus, program options and much more.
What does this mean for retreat planners?

Retreat planners should not limit their search to hotels or conference centers when planning a retreat, regardless of budget. Good properties will be happy to accommodate just about any need and desire, just as they do in the summer for children and families. Nontraditional retreat venues are more than capable of producing an experience that any group is seeking.

Online retreat directories, like, are dedicated to serving planners seeking these venues across the United States.

Jaynie Schultz founded Retreat Central with Deb Williams in 2008 to serve planners looking for facilities outside of the traditional hotel market. She created the now-closed Garrett Creek Ranch retreat center with her mother more than 20 years ago, working as its founding director of sales and marketing. She is involved in many non-profit organizations and leadership development programs.

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