Consider a Campus-Style Event

Improve Meetings and Engage with the Local Communities

Getting away from the office for a meeting occasionally is an imperative for businesses today. To get the most experience out of your business trip or retreat, try taking a breather and head to a new city this year. You will find this can lead to more fruitful discussions and better bonding for your team. Rather than camping out in a traditional conference space or meeting room, consider incorporating the city itself into your meetings with a campus-style event. With this type of meeting, you get to visit a city while on business and learn about the area at the same time.

During campus-style events, groups meet, eat and sleep in different locations. All the sites on the schedule are usually within walking distance of each other, hence the name “campus-style”.

Nan Devlin, director of tourism at Visit Tillamook in Tillamook, Oregon, has become quite adept at planning and scheduling this type of event. She has found that the “smaller experiences produce better meetings,” because they provide for more productive, strategic and open discussions. She says, “A lot of ideas get sparked that might not in a traditional setting.”

Each event typically lasts three days and two nights. During that time, work balances play. Morning meetings can take place in a historic hall or a community building. Devlin has arranged for groups to meet in a firehall as well as museums and other historic Oregon buildings. These meetings can be followed with lunch by the waterfront and an afternoon of kayaking, hiking, fishing, beach bumming or even pottery making. Participants spend their nights in a downtown hotel or coastal B and B. The next day, they will have their main meetings and eat their meals where they can sample local chefs’ finest food. Many groups also take tours of the town or city, or they hire a tour guide for an introduction to local life.

Groups doing campus-style events typically range from 40 to 100 people, explains Devlin. Though it is possible to organize them for groups as large as 285 or 300 while maintaining their essence; what Devlin calls the “village experience.”

In one instance, a group that size enjoyed a dinner among the planes at the Tillamook Air Museum. The space easily allows for that number of people, and it is a unique spot for an evening meeting and meal. Large groups sometimes have to split up; for example, they’re usually divided between multiple hotels. But all remain within walking distance of the different venues that groups visit.

Campus-style events are growing in popularity. Millennials in particular look to ditch the boring beige walls of a conference center hotel and find new ways to organize a business trip or facilitate team bonding. They seek experiences even with matters of business. But the older generations participate too, and Devlin notes that a wide variety of organizations are planning these events. In the last several years, she’s seen non-profits, outdoor-focused companies, business executives and everything from technology companies to governmental departments do these events.

Even a birding group returns to Tillamook County each year. They choose a new city to explore, bond with each other and, of course, track new birds. Devlin also once organized a campus-style event for a corporation’s 40-person choir that was able to visit one of the most acoustic venues in Oregon.

The upswing in popularity is in large part due to how these events allow people to really engage with each other. Devlin says, “People enjoy getting out and walking around the town, meeting locals and learning something new.” And with the mental stimulation come ideas and insights that tend to be more innovative and creative. Not only do employees often form friendships, but the quality of meetings improves. It’s exciting to do things you normally wouldn’t do, especially on a business trip, like going crabbing or eating a dock-to-table dinner hosted by local fishermen, and that excitement carries over into the business side of the event. With entertained and refreshed minds, inspiration comes easier.

For Devlin, another rewarding outcome is the response she gets afterward. After about 25 years planning events, she’s concluded that, “The small events are just more satisfying…the feedback from them ends up being so great.” People who have participated in these business getaways often enjoy themselves enough to come back on vacation with their families, to share the experience with them. As Devlin says, “a lot of stories get told” throughout the events and afterward.

Organizations realize the benefit of these events as well and some return year after year. Like the birding group, most of Devlin’s repeat customers do one campus-style event per year, each time in a different city that their group can explore. After one or two, they start to plan them on their own.

If you plan to organize a campus style event, Devlin has outlined a few tips for coordinating your group and multiple venues.

She says the first consideration to make is the group’s goals. The itinerary, from city to hotel choice will vary depending on whether the activities are intended to be a learning experience, a bonding opportunity or a leisurely company retreat. The city sets the tone, so do research into which would align with your trip objectives. For example, beach, recreational or cozy winter towns are more suited for groups that want to focus on team building or relaxation.

Devlin also advises that planners take stock of the amenities their chosen venues have to offer. Does the hotel have its own meeting space, or even a convention center? Does your meeting or dinner space, whether it be a community college or air museum, have necessities like table rentals and cutlery?

Many eateries do not have catering capacity, so schedule beforehand if planning meals with restaurants and hubs. When you do contact them, restaurants and chefs able to host you might also be open to teaching your group about their signature stew, freshly-caught fish or whatever their specialty may be. The same goes for hotels. Look up their group rates and ask what offers you can secure for your proposed dates.

Finally, make use of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). They will have the best leads for venues and locals willing and able to host and entertain you.

Much like the groups themselves, CVBs should familiarize themselves with campus-style events, as they have proven enjoyable, effective and popular. More companies and organizations are choosing this kind of event, and they are great for bringing a mix of tourism and business revenue to the cities they visit. To assist groups keeping track of amenities they require, CVBs can make use of a database covering everything from transportation companies to weekend art classes that can accommodate meeting groups.

With more locations to coordinate, the more details there are to pay attention to. “It’s almost like leading a tour,” says Devlin. But if you plan ahead and get your database and lists together, everything should run smoothly. For the opportunity to learn about a new city or town, to really dig into the local culture on your business trip, it’s worth the extra measures in the planning stages.

For those with experience with this type of event, the planning will usually take an afternoon or full day, aside from organizing the details with chosen venues. If you need assistance putting your campus style event together, Devlin helps to organize them across Tillamook County. You can also visit for inspiration.

Visit Tillamook
Nan Devlin, director of tourism