By MaryBeth Matzek | Photo: © Mission Point Resort

Looking to host a memorable business event or meeting with good attendance and built-in help? A waterfront resort might just be the answer you are looking for. And, in the Midwest, there are plenty from which to choose.

Waterfront resorts are popular with attendees for obvious reasons — the scenery, the extracurricular activities and the fun. They are often popular with planners, too, as they typically come with turnkey services, which come with more options and customization to help make the event one that attendees will remember fondly.

Resorts frequently offer in-house assistance, with help suggesting the right location for various gatherings, selecting activities, choosing food and beverage options, and more.

Ann Walters, the director of sales and marketing for Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach, Missouri, says event planners work directly with her staff to create an agenda that takes care of all the details. “When planning, you want to include recreational activities since that adds energy to an event. A waterfront resort has so many activities built in, allowing you to stay at a single destination,” she says. “I tell everyone planning an event to make sure they provide time for relaxation and rejuvenation.”

A resort’s on-site event planners become an extension of an event planner’s team, providing insight about activities and what’s been successful at previous gatherings, says Colin Sanderson, director of sales and marketing at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in Galena, Illinois, which is located on the shores of Lake Galena and home to four award-winning golf courses.

“Planners use our team-building experts to help them develop events that follow along with the theme of their meeting. The resort has inside and outside venues that are perfect for meetings, but planners should also be sure to take advantage of the outdoors as much as possible. Regardless, we encourage our planners to do something different,” he emphasizes.

At Margaritaville Lake Resort, which sits on 420 acres, staffers ask questions throughout the planning process to raise topics the event planner might have not thought through. “Our planners know our property well and can bring up pertinent considerations, such as, if a group is golfing, do golfers pay for their items from the beverage cart or does everything go on the organizer’s tab,” Walters says.


Terri Bain, director of sales at Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wisconsin, suggests all events begin along the lakeshore with a cookout. Lake Lawn sits along 2 miles of Delavan Lake’s shoreline. “It creates a relaxing way for people to reconnect or connect for the first time,” she says. “And it puts everyone at ease.”

Planning a successful event often requires the right blend of recreation and business, agrees Walters. “I suggest starting off the day with breakfast, then scheduling the meeting and, after lunch, allowing an afternoon of recreation before reconvening in the evening for dinner and more programming,” she says. “I think a free afternoon for recreation is a good option. If you provide too much free time — such as a whole day — people may end up working, which defeats the purpose of having time for rest and rejuvenation.”

Sanderson advises planners look at holding a three-day meeting in which attendees are doing interactive events throughout the event. “You can plan a group activity for everyone or provide attendees their choice of activities, such as horseback riding, ziplining, golf or visiting the history museums in downtown Galena,” he says. “One popular activity is conducting an Amazing Race that takes attendees on an adventure throughout the resort or downtown area.”

Some planners want to account for every minute during the event, which can backfire, warns Walters.

“Don’t over-plan. You can schedule some activities, like a boat ride, but don’t say, ‘At 9, we will have this number of people riding horses and then this many people playing minigolf.’ You want to provide options for people and not all events need to be scheduled ahead,” she says. “That’s where our staff can help. We can tell you whether you need to reserve time for a particular activity.” An afternoon or evening cruise with a possible signature beverage is a relaxing event everyone can enjoy together, for example.

And when people cannot be outside — it is hard to show a PowerPoint on the beach, after all — use rooms overlooking the water since it is calming for many people, says Bain. “We try to customize everything as much as possible for our different groups.”


Sometimes a special touch, like hosting a welcome event outside, and including cornhole or other fun activities, creates energy, keeping attendees engaged throughout the meeting or event. “Providing an activity helps people remember the experience longer than if you only provide food and beverages,” according to Walters.

Doing something unexpected, such as a Meet at the Green event, where a part of the meeting is held on one of the greens at Eagle Ridge Resort’s golf course, also creates positive memories, Sanderson says.

“We know that not everyone at an event plays golf, so we developed a way for attendees to still get involved by incorporating team-building events, such as footgolf, or using nontraditional clubs — like a tennis racket to tee off, a hockey stick to putt and a bat to hit the ball out of the fairway,” he says.

In fact, Eagle Ridge converted one of its 18-hole golf courses over to footgolf, where players use a soccer ball and kick it toward the hole vs. using a golf club and ball. Footgolf is sanctioned by the PGA, adds Sanderson.

Similarly, Lake Lawn has a large, inflatable human foosball table (it’s exactly what you think it is) that can hold up to 10 people for a fun, team-building activity. “While some people are in there, other people can participate in another activity, like chipping golf balls into rings on the ground,” Bain says. “Our activities coordinator takes care of everything so the event planner doesn’t need to worry about it at all.”

Don’t forget to time events around sunrise or sunset to take advantage of gorgeous waterfront views.

“Bring back youthful activities, such as kite flying, stone skipping and creating cairns along the shoreline,” which are not only fun, but memorable, suggests Debbie Denyer, a group sales specialist at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Adding a lunch outdoors on blankets with picnic baskets is another whimsical touch.

“Everyone loves photo and video opportunities for social media,” so remember to capture them so everyone can “help with marketing future conferences by way of fear of missing out (FOMO),” Denyer says. For another hot tip, she advises keeping the waterfront theme when putting together the event’s gift bag. Include visors, beach balls, sunscreen, windbreakers and flip-flops.

Resorts often have multiple buildings and venues. Keep people moving by holding activities in different locations, mentions Denyer. It not only shows guests more of the resort and what they can do in their free time, but it also provides some physical activity, which can help break up the day and keep attendees more engaged.

Bain says more and more guests are bringing their family or spouse to have a mini-vacation before or after events or meetings.

“Since they are already at the site and having fun, many people want to ex- tend their stay a bit longer so they can take advantage of everything the resort and area have to offer,” she says. “That’s something you should keep in mind.”


Waterfront resorts have staff on hand to help throughout the event, from setting up audiovisual equipment for a meeting to activities coordinators who can help with team-building and recreational events.

“We start out by getting an overview of what the group is looking for. We have people in all different areas to create experiences for everyone attending the event,” according to Bain. “We make the magic happen.”

Mission Point’s full-time conference services team lives and works on Mackinac Island, Denyer says. “They are the true island and resort experts,” and are available to help planners create their ideal conference or meeting, she says.

Sanderson says that, before each event at Eagle Ridge Resort, a convention services manager will walk planners through all the various stages of the meeting or event — from planning on the initial phone call or site visit right down to being with the planner throughout the event.

“We guide them step by step through the process,” he says. And that sounds like the right path you want to take when booking a meeting or event at a waterfront resort in the Midwest.

A freelance writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin, MaryBeth Matzek writes for multiple trade and business publications across the Midwest.