Out-of-state luxury hotels and conference centers offer corporate retreat getaways worth the drive for Columbus companies and associations.

Planning a corporate retreat? An association conference? Or maybe some team building is in order.

From Grand Hotel in Michigan to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania, plus a few more in between, central Ohio businesses and associations have a variety of resort settings to choose from.

Don't let historic buildings or remote settings fool you. These properties offer complete conference and meeting facilities, state-of-the-art digital access and menu choices to please the most discerning palate. Resort sales and conference staff make it easy from the first inquiry to the final invoice. All of the sites welcome families and offer luxurious amenities: championship golf courses, shooting facilities, spa services, shopping and much more.

"What's changed is that people want an experience. Companies investing in an event want participants to get as much out of it as possible. It's certainly about the content, but it's also about the event experience," says Ken Hayward, executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel.

"Coming to our resort is different than going to the hotel down the street from your office," says General Manager Brett Schoenfield of Omni Bedford Springs Resort. "Everyone wants the highest value for their dollar. Businesses want people focused on the content, but with amenities that they can enjoy as part of the conference and on their own."

Extensive amenities are not only appreciated, they also are expected. "Companies want more than just a meeting room. They know they can get more out of a business event if there are ways to promote interaction among attendees," says Ashli Mazer, director of marketing and public relations at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

To learn more about the available experiences, Columbus CEO spoke with some resorts within an eight-hour drive of Columbus.

Grand Hotel

Mackinac Island, Michigan
www.grandhotel.com

As the ferry approaches Mackinac Island, guests cannot help but notice Grand Hotel's 660-foot front porch-the world's largest. Once on the island, guests walk or travel by bicycles and horse drawn carriages. "Motorized vehicles are not allowed. It's charming and unique," Hayward says.

Established in 1887, Grand Hotel has a grand reputation. The dramatic décor of Dorothy Draper lives on through interior designer Carlton Varney. No two of Grand Hotel's 390 guest rooms or suites are alike.

"We're a traditional resort. We require men to wear jackets in the dining room. We have live music from our own orchestra. Our 80 waiters can 'March in the Courses' at dinner if a group requests it," Hayward says. "Over time we've adapted, though, and added casual dining options."

Grand Hotel has been family-owned since 1933. "The current family, the Mussers, bought the hotel in 1979. Our president is a third-generation Musser. The family is present every day and engages with our guests. It's a special touch that makes us unique," Hayward says.

Because of northern Michigan's harsh winters, the resort operates from May through October. "We always have summer vacationers and social guests, but group corporate and associations are more than half of our business. Some groups have come here annually for 70 years. It's the ultimate compliment when Grand Hotel is selected as the site for an event," Hayward says.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Farmington, Pennsylvania
www.nemacolin.com

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort sits in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

84 Lumber founder Joseph A. Hardy, III purchased 550 acres in 1987. Today, the resort encompasses 2,000 acres with 318 guest rooms and suites. On March 1, it completes a $30 million renovation that includes its meeting spaces. Hardy's daughter, Maggie Hardy Magerko, is president and owner.

"It's an extensive property that accommodates just about every kind of event. About 52 percent of our business comes from companies and associations," says Mazer. Columbus, as well as Pittsburgh, Washington DC and Cleveland, are its target markets.

Businesses appreciate that Nemacolin can set the stage for anything. "Theme Works is our in-house event design department. It creates complete event themes along the lines of theatre, rather than traditional decorations," Mazer says.

Companies also frequently combine traditional meetings with activities at its Field Club and Shooting Academy. "It's an outdoor facility with a lodge that sits on 140-acres. Guests can participate in shooting activities and go fly fishing," Mazer says.

Climbing walls, canopy tours and zip lines become team building experiences at Nemacolin's Adventure Center. The Wildlife Academy hosts educational programs and is home to more than 100 animals, including tigers and hyenas. Lady Luck Casino also is located on Nemacolin's grounds.

"The casino has added a nightlife element that we never had before. Its comedy shows and live music filled a void. We also have special events like slot tournaments in the gaming arena," Mazer says.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center

Wheeling, West Virginia
www.oglebay-resort.com

This site was the summer estate of Cleveland industrialist Earl Oglebay. He willed the property to the citizens of Wheeling at his death, and in 1928 it transferred to the Wheeling Park Commission.

Today, Oglebay Resort and Conference Center sits atop 1,700 rolling acres. Guests stay at the 271-room Wilson Lodge.

Glassware is a big draw. Oglebay's Glass Museum showcases 3,000 pieces made in Wheeling from 1820 to 1939, including the famous Sweeney Punch Bowl, the world's largest piece of cut glass. "In the late 1800s, 125 glassmaking companies operated in the Wheeling and Pittsburg area. Our glassblowing demonstrations are very popular and guests can arrange to make their own glass paperweight," says David Flatley, manager of sales and conference services.

Companies looking for team building can try their hand at building bicycles. "They work together to read the schematics. They decide what tools to use and what order to put it together. And best of all, the bikes are donated to charity. People love it," Flatley says.

Some groups visit the Challenger Learning Center at nearby Wheeling Jesuit University. It is part of a network established by the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. "Participants experience a (simulated) shuttle mission. If they don't work together, it won't be a successful shuttle exercise," Flatley says.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort

Bedford, Pennsylvania
www.omnihotels.com/bedfordsprings

This National Historic Landmark is located in 2,200 acres of private forest in southern Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley.

"We were founded in 1796 and have a storied history," says Schoenfield. "President (James) Buchanan considered Bedford Springs to be his summer White House."

The foundation of the resort's history is eight mineral springs. Dr. John Anderson discovered the mineral springs and purchased the property in 1796. In 1802, his patients experienced their healing properties in bathing facilities. As word spread, Anderson built a hotel.

Even today, the resort's Springs Eternal Spa still touts mineral water treatments.

"We have 216-rooms, so we host board retreats, strategy sessions and other events where serious business needs to be accomplished. Our idyllic setting lets participants exhale and get their creative juices flowing. Generally a company will stay three nights and book 35 to 80 rooms," Schoenfield says.

His observation is that guests' palates have changed substantially. "They don't want rubber chicken. The culinary palate is much more sophisticated today. Whether it's a banquet or an individual dinner, guests expect us to be ahead of the curve with our menu. That's why we offer a 'wow factor' even during a coffee break during a meeting," he says.