Outlined below is how we choose a retreat location; the process that we follow, and the criteria we’re looking for (as well as how we assess risk).
Choosing the initial location
Usually we’re looking at a broad area (Europe for example) based on where we’ve been in recent years. We’re judging potential locations based on travel time for humans (and what kind of travel time each region has had previously), weather at the time of year we want the retreat to take place, and the costs involved. The costs are usually broken down into two main categories:
- Accommodation & on the ground costs
If a place is considerably cheaper on the ground it’s worth the additional travel costs and vice versa. If we do choose a place in Europe, due to a large percentage of humans being located there, the money we save on travel means we can afford a higher level of luxury. On the opposite side of that, the quality of accommodation we could afford in Sri Lanka was far superior to that we could afford in Europe and what we saved on accommodation was counterbalanced by the higher travel costs for the majority of humans.
In terms of the venue itself, here’s a list of criteria we’re using as the base:
- Less than a two hour drive from an airport which has plenty of international connections
- Between 80-120 rooms
- Good WiFi
- Swimming pool (and suitable weather for using it!)
- Local amenities
- Local activities/excursions
- Conference room(s) large enough for the entire company (seated)
- Open plan layout with plenty of break-out spaces
- English-speaking staff with event/group experience
- Nice food and can cater for dietary requirements (and good coffee!)
How we assess risk when choosing a location
This also applies to team meetups
Overview of risks
We seek advice from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) which separates its advice into the following sections:
- Safety and security
- Natural disasters
- Local laws and customs
In addition to the FCO page for the country, we also refer to the Global Terrorism Index which is published annually, the most recent version was published in December 2018.
We’re also signed up for daily email alerts from Gov.uk for updates on changes for all countries.
Safety and Security
In addition to referring to information on the FCO page for the country, an important part of recce visits is getting a feel for how safe and secure the place is.
We’re also implementing a process for large gatherings of humans (both retreat and otherwise) so that we can use our online tools to ensure everyone is safe should something occur whilst we’re away from home.
We consult TravelHealthPro.org.uk for advice on tropical diseases and any specific vaccinations which may be required. For instance, if a yellow fever vaccine was required for a location, we would probably rule that location out since most people in the company will not already be vaccinated against this.
Zika – we have agreed that we won’t go anywhere that has Zika
We use a combination of the following and triangulate the information:
- World Health Organisation
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (US based) – they have a useful Zika map.
- Gov.uk which only lists countries with Zika risk.
Natural Disasters and Weather
Depending on the climate of the area, we find out at which time of year they expect their most extreme weather (e.g. monsoons) and avoid that time. And if we can’t avoid that time of year then we rule out that destination. We also research to find out if an area is prone to a natural disaster e.g. Wellington in New Zealand is at high risk of a large earthquake so this is an example of somewhere we would avoid.
In 2019 for example, we made sure to avoid Sri Lanka’s monsoon period and talked to the venue about weather at various times of year. It was one of the countries hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 but that was obviously an incredibly rare and extreme event, and warning systems and procedures for evacuation have since been put in place across the country.
Once a location has met all of these requirements and we’ve chosen it for the retreat, we get a risk assessment drawn up, this year we used a company called Safety Pal.
The Sri Lanka risk assessment is here.
How we assess local laws and customs
When choosing a country for the company retreat (and for other gatherings of humans) we’re researching in depth to ensure there are no local laws or customs that go against our company values or that would put any of us at risk. We rule out anywhere where these regulations/enforcements would put humans at considerable discomfort or in direct harm or risk; for example countries where homosexuality is illegal, or somewhere that has laws around unmarried couples cohabiting or being out in a public place together.
Tom, Joe and Noel have final sign-off; as retreat organisers we present them with a recommendation and our findings but it is ultimately their decision.