“We are almost booked solid with meetings and events for all of 2021,” says Melissa Delany, sales director at Old Edwards Inn and Spa. “Everyone rebooked 2020 business into 2021 and I barely have any dates left. Even Q1 is packed.” It’s a good problem to have. It should give the meetings industry hope for this year. Old Edwards Inn is a luxury Relais & Chateaux property that attracts corporate meetings, board meetings and incentives to the quaint mountain town of Highlands, North Carolina.
Since the pandemic hit, the hotel’s leadership closed the property for six weeks (the owners paid everyone full salary during the hiatus) to get a game plan together and consult with the CDC. They took safety measures and the CDC’s recommendations seriously and the town followed their lead. “It’s what has kept our economy going,” says one shop owner, tearing up a bit. Downtown Highlands, where Old Edwards Inn and Spa is located, has a mask mandate inside all businesses and even on the sidewalks of Main Street, punishable by fine if visitors don’t comply. There are also hand-sanitizing stations up and down its picturesque streets lined with adorable shops.
It’s those safety measures—and a slew of others outlined on their website—combined with Old Edwards Inn’s abundant indoor-outdoor spaces, cottages and suites that open to the outside instead of into elevators and hallways, walkability and predilection for small group sizes that has kept its meetings business afloat while others have struggled. “I’m hearing from clients that they just want to get their teams together again,” shares Delany. “Even if it’s just a handful of them.”
Another winning element in the hotel group’s favor? The property is reachable by car, less than a five-hour drive from several major metro areas including Atlanta, Charlotte, Greenville, Nashville, Birmingham and Raleigh-Durham. It is located near airports in Atlanta, Asheville and Greenville, as well as two smaller airports for private jets. Convenience for attendees who are comfortable with flying and for those who aren’t is key right now and may very well be through Q3 of 2021.
The thing that wowed me—even after the traditional Champagne greeting at check-in and the staff’s Southern hospitality—was the sense of place and variety of lodging, price points and unusual meeting options the hotel offers across the area. But the thing that may wow meeting planners? No resort fees and free parking.
There are three properties for overnight stays and myriad ways to hold a meeting:
1. Old Edwards Inn and Spa
This is the priciest option with rooms hovering at about $500 in the high season and $300 in the off-season. This hotel takes up a few city blocks in downtown Highlands and there are 27 guest rooms in the historic inn. Behind the inn is Edwards Hall, near the fitness center, with four traditional meeting spaces and a terrace for outdoor lunches and cocktail hours between meetings or when the day is done. Directly behind that is The Lodge with 32 rooms, and one block behind that are 26 rooms in the Falls Cottages section. The coup de grace for VIP attendees is The Piermont Cottage, across the street from Falls Cottages. It’s a four-bedroom historic house where you can put up the C-suite brass and still use the front lawn for a memorable Southern party or outdoor seated dinner. The hotel owns two other historic homes it’s outfitted for group stays or outdoor events.
You can easily walk from one end of the expanse to the other in under seven minutes. Each section has its own look, feel, room product, fitness center and saltwater pool area. Hosting a dinner in Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden would be a treat for any group of foodies you’re hosting for an incentive trip. Much of the produce is pulled from the resort’s sustainable organic farm and it boasts a Wine Spectator-awarded list of bottles. The historic, elegant fine dining room and chef-driven local cuisine make an impression on anyone who crosses over its threshold.
2. Half-Mile Farm
For one of the most charming, unforgettable meetings you could imagine, do a buyout of all 34 rooms at the resort’s Half-Mile Farm. It’s a short drive from Old Edwards Inn but feels a million miles from anywhere. The luxurious, historic property overlooks a private lake. Its enormous sloping lawn is perfect for a pig pickin’, a Lowcountry boil or any kind of creative opening or closing reception. There are three cabins set apart from the inn that look like they are out of Currier & Ives, and the incredible catering department can do unique moonshine cocktails or pull local beers for a true North Carolina F&B experience.
3. 200 Main
This is the most affordable option, but still with mountain-chic luxuries, walkability to the town and its own pool and fitness center. The buildings are all two stories and each room opens to an alfresco walkway so guests won’t have to pass each other in an enclosed hall and can take the stairs if they want to forgo a cramped elevator. It has its own dedicated meeting space on property, or you can choose one of the other meeting spaces including The Farm at Old Edwards, which is a short drive away and has a stunning, world-class event space that typically hosts weddings, but is also perfect for opening and closing night receptions. The Pavilion space has 360 degrees of windows that all open to the outside, so if your attendees want airflow, this is an ideal option.
All the Old Edwards Hospitality accommodations are luxurious with Alpine style, but the uncommon teambuilding options will layer onto the overall experience as a big part of what your attendees will remember fondly. From foraging with an expert guide and casting lessons on one of the many rivers to custom hikes for your group’s skill level to a honey harvest with a beekeeper and pottery classes at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts, the team at Old Edwards Inn can craft something memorable with a local slant you can’t find just anywhere.
We’re rooting for all meetings business, and it’s nice to see this luxury property get creative and appeal to what planners need most right now: indoor-outdoor options and a level of safety protocol that’s enforced by the town and staff, all while keeping it productive (and still exciting) to gather.