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Every September, the 20 far-flung employees of Klee Associates, a $5 million Cedaredge (Colo.) software consulting firm, gather at a hotel for a four-day retreat. "It's a planning meeting where we work on the coming year," says company President Andrew Klee. "I can't imagine not having them, even if we all worked in the same office. There are too many ringing phones and people checking e-mails."

In a busy office, it can be tough for employees to do their most important work: thinking. While going off-site may not be necessary for a simple information session, "If I'm presenting my strategic plan or doing creative problem-solving, I might want to be away from the office to think differently," says Heather Schultz, a senior vice-president of the American Management Assn. in New York.

To make an off-site a success, you'll need to do some prep work. Designate a single point person to do everything from choosing a site and making travel arrangements to working with hotel staff. You can also get help strategizing your get-together. Meeting Facilitators International in Toronto, which handled Klee's retreat, typically charges about $1,600 a day.

Choose a site with plenty of amenities such as golf courses or a spa to build morale. Strategy sessions might work best in a calm setting, where participants will be able to unwind with a hike or a jog. Many hotels also offer team-building activities. Another plus: an upscale restaurant on site or close by. "After hours is when some of the day's processing takes place," says Ann Godi, president and founder of event managers Benchmarc360. And don't forget to ask about "hidden" fees such as gratuities or service charges, or fees for coffee, newspapers, or Web access.

Following are some venues with a "wow" factor that offer group packages and discounts and have dedicated meeting staff and tech support. You can find contact information and additional choice sites on our Web site.

BANFF CENTRE, BANFF, ALTA.

This 400-room arts center in the Canadian Rockies has excellent business facilities, awesome views, cozy lounges with fireplaces, and delicious food. There's a Continental restaurant and a pub on site.

FACILITIES

More than 60 meeting rooms. Free Wi-Fi everywhere. Business center.

AMENITIES

Gym with indoor swimming pool, climbing walls, and hiking.

RATES

Rooms from $107 a night. Includes meeting spaces, setup, breakfast, lunch, and two food breaks.

AVALON, BEVERLY HILLS

The restaurant of this 86-room boutique hotel has been rated by Food & Wine as one of the 50 best hotel restaurants. Poolside cabanas can be used for meetings or meals.

FACILITIES

Meeting room accommodates 25, or 40 auditorium-style.

EQUIPMENT

Flat-screen mounted TV for AV presentations; free Wi-Fi in conference room. Guest rooms have high-speed hookups ($10.95 a day) and extra-large desks.

AMENITIES

Pool and fitness center. Spa services extra.

RATES

Guest rooms from $299; $500 a day for meeting room. Food is extra.

NINE ZERO, BOSTON

Known for its service, this 190-room downtown hotel is the embodiment of high-concept design. Its award-winning Spire restaurant caters meetings.

FACILITIES

Three meeting rooms. Free DVD and MP3 players, plasma TVs, and Wi-Fi. Business center. Guest rooms have large work areas.

AMENITIES

Small gym; free access to a local high-end gym.

RATES

Guest rooms from $259; meeting room from $200 to $2,000, depending on amount of catering.

BELLAGIO HOTEL & CASINO, LAS VEGAS

This glitzy 3,933-room hotel has six hospitality suites for groups of fewer than 12. Five restaurants have private rooms for up to 30.

FACILITIES

Fifty meeting rooms, six suites. Free screens, projectors, and Wi-Fi; other electronics and dedicated phone lines extra. High-speed Net access in rooms ($9.99 a day).

AMENITIES

Gym with sauna and spa services are extra.

RATES

Guest rooms from $149, hospitality suites from $1,125. Other meeting rooms free with catering.

HOTEL GIRAFFE, NEW YORK

The 72-room Giraffe is a quiet hotel in midtown known for its service and stylish rooms. The meeting space, with 26-foot ceilings and three walls of windows, holds up to 40. The hotel restaurant caters lunches.

FACILITIES

Meeting room has DVD, VCR, flat-screen TV, CD, stereo, Wi-Fi.

AMENITIES

Complimentary passes to nearby gym, free CD and movie library.

RATES

Guest rooms from $339 (includes breakfast). Meeting rooms from $1,500. Food is extra.

SONESTA HOTEL & SUITES, COCONUT GROVE, FLA.

This 209-room high-rise in trendy Coconut Grove, five miles from Miami, offers top-notch service, a multilingual staff, and pool and patio with views of Biscayne Bay. Meeting rooms have terraces; the hotel kitchen caters.

FACILITIES

Six meeting rooms. Electronics, phones, and Wi-Fi are extra. Business center. Guest rooms have high-speed Internet.

AMENITIES

Gym, sauna, pool.

RATES

Guest rooms from $129. Meeting rooms have food and beverage minimums.

INTERCONTINENTAL BUCKHEAD, ATLANTA

This new high-end hotel, with 422 rooms, is walking distance from the Buckhead business district. A bar and a full-service brasserie are open 24 hours and for catering.

FACILITIES

Six meeting rooms, all with views of gardens, break down into 19 intimate spaces. Business center. Free Wi-Fi throughout.

AMENITIES

Fitness center, pool.

RATES

Guest rooms from $209; board room from $350 a day.

By Roberta Bernstein


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