Working America is forever in a meeting. Big business meetings and small business meetings. Meetings for leaders and meetings for followers. Meetings to raise money and meetings to spend it. Team meetings, training meetings. All kinds of meetings, even the increasingly popular premeeting meetings.
Faced with an especially full agenda, company officials sometimes hold all calls and opt for an all-day meeting. Or, if it's a hurried strategy session, modern business leaders hook up with far-flung personnel via a teleconference meeting.
But for those really important, Do-Not-Disturb business gatherings, corporate executives and others are getting off the phone, getting on the road and taking their meetings out of town. And the get-down-to-business getaway is particularly popular in Washington, where the pace of office work is highly charged and the escape choices highly attractive -- and close at hand.
"It clarifies your thinking to get you into new surroundings," said Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak, a company whose executives often meet out of town -- if they can get there by train. "It's very important for focusing on a particular problem or program to be unfettered by routine bothers."
John Sprott, deputy director of the Foreign Service Institute, a training arm of the State Department, said his organization resorts to out-of-town meetings or seminars "whenever it's important to quickly get a group of people working together."
If the institute decides an "offsite" gathering is warranted, Sprott said, it always chooses an isolated spot. That way, he said, "you can almost run a de facto class from 8 a.m. to midnight because they're all together, and there are no telephones, no office problems and no family interferences."
Locally, those seeking a change of scenery and a physical separation from the office have included federal and state government agencies, trade associations, congressional staffs, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and his top aides, and other groups, ranging from the large corporation to the small consulting firm.
Not far from Washington -- most within a two-hour drive -- are a number of options for business getaways. Ranging from inns to resorts to official conference centers, they include:
Coolfont. Located in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., an easy two-hour drive from the city, Coolfont is best known as a recreation and health resort. Its natural setting and conference center, however, have lured many business groups. The conference facilities include 12 meeting rooms (all without telephones), catering services and an assortment of audio-visual equipment, chalk boards, flip charts and other items.
The meeting rooms can be rented out for the day or included as part of an overnight package. For $14.50 a person, day-trippers get the use of a meeting room and its conference facilities, a lunch buffet and two coffee breaks. Overnight rates for the fall season begin at $66.75 per person per day, and include lodging, three meals and two coffee breaks as well as the use of a meeting room and many recreational facilities. For more information, call Coolfont's Washington-area number: 424-1232.
Governor Calvert House. This Annapolis-based hotel is less than an hour's drive from Washington and has a full conference center with 10 meeting rooms and a ballroom available for day or evening rental. Conference room prices vary according to the size of the group, with a room that holds 20 to 25 persons costing about $200 a day. Overnight accommodations run about $99 for a single, $122 for a double.
The hotel is located on State Circle in the heart of the Maryland capital's historic district. It has its own banquet kitchen and bakery, an atrium and an outdoor garden that overlooks some of the city's finest colonial homes. For more information, call the hotel's Washington number: 261-2206.
Airlie Conference Center. Strictly for conference participants, this 3,000-acre campus is located just outside Warrenton, Va., about 50 miles west of the District. The center's 20 meeting rooms can accommodate 10 to 250 persons. They rent for the day or can be included as part of an overnight or longer package.
Day meetings cost $13 per person, including the conference room, two coffee breaks and a luncheon. Overnight lodging at the center's 120 rooms costs $72 per person single, $62 per person double. Lodging rates include three meals, two coffee breaks and use of the conference facilities and such recreational amenities as skeet shooting, fishing, swimming and tennis. The center's Washington number is 273-6554.
Tidewater Inn. Located in Easton, Md., this well-known Eastern Shore retreat has seven conference rooms accommodating 10 to 200 persons. An American Plan package costs $80 per person single, $65 per person double, and includes lodging, three meals, two coffee breaks and use of a meeting room. Conference rooms are available for day rental, though the price varies according to the size of the group and its needs, including catering.
The inn is 75 miles from the center of Washington, about a two-hour drive, depending on traffic conditions. It has an outdoor pool, full-service restaurant and banquet facilities. For more information, call (301) 822-1300.
Hilltop House. This venerable Harpers Ferry, W.Va., hotel, a 90-minute drive from Washington, was built in 1888 and attracted the likes of Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson. Now remodeled and enlarged, it sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers -- the view afforded from five of its six meeting rooms. The hotel can accommodate up to 140 persons, and its meeting rooms are available for day rental as well.
A conference package price, $50 per person double, $60 single, includes overnight accommodations, three meals, two coffee breaks and use of a meeting facility. Daily meeting room rentals depend on the size of the group and its needs. Meals can be served in the dining room or a private room. Conference participants have the use of audio-visual equipment, and the hotel has satellite teleconference capabilities. For more information, call (304) 535-6321.
Red Fox Inn. This Middleburg, Va., inn is about an hour's drive from Washington. Its several small meeting rooms can accommodate 10 to 30 persons while its ballroom can handle larger groups. Day rentals for the meeting rooms, including standard conference facilities, run about $75 to $125.
The inn has 17 rooms for overnight guests but will soon be expanding to 20. Weekend accommodations have been booked up for a year, so the inn limits its small business groups to Sunday through Thursday. Room rates range from $85 to $200 a night, and a corporate discount of 5 percent is available. For more information, call (703) 687-6301.
Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has three conference hotels -- the Williamsburg Inn, the Williamsburg Lodge and the Cascades Conference Center -- each of which offers day meeting room rentals as well as overnight accommodations. With the new beltway, hotel managers say Williamsburg is about a 2 1/2-to-three-hour drive from Washington.
The Williamsburg Inn, a five-star Mobil-rated hotel, is a popular choice for high-level board meetings and has 30 rooms for overnight guests. The Lodge, which has banquet facilities, most often handles the larger association meetings and one-day seminars; its meeting rooms can accommodate up to 500 persons. The Cascades Conference Center is an all-suites hotel and has eight meeting rooms accommodating up to 200 persons.
Depending on choice of facility, overnight accommodations range from $75 to $150. Day group functions can be packaged on a case-by-case basis, according to size of group and food-service needs. Each hotel facility has its own audio-visual equipment. For more information, call (804) 229-1000.
Solomons Island. Since spring, the Holiday Inn has operated a conference center on this creek-front site in Calvert County. Located about an hour and 15 minutes from Washington, the center has six meeting rooms and an amphitheatre. The larger meeting rooms each hold as many as 130 persons; smaller rooms can handle up to 50. A large ballroom will accommodate a banquet-style crowd of 420; smaller board rooms hold no more than 12.
Day rental rates for the meeting rooms range from $125 to $225, or can be complimentary depending on catering arrangements. Overnight packages costing $65 per person double occupancy or $80 single include the use of a meeting facility, three meals and a coffee break. For more information, call (301) 326-6311.
Shenandoah National Park. The Virginia Skyline firm operates two lodge/conference facilities in the center of the park, about a two-hour drive from Washington. Most of the group meetings are held at Skyland Lodge, which has five small meeting rooms capable of handling from five to 100 persons. The lodge only hosts overnight groups during the week; weekends are reserved for visitors to the park.
Overnight rates at the lodge average about $55 double. Day rental rates are flexible, depending on group size and catering arrangements. Corporate discounts are available. The lodge has a full-service restaurant, a tap room with entertainment and recreational facilities. For more information, call (703) 743-5108.