1 Conference room (left) and clubhouse with views of the infinity pool overlooking hills and valleys

Demola Ojo

“The major thing that makes Lansdown Aburistand out is that it is totally exclusive. When you are here, you are away from the world, the hustle and bustle of the city.  You are totally relaxed here; everything that we create is tuned to making sure you are not disturbed. The serenity of the place literally relaxes you throughout your stay,”Queen Yurglee-Kpodo, the head of sales, marketing and business development at Landsdown Resort in Aburi, says during an interview at the resort’s clubhouse.

The hilltop property  – less than an hour’s drive from Ghana’s capital Accra – offers luxury within a scenic and serene environment, ensuring exclusivity for its guests which range from corporate organisations on retreats, to couples seeking a romantic getaway.  Lansdown has eight villas, each with three rooms a living area and a patio. There are single rooms too and a one-storey mansion for executives.

“We do conferencing, retreats, private parties and destination weddings. We do a lot of things and it depends on who the client is. We can always tailor something to meet your need,”Yurglee-Kpodo adds.

Corporate groups are a main income stream for the Lansdown.  While the topography will certainly attract nature lovers, backpackers and fitness enthusiasts, special attention has been paid to facilities like the conference room, withmodern, state-of-the-art  facilities which include video conferencing via a large HD screen, or through multiple individual devices. Free Wi-Fi is also available, while solar power backup ensures there is uninterrupted electricity.

One of the conference room configurations

Corporate Comeback

Corporate group travel has made a comeback worldwide. It took a while for corporate travel to rebound after the effects of the global recession, as companies slashed business trips and conferences from their budgets.

Companies hitherto wary of the stigma known as the “AIG effect” havenow resumed retreats and conventions in luxury resort locations. The market for upscale working retreats had been frozen for years, following public outcry about American International Group’s half-million dollar retreat in 2008—taken just days after the insurance giant accepted $85 billion in federal bailouts.

Villa surrounded by lush vegetation

Priorities for Execs

There are a few things business managers and event planners consider when deciding on the venue for a retreat. According to a Destination Hotels & Resorts survey, venue rates are no longer the clear-cut feature in determining which hotel or resort to pick for a meeting. Instead, location has become a top priority.

Speaking with THISDAY a few days ago in Lagos, BakareAbiola, sales manager for Kenya Airways (Nigeria), shares the view that location is paramount. “It has to be a serene environment. Remember, you’re taking them away from their offices to a place where they can brainstorm, so the environment is very important.”

A close second for him is security. “Don’t forget, when it comes to retreats, you have top executives in attendance, so security is a key factor. The facilities at the venue are also as important. Apart from brainstorming, you also want your executives to relax. So facilities like a spa, a gym and the like are very important.”

Another factor business managers consider before choosing a venue for a retreat includehighly effective WiFi , as business travellers want to stay connected with many attending conferences with multiple wireless devices.

Flexible meeting spaces are also top on the list with the best venues offering conveniences such as moveable partitions and furniture that make spaces more useful and attractive to aid impromptu brainstorming sessions outside of a session room.

Also very important are distinctive food and beverage choices. The Destination Hotels & Resorts Report states that the food and beverages served throughout a meeting is instrumental to its success. In fact, 74% of the 200 meeting planners surveyed said diverse culinary offerings are important when selecting a meeting venue.

It’s not just having a variety of meal options that keeps attendees happy; an assortment of healthy choices (using locally-sourced ingredients) as well as selections for those with dietary restrictions (such as gluten-free and vegan) are also essential for meals and refreshment breaks.

The Lansdown ticks all the above boxes. The food is tasty and made to individual guests’ requirements. A few days before this writer (as part of a group) embarked on a trip to Lansdown, the resort sent a mail to clarify any dietary restrictions and preferences.

Healthy menu selections are important for retreats, but attendees also want to (or should) get moving. Some conference centres offer creative exercise breaks like a 15-minute “boost your spirit” yoga session or Zumba class within the day’s schedule.

“We try to create a lot of activities tailored to the clients we have on ground. If it is a corporate client, we speak to them and know what their expectations are and we build something for them,” Yurglee-Kpodo explains.

“If it is a holiday where a lot of families will come up, then we put up things for the kids to be able enjoy themselves, fun games for parents, challenges between families. This keeps them engaged and by the time the day is over they are really, really tired and all they want to do is sleep.

“The distinct thing about us is that as much as we have a range of things we do, we like to make sure that it is well tailored to the kind of people we have on ground just so we make sure that we are satisfying the needs of the people and not just shoving what we have in their faces.”

For those who don’t want to over-exert themselves, the undulating terrain at the Lansdown means taking a walk takes on a different meaning, ensuring guests get their fitness fix by default.

ChiamakaObuekwe is CEO of Social Prefect, a company that publishes a travel blog and offers services that includegroup tours, vacation packages and corporate retreats. She shares what clients who need her to organize getaways ask for.

 “They want a very calm, serene environment,, maybe somewhere with a beach, a lake or very close to nature. Somewhere to take them out of the work environment.”In her interactions with clients, she has found out that conferencing space and a swimming pool are top of the list of requirements.

The infinity pool at the Lansdown overlooks a valley populated by trees, all the way to the top of the hill. Other facilities to keep guests engaged include a tennis court and a variety of board games. There is a golf course too, and Jacuzzis in each villa.

“I think Lansdown is actually an epitome of the word resort,” Yurglee-Kpodo suggests. “I know you mentioned that there are other resorts around but I don’t think they are resorts, I think they are hotels around who probably think they are a resort. But if you understand the concept of a resort, then you would understand that this is the only resort in Aburi at the moment.

“The beauty about Lansdown is the landscaping, the huge vast land carved out of the mountain and turned into an exquisite place for relaxation, without having to touch the natural green vegetation around it. So we are surrounded by trees and the mountains and we are just in the middle of it. Honestly, I stand to be corrected, but I don’t think that there is actually any resort in Africa that has the topography that we have in Aburi.”

Villa living room.

The Extra Mile

The phrase “Off the beaten path” comes to mind when describing Lansdown’s location.  Apart from traversing a twisting, winding road up the hills into Aburi, there is a point where you veer off and hit an untarred track. In many cases, guests don’t see reason to leave until…well, they are about to leave.

“We organize tours for our guests. We present it to them but most times people who drive all the way out here don’t want to go anywhere,” Yurglee-Kpodo reveals.

“Most of the activities would mostly be headed towards Accra because Aburi is a very serene place, there are not too many things going on. Knowing that, what we also try to do is to come up with activities on ground so that guests don’t have a need to go out,” she says.

“We also do airport pick-ups for our guests and do airport drop-offs.  And it is incorporated, it is actually one of the benefits you get for staying here.”

Going the extra mile to by including complimentary airport pickups and drop-offs are a smart move, saving guests the hassle of finding the hidden gem in the hills of Aburi. Especially because the resort is looking outside Ghana for prospective clients.

“We are hoping for a lot more customers especially from West African countries to come over and see the beauty that we have. One thing I have experienced a couple of times is that when you send pictures of Lansdown to people they actually say ‘No, that is not Africa’ or ‘that is Photoshop.’ So I tell them to come and see if it is actually Photoshop and then they are like ‘Wow, this place is actually more beautiful than the pictures.’

“So it will be really great that we have a lot of people coming from other West African countries, because I think we are pretty much covered in Ghana but having people from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Lone… all of them just coming to Ghana and the first thing on their mind is they want to see the resort. That is something that we definitely look forward to in the future.”