Briars Conference Centre
Nestled along the picturesque shores of Lake Simcoe, The Briars Resort, Spa and Conference Centre is a popular destination along the beautiful Ontario greenbelt. Although this stellar resort and spa is popular with families and couples alike, The Briars Conference Centre has long held a reputation as a premiere conference destination within the business community.
An intriguing history of innovation
The history of The Briars as it evolved into a conference hub is a richly coloured and intriguing story. A family owned and operated enterprise, the Sibbald family has owned this property since 1880. Hugh Sibbald, Vice-President, spoke with The Canadian Business Journal about the shift into the conference business, which occurred after his father John took over the resort in 1950. With the changing economic climate of the time, The Briars quickly moved into a new market niche.
“Back in those days it was cheaper to rent a room in the Royal York than it was to go up north. My father went through the phone book and basically looked for people he knew in business and invited them up to have a conference,” says Sibbald. “By 1952, he had built up quite a good conference business. It was seasonal, as was the whole property at that time. He had a number of conference rooms that were dedicated during the spring and fall period.”
By 1977, the facilities were open year-round and The Briars had moved the main centre of operation from its cottages to the main inn and built more conference rooms. Through some strategic contracts with major companies such as IBM, The Briars went on to become a highly sought destination for business conferences. “If we were to take the last 20 years and average it out, conferences would have accounted for 45 per cent of business,” Sibbald estimates, “which is a lot because we still have a busy leisure business as well.”
Beyond conferences there are a number of social groups, weddings, and other events tend to be spinoffs from the conference business. Between that, which Sibbald estimates is another 20 to 25 percent of business, and business conferences, it has been the majority of business for quite some time.
The Briars is an extraordinary resort and spa, offering only the best in spa treatments, food, leisure activities and more. Beautifully located in one of Ontario’s most beautiful lakefronts, it also has the added advantage of being only a short drive away from Toronto. There are multiple meeting rooms fully equipped with the necessary technologies, with attentive staff to cater to every need. It boasts a championship Scottish woodlands golf course as well, with a stunning view overlooking beautiful Lake Simcoe.
Changing era of business
It was during the recent economic downturn that, for the first time, The Briars saw a dip in how much of its business was for conferences. During a recession, companies notably have reduced budgets for conferences. In 2009, conferences accounted for about 25 per cent of The Briars’ business, then in 2010 about
32 per cent—indicating things are definitely beginning to turn around.
“I think that on the one hand people kind of have to rally the troops as the economy bounces back,” Sibbald expresses. “Businesses want to bring everybody together again, so that’s been helpful in our business.”
The Briars is intuitively reacting to these economic changes—and also just changing times in general. For many years, The Briars catered predominantly to medium-sized conferences of 30 or 40 people, but also to many small conferences of eight to 10 people. Today, these small, intimate conferences are often replaced by video conferencing, and Sibbald acknowledges that the market is indeed changing with the times.
To keep its business current, The Briars is currently reviewing proposals for a strategic plan for the future, and determining how conferences will be a part of that. This perceptive move is a testament to the strength of the business, and its likelihood of success.
Activities and teambuilding
Conferences have changed significantly in the past few years and The Briars has shifted its focus to cater to that shift. “Conferences are not what they once were,” says Sibbald. “People are really here to work, and people’s budgets for anything other than meeting, eating and sleeping are very small. So one of the things we do is a lot of complimentary teambuilding.”
Teambuilding activities can be anything from scavenger hunts, to mini Olympics, to amazing race games, poker games, or any other activity intended to foster creative teambuilding. Plans for formal teambuilding are discussed beforehand and planned out accordingly, suited to the needs of each company. “We also have several contractors that will come in and help if somebody wants something really extensive that we can’t provide,” says Sibbald. “We have people who are really familiar with The Briars and who do corporate teambuilding as their total business, so that’s an alternative.”
There are also many businesses that simply want to enjoy the wonderful amenities The Briars is able to offer such as beach volleyball, snow volleyball, and the ever-popular golf course. “People still like to squeeze a round of golf in before their dinner,” says Sibbald with a chuckle.
The Briars has flawlessly adapted to the changing times and needs of the business community and has come up with a method of personalizing conference options for each and every business. The beautiful locale offers countless activities for corporate events through all seasons of the year.