In the age of Zoom fatigue and hybrid work, outdoor activities are an ideal solution for team-building exercises that re-energize participants and build company culture. Discover eleven inspiring ideas grounded in real-world Arizona adventures, and download the accompanying free planner checklist to make sure your outdoor event goes off without a hitch.
The shift to remote and hybrid work has brought more flexibility to the workplace, but it also means that face-to-face meetings have become more valuable than ever. How can meeting planners make the most of this precious time for team bonding and collaboration? Outdoor team-building activities may be the perfect solution, allowing attendees both maximum connection to each other and full immersion in the destination.
With its varied and spectacular landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Arizona is the ultimate meeting destination for outdoor experiences that motivate, rejuvenate, and foster lasting bonds. Here are some Arizona activity ideas to inspire your next corporate retreat or business meeting breakout, with real-world examples to help spark your creativity.
To help make sure your outdoor team building for your next event goes off without a hitch, Skift Meetings worked with the Arizona Office of Tourism to put together a downloadable set of planner checklists for outdoor activities. The checklist is the perfect cheat sheet to help you manage outdoor venue logistics, design around the weather, and coordinate supplies and accessories.
Outdoor Group Wellness Experiences
One of the biggest trends coming out of the pandemic is a renewed emphasis on wellness. In a recent consumer survey from Accenture, one-third of respondents said they were more focused on self-care than they were a year ago, with 21 percent of millennials saying they had booked a wellness retreat in 2022.
The ultimate 2023 team-building activities may be those that combine wellness with an opportunity to experience the healing benefits of inspirational scenery. Here are three strategies to make the most of this winning combination, with examples drawn directly from Arizona’s thriving experience industry.
Resorts as Outdoor Wellness Programming Experts
Not sure where to start with your wellness programming? Choosing a venue partner that specializes in wellness activities can mean the difference between starting from scratch versus browsing a menu of options.
Many of Arizona’s abundant world-class resorts cater to meetings and offer extensive wellness programs easily customized for groups. Guided hikes through canyons and desert, yoga sessions against a backdrop of red-rock formations, and outdoor activities for meditation and self-discovery are just a few of the options.
Among the many sites is Miraval Arizona, an all-inclusive spa resort on an idyllic 400-acre site just north of Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Meeting groups are encouraged to participate in mindful group retreats and activities, taking advantage of the property’s Desert Sky Challenge Course for team building, Body Mindfulness Center, and Life in Balance Spa. Or enjoy nearby Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch with an on-site lush botanical garden for group nature walks.
The Human-Animal Connection as Team-Building Facilitator
While meeting planners specialize in bringing people together, sometimes adding our four-legged friends into the mix can lead to a fuller, more enriching experience.
Equestrian activities are a great example. When managed by trained facilitators, interaction with horses can promote bonding, leadership skills, and non-verbal communication — a mounting body of research suggests it even has therapeutic value. Hunkapi Farm, set on ten acres in Scottsdale, demonstrates this with its Horse Play team-building program: These three-hour sessions are led by riding instructors with PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) certification. Hunkapi also hosts wellness-themed corporate events with group yoga or farm activities.
Activities That Give Back to the Natural Setting
What better way to promote a sense of well-being than not only getting out in the natural environment but actively helping to improve and restore that same environment? “Plogging,” a Swedish term that originated from the practice of removing trash while jogging, can be incorporated into team building. In the Phoenix area, groups can participate in outdoor activities in the lower Salt River and Tonto National Forest organized by Natural Restorations, a non-profit dedicated to removing trash and graffiti from recreation and wilderness areas and revitalizing natural spaces through replanting projects. To round out the team building and reward everyone for their hard work, consider working with a local outfitter to incorporate a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding excursion into the itinerary.
Authentic and Respectful Cultural Experiences
Skift Meetings’ 2023 Trends Report found that attendees and meeting participants are craving authenticity more than ever, and this new drive is becoming a top factor in destination choices. Team-building activities can be the perfect opportunity to give your attendees the chance to connect with local cultures in a meaningful, respectful way.
Arizona’s Native American cultural experiences are a prime example of this principle in action. Including aspects of Native American culture in a meeting program is standard practice in Arizona, which is home to 22 federally recognized tribes. Most destination management companies and resort hotels have contacts with local Native American communities and can arrange everything from an after-dinner Hopi hoop dance performance to volunteer projects at local schools.
Additionally, many Arizona resorts offer their own signature outdoor experiences reflecting Native American traditions. Among them is the JW Marriott Star Pass in Tucson where groups can gather on the Salud Terrace for the Mitakuye Oyasin Morning Ritual. The ceremony is led by Larry Redhouse, a Navajo man who shares stories of his family and the importance of connecting with nature. The experience is deepened with flute music and the fragrance of burning bundles of white sage.
Owned by the Gila River Indian Community, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa in Chandler near Phoenix reflects the traditions of the Pima and Maricopa people throughout. An on-site cultural liaison leads property tours and works with the surrounding Gila River Indian community to provide unique programs for groups meeting at the resort, including storytelling in a mountain setting and meditation sessions in the resort’s Olaski, a traditional Pima dwelling.
Immersive Historical Activities in the Great Outdoors
Group activities that bring the past to life are another way to energize meeting participants in outdoor settings. In Arizona, for example, attendees can get a taste of the Old West with everything from cowboy cookouts to events held where their favorite classic Western movies and TV shows were filmed.
Movie and TV Sets
To really get a sense of being in a Western movie, there’s no place like Old Tucson, a theme park and set location for more than 300 famous Western movies and TV shows, including Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, and the 1956 film classic Gunfight at the OK Corral. Built as a movie set in 1939 and expanded over the years, Old Tucson is a ready-made backdrop for Western-themed events, complete with gunfight reenactments and saloon hall musicals. An extensive program of team-building activities includes the chance for teams to produce and star in their own Western movie, learn what it takes to be a stunt double, or participate in chili cook-offs, three-legged barrel racing, or assembling a 3-D wooden horse puzzle. Other possible events with a cowboy twist are those in which attendees are outfitted in custom-made Western wear such as hats, boots, and belts.
“Old Tucson is iconic and always a go-to place that planners and groups love,” said Jan Hyneman, regional sales manager for PRA Arizona, a DMC. “Why rent a meeting room when you can have a whole town?”
Ranches and Reservation Venues
Cowboy-style cookouts and entertainment under the stars are other favorite ways to experience the lore of the Old West. Among the many venues for this is McDonald’s Ranch in the Sonoran desert within the city limits of Scottsdale. Western-style barbecues can be paired with dozens of other experiences, including horseback riding, stagecoach rides, hayrides, rodeo games, line dancing lessons, and even hands-on lessons in roping skills under the guidance of a real-life cowboy.
Another option is Fort McDowell Adventures, which is part of the Yavapai Nation reservation bordering Scottsdale that also includes the We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center. Fort McDowell Adventures offers a variety of venues, including La Puesta Del Sol, located on top of a cactus-dotted mesa with 360-degree views, and the more intimate Rosa’s Ranch, which has fire pits and a wood-burning kiva oven, seating areas, and a covered reception terrace.
Exploration of Natural Splendor
When it comes to memorable outdoor activities that will leave your attendees reminiscing about their shared experience for years to come, it’s hard to beat an event that showcases spectacular scenery and the unique flora and fauna of a region. Here’s how to add education and interactive elements into the mix.
A natural history museum with a combination of indoor and outdoor features can be a great way to explore a destination’s unique landscape. Not only does it allow attendees to learn more about their surroundings, but it also gives them the chance to take short breaks inside when needed.
Perhaps the best place to experience and learn about Arizona’s unique physical environment is at Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum, an active participant in wildlife recovery programs, is the place to see thousands of plant and wildlife species — some of them rare or endangered — that are native to the Southwest.
Set on 100 acres, the mostly open-air museum offers such intriguing features as a walk-through hummingbird aviary, rocky habitats for mountain lions and bighorn sheep, a cactus garden and a huge collection of fossils, gems, and minerals from the desert. Possible activities include behind-the-scenes tours with an animal keeper and birds of prey flight demonstrations.
Botanical Garden Trips as a Group Activity
Botanical gardens are another great option for group excursions, and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a prime example. The 140-acre complex of themed gardens and exhibitions is nestled among the buttes of Papago Park. It’s devoted to the diverse range of succulents native to the Southwest, including many rare and endangered species.
The garden’s options for groups are many, including docent-led walks, sunset receptions, chef’s exhibition dinners, tai chi sessions in the herb garden, and outdoor banquets with cactus centerpieces and nutritious dishes — all prepared with herbs and other ingredients from the garden.
Looking Above & Below: Geology & Astronomy Activities
We often look to the spaces immediately around us for inspiration, but the ground under our feet and the skies above us can equally set the stage for an outstanding group experience.
Arizona’s desert and mountain environment, as rugged as it is beautiful, makes for distinctive team building experiences. Learning about Arizona’s unusual geology adds a layer of intrigue to activities such as desert orienteering, where groups navigate their way through a predetermined course on mountain bikes, horses, or foot. Even such standard activities as scavenger hunts and geocaching take on a unique feel in the desert landscape.
Stargazing in the clear desert night skies is another educational outdoor activity available in Arizona. The Adero Resort, for example, is ideally situated in the designated darky sky city of Fountain Hills. Novice astronomers can enjoy guided stargazing events or have a high-powered telescope brought to the private balcony that accompanies each room.
Scenic Sporting Adventures
Want to give your meeting participants a taste of adventure while they take in the sights and sounds of the natural wonders around them? As these examples from Arizona illustrate, the key ingredients are beautiful scenery combined with opportunities for fun sports and activities — whether they be on the water, among snow-covered mountains, or in landscapes ranging from desert to forest.
Among popular water-related activities for groups are kayaking and float trips along the Salt River outside of Scottsdale, a place to watch for Native American ruins, saguaros and other native cacti, wild horses, and bird life such as cliff swallows and bald eagles. In Sedona, the Verde River is where participants can view the famous red-rock scenery while enjoying a kayaking, tubing, or rafting adventure.
A half-day ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, a vintage train traveling on tracks laid a century ago, is a way to view the matchless beauty of an ancient river canyon accessible only through this rail line. Private, catered excursions for groups are easily arranged.
While Arizona is not often thought of as a winter sports destination, Arizona Snowbowl — located on the slopes of Mt. Humphreys in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff — is a prime place for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities. Even those with no ski experience can enjoy riding a SNO-GO, a bike-like device with three skis providing an easy learning curve for gliding down the slopes.
Another great choice for groups meeting in Northern Arizona is the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, which offers obstacle courses catering to different skill levels. Among its highlights are over 30 exhilarating ziplines suspended up to 80 feet high through a forest of Ponderosa Pines.
Winery Tours and Outdoor Culinary Experiences
With the farm-to-table movement gaining steam, more and more attendees are keen to see where the ingredients in their food — and their wine — are grown. Wine and culinary experiences abound in Arizona, which has over 120 wineries and tasting rooms across the state and a plethora of farms and artisanal purveyors producing everything from citrus fruit to premium olive oil.
Ideally, these experiences should be as much of a learning experience as a tasting adventure. Winery tours led by knowledgeable guides are especially prevalent along Sedona’s Verde Valley Wine Trail, featuring tasting stops in such scenic wineries as Alcantara Vineyards and Page Springs Cellars.
Stunning scenery is yet another key value add. South of Tucson in Sonoita and Wilcox, tours often include Sonoita Vineyards, Arizona’s first commercial winery, and Carlson Creek Vineyards, which sits on 320 acres at a 4,200-foot elevation and offers a tasting room and patio with expansive views.
Interactive exhibitions and event spaces are other options to look out for. Carlson Creek, which also has tasting rooms in Scottsdale and outside Sedona, is adding a wine library, exhibition kitchen, and indoor/outdoor event space to the Wilcox location soon.
For outdoor culinary activities with a uniquely Arizona twist, the ultimate may be table to desert dining presented by Cloth & Flame, a Phoenix-based company offering groups immersive dining experiences “wherever they can be imagined.” Optional sites include the desert wilderness or a re-thought historic downtown Phoenix building, such as an old railway station. Sitting at communal tables in an untouched setting, participants enjoy a luxurious multi-course meal while chatting with the chef preparing dishes sourced from local ingredients in a makeshift outdoor kitchen.
Making It Your Own
There are virtually endless possibilities for outdoor activities in the state of Arizona alone. For further inspiration on all that Arizona has to offer for your next meeting or event, visit ArizonaMeetings.com. And don’t forget to download the accompanying planner checklist for outdoor activities and events.
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This content was created collaboratively by the Arizona Office of Tourism and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.