Tropical Team Building – Even if it’s Snowing Outside

Team Building with a Tropical Twist

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International

In 2008 & 2009, in the aftermath of the Walt Street meltdown, many companies slashed  their team building budgets. The AIG effect, was the final nail in the coffin for the executive retreats in the Caribbean that are always a big hit when the economy is booming.  Companies are still interested in strategies to:

  • inspire their teams
  • harness the creative energy of their people to generate solutions to business challenges
  • prevent burnout in the face of ever increasing workloads
  • reward top performers

The key is that team building approaches must be affordable. Many top Caribbean resorts now offer special rates that are making team building retreats in tropical destinations more affordable. As another alternative and with some adjustments, team building with a tropical theme can be offered as a substitute for foreign retreats…..even if you don’t have the budget for air travel.

At one time, you had to fly your team to the Caribbean, Hawaii, South East Asia, the Middle East, or Africa for team building with a tropical or beach theme. Now, with the magic of technology, there are a number of places where you can create a summer experience all year round.

Corporate Events vs. Team Building

Sure, you can plaster any hotel ballroom with travel posters, play reggae music and calypso, serve drinks with umbrellas, and project images from a DVD. Somehow, this doesn’t come close to the real thing.

A Tropical Fantasy in the Middle of Winter

It is possible to find affordable ways of using a tropical theme for a team building retreat or session, even in a tough economy. The recipe is simple.

  • Pick a fabulous location with water and some tropical plants
  • Add music, food, fun activities
  • Bring your people to the venue
    ….and stir it up.

But, this isn’t enough to produce effective team building. The key ingredients whether it’s in a hotel room, on-site or on the beach are:

  1. Clear business objectives
  2. A presentation by a member of your senior management team to set the context and link your company challenges or success to your theme
  3. A team briefing by a professional facilitator (internal or external) to prepare the team for the simulation
  4. Facilitated business exercises and cases
  5. Debriefing to uncover key learnings and identify how the tools and strategies acquired through the simulation can be used in your organization
  6. Application exercises that analyze specific business challenges and generate proposed solution
  7. A follow up plan
  8. Follow up, follow up, follow up

To that you can add the fun factor:

9. Team recreational challenges in a tropical setting and some downtime to enjoy the venue.

If you only do number 9, you’ll have a memorable corporate event (and there is a time and place for corporate events). Everyone will have a lot of fun but it won’t be team building. However, take the ingredients for effective team building, throw the right location and the “fun factor” into the mix and suddenly you have the potential for truly vivid and memorable team building that your people will talk about for years.

Where Summer Never Ends

Affordable options to overcome the AIG effect.

At all of these locations, the tropical ambiance is already set so you can concentrate on other aspects of your programme. As participants step through the door, presto, they’ll be transported to the tropics.


Tropical Islands was created inside a huge dome in Brandenburg with the assistance of a Malaysian company. It’s not surprising that, if Malaysian companies are creating snow houses in hot climates, they can bring a beach experience to winter locations.

Japan (Miyazaki)

Gone (for now) but not Forgotten

  • Phoenix Seagaia Ocean Dome

This is a great concept. It’s an indoor beach inside a huge dome complete with sand water and palm trees. The roof of the dome could be opened in the summer to let in the sunshine and natural light and warmth. Phoenix Seagaia Ocean Dome operated for 14 years and welcomed over 10 million visitors. It closed to the public in 2007 for an number of reasons. Rising operational costs combine with the impact of the economic downturn made it challenging to generate a profit. A shift in tourism focus in Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture placed more emphasis on attractions that highlight the natural environment including the onsen in Shosenkyu. Ocean Dome opened in 2009 for a special event for surfers (see video below). Who knows? For the right price it may still be possible to arrange corporate events there. You never know until you ask, right? I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Phoenix Seagaia Ocean Dome.

This quite incredible when you consider the fact that surfing of this magnitude is taking place at an indoor location.

Tropical Islands and Phoenix Seagaia Ocean Dome demonstrate what’s possible with a little bit of imagination and the right technology. I’m sure that innovators around the will find inspiration from these models. Something similar may open near you sometime soon. It’s only a matter of time. If you think it can’t happen and that all of this is too “pie in the sky”, think again. Here are examples of other indoor environments that simulate a tropical setting:


  • Beach at O2

Some years, an indoor beach has been simulated for a couple of months during the summer. The technology is available at this location to re-create this for special events.

Various USA Locations


Creating Summer Without an Indoor Beach

If you don’t have a ready made tropical oasis, there are some other options that, while not quite the same, will bring you closer to creating a tropical fantasy. Some locations have enough room for team challenges and activities while others are more suitable for receptions or luncheons to help flesh out your theme.

North America

  • Great Wolf Lodge
  • Rainforest Cafe
  • Richtree Restaurants


  • Indoor wave pools & Waterparks



Caribbean Cove

  • Some salsa clubs
  • Indoor beach volleyball courts
  • Large greenhouses with tropical vegetation




Biodôme de Montréal has an elaborate, indoor tropical rainforest with plants, animals, streams, and small waterfalls.


Allen Gardens Conservatory

Tropical House at Centennial Park Conservatory

Thunder Bay

  • Centennial Botanical Conservatory


  • Chinguacousy Park Greenhouse

Other Ideas

  • Preview centres for timeshare resorts in tropical locations
  • Jamaican or other Caribbean restaurants & nightclubs


Here is an example from Toronto:

  • The Real Jerk Restaurant


Here are examples from Malaysia:

  • Beach Club, Kuala Lumpur
  • Reggae Club, Penang

Malaysia has the advantage of perpetual sunshine and, of course, Penang, has a beach. I did want to give kudos to a Malaysian entrepreneur who had never set foot in Jamaica but managed to bring a taste of Negril to Penang. This model can be used, anywhere in the world and it shows that it doesn’t take a lot to add a tropical flair to your next team building retreat.

Let Executive Oasis International Facilitate Your Next Team Building Retreat

Executive Oasis International would be pleased to help you:

  • Create a Tropical Team Building Session on-site at a location near you
  • Organize and facilitate your next team building Rretreat at at beach location

We can custom design something for you or customize one or our own programmes.

Anne Thornley-Brown is the president of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based management consulting firm. They specialize in facilitated business team building and executive retreats. Their clients have included Holt Renfrew, Wurth Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, Batelco (Bahrain), Blue Nile Dairies (Sudan), National Bank (Dominica), and OCBC Bank (Malaysia). With their incentive travel and corporate event planning services, they can offer team building, corporate events, and sales incentive trips at featured destinations including Canada, Jamaica, United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain), Oman, Egypt, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Opening Photo Credit: Half Moon Luxury Hotel, Jamaica Executive Oasis International

Photo Credit: Used Under Creative Commons License Tropical Islands, Brandenburg

Photo Credit: Biodôme de Montréal hutchscout

Photo Credit: Used Under Creative Commons License Megapixie (Max Smith)

Photo Credit:The Real Jerk Restaurant, Toronto LexnGer


2 thoughts on “Tropical Team Building – Even if it’s Snowing Outside

  1. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. says:

    The focus of this blog was doing events with a tropical theme in winter locations. Great idea though. San Diego sounds wonderful. I’ll keep it in mind when I’m ready to do a feature on tropical locations close to home. Perhaps I’ll do that for a feature in the Incentive Travel Blog. If I ever manage to get there, it seems that San Diego has more than enough to offer to warrant being the focus of an entire blog entry.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing that.

  2. Training Coach says:

    This is like a travel log of tropical options.

    A lot of fun.

    But you forgot some more local options such as Las Vegas and San Diego.

    Especially San Diego with its beautiful weather year round. Although you might need a wet suit, San Diego has world-class surfing all year. Some of the best features of San Diego:

    – hardly ever rains,
    – most things can be done outside all year as well as inside,
    – the people are very friendly,
    – the dollar is cheap,
    – transportation is available,
    – everyone speaks English and
    – there is a wide variety of venues with a variety of food options

    When we host events in San Diego we get the largest and happiest audiences. They are willing to fly in from anywhere to enjoy our moderate and dry climate with our beaches, palm trees and plenty of sunshine.

    Check out San Diego.

    Otherwise, a great blog post.

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