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Save some bucks on business retreats

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TravelIlloWANT TO IMPRESS A BIG CLIENT or reward your team for a job well done? Send them packing. Business retreats are a great excuse to take a working vacation, but with the recession ruining the party for many, companies are scaling back their outings.

"Some people are doing it because they don't have the money, others because they don't want to appear to be wasting it," says Matt Weber, president of Lake Oswego events planners A Swank Affair.

Still, it's possible to have a ball even on a budget. One way to cut costs is keep the trip closer to home. You'll save on transportation and reduce your carbon emissions, making your gathering cheaper and greener.

While fancy four- and five-star hotels are nice, they're not the only option for accommodations. It might be time to consider more modest digs. For something different, get in touch with the great outdoors and book a dude ranch or other rustic venue, Weber says. You can also get a better deal if you're flexible with the dates of your stay or are willing to travel during off-peak days or seasons. A professional planner with contacts at various venues can often negotiate a better rate. If an overnight trip is too much, do a day trip instead.

When you're feeding a crowd, Tammy Thompson, past president of Association of Catering and Event Professionals, in Portland, suggests cutting back from three protein options at the dinner buffet to two. Weber recommends forgoing a full breakfast in favor of the continental variety. You can also pinch pennies by serving ice water in pitchers instead of buying it bottled or by offering dessert in place of an afternoon snack rather than serving it with lunch. To save on drinks,
forget the full, open bar; offer only beer and wine or give guests tickets for a set number of cocktails, then convert to a cash bar.

For design on a dime, Thompson recommends using what the facility has instead of
paying for pricey centerpieces. The same goes for table linens.

"A set event room can typically include those on a complimentary basis," she says.

To save on entertainment, consider alternatives to live music. Hiring a D.J. or bringing in a digital jukebox is typically cheaper than paying for a whole band. If a professional speaker is out of your budget, mine your personal contacts, Weber suggests.

"I just tell people to be open-minded and willing to try something new," Weber says.
"You can still create a good retreat. It may not have all the bells and whistles, but because it's new, it's still exciting and accomplishes your goals."
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