Meeting Case Study: EMC National Life Company Reward Trip

Discover why meeting and event planners prefer Asheville, NC, for group travel.

By WP Creative Group

Every year, EMC National Life Company (EMCNL) rewards its top insurance agents with an all-expenses paid getaway.

Rooftop group

Rooftop restaurant in downtown Asheville

Cameron Torstenson, EMCNL’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, says the annual incentive trip is crucial to motivating the company’s independent agents. The challenge? Choosing a destination that suits varying tastes.

“We try to create experiences that are meaningful to our partners,” Torstenson said. “When thinking about a group this size, you have to remember that everyone has very different things that are going to motivate them. The key is to offer an experience they can’t recreate on their own.”

In 2022, EMCNL leadership chose Asheville, North Carolina, treating a group of 100 agents to three days of entertainment, relaxation and connection in the backdrop of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville is a city that offers a wealth of unique experiences for every niche interest, balancing a small town feel with metropolitan luxuries.

“When you’re trying to motivate successful people, you’re looking for something special, but a lot of times what special means is really hard to define,” Torstenson said. “For us, Asheville was that special place, and the city allowed us to provide an experience that appealed to the largest possible audience.”

Asheville, known for its vibrant arts scene and wealth of outdoor activities, attracts more than 12 million visitors each year. Art lovers can visit local glassblowers, sculptors, photographers and muralists in their colorful studios and galleries in the River Arts District, while outdoor enthusiasts should take in Asheville’s scenic mountain and waterfall views while exploring hiking trails or driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook

Blue Ridge Parkway

The variety of ways to experience Asheville make it a popular vacation destination for employers looking to reward and reinvigorate their staff with a trip to an inspiring city.

“Many of the reasons Asheville is on the must-experience list for leisure visitors translate into Asheville being a perfect fit for right-sized groups,” said Michael Kryzanek, vice president of business development at Explore Asheville. “Our destination provides inspiring spaces to foster meaningful connections, improve businesses and strengthen relationships. From boutique hotels and grand resorts to an array of adventures, Asheville has a lot to offer in the way of specialized experiences.”

On the first day of their trip to Asheville, EMCNL agents arrived at Biltmore, a historic 8,000-acre property featuring a 19th century mansion, an award-winning winery and a luxurious, four-star inn. After checking in, the group was treated to a dinner reception in the estate’s Lioncrest Chestnut Room, taking advantage of the space’s retractable awning to welcome in fresh mountain air.

Biltmore rooftop reception


The next morning, EMCNL agents enjoyed a trolley tour that visited neighborhoods like downtown Asheville, a commercial hub of eclectic boutiques, craft breweries and farm-to-table eateries and Montford Historic District, a residential neighborhood that boasts a variety of grand architecture, including Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes. After the tour, attendees were given gift cards and encouraged to explore Asheville on their own.

“We gave our agents a fair amount of time that was unstructured, so everyone could find their own favorite parts of the city,” said Torstenson. “Later at dinner, we got really consistently positive feedback about Asheville’s art scene, as well as the walkability of the city and the various restaurants everybody chose for lunch.”

Asheville’s food scene has seen a boom in growth over the past decade, and is consistently rated as one of the country’s top foodie cities. For dinner, EMCNL agents dined at Cúrate, a Spanish tapas restaurant in downtown Asheville, co-founded by four-time James Beard Award nominee Katie Button.

Asheville boasts more than 30 James Beard nominated and winning establishments where visitors can treat themselves to a range of cuisines, including Mediterranean, Hawaiian, Appalachian BBQ and Southern food. Also a standout craft beverage city, Asheville is home to a dynamic, vibrant and creative community dedicated to producing quality drinks of all sorts, from meads to cider, kombucha to sake, wines to sour beer, and a growing number of distilleries. The city also ranks among those with the highest number of breweries per capita in the U.S.

Another luxury property that is popular among incentive trip planners is the Omni Grove Park Inn, a historic resort with roots in relaxation.

“The Inn was built in 1913 as a quiet location for adults to come and relax,” said Craig Cupit, the inn’s area director of sales. “We’re located atop Sunset Mountain, and when you visit, it’s obvious the location was chosen because it gives guests a fantastic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from almost anywhere on the property.”


The Spa at The Omni Grove Park Inn

Omni Grove Park Inn continues that relaxed atmosphere for today’s guests, offering a 43,000 square foot spa facility with indoor pools with stone pillars and waterfalls that evoke a grotto-like atmosphere, luxurious meeting spaces and ballrooms large enough to accommodate hundreds, and plenty of picturesque views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Our outdoor spaces are tremendous,” said Cupit. “We have a pavilion located down on the golf course, overlooking the mountains. People love to use that space as a reception or meeting venue because there’s plenty of open grounds where you can do activities, such as hot air balloons or hosting outdoor chefs on open pits.”

For groups that prefer to be in the middle of the action, the Foundry Hotel is located in a downtown historic district called the Block, a historically Black business neighborhood.

“The Block is now back on traveler’s radar, which is really wonderful to see,” said Madeline Ravenna-Kavanagh, director of sales at Foundry Hotel. “It’s great that we get to be a part of showcasing the history, and the importance of the neighborhood to our guests.”

The Block is part of the city’s Black Cultural Heritage Trail, which connects historic Black communities in and around downtown Asheville. In addition to exploring history, visitors can connect with the city’s art scene.

North Carolina Glass Center

North Carolina Glass Center

“Connecting with what’s authentic to Asheville is important for our visitors,” said Ravenna-Kavanagh. “There are so many art exhibits, cafes and thrift stores in the River Arts District near the hotel. It’s definitely the place to find really cool art and souvenirs to remember your trip by.”

Thankfully, meeting planners are not alone when it comes to selecting the itinerary for a trip to Asheville. Tortenson says that the team of destination experts at Explore Asheville helped from afar, giving suggestions for large group activities that EMCNL leadership would later scout and confirm as great options for their employees.

“Explore Asheville offers eligible meeting incentives up to $10,000 that can be used for these distinct destination experiences or vendors,” added Kryzanek. “Meeting planners can submit a qualified RFP at to be eligible.”

Torstenson says the trip is still a favorite among the EMCNL team and as he plans more incentives trips, he’s comparing every city to Asheville.

“Subsequently, as we’ve looked for other locations, I found it very difficult to find a city that offers such an expansive and diverse set of those attractions,” he said. “We set the bar high with Asheville.”

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The team at Explore Asheville is deeply connected to the community's industry leaders and a planner's best point of contact to host a meeting in this dynamic city. Connect with Explore Asheville's destination experts to tap into its complimentary meeting planning services and create a meaningful agenda.

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