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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Ærli Aiming to Put Conscious, Regenerative Spin on Corporate Retreat Industry

The new Norwegian network of nine properties is on a mission to redefine business travel with experiences that embed and impart the very essence of sustainability and regenerative practices.

Corporate retreats have a notoriously stuffy reputation: People sitting around a conference table in a bland, cookie-cutter hotel conference room — drinking cup after cup of stale coffee in order to stay awake through lectures about KPIs and sales numbers.

But as businesses evolve to center more conversations around corporate social responsibility, those corporate retreats must evolve, as well. What better way to engage staff in these conversations than to gather in environments modeling sustainability and participate in activities that reenergize teams while giving back to the planet?

That’s the intention behind Ærli — a new Norwegian network of nine properties rooted in regenerative practices, intentionally marketed for business travel.

“We believe it’s possible to create these experiences where people actually do something that is relevant in the sustainability agenda,” Øystein Hagen, CEO and founding partner of Æra Strategic Innovation, the consultancy firm behind the brand, told Sustainable Brands®.

Æra works across a wide spectrum of industries on sustainability-related projects. In light of the challenges created by Norway’s quantity-driven tourism policies common across the world in the years leading up to 2020, the firm set out to find a way to support those destinations already independently focused on sustainability. The result is Ærli.

The platform, which officially launched in June 2022, amplifies innovative Norwegian properties for the use of corporate gatherings — often focused on sustainability issues — with the intention of reflecting the very essence of sustainability.

Image credit: Pan Treetop Cabins

“This means staying longer, connecting even deeper with the planet that we’re supposed to build strategies to protect and thrive in,” Hagen explained. “We also wanted to make the whole sustainability thing less technical and more practical, and to build experiences around that.”

Meetings held at Ærli properties are inspired by each property’s setting, and business travelers are invited to participate in unique place-based experiences — from organic farming to tree planting — that encourage them to fully immerse themselves in nature. “It’s definitely not just a place to sit down and look at a screen together. We want to create something different than that. We want people to go out to these places, sit together, work in a different way than they think they need,” said Siri Østvold, CEO of Ærli.

Image credit: Stokkøya Strandhotell

At Stokkøya Strandhotell, for example, guests can participate in a beach cleanup; help remove Canadian pine, an invasive species planted in the 1970s; or work with the gardener to mitigate their carbon footprint.

“We want everyone to be more aware of the climate situation and to lower carbon in the tourism industry,” said Torild Langklopp, co-owner, co-founder and manager of the property — which has operated with an environmentally focused philosophy since the business was established in 2005.

In addition to facilitating the relationship between the business market and properties listed with Ærli — and assisting property owners with experience creation for those travelers, if needed — Æra also provides sustainability-focused content programming.

Ærli’s focus on business travel is also a strategic move for participating properties: “This helps these destinations economically in their low season to spread out traffic, so they can keep their employees for the whole year and help keep their businesses more economically sustainable,” Østvold said. To fully recognize this possibility, Hagen said one of the long-term goals is to develop relationships with the companies booking through Ærli in order to service their year-round gatherings, from board meetings to holiday celebrations.

Image credit: GLØD Explorer

But Ærli is more than just a brand promoting and selling the most progressive Norwegian tourist destinations to the business market. It is also a network that brings the like-minded business owners of these properties together to further develop their own sustainability work, discuss shared challenges and solutions, learn from each other and explore collaboration opportunities.

“Æra is dealing with these issues in so many businesses; and we can learn so much from them and from each other,” Langklopp said. “The owners of these properties are hard-working; and they have a lot of the challenges we have. So, we ask a lot of questions — about sales, marketing, running a business, creating menus, developing partnerships.”

Importantly, the in-person gatherings — which happen twice a year — rotate throughout the properties, so business owners can see a wide variety of sustainability initiatives and experiences in action: “I’m looking forward to meeting up again because there are always a lot of ideas, creativity and problem solving. I think we make each other better,” Langklopp said. The community also meets virtually twice a year.

Though Ærli is still relatively new, bookings are already racking up.

“The product is incredible. The destinations are incredible. But they haven’t been accessible for businesses, so this is very exciting,” Hagen said. And, Østvold added, “this is really about the development of the local communities in a really good, sustainable way. These destinations really prove that is possible.”