Unusual conference-center site on cutting edge of trend


LINTON, N.D. -- When travel agent Hal Rosenbluth began planning a 16-bedroom lodge and conference center in the middle of the North Dakota prairie, a lot of professional meeting planners and travel managers probably thought he had gone over the edge.

After all, there isn't a fancy golf course, beach or dramatic range of mountains for hundreds of miles around the center. Nor are there the cultural draws of major cities, such as a wide choice of restaurants, theaters or museums.

But one visit to the Rivery, on Little Beaver Creek Trail outside Linton, may convince the skeptics that Rosenbluth is on the cutting edge of a trend in the conference business.

The remote location of the Rivery, in the southern part of North Dakota 60 miles south of Bismarck, couldn't be more uncluttered and pristine. It's in the middle of a 1,000-acre ranch that Rosenbluth also owns and uses during conferences.

Although many people, especially Easterners, might not think of the Dakotas as scenic, they would change their minds if they stood on the Rivery's back porch on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The view extends for miles; nothing interrupts the gaze.

Ample amenities keep one comfortable and busy at the ranch, including rooms furnished like those of a deluxe hotel, excellent meals, a swimming pool, spa, tennis court, game room and horseback riding.

But simply sitting on the porch gazing at the night stars may be the most appealing aspect of the center.

The Rivery will have its official opening this week, with North Dakota's governor and congressional delegation among the invited guests. The center has been used since early April for groups of Rosenbluth Travel employees and for selected professional meeting planners and travel managers.

Even before he decided last year to build the conference center, Rosenbluth had discovered that North Dakota was a good place for his Philadelphia-based agency, which operates nationwide, to business.

In 1988, the agency established a small data-processing center employing 40 part timers in Linton, population 1,500. The Linton office has expanded to almost 100 employees now and is headed toward 200. Besides being used for data processing, the office also serves as a corporate travel reservation center for Rosenbluth client companies across the country.

In rural North Dakota, the agency is able to pay employees lower wages than it does in major cities, but it still gets high-quality work from a well-educated work force that has very low absenteeism and turnover rates.

In an interview the first week the Rivery was open, Rosenbluth said he had met so many good, warmhearted people living a wholesome and unhurried lifestyle in North Dakota that he had begun to envision the area as a place that could benefit others.

The agency's employee-training specialists are experimenting with ways to use the ranch for a variety of exercises, known collectively as "team building," that are designed to help people work together better.

"This is such a good way for people to get to know each other," Rosenbluth said during a break in a trail ride -- on horseback and in covered wagons -- for a group of employees. "People relax when they're out here because they're having fun."

Diane Peters, Rosenbluth's director of corporate development, who has overall charge of the Rivery, said people en route to the ranch seemed to slow down as they left Bismarck Airport and traveled through the nearly empty prairie.

"Everybody has indicated an element of surprise, even those who saw our brochures or videos on the Rivery," she said. "I can see people relaxing all the way here. It's such a contrast, to be out here in the middle of nowhere in this country setting. But it's still elegant, and you're pampered while you're here."

Mysteries of Manhattan

New York visitors who stay at Manhattan East Suite Hotels can get an extremely useful brochure, "Nine to Five 1991," that, among other things, solves the mystery of Manhattan street addresses.

The pocket-size pamphlet has a whole page on how to locate addresses on Manhattan's north-south avenues and numbered cross streets. To use the system for the avenues, you cancel the last figure of an address, divide the answer by two, and add or subtract the key number from a list provided in the brochure. In the case of 488 Madison Ave., for instance you can quickly determine, using the system, that it's near 50th Street.

Besides other basic information, the brochure identifies public restrooms, small public parks and hidden oases in the city -- such as the lobby of the 875 Third Ave. building -- where

pedestrians can get off their feet.

Telephone translation

Dollar Rent A Car, with the help of the Japanese Assistance Network, is providing a telephone translation service for Japanese car-rental customers at selected U.S. locations. About million Japanese people visit the United States each year, and the U.S. Travel Data Center estimates that 70 percent of the business travelers and 90 percent of leisure travelers are not able to communicate in English.

Dollar said that, starting Saturday, the translation service would be available at counters in Los Angeles and San Francisco and that later it would be expanded to other gateway cities.

A Dollar customer who speaks only Japanese simply tells a counter agent, "Nihongo, please," which means "I need telephone assistance, please." The agent and the customer pick up special telephone receivers and have a three-way conversation with a network translator.

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