Give Your Meeting an UpgradeMay 1, 2017

Luxury Properties Aren't Just for Incentive Programs — They Reward Ordinary Meeting-Goers, Too By
May 1, 2017

Give Your Meeting an Upgrade

Luxury Properties Aren't Just for Incentive Programs — They Reward Ordinary Meeting-Goers, Too
The Lodge, one of four housing options at Sea Island Resort on Georgia’s coast.

The Lodge, one of four housing options at Sea Island Resort on Georgia’s coast.

While a natural choice for incentive programs, luxury properties have a broader appeal in the meeting planning world. A four- or five-star lodging choice can be appropriate for a board of directors meeting or other high-end gathering involving the C-suite. On the client-facing side, it can be the kind of setting that impresses customers (or potential customers) and conveys the quality of the host company’s brand. And the reward aspect of a luxury property need not be restricted to incentive programs: Splendid surroundings and amenities effectively reward a company’s associates at the annual meeting, for example.

Meeting on the Lake

With that perspective in mind, Lowe Boats has partnered with the Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center in Branson, Missouri, for the last three installments of its Annual Boat Dealer Meeting. Approximately 300 of the Lebanon, Missouri-based company’s dealers attended, and “the luxurious feel of the Chateau makes our show a reward for our dealers’ hard work,” says Beverly Ramsey, marketing manager, Lowe Boats. “It’s important that they feel they are appreciated with plush accommodations, wonderful meals and entertainment during our new product show. Some add days on the front end or the back end to make it a true vacation.”

Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center, located in the picturesque Ozark Mountains, certainly has luxury credentials, having received the AAA Four Diamond Award for 18 consecutive years. Offering 301 newly refurbished guest rooms and 43,500 sf of meeting space, the resort has been a nice fit for the Lowe Boats group, while its full-service marina on Table Rock Lake accommodates the boats. “The convenience of the marina to the beautiful accommodations at the Chateau make it a perfect location,” Ramsey says. “We put 20 new boat models at the marina for the dealers to try out. With our show and boats on the water, lots of dealers take advantage of that time to try and run as many of the new models that they can. Other dealers enjoy the pool and The Library when not in a training session or meeting.”

Yet another context in which a luxury property can be ideal is the celebration of a company milestone. Last year was Lowe Boats’ 45th anniversary, and a property like the Chateau was ideal for the momentous occasion — not only in terms of amenities, but also service.

“We wanted to have a huge cake with our 45th anniversary logo on display to celebrate,” Ramsey relates. “Every bakery had limitations on their oven space. The staff at Chateau found someone who would build this huge display cake out of Styrofoam, and complete it with icing and our logo. Everyone commented how great the cake looked. Then they rolled it in the back while the wait staff served cake from sheet cakes to our guests. Everyone assumed they were eating the cake that was on display.”

To round out the celebration, the awards dinner was followed by live entertainment at the resort’s outdoor pool and a fireworks display.

Mountain Luxury

Also partnering with a luxury hotel for non-incentive meetings is Boston Scientific Corporation, a Marlborough, Massachusetts-based medical device company. The legendary Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has hosted several small conferences for the company in addition to a 400-attendee annual sales meeting in January 2016.

For the annual meeting, participants “fly in from all across the country, and we have a global contingent that comes to this meeting as well,” says Mike Jones, vice president of sales for the company. “The luxury part of the resort makes people feel this is a really impressive spot. Comments from surveys included, ‘Wow, what a venue to have the annual sales meeting in!’ ” That kind of reaction led Boston Scientific to rebook The Broadmoor for its 2019 annual meeting.

“The luxury part of the Broadmoor makes people feel this is a really impressive spot. Comments from surveys included, ‘Wow, what a venue to have the annual sales meeting in!’ ”
— Mike Jones

Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rockies, The Broadmoor and surrounding area is “a really desirable place to go, a very scenic resort and location,” says Jones. “But more important is how the local team works with us, making our entire team feel welcome.” The resort also makes the sales group feel more connected with numerous teambuilding opportunities, from bowling to paintball to hiking.

Indeed, this luxury resort is just as suited to the outdoorsman as to the epicurean. “Depending on what your flavor is, whether you like luxury or wilderness, they have it for you,” says Jones. “So if instead of fine dining you want to go out and do flyfishing with a packed lunch, you can do that as well.” The 784-room resort offers three Wilderness Experience properties: The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp. The panoply of outdoor event spaces are part of an overall 185,000 sf of function space, including the 60,000-sf Broadmoor Hall and 62 meeting rooms.

Opened in 1918, The Broadmoor represents Colorado’s history as much as it does luxury. Last October, The Broadmoor introduced the refurbished Estate House, a 12,000-sf historic mansion ideal for groups looking for Great Gatsby-style elegance. Built in the 1920s, the home still features original woodwork, art and other period accents. A lavish grand parlor is suited to a cocktail reception of up to 120, private dinners for up to 60, or meetings. The refined dining room seats up to 16 and is serviced by The Broadmoor’s acclaimed culinary team. At the resort proper, groups can avail themselves of Colorado’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant, the Penrose Room. A five-star spa and fitness center is also onsite, as well as three championship golf courses.

From fish camp to fine dining, The Broadmoor exemplifies how “luxury” encompasses a range of unique offerings. Josh Lesnick, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels, parent company of Associated Luxury Hotels International, notes, “Today’s luxury customer is truly changing and evolving, as are their needs. At Associated Luxury Hotels International, we work with so many spectacular independent luxury resorts and hotels, and each one has its own unique, special way of meeting and exceeding the needs of their guests. That is ultimately what it’s all about with today’s luxury customer. Delivering new and exciting experiences that truly feel personalized and deliver unexpected extra touches that create powerful memories.”

High-Demand Segment

As far as new hotels joining the luxury ranks in the U.S., there are relatively few in the pipeline, according to recent data from STR. In February 2017, there were 8,490 luxury-segment rooms in construction, which represents a 10.7 percent increase over February 2016. However, that compares to 27,457, 62,083 and 63,274 under construction, respectively, in the upper upscale, upscale and upper midscale segments for February 2017.

“We don’t have a lot of new builds going on in North America right now at the luxury level,” says Rhea Stagner, CIS, DVP, sourcing and supplier relations at Maritz Travel – A Maritz Global Events Company.

Combined with a high-demand market, the situation for planners often calls for booking as far in advance as possible — whether or not the luxury property is in a first-tier city. “The further out they can source the better, 18–24 months,” says Stagner. “That way they will have options for that meeting or incentive. Closer in, your options become more limited, regardless of whether it’s a tier-one or tier-two hotel.”

California Cachet

For example, Orange County, California, sees considerable demand from groups interested in luxury properties due to a constellation of resorts including the five-diamond Monarch Beach Resort, in Dana Point; five-star Montage Laguna Beach; five-diamond Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel; and the five-star, five-diamond Resort at Pelican Hill, in Newport. Maritz Travel has a significant history with the latter property, showing its versatility for more than just incentives. “We were one of their very first customers and had a strong relationship with their sales team prior to opening,” says Stagner. “We have done a little bit of everything there, from 20-person board of directors meetings to 20-person dealer owner meetings all the way up to 500-person incentives.”

The resort offers 204 opulently appointed bungalow guest rooms and suites with private terraces; 23,000 sf of function space; a five-star spa; and world-class restaurants, including Andrea, serving authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Pelican Hill Golf Club boasts 36 scenic holes by Tom Fazio; this spring, Pelican Hill Golf Academy debuted a new 3-D golf evaluation. Also onsite is the Coliseum Pool, an immense circular pool with tiered decks and luxurious cabanas.

Among the special events Stagner’s team has held for group clients of the resort is a “beautiful welcome reception at the Coliseum Pool with a stunning sunset view,” she describes. “The area is so beautiful with uplighting on the palm trees and gobo on the pool, it requires very little outside décor.” In addition, an awards ceremony and dinner in Mar Vista Ballroom presented “a stunning view and beautiful setting requiring minimum décor, which is a cost savings to the customer while the guests experience a memorable evening.”

Desert Jewel

Much like The Resort at Pelican Hill, many of Arizona’s luxury properties are known for connecting with their natural environment. The AAA Five Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, for example, is set against the backdrop of Arizona’s McDowell Mountains, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. The Spanish colonial-style resort’s 750 rooms include 69 Fairmont Gold rooms and suites. Notable amenities include five heated swimming pools, the 44,000-sf Well & Being Spa and Bourbon Steak, the Four Diamond steakhouse by acclaimed chef Michael Mina. The resort opened an additional 102 guest rooms in summer 2016, yielding its current total. The expansion included three luxury suites, a new Sunset Beach pool, 35,000-sf Sunset Lawn and new Western town event venue. This summer, the resort will expand and renovate its 2,600-sf Fairmont Gold Meeting Center and add a new 1,000-sf breakout room. A sliding Nano-tec bifolding glass wall (with privacy blinds) opens the space to a 6,000-sf patio overlooking the TPC Golf Course and McDowell Mountains. It’s ideal for a small but high-end corporate meeting.

Las Vegas Winner

Another luxury option in the American West is Wynn Las Vegas. The Wynn name is practically synonymous with luxury: Wynn Resorts has received more Forbes Five Star Awards than any other independent hotel company in the world. And the brand is well attuned to the meetings market, with a combined 290,000 sf of function space between Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, paired with a total of 4,750 guest rooms.

Luxury shopping is among the distinctive experiences here with the 99,000-sf Wynn Esplanade and a luxury retail Strip-front expansion, Wynn Plaza, currently under construction and scheduled to debut the first quarter of 2018. The 7,000-sf Wynn Collection boutique, showcasing the work of fashion luminaries, has hosted many corporate groups who want a salon-like environment.

Another upscale space is the Chairman’s Salon, graced with crystal chandeliers, burnished chintz and a dramatic curving staircase. This March, Wynn Las Vegas introduced a new program of workshops led by Wynn experts throughout the resort, such as master chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and artisans. The program is an excellent opportunity for planners seeking to give their attendees an interactive experience with high-end craftsmanship in many of its forms.

Seaside Retreat

On the Southeast coast of the U.S. lies a resort that combines luxury with Southern hospitality. Georgia’s oceanfront Sea Island Resort, surrounded by five miles of private beach, is billed as the only resort in the world to achieve four Forbes Five Star awards nine years in a row. Sea Island Resort has enhanced an already top-tier product with the recent completion of a $40 million expansion, which added the new Garden Wing, with 63 guest rooms, and the new 5,000-sf Mizner Ballroom at The Cloister at Sea Island. With the new ballroom, Sea Island Resort offers groups 51,000 total sf of indoor and outdoor event space.

The Mediterranean-style Cloister — one of the resort’s four housing options along with The Lodge, Inn and Cottages — now offers 265 elegant accommodations featuring views of the Black Banks River and Atlantic Ocean. The Cloister, originally designed by famed Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner in 1928, encompasses the Sea Island Yacht Club, The Spa at Sea Island and The Sea Island Beach Club. The Cloister’s F&B venues also have been augmented with an 80-seat addition and redesign of Italian restaurant Tavola, and the debut of the new River Bar Lounge. Johnson Vann Interiors commissioned Georgia artist Steve Penley to create a vivid painting for the signature restaurant.

The Lodge at Sea Island, surrounded by the fairways of the Sea Island Golf Club, is an intimate 40-room hotel and golf clubhouse offering expansive ocean views. The 85-room Inn at Sea Island is on St. Simons Island — just across the largest salt marsh on the Eastern Seaboard — minutes from the Cloister. Finally there are about 130 Sea Island Cottages — from three to eight bed­rooms — available for rent.

Amenities include the 65,000-sf Spa at Sea Island, which also has garnered Forbes Five Star acclaim, and three championship golf courses and the Golf Performance Center. Out-of-the ordinary activities are available, such as the Sea Island Shooting School offering access to Rainbow Island Sporting Clays Course; and private beach horseback rides on the shore and along the dunes.

New York Icon

Striking interiors are commonplace at luxury properties, whether in the guest rooms, lobby or eateries. Perhaps no East Coast metropolitan hotel outdoes The Plaza in this respect. From the beaux arts-style, 4,800-sf Grand Ballroom where Truman Capote once entertained, to the Italian Renaissance ambience of The Terrace Room, to the Central Park-inspired Palm Court, The Plaza is home to a wealth of gathering venues beyond its 5,000 sf of meeting space.

“I do events all over the city at many of the hotels, but The Plaza of course is iconic,” remarks Lynn Silverman, chief executive planner at Manhattan-based Creative Event Planning. “The venues are so special; they’re each so different.” Major law firms are among the corporate groups Silverman has brought to The Plaza during her more than 20-year relationship with the property. “Luxury is key” for these groups, she says. “They want to treat their VIP clients with the utmost of care.”

Among many special event options, Silverman recommends a buyout of the 9,500-sf Todd English Food Hall, “which is a very popular spot with him being a celebrity chef. It’s great because it can be used for a dinner, but before dinner it can be used for a meeting. And you can have interactive experiences, such as pasta making,” she explains. Wine and spirits tasting and pairing, as well as sushi rolling are further culinary possibilities for groups at The Food Hall, which includes a 3,500-sf private dining room.

Having appeared in numerous films, The Plaza has deep ties with popular culture and evokes immediate recognition from meeting attendees worldwide. Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups “is probably read to every little girl growing up. People know about The Plaza since they’re knee high,” Silverman notes. All of which makes the hotel extremely marketable for many types of corporate events.

But even luxury resorts that are not on par with The Plaza in terms of renown can still garner fame with attendees. Post-event surveys are routinely laudatory with properties of this level. “We do a participant/guest survey for all of our programs, and consistently, Resort at Pelican Hill programs have rated a 4.9 on a 5-point scale,” Stagner says. “For an incentive program there a few weeks ago, one guest response was: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Pelican Hill. It spoiled me for all future hotel stays. They will all pale in comparison.’ ” Planners booking such a property should be aware they’re setting quite a precedent in hospitality for their groups. C&IT

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