When you want to impress incentive winners or customers, there's nothing like taking over an entire resort. Everywhere attendees go on property, they run into people from the same company. You can rename rooms to reflect the theme of your event and put signage where it wouldn't ordinarily be allowed. Best of all, your group becomes the focus of everyone who works there.
But it's not easy to take over an entire resort. “It has to be the right season, and most importantly, the right group,” says Iris Acosta, national sales manager at the Sonesta Key Biscayne in Florida.
The following five companies found a way — despite the challenges — to make it happen.
Burrell Professional Labs, Crown Point, Ind.
Meeting: 2000 Presidential Circle Symposium
Location: Sonesta Key Biscayne
Objective: To encourage photographers who use Burrell Labs to interact
“We want our folks to bump into each other in the hallway,” is how Steve Metz, events and conventions manager at Burrell Professional Labs, describes his annual customer meeting. That's why, every year, he takes over a hotel, alternating East and West Coast locations. Last year, he brought his group to the Radisson Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. This year, he picked the Sonesta Key Biscayne in the Florida Keys.
“We typically use properties of 300 to 350 rooms,” Metz says. “With upwards of 1,000 rooms, we would be afraid we would be a speck on the map and not get that same intimate feeling.”
Burrell wants to give the attendees ample opportunity to share ideas. “If someone goes to the pool or to the lounge area,” says Metz, “they will be around other photographers and can continue their discussions.”
To identify properties that can be taken over, Metz calls CVBs, talks to hotel salespeople, and checks with other meeting professionals he has met through MPI (Meeting Professionals International).
He usually books the property at least two years in advance, and he is very flexible with his dates. “I tell the hotel the month we would like to have the program in, and let them tell me what dates work best for them.”
Iris Acosta, national sales manager at the Sonesta Key Biscayne, says groups must be willing to leave some rooms vacant because the hotel has a very strong individual guest base that has been coming to the resort annually for as long as 12 years. “These guests must be taken into consideration when looking at a takeover.”
Lexus of North America, Torrance, Calif.
Meeting: 10th anniversary celebration
Location: Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
Objective: Incentive for 800 dealers
When Lexus of North America celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1999, the group was not only the largest to have held an incentive at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, it was one of the largest incentives ever planned on the island.
The resort set many records with this program. At the spa, for example, staff coordinated 150 massages in one day. Meeting organizer George P. Johnson Co., which has offices in San Francisco, Boston, and London, installed the Lexus logo in the middle of the pool and turned one of the resort's restaurants into “Club Lexus.” It transformed the softball field into a private car salon, with 20 tents surrounded by landscaping, a project that took two months to complete. The salon, showcasing 10 years of Lexus models, was unveiled with a private concert by Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts Band. The centerpiece was the unveiling of the Lexus LS430.
“Although we had to pay for some meeting room space, guarantee certain food and beverage revenues, and pay a higher room rate since we didn't get the lower group rate, it was worth it,” says Paul Medure, travel account manager for Torrance, Calif.-based Maritz Travel Co., which handled the program.
PrimeSource, Dallas, Texas
Meeting: Customer incentive
Location: Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, Ariz.
Objective: Reward for 750 qualifiers
Taking over the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch became a necessity when PrimeSource's program grew beyond expectations to 750 qualifiers and almost out of the 493-room hotel. When event organizer Jim Dittman, president of Edison, N.J.-based Dittman Incentive Marketing, found that the 14,300-square-foot ballroom was no longer big enough, the hotel erected a 24,000-square-foot tent in its parking lot for food and beverage functions, cutting down several trees and leveling the area to do so.
“But then suddenly we didn't have a parking lot,” says Lara Anderson, the resort's sales manager. “We had to figure out where we were going to put the guests' cars and our employees' cars.”
As the group grew in size, unexpected costs appeared, many of which the hotel picked up. For example, the resort had planned to leave its 26 suites, which went for as much as $1,400 a night, open for leisure guests. But as the group grew, PrimeSource needed these suites — and Anderson had to give them to the group at a significantly lower rate.
The PrimeSource group was permitted into areas of the hotel that are normally not available to groups. The lobby bar-fountain court area, extremely popular with vacationers as well as locals, was closed during the meeting so Dittman could have vendors set up there.
“Jim broke the rules everywhere and anywhere he could,” Anderson quips. “He put signage up in places that it's normally not allowed and had functions in public spaces that we never sell to groups.”
The resort has since added a ballroom and now has a total of 35,000 square feet of meeting space.
Zurich Insurance, Zurich, Switzerland
Meeting: 1999, 2000, and 2001 Corporatewide Retreats
Location: The World Golf Village Renaissance Resort, St. Augustine, Florida
“When you pulled up to the World Golf Village this January, you knew our group was there,” says Kristine Hamick, meeting planner for Zurich Insurance, a corporate insurance company based in Zurich, Switzerland, with an office in Schaumburg, Ill. Zeta, the company's mascot was waiting on top of the porte cochere with a huge sign welcoming the group, and company balloons and banners decorated the hallways and lobby.
Based on the success of its first takeover of The World Golf Village Renaissance Resort in 1999, the group of 650 returned in 2000 and 2001, having the entire 300-room hotel and all its 40,000 square feet of meeting space to itself.
“It's nice to be the big fish in a little sea. Everyone in the hotel is totally dedicated to your group,” says Hamick. “You get specialized attention that you can't get when the hotel staff is being pulled two or three different ways.”
General Electric, Albany, N.Y.
Meeting: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 Audit Division training meeting
Location: The Sagamore, Lake George at Bolton Landing, New York
Objective: A private, exclusive setting for auditor training
Located on its own 72-acre private island in New York's Adirondacks, The Sagamore has been the setting for General Electric's Audit Division training meetings each January for the past four years. “We were alone with no distractions,” says Linda Emaelaf, meetings coordinator.
Since January is Lake George's off-season, the resort happily gave the group use of all of its 240 guest rooms, 120 suites, and 17,000 square feet of meeting space. “This was one of the few groups we completely shut our resort down for. We accepted a lower weekend rate to have this business for the six days,” says Gary Dilmore, The Sagamore's director of conference services and catering.
Training meetings, social andfunctions, and an awards banquet were all were held over six days. And the fact that the group was the focus of the hotel staff paid off one evening, when Emaelaf forgot to arrange for champagne during a formal dinner in the hotel's main ballroom. No problem. She quickly found the host, and in 10 minutes, the hotel staff had gathered enough champagne and glasses for a 700-person toast.
Andrea Graham is a freelance writer based in Paramus, N.J.
Want to Take Over?
- START WITH LOW SEASON — This is when resorts will be most flexible.
- BOOK AT LEAST A YEAR IN ADVANCE — A longer lead time will give you more options.
- BE WILLING TO PAY FOR EXTRAS — A resort will have to come up with a rate for a complete takeover, since group rates are typically less than the individual guest rate. Holding food and beverage events on-site can help cut room costs. If you want true exclusivity for your group, you may need to pay for some rooms you might not use.
Who to Call at the Chains
These properties at the major chains can be taken over by groups (number of rooms is in parentheses):
Delta Hotels (800) 387-1265 — Delta Pinestone Resort, Haliburton, Ontario (116); Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, Kananaskis Village, Alberta (321); Delta Whistler Village Suites, Whistler, British Columbia (207)
Hilton Hotels Corp. (800) 321-3232 — Hilton Lake Lanier Islands Resort, Georgia (216); Pointe Hilton Resorts, Phoenix (563-suite Squaw Peak, 585-suite Tapatio Cliffs Resort; Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island, Hawaii (1,240); Hilton Lake Placid Resort, New York (179)
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts (800) 543-1818 — Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa (815); Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress (750); Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach (506); Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort (493); Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas (496)
Loews Hotels (212) 521-2000 — Loews Coronado Bay Resort, San Diego (440); Loews Le Concorde, Quebec City (424); Loews Miami Beach Hotel (800); Loews Philadelphia Hotel (585); Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson (398); Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Orlando (750); Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando (650)
Marriott Hotels, Resorts and Suites (800) 626-3614 — Marriott Orlando World Center Resort & Convention Center (1,503); Lodge at Sonoma — A Renaissance Resort & Spa (180)
Sonesta Hotels & Resorts (800) 477-4556 — Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne (290); Sonesta Beach Resort Bermuda (400); Sonesta Beach Resort & Villas Anguilla (100); Aruba Sonesta Beach Resort (556)
Starwood (800) 325-3535 — Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort & Casino in Puerto Rico (694); Westin La Cantera Resort, San Antonio (508)
Wyndham International Hotels & Resorts (800) 996-4016 — The Boulders Resort in Carefree, Ariz. (160 plus 50 villas); Wyndham El Conquistador, Las Croabas, Puerto Rico (918; VIP guests can stay at adjacent Las Casitas Village with 90 deluxe casitas); Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel, Calif. (144)
Luxury hotel sites worth checking out:
www.luxurytravel.com — Gives you a search engine that will help you track down 2,000 properties worldwide.
www.luxury4less — Allows you to do your initial travel research. This site has its own live travel consultant, reachable by phone.
www.luxurylink.com — Provides a searchable database of luxury travel properties worldwide, as well as special offers, exclusives, auctions, and additional information for travelers.
www.andrewharpertravel.com — Gives you sample pages from three luxury travel publications, including The Harper Collection, “the travel bible for frequent travelers,” from travel writer Andrew Harper.
www.luxelife.com — Specializes in luxury destinations, including hotels and resorts, luxury cruises, spas, and great adventures around the world.