by Jennifer Nicole Dienst | December 01, 2007

The Mansion on Forsyth Park

Elegance defined:
The Mansion on Forsyth Park
in Savannah, Ga.,
a member of Associated
Luxury Hotels International

The best way to ensure that your group has the full attention of a hotel’s staff is to make sure nobody else is on the premises. It’s a concept that’s gaining popularity, as small, upscale properties report a steady rise in demand for buyouts, and representation firms add dedicated sales staff specifically to facilitate such bookings.

Exclusive use, as a buyout also is known, offers planners the freedom and flexibility of not only taking over every guest room, but every nook and cranny of meeting space, dining and bar facilities, spa, garden and presidential suite.

“A buyout gives a group tremendous focus throughout every aspect of the meeting,” says Sarah Clark, vice president of corporate communications for the Preferred Boutique arm of the Chicago-based Preferred Hotel Group. “The entire staff is dedicated to the group, and the property is always available for their enjoyment.”

“The emphasis on small and intimate is a growing trend,” says Jacques-Olivier Chauvin, CEO of Relais & Chateaux, a Paris-based company representing upscale boutique properties worldwide. “We’ve seen a significant growth in executive retreats, board meetings and events for luxury goods and car launches.”

Corporate groups prefer full buyouts for the privacy afforded, Chauvin adds, especially when sensitive topics like mergers or acquisitions are on the agenda. “If a group is staying in a large hotel, there’s a risk that confidential information will be disclosed,” he explains. “With a buyout, the property is secure because it’s just you.”

Furthermore, buyouts allow for custom coddling. “It’s all about attention to detail and service,” says Thorsten Meier, New York City-based managing director of group sales for Leading Hotels of the World, a New York City-based consortium. “We had a buyout recently at one of our properties in Cyprus, Greece, that is famous for bouquets of lilies in every area of the hotel. We found out by accident that the CEO hates lilies, so we exchanged them all a few hours before he arrived.”

In another instance, recalls Meier, “The president of a company who had exclusive use of one of our properties had scheduling issues and couldn’t stay the entire time. Our solution was shuttling him back and forth every evening in a helicopter so he could attend the gala dinners. We didn’t have a helipad, so we built one on the premises.”

Exclusive use can be expensive, but if the group is going to use most of the guest rooms, a buyout is a smart choice. Many hotels, depending on the season, give full-use status to groups that rent 70 to 80 percent of the rooms. “It’s an amazing deal,” says Relais & Chateaux’s Chauvin. “For the price of the room, you get the full property to yourself.”

Finding a property to call your own for a few days can be challenging, whether it’s a 20-room ch0teau in France or a collection of bungalows on the Mexican Riviera. That’s why planners often turn to hotel marketing consortia for help in finding a venue and booking the group.

“Planners would rather liaise with one contact person in the same time zone and who speaks the same language but still have access to hundreds of hotels,” says Meier of Leading Hotels of the World. “They don’t want to be chasing around the globe trying to get answers. A lot of corporate accounts are now using us because they realize we negotiate better rates, too,” he claims.

It’s helpful for the properties, as well. “Some boutique properties can’t afford to have that kind of sales force,” says Jeff Homad, director of sales and marketing for the Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, Ga. (The property is a member of Associated Luxury Hotel International’s Elite Retreat program, which offers buyouts at select hotels.) “Associated Luxury is like an extended arm of our sales team. They represent us in the marketplace, and they truly have a national presence.”

The consortia also ensure that a property is up to specific luxury standards, per strict inspections. Leading Hotels of the World conducts a two-day review of member hotels that is repeated at least twice every three years, with “mystery shoppers” investigating more than 1,500 checkpoints on everything from housekeeping to speediness of service.

Following are some of the biggest luxury-oriented consortia that welcome group business.

Preferred Hotel Group

The Preferred Hotel Group describes itself as “a representation and referral organization for top-tier guests who wish to experience hotels with unmatched standards.” Based in Chicago, PHG offers a collection of four brands totaling 375 properties in 60 countries, including Preferred Boutique, a collection of 75 properties ranging from 12 to 100 rooms.

“There has been a lot of growth in boutique buyout sales in the past few years,” says Sarah Clark, Preferred Boutique’s vice president of corporate communications. “That business is incredibly important.”

Properties include the 42-room Sa-mode Palace in Rajasthan, India; 10-room, private Double Island in Palm Cove, Australia; and the 20-tent Clayoquet Wilderness Resort - Bedwell River Outpost in Tofino, British Columbia.