The ways planners infuse
luxury into their meetings, events and incentives today
are far subtler than they were during the pre-Enron,
pre-Sarbanes-Oxley, late-’90s heyday of outlandishly lavish
gatherings. Indeed, low-key and understated are in, while splash,
glitz and anything else that even hints of giddy spending are
“Clients still want first-class events,
but they don’t want them to be like something the Carringtons [from
TV’s Dynasty] would throw,” says Greg Jenkins,
founder/partner of Long Beach, Calif.-based Bravo Productions.
Not sure how to add luxury without
drawing the ire of shareholders or budget watchdogs? Following are
tips from industry pros who have mastered the art of creating
Fly commercial. When
perception is everything, chartering private planes is a big no-no,
says Charles Massey, CMP, president/CEO of West Hollywood,
Calif.-based Synaxis Meetings & Events. A better option, he
advises, is to fly participants business class. “It might cost as
much as chartering a plane, but it appears less ostentatious.”
Lose the limos.
Stretch limos are way too in-your-face, says Greg Jenkins. Other
choices for subtly luxurious ground transit include an upscale SUV,
such as a Cadillac Escalade; limo vans with “captain seats,” which
resemble plane seats, rather than traditional bench seats;
traditional sedans, and vintage cars.
Abstain from luxury
chains. “Sarbanes-Oxley has made it hard for people to use
Ritz-Carltons and Four Seasons,” says Nikki Nestor, president &
CEO of Carlsbad, Calif.-based incentive firm World Class Travel by
Invitation. “Branding backfires on these chains, even though some
of the properties have good rates off-season.”
When Nestor needs a luxury property,
she typically turns to Orient Express because “they’re very upscale
but don’t brand themselves as a chain; the properties have
individual names.” Charles Massey often selects properties that are
members of Associated Luxury Hotels or Preferred Hotels &
Resorts, both consortiums of luxury properties, because “they are
not as well known to the general public but will achieve the same
objectives” as a well-known five-star brand.
Choose chains with
range. Greg Jenkins likes Starwood Hotels & Resorts
because the chain has several upscale brands (i.e., Westin and St.
Regis), but the name itself does not shout “wealth.”
Shop boutiques. To
Vince Steffan, president of The Steffan Group Special Events, with
offices in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla., smaller boutique
properties bespeak quiet luxury without raising red flags.
Keep upgrades subtle.
When rewarding top performers or housing VIPs, steer clear of fancy
suites, advises Mona Meretsky, CSEP, president of Fort Lauderdale,
Fla.-based meeting and production firm Comcor. Instead, select (or
request upgrades to) junior or executive suites, which, Meretsky
says, are “more spacious and special than standard rooms, but not
Food and beverage
Serve Cristal champagne and Beluga caviar, and everyone will know
you’ve spent a small fortune. Better to serve brands that bespeak
quality, suggests Vince Steffan, such as Veuve Clicquot, which has
several good champagnes at a range of prices, thus blurring the
lines on how much was spent.
For cocktail fare, Steffan prefers to
serve canapes made with extraordinary cheeses, truffle oils, etc.,
rather than caviar, to provide a fabulous taste without shouting
Pare portions. Think
small, says Andrea Michaels, president of Sherman Oaks,
Calif.-based Extraordinary Events. “Who really needs a 16-ounce
piece of prime rib?” she asks. Rather, pair a perfect 4-ounce beef
filet with a small portion of a lovely local fish for the perfect
Beef up the classics.
When you want to go low-key, home-style dishes are a good option.
For example, consider a traditional chicken pot pie. The glamour
can come from the serving dishes (i.e., individual copper pots) or
the garnish (the organization’s logo emblazoned on the crust, or a
soupon of shaved truffles). For an event that includes several
evening meals, Nikki Nestor says to stick with traditional foods
the first night. “People are going to be exhausted if they had a
long flight, and they’ll be catching up with each other, so serve
comfort foods. Fancy food is wasted on tired people.”
Keep it regional.
There’s no need to have luxury food items brought in specially for
the event if you’re in a destination with a distinctive cuisine,
says Nestor. That goes for wines, as well. “So many destinations
have great wines that are not well-known outside those countries:
Greece, Portugal and New Zealand come to mind,” Nestor notes.