by Jonathan Vatner | March 01, 2005

Miraval Resort

Have it all: Tucson’s Miraval Resort runs buyouts every year.

When Kelly Connolly needed nearly 600 rooms for a training meeting last November, she could have picked a larger property than the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, whose 584 rooms would just barely fit the group.
   But meeting at the midsize hotel had its advantages. By buying out the entire property, Connolly, manager of meeting services at Global Planners in Bordentown, N.J., would be given free rein over the hotel’s meeting space. She would have access to all 62 suites as well as the hotel staff’s undivided focus. The two-year-old property had never experienced a buyout before, but the Ritz-Carlton pulled it off beautifully.
    “Our client [from a major financial company] said the training was the best in the years he’s attended it,” beams Connolly. Because it was such a success, she’s doing it again this November.
    Many resorts are amenable to buyouts for high-end meetings that demand extra privacy or simply for groups that need a lot of rooms. But buying out a resort isn’t for every group. It’s important to take the time to understand the perks and the caveats before considering a takeover.
Should you buy out?
    Unless most of the following are true of your meeting, it’s probably wiser to buy a chunk of rooms in a larger hotel.
    " You need almost all the rooms. When a meeting promises almost full occupancy, it’s beneficial to both parties to make it exclusive. For example, Teresa Williams, the Atlanta-based director of facilities and data information for GMAC-Residential Funding Corp., needed 40 rooms for an advisory board meeting of mortgage company CEOs last May. The 48-room Keswick Hall in Charlottesville, Va., had been offering buyouts as part of the Elite Retreat Buyout program, promoted by the Washington, D.C.-based Associated Luxury Hotels, to which Keswick Hall belongs.
    Despite the fact that she would have to pay for all the rooms, Williams agreed on a buyout because it didn’t make sense to share the property with just eight nonmeeting guests.
    “When it got down to it, who is going to want to be in those eight rooms?” asks Williams. “You’re going to feel out of place if you’re up with your wife for the weekend and we’re taking up almost the whole property.”
    " You need all the meeting space. Giving a planner the keys to all the meeting rooms is the buyout’s main selling point, according to Donald Stamets, director of catering and conference services for the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. “The flexibility we’re able to give to the customer inside our convention center is greatly to their advantage,” he says. “It’s definitely the perception of the customer that all the meeting space inside and out belongs to them.”
    " The meeting isn’t likely to cancel. Since the hotel will be depending on you for most if not all of its revenue during your meeting, cancellation penalties will be unforgiving.
    " You are meeting during low season. The Four Seasons Resort, Nevis (West Indies), requires buyouts to use 180 of the 196 rooms if the meeting is held in late spring (shoulder season), but only 140 in September (low season). The property doesn’t allow buyouts in winter.
    " Your attendees need special treatment. Properties that can do a bang-up job on a buyout are probably the same ones that treat any and all guests exceedingly well. However, the buyout allows the hotel to focus its attentions on your group, says Patti Giles, president and CEO of CLT Meetings/Publicis Events, based in Orlando. “When you buy out a hotel, you’re not a small fish in a big pond,” she notes.
    " Lots of leisure is on the agenda. It helps if the spa, golf course and restaurants are all yours.
    " You want attendees to bond. When everyone at the property is part of your group, a community atmosphere sets in.
    " Privacy is a major perk. When it’s all you, there’s no need to worry about other guests at the hotel sneaking into private events or complaining about noise on the beach at 10 p.m.
    " The meeting is going to be long. Some properties enforce a minimum-stay requirement for buyouts.
    " Your company has dollars to spare. Nobody ever said a buyout would be a bargain, though they’re usually not unreasonable, either.
    " You are not going to a major tourist destination. Hotels on the Las Vegas Strip probably would not allow a buyout, since many of their rooms are contracted out to wholesalers and high-rollers, says Robert Purdy, former director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas and now executive director of sales for Hyatt Resorts. In Lake Las Vegas, a resort community in Henderson, Nev., 20 minutes from the Strip, hotels are more open to buyouts because tourists typically don’t flock there.