All Yours

Buying out a small luxury hotel

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.

Ceiba del Mar
Mexican getaway:
Ceiba del Mar

Smaller boutique properties offer more than a sense of privacy and seclusion -- they embrace the culture of their location, whether urban, rural or something else altogether. The following boutiques offer ample evidence of the charms to be found in this special segment of the hospitality industry.

The Mansion on Forsyth Park
Savannah, Ga.

With its classic Georgia red brick and 200-year-old Italian marble columns, the 126-room Mansion on Forsyth Park, a member of Preferred Hotels and Associated Luxury Hotels’ Elite Retreat Program, evokes a distinct blend of Southern charm and old world elegance. Rooms feature dramatic Rococo styling and vintage Kohler bathtubs.

The property, which offers 8,000 square feet of meeting space, has hosted buyouts since it opened in 2005, says Jeff Homad, director of sales and marketing. Mont Blanc recently brought 200 of its salespeople for a five-day retreat that included team-building cooking classes and a lot of time logged at the spa. Homad says the group was so impressed with the staff’s standard response of, “It will be my pleasure,” that they adopted the expression for their own company.

Blackberry Farm
Walland, Tenn.

In the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm, a Relais & Chateaux property, offers exclusive use of its 4,200 acres, 44 rooms and four new cottages.

This past September, a 200-year-old, 14,000-square-foot Amish barn was moved from Pennsylvania and reconstructed on the property for dining and events.

“Attendees don’t want to be stuck in a meeting room,” Star Haury, group sales manager, says. “We’ve had groups hold meetings in the garden. We use fine china and picnic tables, and our master gardeners will walk around and talk about what the guests are eating. That’s something that isn’t really offered elsewhere.”

Ceiba del Mar Spa Resort
Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Cast in a palette of blazing cerulean blue and bone white, the Ceiba del Mar Spa Resort, offering 44 guest rooms in thatched-roof huts, sits on the coast of the Mayan Riviera. Once a leisure destination, the resort, a member of Preferred Boutique Hotels, has refocused on groups and has hosted buyout retreats from Citigroup and JP Morgan, among others.

“Everything has changed since Hurricane Wilma in 2005,” says AnnaCeleste R. Brenner, incentive and meeting specialist for the property and a former planner. “Now every hotel and resort is brand new, so there is so much competition. With buyouts, we can offer a different experience.”

Before 2005, the resort did not take groups in high season, from December until May. Now, however, the property aims for at least one group a week and has had at least two groups a month for the past year. -- J.N.D.

The Hotel Hermitage

Pool to let:
The Hotel Hermitage,
a member of
Relais & Chateaux,
in Via Piolet, Italy

Relais & Chateaux

A French association specializing in properties with an average of 30 guest rooms, Relais & Chateaux has 460 member hotels in 51 countries. In 2006, the association began offering buyouts at 177 of its properties. Jacques-Olivier Chauvin, the company’s CEO, says the program has been extremely popular since it began, making up about 10 to 15 percent of its sales.

Properties include the 48-room Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., the 15-room Blantyre hotel in Lenox, Mass.; and the 38-room Hotel Hermitage in Via Piolet, Italy. For a list of all properties that accept corporate retreats, visit

The Royal Palms Resort and Spa

Phoenix dream:
The Royal Palms
Resort and Spa, a
member of ALHI

Associated Luxury Hotels International

An umbrella organization for 120 hotels, Washington, D.C.-based ALHI began an Elite Retreat program in 2003 that caters to planners who want to buy out any of the 19 participating properties. The company has since expanded its sales offices to field requests for buyouts, and launched a new website in November.

“People want privacy and exclusivity,” says David Gabri, ALHI president and CEO. “Planners prefer a small property because there’s a certain cachet with having your own place. These guests are already well-traveled, so we ask ourselves, ‘How can we take it to the next level?’?”

When a planner chooses to buy out a property, 100 percent of the property’s resources are focused on that group, says Gabri. “If there are senior executives who need special attention, butlers and members of the concierge team can be assigned to assist with just their needs,” he notes.

Although most of the properties offer more than 150 rooms, some are smaller, including the 119-room Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, the 108-room Topnotch Resort and Spa in Vermont, and the 92-room Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo.

Hotel Royal Riviera
Made in France:
Hotel Royal Riviera,
with Leading Hotels
of the World

The Leading Hotels of the World

A luxury hospitality organization representing 430 properties worldwide, Leading Hotels of the World includes Leading Small Hotels of the World, a brand extension with 162 properties offering 100 rooms or fewer. LHW has sales offices all over the world and specializes in high-end incentive and meeting groups.

“We serve planners with a network of preferred suppliers, such as private air charters and destination management companies,” says Thorsten Meier. “A planner can execute an entire group booking through us without liaising with 15 different suppliers.”

Depending on the season, Meier says about 40 percent of the organization’s hotels offer exclusive use, and groups usually book buyouts with hotels that have anywhere from 15 to 70 rooms.

“The beauty of our portfolio is that not a single property resembles another,” Meier says.

Properties include the 95-room Hotel Royal Riviera in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France; the 33-room L’Andana in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy; and the 103-room Rayavadee in Krabi, Thailand.

Inkaterra Machu Picchu
Rustic and historic:
Inkaterra Machu Picchu,
a member of Small
Luxury Hotels, in Peru

Small Luxury Hotels of the World

A collection of 440 small, independently owned hotels in 70 countries, Small Luxury Hotels of the World average 55 rooms. The organization currently is developing a more defined buyout program in response to the growing number of requests from the marketplace.

“I definitely see a trend with more planners buying out smaller, more intimate properties,” says John Makhmaltchi, director of global sales for SLHW, who notes that the consortium has added sales staff specifically to field buyout requests. “People are tired of cookie-cutter chains. They want to come to a small property for a unique experience. Many of our hotels are operated by delightfully eccentric people with whom guests can interact. Most of the staff has been there for many years. You get a different feel when you’re working with a small, family-owned property.”

Members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World include the 85-room Inkaterra Machu Picchu in Peru; the 25-room Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont.; and the 58-room Les Sources de Caudalie, with its 15,000-bottle wine cellar in Bordeaux-Martillac, France.