Ultimate Gathering: Why rent a room...rent the whole hotel
Get your group together and take over these five posh hotels.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Renting out an entire hotel used to be a rare event -- only reclusive CEOs or paparazzi-shy celebrities would buy out every room. But now, taking over a hotel is easier and more accessible than ever, for anything from a family reunion to a business off-site.
Increasingly, boutique hotels are offering families or business groups per-night fees for an entire property. "More extended families are traveling together and there's more celebration travel," says Barbara Gallay, president of luxury corporate and leisure travel agency, Linden Travel Bureau. "Taking over a hotel gives you a uniquely private and festive environment. You really experience your family or your company as a whole unit rather then being in a restaurant or hotel lounge with 50 or 100 other people."
Priscilla Alexander, president of ProTravel International, a travel agency, warns that buyouts are not necessarily less expensive than renting individual rooms, but that the additional cost usually covers custom amenities -- special menus, late night parties -- that make experience exclusive and private.
While hotels used to resist handing over an entire property in order to save rooms for regular customers, now many use buyouts to gain business in off seasons and to offer luxury custom treatment without disturbing other guests.
If you're shopping for a whole hotel, secure a guarantee that no other events will be booked on the grounds, and negotiate for special services -- a cocktail party or boat tour -- to be included in the price.
We found five posh hotels to host your next get-together.
Family Reunion: The Chanler in Newport, Rhode Island
These 20-rooms in the Gilded Age mansion on Newport's famous "Cliff Walk" attracted so many events that The Chanler decided to offer packages specifically for family reunions and weddings.
"Our guests wanted to use our beautiful public ares -- the restaurant terrace and gardens over looking the whole beach -- so to keep them from being disturbed, we decided to rent the whole hotel out," says general manager Jeff David. "It's like living in a mansion. You can make yourself at home in the restaurant in your slippers."
Breakfast, lunch, Beach Butler service, and dinner at the Spiced Pear restaurant are included in the $28,000 per night fee for up to 50 people. A staff of 80-plus is available for any request. Past groups have organized croquet lessons, cooking classes in the restaurant kitchen, scavenger hunts in Newport, and regattas.
In each room the hotel has placed customized DVDs to welcome each guest and amenities like flip-flops and sunscreen.
Urban Getaway: Maison 140 in Beverly Hills, California
What better place for a studio exec confab session than a stylish hotel smack in the middle of Beverly Hills? Each of Maison 140's 43 rooms has a different, Left Bank inspired look, and they all can be rented for $10,000 per night.
The hotel's central location and its services for business travelers -- like wireless in every room and in common areas -- make the 'Private Residence Package' perfect for a corporate escape right in the city.
The package includes breakfast, and a customized wine and cheese reception at the hotel's hip 'Bar Noir.' The hotels concierge is on call 24 hours a day, and can organize everything from custom tasting menus at nearby restaurants to meetings in the pool cabanas at Maison 140's sister hotel.
Wine Country Retreat: Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, California
"We had an unbelievable amount of interest from various groups to take over the hotel for a corporate event or the celebration of a milestone like a 50th birthday," says Caroline MacDonald, vice president of marketing for Auberge Resorts, Calistoga Ranch's parent company. So the ranch put together a weekend to make guests feel like they own a vineyard.
The hotel's $163,300 "Gatherings" package gives 46 couples (or 92 people) a luxury all-inclusive two nights and free reign over the resort's 157 acres. Starting on Friday with a poolside dinner and a party in a wine cave, on Saturday guests choose between wine tours, spa treatments and hikes before the group gathers for a wine blending lesson and dinner with wine pairings.
MacDonald says the "make your own magnum" lesson is designed "to get the group interacting in a way that you wouldn't if you were just playing golf." A videographer's edited film and a group photo session make this the perfect way to document a big event.
Wilderness Bonding: King Pacific Lodge in British Columbia, Canada
Moored to an unpopulated island in Northern British Columbia, the floating King Pacific Lodge, a Rosewood Resort, can house up to 30 people in its 17 luxury rooms and suites.
The high-end wilderness inn, which is open only from May to September, has already lured ten groups to takeover its property this coming fishing season. In past years, companies have gathered their board of directors, top performers, and key clients, in the lodge's communal dining room and around the stone fireplace in the living room. King Pacific appeals to groups in part because it is so remote – there are no distractions like e-mail, Internet, phone, or TV.
Company execs and families discuss their business and bond over gourmet chef-cooked custom meals at communal tables, naturalist-led hikes, whale watching, and ocean and river fishing. All-inclusive packages, including the sea plane flight into the lodge, start at $80,900 for three nights for 16 people and go up to $222,000 for seven nights for 30 people.
Destination Wedding: Casa Natalia in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Natalie Tenoux and husband Loic, the hotel's chef, give Casa Natalia's 16 guest rooms and suites the feel of a well-appointed Mexican home. Situated in San Jose del Cabo on the Baja Peninsula, Casa Natalia's proximity to the United States and its cozy feel make it a popular takeover target for family reunions and weddings every year.
In the winter season, renting out the whole hotel -- which can sleep up to 45 -- starts at $3,500 per night, including breakfast. The owner-hosts organize eco-expeditions, golfing and fishing, but their real expertise may be weddings. Casa Natalia can host up to 85 guests for a wedding dinner, and will plan a ceremony at a historic colonial church in town, on the beach, or in the hotels' gardens.
"A complete hotel buyout creates a much better party environment for an event like a wedding," says Lanny Grossman, Director of Communications for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, in which Casa Natalia in a member. "It gives the intimacy of a family house, with the service of a luxury hotel."
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