Demystifying the hotel buyout
Completely buying out a hotel – where a private party "owns" the hotel for a pre-arranged number of nights – has long been a popular option for celebrities seeking total privacy.
Tiger Woods famously took over the five-star Sandy Lane in Barbados for his wedding in 2004; Angelina Jolie, a fan of the luxury Aman resorts, is known for buying out entire properties (most notably Amansara in Siem Reap in 2011); while Lady Gaga took over the Montalto Estate outside Dublin when on tour in 2012.
But hotel buyouts are also proving to be popular in the business world, particularly in the United States.
David Gabri, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) headquartered in Orlando, Florida, has been handling hotel buyouts for almost 30 years. His company, a global sales operation with an association of independently owned four- and five- star hotels, secures hotel buyouts for group business meetings.
During a buyout, the hotel is closed off to anyone that is not a guest of the group, and all amenities (including restaurants, lounges, spa and meeting spaces) are exclusive to the party. But the main perk is being able to transform the hotel into your own space for the duration of the contract. For example, ALHI once bought Chateau Elan, a 275-room boutique resort with a winery and golf course in Braselton, Georgia, for three days, temporarily renaming the hotel "Chateau ALHI" by changing all the signage.
It's rare for a hotel to decline a buyout opportunity, considering there is guaranteed revenue and the ease of working with just one client. According to Gabri, there is little risk for the hotel, though it is unusual for a busy city hotel to agree to a buyout. Most work with boutique hotels in rural landscapes, where exclusivity is heightened.
And with the economy bouncing back from the 2012 recession, Gabri is seeing the number of business buyouts increasing.
"There's a sense of exclusivity that executives love these days,” Gabri said. “Businesses are advancing, mergers are happening, networking is imperative and making new connections is key." Businesses know that hotel buyouts can help impress clients. "'Luxury' and 'distinctive' are in right now. Customers, associations, clients… they all want things unique and memorable."
The trendy Washington School House, a 12-room hotel in a 1880s-era school building in Park City, Utah, has had several buyouts since opening in December 2011. The boutique space promises a level of intimacy, while hotel amenities include a chic après-ski lounge, a heated pool terrace and easy access to outdoor excursions such as fly fishing, ice skating, snowboarding and snow skiing. Privacy, according to general manager Jessica Davis, is the biggest benefit for the client, while for the hotel, the buyout ensures occupancy is at 100%.
Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in California, has buyouts a few times a year, possibly due to its excellent location on San Diego Bay, just minutes from the San Diego Convention Center, San Diego Zoo and airport. According to Russ Mitchell, director of sales and marketing, there has been a rise of interest in the last year from groups and planners wanting to brand the hotel. "There are many reasons a group may require a buyout, including confidentiality around a new product,” Mitchell said. “Or they may not want to share the hotel space with another group."
The proof that hotel buyouts have really spread to the mainstream though, is that wedding groups have jumped on the bandwagon. More hotels (even those without in-house wedding planners) are offering their whole property, giving wedding parties an improved rate and creating exclusive event packages.
The historic 33-room Vanderbilt Grace in Newport, Rhode Island, is no stranger to wedding buyouts, averaging four a year due to its intimate size and elegant setting. Marina Asiandiou, general manager, believes it will be a lasting trend.
"When it comes to weddings, this is a lifetime experience that requires all friends and family to get together."