If Robin Leach is interested in resurrecting his long-running television show “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” with a bit of a corporate twist, he should consult with Cara Luft, Gateway‘s senior manager-executive briefings.
Assignment: Create a once-in-a-lifetime, three-day, customer appreciation program.
Challenge: Give guests the unique opportunity to step into the wondrous world of society’s elite.
Solution: “From my perspective, Newport [Rhode Island] represents bed & breakfasts, mansions, seafood and sailing,” says Luft, based at Gateway’s headquarters in Irvine, Calif. So she built a program that included all of these elements – and much more.
Guests arrived on a Friday afternoon and checked into one of three luxurious bed & breakfasts located within two blocks of each other before gathering for a welcome reception on one of the B&B’s gracious verandas overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and a rare, saltwater swimming pool. Buffet offerings included an array of fresh, local seafood. Following a business session on Saturday morning, guests were transported via open trolley through historic downtown Newport to the city docks where they boarded a classic, 80-ft. sailing yacht.
Onboard to welcome Gateway’s guests was Dennis Connor, winner of four America’s Cup trophies and perhaps the world’s most recognizable figure in competitive yachting. “We sailed out into the ocean where we met up with Stars & Stripes (a retired America’s Cup yacht once captained by Connor),” Luft says. “Ten guests at a time were transported via ship’s tender to Stars & Stripes where each had the opportunity to take the helm and have a photo made with Mr. Connor” before heading off for a leisurely afternoon of casual sailing and tasty nibbles.
While aboard Stars & Stripes, much of the conversation among guests revolved around the “surprise venue” for that evening’s activities. All they knew was the evening would be “black tie” and they were to gather for cocktails precisely at 6 p.m. in the sitting area of their particular B&B. Shortly after 6 o’clock, a vintage Rolls-Royce pulled up in front of each of the B&Bs to transport guests to majestic Belcourt Castle, a 60-room “summer cottage” built by Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont in 1894.
Upon arrival at Belcourt Castle, reserved exclusively for Gateway’s event, guests were taken on a personalized tour before gathering in the second floor ballroom where the first of nine acts from “Phantom of the Opera” was performed. The theatre-based evening included nine courses for dinner, truly melding the finest in cultural and culinary arts. Guests were returned to their B&Bs in the vintage Rolls-Royces.
Results: “We contained costs by making multiple trips with the three Rolls-Royces,” says Luft. “Our guests were comfortable networking with one another in the environment of the B&B, in the Rolls-Royces, and at the castle.” And they were blown away by the theater-themed evening.
Information compiled by Pete Foley, director of creative services at Access Meetings & Events. Read more about Dream Meetings in the latest edition of Plan Your Meetings magazine. Sign up for your free subscription here.