Affordable Luxury That Can’t Be Beat

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Club Med Buccaneers Martinique
Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek, Martinique

Luxury is back according to meetings and incentive industry veterans around the globe as we head into the last half of this year. A couple of years ago, everyone was predicting this would be about the time we turned the corner. Except today, we all know that the new luxury isn’t quite the same as the old luxury.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for many of us. Ostentatious extravagance is not only deemed wasteful, it’s simply uncool. That said, demand is red-lining for Nicklaus-designed golf courses, ESPA-managed wellness facilities, dinners by Ducasse and luxury hotels that make you gasp. People have come through the recession not only smarter—they’re older too. The time to focus on a more rewarding career and happier lifestyle is now. Like, right now.

“Groups are going back to long haul travel and adding a day or two to their programs because companies are now worrying about losing their good players,” says Ira Ozer, president of New York-based Engagement Partners. The company specializes in creating programs designed to improve motivation, inspire loyalty and jump start innovation.

“There’s a continuing pressure to be responsible and watch the budget, sure,” adds Ozer. “But every company these days needs to have a culture of recognition…. If they don’t have it, they’re going to lose business and people to those companies that do.”

Forbes wrote in April that group spending was up 8% in 2011, quoting Joseph Bates, senior director of research at the Global Business Travel Association. “No one is really looking at resuming pre-recession extravagance,” he says. “There’s a balance.” The story mentions bookings are up at the 4-star ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and the perennial 5-star Colorado Springs retreat, The Broadmoor. Business is also coming back at The St. Regis Monarch Beach in California where the mainstream press descended on the infamous AIG event with a vengeance—and without too many facts or context.

By the way, the group sales number for The St. Regis Monarch Beach is: 949.234.3388.

For luxury golf programs, a batch of executives with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts are also reporting that bookings are on the rise. They’re smaller groups than before, for now, and the hotels are working with planners to build loyalty and cut costs.

“Events of the past years, from public relations concerns to economic issues, have impacted the number of groups including golf in their programs,” says Pam Gilbert, director of marketing for Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. “Lately we’re seeing more and more groups including golf because of the benefits it provides…. What has changed are the interests and needs of these groups compared to years prior. We’re seeing smaller groups who are more value conscious.”

Smaller groups, of course, mean fewer group buyouts. Steven Young, director of golf at the spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs located 90 minutes west of Calgary, reiterates that golf meetings and incentives are coming back but in smaller groups. Adapting to the shift, he offers planners an innovative way to create an exclusive experience for groups on tighter budgets.

“Sometimes, if planners are flexible on dates, we can combine two small groups in order to allow them to buy out the entire course,” he says. “For example, if we have an 80-player group and a 40-player group, we can send all 120 players out in a shotgun start. Both groups will have an excellent experience and enjoy better pricing.”

Planners are also providing blocks of reserved tee times for groups of attendees during the leisure part of a program, along with resort credits valid for golf rounds. You can even arrange for welcome gifts, onsite F&B, rental clubs, etc., as you would in any organized tournament.

“Many corporations do not want to incur the full cost of a tournament, yet they still want their group to enjoy the benefits golf provides,” says Kevin Sebulski, director of golf at the PGA Championship El Camaleon Golf Club, located by the Fairmont Mayakoba in Riviera Maya. “There’s no substitution for it.”

Companies want their groups to network on the golf course and the hotels are hungry to once again shore up group bookings. Young says savvy planners are locking in their event or group for three years, when in the past, one year was the norm.

“We can protect their pricing because they have provided us with a commitment we can count on moving forward,” he says. “That way, we both benefit.”

 

The Veils Conrad New-York
Conrad New York

 

Club Med

The values and variety inherent in the all-inclusive pricing model are obvious, and Club Med has spent 62 years honing the concept. Their resorts range anywhere from 50 to 200 acres, which you can buy out exclusively through the company-wide “Rent-A-Resort” program.

“The Rent-A-Resort program caters to groups from 350 to 1,000-plus who want to protect the group integrity while enjoying customized cuisine, personalized service, luxury accommodations and exclusive access to amenities,” says Robert Cao, director of group, charter & incentive sales.

Corporate clients often return annually, rotating among nearly 80 resorts in 25 countries. The 307-room Club Med Sandpiper Bay Resort in Port St. Lucie, South Florida is Club Med’s only U.S-based all-inclusive resort. Tailored team events with world class sports instructors set it apart.

Cao asks, “Where else can you be coached by the tennis pro who trained Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, or have golf instruction from Brad Brewer, one of America’s top-ranked teachers? Or a professional circus team onsite who can have an executive team flying through the air on a trapeze?”

Club Med’s top tier “5-Trident” resorts are well-designed for smaller, intimate group buyouts. Club Med Cancun Yucatan and Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic are two of the 5T resorts with private swimming pools, concierge service, VIP transfers, special check-ins and breakfast room service.

“Groups come for the convenience of having an all-inclusive experience without ever compromising the quality,” sums up Cao. “The destination is important, but it’s more about the experience….The ROI for the client is that a fully-engaged group creates loyalty. Why would you spend the money and effort to meet offsite if not for uniqueness and exclusivity?”

New York City

The legendary conceptual artist Sol LeWitt created his imposing 100 x 80-ft Loopy Doopy painting in 1999, using more than 100 gallons of royal blue and vibrant purple paint in the 3,000-hour process. Today, the mammoth masterpiece rises 13 stories above the registration desk in the sunlit atrium of the new Conrad New York.

As the brand’s first Big Apple address, the 463 all-suite hotel on the Lower West Side focuses on art with 2,000 contemporary pieces adorning walls throughout the lobby, function spaces and oversized guestrooms. Averaging 450 sf with separate living and sleeping areas, each sleek suite is outfitted with custom furnishings, integrated technology and a wet bar.

“By New York standards, our guestrooms offer a great value in a luxury product,” says Patrick Roy, director of sales/marketing. So does the location. “For incentive groups wanting a different New York experience, our quiet neighborhood doesn’t hit you in the face when you walk out of the hotel.”

The hotel is a quick walk or inexpensive transfer to Wall Street, Hudson River Park, TriBeCa, SoHo and a batch of trendy eateries in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.

During the summer, groups of 75 can soak in the 180º view along New York Harbor and toast Lady Liberty from the rooftop Loopy Doopy Bar. The private green roof grows fresh herbs and vegetables for the hotel’s Atrio restaurant and Danny Meyer’s North End Grill next door. The Conrad is also Lower Manhattan’s largest events destination with more than 30,000 sf of space.

Roy adds that the property is pursuing LEED certification that will make it the first LEED Gold existing building in NYC. “This is a priority for us,” he says. “We’re in a neighborhood that has always been conscious about sustainability. So it’s even more important.”

Attached to Grand Central Station, the 1,306-room Grand Hyatt New York just wrapped a $130 million renovation. We visited in April to check out the new look, highlighted by the massive lobby garnering big buzz with its giant human face sculptures by artist Jaume Plensa. The goal of the renovation was to create a more service-oriented relationship between guests and staff. The check-in desks are now individual pods and the open lobby is a lively scene all on its own.

The meeting space surprised us. The dedicated 4th floor group facilities include the 18,000-sf Empire Ballroom and prefunction space restored to its original 1918 prestige, in stark contrast to the hotel’s glass and steel facade. On the first floor, the groovy new Gallery on Lex space looks like a sophisticated 4,400-sf bachelor pad with chocolate and cream colors, louche Viccarbe residential couches/chairs and a long high-top communal table.

We love the George Wong-designed exec lounge with a large terrace overlooking Cipriani’s across the street. For VIPs, there are 51 suites, some of which are also designed by Wong. Stay tuned for an “On Location” story coming soon.

 

Ritz Carlton Dorado
The Ritz-Carlton Reserve Dorado Resort

Washington D.C.

Since The Madison opened in Washington D.C. in 1963, the luxurious 356-room hotel has housed a long list of celebrities and dignitaries from Frank Sinatra to President Kennedy, who was the guest of honor on opening day. Known for its long record of sensitivity to the privacy and security of its guests, the hotel has served as a temporary home for incoming presidents as they transition into the nearby White House.

This spring, the hotel unveiled a $20 million, top-to-bottom renovation that brought back the original luster to all of the guestrooms, public spaces, multiple restaurants and 12,000 sf of meeting facilities.

“Our vision is to restore The Madison to its rightful place among the best-in-class hotels in the nation’s capital,” says Michael Phillips, COO.

Interior designer Dominick Coyne was tasked with bridging together the hotel’s traditional interior and modern exterior.

“The challenge was to find the youth in the midst of all the tradition paying tribute to the original Madison,” he says.

The guestrooms feature a color scheme of warm grays, browns and taupe. Groups visiting post-revamp will also appreciate the new white toile wall coverings—inspired by those inside The White House during the Kennedy era. The beds are dressed in Egyptian cotton, and the C.O. Bigelow bath products are made from unique natural ingredients with soothing scents of green tea and ginger.

Adjacent to The Madison, the Federalist Restaurant was also designed by Coyne. Influenced by vintage oak wood and a colorful blend of gray, black and splashes of red, the 165-pax restaurant is now open for lunch and dinner. The innovative menu items are all made from locally grown products.

The hotel’s PostScript Café and adjoining lobby bar have also been rebuilt, designed to mirror the colors and textures in the main lobby. PostScript is reminiscent of small European cafes, selling a homemade selection of panini and sandwiches.

The Madison is conveniently located less than five miles away from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Adding to the value, DC’s most popular sites including Embassy Row, the National Mall and the Smithsonian, are all just a few blocks away.

Also check out the ongoing group deals like “Pick Your Perks Meeting Package,” offering a slew of rebates off guestroom bookings, F&B and A/V. Also, comp’d rooms, meeting space and wine and cheese receptions are available in various quantities depending on the size of group.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

Upon opening in 1967, the 1,260-room Hyatt Regency Atlanta catapulted to one of the most recognized buildings in town with its open-air, 22-story atrium and revolving rooftop restaurant. On the heels of a thorough $65 million transformation, the Peachtree Street landmark enhanced its Southern swagger with a new 40,000-sf exhibit hall and 30,000-sf Centennial Ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in Georgia.

Each of the 727 redesigned Atrium Tower guestrooms was refreshed with a new linen package, 32” LCD flat panel television, iHome dual alarm clock radio, energy efficient fixtures, mini-refrigerator and all-in-one entertainment center.

Meanwhile, with a focus on more airy common areas that inspire social gatherings, the Hyatt introduced Twenty-Two Storys, a 200-pax lobby restaurant bar.

“People expect more from a hotel dining experience, which is why we designed Twenty-Two Storys’ menu around unique items like local beers,” says chef Martin Pfefferkorn. “Even if our guests can’t leave the hotel, we want them to experience a taste and flavor that’s indicative of Atlanta.”

The same holds true at the signature Sway restaurant with “Southern Way” cuisine. Among the ringleaders introducing locally-sourced seasonal ingredients to the Atlanta hotel dining scene, the 180-pax eatery woos with the rich, home-cooked flavors of Southern kitchens, family cook-outs and Sunday dinners.

Groups can also cook hands-on for a fun event with chef Pfefferkorn and his staff, who will open the kitchen to guide the preparation of a Southern farm-to-table meal.

“Our most recent event had 40 attendees in aprons making a duo of tuna tartar with grilled Georgia white shrimp, roasted veal tenderloin, sea whistle halibut and truffled white asparagus,” says Casper van Eldik Thieme, director of sales/marketing. “Atlanta is known as an affordable destination. And when you add in our upgraded luxury facilities, unique dining venues and convenient location, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta offers groups the whole package.”

 

The Westin Maui Resort, Kaanapali
The Westin Maui Resort, Kaanapali

Waikiki, Maui + Kauai

The Islands of Hawaii exude luxury amid the lush resorts around the popular incentive islands of Waikiki, Maui and Kauai. We checked in with three resorts to see how they’re evolving and remaining relevant as more groups are looking offshore.

In Hawaiian language, lokahi means unity that’s expressed with harmony. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa’s new Lokahi CSR incentive program donates 5% of the master bill to an Oahu non-profit of the group’s choice, and it hooks groups up with organizations such as the Hawaii Nature Center, Sierra Club, Reef Watch Waikiki and Waikiki Beach Clean Up.

“It just made sense to allow group travel to be as rewarding for both attendees and the community,” says Brad Mettler, director of sales/marketing.

Participants also enjoy benefits such as comp’d in-room WiFi, 15% off treatments at Na Ho`ola Spa, a lei greeting and pre/post stay rate guarantees for up to five days.

“People tend to think of Waikiki as a big city on an island that’s much the same,” says Mettler. “That’s just not the case. The Lokahi program allows them to get into the heart of the island where they can have a full Hawaii experience right here on Oahu.”

The 1,229-room resort just debuted a $13 million renovation to its third floor common areas that unveiled a pair of new restaurants, upgraded pool deck and a new Regency Club Lounge.

The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Kaanapali integrates the rituals and beliefs of early Polynesians, dating back 300 A.D., into a group’s agenda. This includes chants at an opening reception, moolelo (storytelling) sessions on the beach and learning how to throw fishing nets.

“Chanting is very important to the Hawaiian culture,” says Paige Cabacungen, director of sales/marketing. “We’ll open a meeting with a kumu (elder) chanting for open communication and anxiety release. Especially for those who’ve never witnessed this, it’s very moving.”

She adds that groups really get into makahiki, a festival where ancient Hawaiians celebrated spiritual cleansing, arts and foods. “We’ll create the festival here at the resort by bringing in local organizations like hula halaus (hula schools), lei makers, kapa cloth makers and weavers,” says Cabacungen. “Planners are actually buying into the community since all the fees go directly to these local non-profit groups.”

Also at The Westin, Frank Robinson of the Maui-based DMC, Island Events, has featured a kumu who depicts the mythological histories of Hawaiian goddesses through a series of vignettes accompanied by dramatic music, dance, aerial performances and solo vocalists.

“In one, Hina, the Goddess of the Heavens, performs high in the air inside a moon-like ring,” says Robinson. “In another, the Volcano Goddess Pele appears to choreograph performers in a fantastic 12-cast fire dance finale. When you take these iconic elements of the Hawaiian culture and present them with drama and a creative twist, attendees are genuinely wowed.”

The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa unveiled a $45 million guestroom renovation with exclusive carved headboards portraying the native hapuu fern used by ancient Hawaiians for pillows and bedding. Mahogany furniture adds rich earth tones while linens inspired by traditional kapa cloth prints complete the warm tone.

“We’ve found it especially important to establish a sense of place for attendees,” says Katy Britzmann, director of sales/marketing. “So our Hawaiiana team begins with a welcome oli chant that calls on the ancestors’ spirits to bless this group, this meeting and these attendees.”

Britzmann adds that planners can add a traditional hula performed by local professionals.

“It’s a powerful performance that helps everyone in the group bond with this beautiful Hawaiian island,” she says.

The resort’s lushly landscaped Anara Spa was also just recently expanded. The 45,000-sf facility celebrates tropical tranquility with an outdoor Lokahi Garden treatment area that includes an open-air spa hut, outdoor lava rock shower gardens, soaking tubs, steam grottos, relaxation courtyards and a garden Vichy shower.

Puerto Rico

With over 17 airlines that provide flights from over 50 destinations, air travel to Puerto Rico is both affordable and plentiful, bringing groups substantial savings at new and renovated luxury properties ready for meeting and incentive groups.

We spoke to Gabriel Emanuelli, director of sales/marketing for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Clarisa Jimenez, president/CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association. Both are actively promoting Puerto Rico as an affordable luxury destination.

“The airlines, particularly Jet Blue, have stepped up and added affordable service from many gateways,” says Emanuelli. “Delta too has discovered the demand for Puerto Rico and added flights. This investment by the airlines is a great boon for planners, and it makes Puerto Rico’s luxury product very competitive! We are 25 to 50% more economical for the same hotel class and service because of airfare savings.”

Jimenez says that the location of Puerto Rico hotels is something to consider too. Groups don’t require a ton of transfers to get to all of the great dining and nightlife. In many cases, it’s right outside the hotel.

She adds that you also have the wonderful international and Latin cultural appeal, but without the hassle of passports.

“When you add it all up, Puerto Rico is a great incentive or meeting luxury destination because we have it all,” she says. “Luxury hotel brands, championship golf, an array of phenomenal spas, nature, adventure, sports, shopping, nightlife and dining. Groups have so many enriching experiences to choose from.”

Speaking of luxury hotel infrastructure, The Ritz–Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach Resort & Spa is slated to open in December on a 3-mile beach west of San Juan, with four championship golf courses. The mid-century modern property is an architectural masterpiece built in the 1950s by Laurance Rockefeller, with killer suites opening onto the grass lawn fronting the beach. There’s also a lovingly restored historic plantation by the water for over-the-top private dinners and events. We attended an industry dinner there a few years ago. It’s very serene as tradewinds rustle through the palm trees surrounding the colonial building.

Back in San Juan, the newly opened 496-room Condado Vanderbilt is being hailed for its masterful restoration. The 1920’s beachfront grand dame capped the amazing regeneration of the vibrant Condado Beach area just outside Old San Juan. It features four restaurants and 15,000 sf of meeting space. Stay tuned for an upcoming “On Location” story late this year.

 

Affordable-Luxury-Fairmont-Banff-Springs-Hotel
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

 

Paradisus Resorts Mexico

Paradisus Resorts opened two properties last November in Playa del Carmen, Mexico: the adults-only Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla and family-friendly Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Esmeralda. The 394-suite La Perla is the more upscale of the two properties, enhancing the all-inclusive experience with their exclusive Royal Service concept.

This resort-within-a-resort product offers 122 upscale suites with a private check-in area and lounge, a personal butler and your own Jacuzzi on the terrace. The junior suites feature iPod docking stations, fully-stocked mini bars and complimentary WiFi.

“Guests receive a cell phone upon check-in that connects to their butler,” says John Iannini, director of meetings/events. “So if you’re by the pool and you want your butler to draw a bath for you at 4 p.m., you place a call on your assigned cell phone and the butler can do that for you.”

There are some really fun options for teambuilding here. Host a Mexican fiesta in one of the 14 meeting spaces, treat the group to a tequila tasting on the beach, or create a private cooking class inside one of the 14 restaurants.

“When we do a price quote for a customer, we design that quote based on the specifics of the group so that their experience is literally all-inclusive,” says Iannini. “This includes a choice of private functions anywhere on our property. We have covered palapas, we can offer a function around the pool, and if they want to do a beach party, then we can do that too.”

In between the two resorts, El Zocalo is a traditional Mexican town square packed with amenities: the spa, the bars and restaurants, and 25,000 sf of meeting space, including a 16,000-sf ballroom. Groups can also rent out the chic GABI Club with local entertainment for private parties on a sandy area located where the boardwalk meets the mangroves.

“One of our things at the Paradisus brand is that we call ourselves ‘luxeclusive,’” says Iannini. “We really make it an experience for the guests. We can set up a private event to learn about Mexican cooking or any of the cuisines we serve at our specialty restaurants. We have an Asian bistro, a Mediterranean restaurant and a seafood restaurant, so the chefs can spend time with the guests and teach them a little bit about how they cook.”

They’ll even teach you how to make guacamole, the real way, depending on what type of avocados to use. There’s also a class on the different types of hot peppers, where you’ll learn how to touch a pepper so the oils don’t burn your skin. By the end, attendees will know what the different grades of peppers are and how to cook with them, from jalapenos to habaneros.

“We have a lot of added unique things that we can offer besides the traditional ones that groups might want to do,” says Iannini. “They can also walk to the neighboring golf course, which is only a 5-minute walk.”

The two Paradisus resorts are about a mile from the town of Playa del Carmen. So groups can take a taxi or walk to town to a “cultural explosion of shops” where you can buy authentic souvenirs and visit a multitude of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. From there, attendees can take the ferry over to Cozumel, which adds even more value and variety.

 

MSC Yacht Club
MSC Yacht Club

 

MSC Cruises

Considered one of the fastest growing cruise lines in the industry, MSC Cruises has shown 800% growth in the last eight years. The company has a fleet of 12 ships, including the new Divina debuting in May in Venice, sailing to Turkey and the Greek Islands.

MSC sails the Mediterranean year-round and offers seasonal sailings in Northern Europe, the Atlantic, the Caribbean, South America, the Indian Ocean, Africa and the Emirates. The cruise line recently announced plans to bring more ships to North America in the next two years, with sailings departing out of Florida.

For upscale groups, MSC offers the MSC Yacht Club—a ship-within-a-ship concept aboard their Fantasia class. It is devised as an entirely self-contained private club area on the foredecks of each ship offering 70 superior suites with butler service, a private restaurant and lounge, an exclusive swimming pool and private lift access to the MSC Aurea Spa.

“It’s totally inclusive, totally exclusive, totally private and totally luxurious,” says Richard E. Sasso, president/CEO. “The Yacht Club gives groups the best of both worlds. It gives privacy, exclusivity and luxury but also gives them the big showroom, casino and entertainment. So it’s priced much better. You still get the butler, drinks and so many other things that you can’t find on some luxury ships for a better price.”

 

Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla
Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla

Singapore

A new cruise terminal at Singapore’s Marina South is scheduled to open later this summer, doubling Singapore’s berth capacity. It will feature advanced technology capable of providing a 30-minute passenger turnaround and the sea-to-air baggage transfers.

Located at Singapore’s southernmost tip, it is a 20-minute drive from Singapore Changi Airport. The two spectacular new venues—Gardens by the Bay and neighboring Marina Bay Sands—are just five minutes away.

Singapore’s existing Cruise Centre completed an $11 million renovation in April, improving passenger flow and beautifying common areas. All of this is geared to meet booming demand for Southeast Asia cruising, which planners can take advantage of for incentive programs or pre/post meetings.

The beauty of cruising in Southeast Asia is the combination of both physical beauty and cultural attractions. Indonesia and Malaysia offer thousands of miles of pristine coastline, while destinations from Bangkok to Bali deliver thousands of years of history and intrigue.

“I think the variety of destinations makes it extremely interesting because you’ve got city destinations, you’ve got resort destinations and you’ve got cultural destinations,” says Kah-Peng Aw, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). “So depending on the kind of incentive group, the choices are all there and are all within a very accessible distance.”

When asked if Singapore as a destination offers a plentiful amount of affordable luxury options for groups, Ms. Aw says that Singapore’s multi-faceted product means it can cater to all budgets for all sizes of groups.

“I think of Singapore as a country that offers all the options,” she says. “You can do luxury-luxury, you can do affordable luxury or you can do affordable-affordable, and to us that’s important. We are catering to a wide variety of groups from all around the world.”

A huge draw for attendees is Singapore’s staggering spectrum of cuisines, with area restaurants consistently making up a good chunk of the The Miele Guide’s top 20 list in Asia. It’s something that Aw is particularly proud of, and it provides a wealth of dinearound opportunities.

“One of the food guides put Singapore as the top food destination in the world,” she says. “What appealed to them was the variety. You can enjoy a meal that’ll cost you $500 or you can eat for $5.”
Meanwhile, Serene Tan, the STB’s regional director for the Americas, touts the region’s considerable repeat business.

“I think we see a lot of business traffic and a lot of business events have been taking place in Singapore both for conferences and meetings or incentives,” she says. “What I’ve found is that we have a lot of repeat visitors as well, meaning they come the first time for business and then the second time they come with their family, friends or spouse. I think the second part speaks to the attractiveness of the destination.”

The Argentine Pampas

This was one of the most memorable days we’ve ever spent in a destination, and it’s only going to cost you about $125 pp. Leaving from the InterContinental Buenos Aires, it’s about a 45-minute drive out into the Argentine pampas (countryside) to the tiny town of San Antonio de Areco. This part of the country is the wellspring of the legendary Argentine gauchos (cowboys) who once worked and protected the land for the cattle barons of old. Argentinian beef made Buenos Aires one of the wealthiest cities in the world in the early 20th century.

The community is home to a handful of silversmiths who still create the intricate and highly prized belt buckles, knives and spurs once worn by elder gauchos and wealthy landowners. It’s a tradition still alive thanks to men like Mariano Draghi, who creates bespoke pieces for customers such as George Bush Jr./Sr. and Placido Domingo. Draghi operates a museum and a small workshop where he’s eager to show visitors the methods of his trade and talk about his country’s history. Don’t get him going on Evita.

InterContinental prides itself on local insider experiences and this is a perfect example. Definitely give your group some time to wander among the shops lining the pretty square. The prices for the exquisite jewelry are significantly lower than what you’ll find in Buenos Aires.

From there, it’s 30 minutes to the historic Estancia La Bamba, a beautifully restored plantation home and horse farm. Gauchos in traditional dress welcomed us with local malbec, and then we sat down to listen to them play guitar and sing ballads. During that time, the chef prepares the traditional rodizio meal, grilling 7-8 different pork and beef meats over a charcoal firepit.

More wine is served until the lady of the house rings the big bell on the porch. The delicious lunch is served on an embroidered tablecloth over a farm table situated in front of the estate home.

We got up for a break to watch a traditional horsemanship game where the gauchos race toward a tiny ring suspended in the air. One by one, they try to pierce the ring with their knives to demonstrate their composure astride a horse at full gallop.

Then we returned to the table for coffee and dessert, followed by more malbec. Lunch lasted until dusk—no one wanted to leave the table. Now that is what we call ROI.

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