Prevue asked Marla Hannigan, Sr. Meeting Planner at Mutual of Omaha, FICP Planner Member, her thoughts on the concept of affordable luxury. Q: Is the concept of cost-conscious “Responsible Luxury” relevant with your top-tier groups? A: Absolutely. As planners we all want to present the best show to our clients. But the budget is never far from the top on level of importance. Our budgets have remained very steady, fortunately, but expectations continue to rise so reasonable costs are always top of mind. Q: Is it true that luxury is more experiential than just a few years ago? A: Yes, but maybe not necessarily in the last few years. With our higher end groups it’s not always about the best hotel, but sometimes the best location. We booked a property in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. The hotel was very special and unique, offering what very few hotels can offer in terms of style and ambiance. It was not a 5-star hotel by our standard terms but it was a 5-star experience. Q: What are some priorities for high-end groups in 2012? A: We have all heard about the “wow experience” for the past few years. I’d like to say “amaze” or “ahh.” Our high-end groups are well-traveled. So I think it is their priority to see something new and different and in a new and different way. Q: How are golf and spa programs and facilities evolving in 2012? A: We had a special golf event last fall that involved our sponsored golf pros and 42 lucky clients/relationships. We invited this group in on a Wednesday evening for a reception and foursome selection. Three clients were paired up with one of our pro golfers for a tournament to be held the next day. It was a huge success. Q: How are planners customizing upscale group programs to meet individual desires? A: Our team spends a lot of time personalizing our recognition program. We try to really make our awards program show how much we appreciate our sales force. We incorporate videos and personalized messages. We’ve also tried to offer options with gifts at some of our unique locations. High-end exclusive gifts are tough. Popular items are iPads, Kindle, Bose products, etc. We like giving local gifts, which can also be tough because people’s styles and tastes are different. We are taking a group to Hamilton Island in Queensland, Australia where we’re presenting seven different scenic framed pictures. Other personalized gifts include a choice of an Akubra hat—a popular Australian hat. In Sydney, the main group will get to choose Ugg boots from a selection of three styles.