With more meetings transitioning from virtual to actual, is luxury also making a post-pandemic comeback?
Yes, say those in the know.
“Industry professionals are focused on developing events and meetings that prioritize safety and wellbeing…and luxury hotel properties have been at the forefront of this effort, quickly adapting their services to meet the unique requirements of the MICE industry,” says Blanca Calvo, commercial director of the Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona. “As [the world] emerges from prolonged periods without travel, we are seeing an increased demand for higher room categories.”
“Whether the goal is to retain talent through incentive rewards or bring together a dispersed workforce, travel and luxury experiences are becoming more valued,” agrees Darren Green, chief sales officer for Discover Los Angeles.
And as meeting budgets also rebound, the definition of luxury has expanded to include the nontraditional but ultra-meaningful, with planners and attendees seeking both business and emotional engagement. So what are the current parameters of a luxury experience? Hotel brands and amenities, certainly. Some pampering, some play—like spa and golf—definitely. A focus on wellness and the chance for physical, mental and even spiritual improvement during a meeting or incentive program? Easily.
Our choices for luxury destinations in 2023 span the globe to not only exceed your group’s expectations but reimagine their concepts of luxury. In addition to premium comforts and one-of-a-kind experiences, these sites also offer the one luxury many of us neglect—more time to enjoy our lives.
Within a sleek modern skyline featuring the country’s tallest tower are homes and palaces dating back centuries. Welcome to Seoul, where the modern world and 5,000 years of history coexist, beautifully.
“There are five royal palaces in the heart of Seoul, which people can tour,” says Juri Seo, MICE manager for the Korea Tourism Organization. “Also, the Hanok Village in the Incheon part of Seoul, which is about 600 years old and perfectly preserved. Some of the hanoks are used as guesthouses as well. Our planners are always interested in our unique culture,” she adds.
But while parts of the city appear suspended in time, the 21st century moves ahead in ultra-sleek and modern luxury, a must for many meeting and incentive planners, Seo says.
“Meeting planners are looking for four- or five-star hotels in Seoul, Incheon or Jeju Island to the south,” Seo says, noting the luxe Lotte brand is often requested.
The Lotte Hotel Seoul is a premier luxury business hotel boasting 1,000+ rooms, a Michelin-star restaurant, an onsite sauna and spa, and a golf driving range with six practice stations.
Also in Seoul, the Lotte World Tower is home to the Signiel Seoul, offering deluxe rooms and suites, and extensive banquet and meeting facilities. Tailored spa treatments await at the Signiel Spa, using traditional Korean care programs based on raw materials extracted from local natural sources.
Meanwhile, the JW Marriott made a recent and dazzling debut on Jeju Island, with landscaping in harmony with Jeju’s farm and fishing traditions, curated culinary experiences showcasing ingredients from Jeju and beyond, and a signature spa with sauna and four indoor and outdoor swimming pools fed by the island’s volcanic springs.
Seo says the planners she speaks to usually ask for onsite spas, while the emphasis on wellness in general is growing.
“Since COVID, everyone is interested in health, and our hotels focus on wellness in menu planning and in activities,” she says.
Meanwhile, there are countless ways to seek the wellness of the ages here. Visitors may stay overnight in a Buddhist temple, to meditate, drink tea and eat Buddhist/vegan style. Such templestay programs are available all over the country, Seo says, from downtown Seoul to remote mountain areas.
Then there are hotels like the Ragung in Gyeongju near the southeast coast, where you can soak in a private open-air bath to relieve travel fatigue and rejuvenate for the next adventure.
“When I tell planners about these types of experiences, they are amazed and want them for their attendees,” Seo says.
One of Europe’s largest capitals—presiding over the kingdom of Spain for more than four centuries—is taking a luxurious leap into the forefront of upscale offerings for meeting and incentive groups, with new luxe hotel flags flying over a city of internationally celebrated chefs, unparalleled cultural offerings and a commitment to sustainability that promises to preserve the city’s singular charm and character for years to come.
“Madrid is booming at the moment,” says Mercedes Sanchez, high-end tourism manager for the Madrid Tourism Board, referring to a citywide surge of luxury accommodations. “We have seen the arrival of high-end international brands such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, Edition, Thompson and JW Marriott…and coming soon, Nobu and Brach, among others.”
Newly opened as the first JW Marriott property in Spain, the JW Marriott Hotel Madrid has enhanced the brand’s classic luxe-business style to encourage relaxation and rejuvenation, greeting guests with violet- or rosemary-scented tea upon arrival and allowing them to choose an in-room scent to honor the building’s history as one of Madrid’s oldest perfumeries.
The 139-room property includes intimate event space, a fitness room and wellness area, and yoga mats in all rooms, keeping attendees refreshed for both business and pleasure.
Another new urban oasis—complete with a four-level Wellness Centre—the Four Seasons Hotel Madrid became the country’s first Four Seasons in late 2020, while being set in a landmark building dating back to the late-1800s. At 200 rooms and with function space for up to 500, the property is part of the Centro Canalejas mixed-use development that includes luxury shopping and dining, giving your group immediate access to the city’s most exciting venues.
Projects like Centro Canalejas and similar developments including Plaza de España, Puerto del Sol and Madrid Rio are part of a new focus on urban centers currently reshaping the city and creating vibrant social spaces, Sanchez says. “These projects show Madrid as forward-thinking in terms of sustainability, limiting vehicle access to the city-center, widening pavements, adding extensive pedestrian areas and increasing the number of green areas,” she says.
Also ascending to new heights is the city’s gastronomy scene, with 22 Michelin-starred restaurants and dozens more earning distinction in the 2023 guide, not to mention the classic venues that have been serving traditional foods and regional wines for more than a century.
“Madrid’s cuisine is at its best at the moment with chef David Muñoz from Madrid named the world’s best chef for the second year running, thereby ranking us at the top of international gastronomy,” Sanchez notes. “Moreover, the city is proud to be home to the oldest restaurant in the world, Casa Botin...if a group wants to immerse themselves in Madrid’s culture and social life, there’s no better way to do so than sampling tapas and mingling with local people,” she adds.
Heading from the country’s capital city to the glittering capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, Barcelona, luxury meetings are hosted at the five-star Majestic Hotel & Spa, where the logistics of meetings and events are handled by a collection of beautifully designed event rooms and salons, many with natural light filtering in, while attendees are indulged by 271 designer rooms and suites as well as signature Majestic Experiences programming.
“Majestic Experiences offers a range of exceptional activities, tailored to our clients’ preferences and needs, from sourcing the freshest ingredients to showcasing the best of our local culture and beyond,” says Calvo.
Among the Majestic Experiences your group can enjoy are a farm-to-table exploration of the hotel’s own kitchen garden and winery, delving into the mysteries of Catalan cuisine; a Made in Barcelona immersion in local cultures and traditions; and a sailboat cruise to the nearby wine country of Maresme, capped by a meal with a local chef.
“Each experience is designed to highlight the best of the region, with a focus on sustainability, authenticity and quality,” Calvo says.
At the tip of another peninsula on the other side of the world, Los Cabos showcases multiple facets of luxury along its rocky shoreline and within its two main cities—San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas—where the desert meets the sea.
“We have the ocean, the desert and the mountains, and that combination is unique from other destinations,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “You can see the sunrise and sunset from the same location, and once the sun goes down, you are surrounded by a ceiling of stars. Even at night, the beauty of Los Cabos is magical.”
Preserving that beauty with sustainable practices is a priority that impacts how groups experience the destination, he notes.
“In the case of meetings, there are a lot of opportunities to engage the MICE market in a much more sustainable age,” Esponda says. “You’re looking for the local product, you’re making sure not to generate waste, and you’re working to connect attendees with the local community in meaningful ways.”
Esponda says sustainability is part of a trio of trends transforming meetings in Los Cabos, the other two being the experiential components of the destination, and activities that emphasize wellness in all of its meanings: physical, mental and emotional, with the goal of sending attendees home feeling better in mind, body and spirit.
“Attendees want the combination of things...they want to play golf, then go to a class, go fishing, then the next day go to an orphanage to have a deeper connection with the community,” Esponda says. “Within a luxury program, attendees staying in a super luxurious hotel don’t mind getting their hands dirty with clay in a pottery class, or participating in farm-to-table, chopping vegetables and learning with chefs in the kitchen. They really want that experience.”
Meanwhile, the idea of wellness in Los Cabos has evolved to include a multiplicity of events, from traditional yoga, spa and golf programs found onsite at the top-tier resorts to marine encounters on the Sea of Cortez, and meditation retreats in the mountains just north of the cities.
“Wellness is something that will transform how we travel and how we experience a place we visit,” Esponda says. “We try to make sure that when attendees leave us, they have learned something...so that when they go home, their quality of life has been improved.”
The experience of long-ago generations lives on in the present day during authentic Mexican folk healing treatments at the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal spa, where rituals, herbs and energetic healing invite nature into a soothing atmosphere of wellness therapies, including an Indigenous Herbal Detox featuring an energy cleanse and mud wrap. The Waldorf Astoria also hosts monthly Wellness Weekends, often with the property’s shaman-in-residence, Fernanda Montiel.
“The Waldorf is built from the same rock next to the Arch of Cabo San Lucas,” Esponda notes. “We’re very proud of our hotels,” he adds. “Of the 350 Forbes’ five-diamond resorts around the world, 15 are located in Mexico and of that 15, eight are in Los Cabos.”
Among the luxury properties Esponda calls “spectacular” are the Auberge Resort Chileno Bay; The Montage Los Cabos; Grand Velas Los Cabos; the Club at Solaz; Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort; and The Cape, a Thompson Hotel, where every room and vantage point overlooks the famed El Arco and the Bahia Cabo San Lucas horizon.
It’s okay to want a little stardust in your meeting. In fact, from famous addresses like Rodeo Drive and Melrose Place to brushes with famous names at sites including the TCL Chinese Theatre, stardust pretty much follows you everywhere you go in L.A., creating its own air of luxury in addition to the many options planners can put together for their meeting and incentive groups.
“There are countless ways to experience luxury in an only-in-L.A. way, whether it’s a live audience experience on the set of a TV show, a private party at the Porsche Experience Center, or even attending an awards show such as the Grammy’s or the American Music Awards,” says Green.
Make one group night a Hollywood Movie Night by planning a private event in the newly opened Academy Museum, home to a vast range of works covering the history of motion pictures in the U.S. and around the world. The museum offers more than 50,000 sf of gallery space, two film and performance theaters and the spectacular rooftop Dolby Family Terrace overlooking the Hollywood Hills.
Celebrity sightings are a distinct possibility at one of the city’s 26 Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Camphor in the Arts District and Hollywood’s Gwen, with menus that never fail to impress, Green says.
“71 Above in downtown Los Angeles offers 360-degree views of the city from, you guessed it, the 71st floor,” he says. “L.A.’s selection of tasting and prix fixe menus are also a favorite for groups. A couple of great choices are the sustainable seafood tasting menu at Providence, and the French feast at Melisse.”
When it comes to accommodations and function space, L.A.’s luxury brands are “incomparable,” Green says. “From Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and West Hollywood, we have a strong portfolio of hotels that can accommodate the widest variety of interests.”
Elegant luxury brands include The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, the Conrad Los Angeles and the iconic Fairmont Century Plaza, home to a sumptuous spa and fitness center equipped by Technogym, the French brasserie Lumiere, and an enviable location steps away from the chic boutiques of Westside. But L.A. has also enjoyed a recent increase in more specialized, creative properties that Green says have special appeal.
“We’ve seen a boutique and luxury art hotel boom with the openings of the Downtown Los Angeles Proper, Hotel Per La and Hotel Figueroa that display well-known designers, custom art pieces throughout, and curated amenities and dining options that appeal to the creative luxury and business crowds,” he says.
With nicknames like “the Venice of America,” and “Yacht Capital of the World,” Greater Fort Lauderdale sails away with the luxury label. It’s a waterworld here, thanks to a labyrinth of rivers and waterways—including the expansive Intracoastal—traversed by water taxis that deliver visitors to a host of shopping and entertainment options, as well as by enormous yachts out for a New River cruise or on their way to the Atlantic.
“We’re starting to see more requests for luxury and incentives,” says Michael Pouey, VP of convention & group sales for Visit Lauderdale. “We’ve also built up our luxury portfolio,” he adds, pointing to luxe choices like the oceanfront Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach and the beachfront Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
There’s also a new project on the horizon, one that will resonate with longtime South Floridians and visitors—the return of Pier 66, a landmark tower first opened on June 6, 1966, with a rotating restaurant/lounge on top, and operated under several hotel flags, including Hyatt Regency. Once renovated, the property will include a resort, residences and 40,000 sf of meeting and entertainment options. Completion is slated for 2024.
“It’s being completely reimagined,” Pouey says. “And it will have a deep connection to the yachting world, with about 164 deepwater slips to attract those people coming by yacht.”
Complementing Greater Fort Lauderdale’s luxury inventory are a host of properties ideal for incentive groups, among them the quintessentially tropical Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, with multiple bands performing indoors and out at the Bandshell on the Hollywood Boardwalk.
“This is a fully activated resort, and the entertainment is just unparalleled,” Pouey says. “We have a lot of hotels that are great for incentives because of their casual but luxe-type feel, with a lot of indoor and outdoor space to capitalize on the weather and sunshine,” he notes, pointing to the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa, the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, the W Fort Lauderdale, and the legendary Diplomat Resort and Spa as examples.
In addition to an impressive beachfront resort inventory, Fort Lauderdale meets luxury requirements for both corporate and incentive groups on the water as well, with the yacht of their choice a quick text away.
“We work with different brokers who can get vessels that are just amazing, and there’s no shortage,” Pouey says. “Groups can charter a yacht to go up the Intracoastal and dine outdoors at places like Mastro’s, the Lobster Bar and Sea Grille, or Dune at Auberge Residences. They can even keep going all the way to The Bahamas.”
madrid-destino.com; visitloscabos.travel/meetings; discoverlosangeles.com; visitlauderdale.com; visitkorea.or.kr