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It's All Yours!

Original Article for Ignite Magazine by Angela Kryhul

With a well executed hotel buyout, attendees will feel like they own the place.

You know you’ve done something right when high achievers from one of Canada’s top commercial real estate firms descend upon your entire property, not once, but twice in five years. 

The CBRE Canadian recognition Conference, an annual incentive event for 100 top sales professionals, occupied the entire Wickaninnish Inn, near Tofino, BC, in June 2008, and again in June 2013. 

There’s something very special about having a hotel or inn all to one’s self, especially if the property is located in a non-urban setting, says Margot Friedman, CEO of Three E’s Creative Solutions, who represented CBRE Canada as the client (and where she previously worked as a senior vice-president). 

Located on a remote rocky point overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and with access to a semi-private beach and more than 100 acres of old-growth forest paths, the Wickaninnish Inn fit the bill in spades. “When you buy out a property in a remote setting, you have a captive audience to spend a few days with and build on your corporate culture,” Friedman explains. 

During its exclusive-use bookings, CBRE had at its disposal the Inn’s 75 guest rooms and suites, as well as The Pointe Restaurant, the café, the bar/lounge and the on-site Ancient Cedars Spa. As part
of the deal, CBRE committed to certain revenue levels for food and beverage, as well as minimum spends at the spa and gift shop.

Laurence Mead, principal at Toronto-based incentive travel company, Cubed Inc., worked with Friedman to select the destination. He says meeting planners are showing more interest in hotel buyouts. And while there is a significant cool factor to “owning” a property, planners must be clear on whether a buyout will help meet the event objectives. 

Buyouts can provide countless intangible benefits for groups. “Knowing that the other person walking down the hall is a colleague helps foster an openness that you might not have otherwise. buyout,” says Mead.

On the other hand, a buyout might not be the ideal scenario for very small groups because it can be almost “too intimate,” Mead explains.

Charles McDiarmid, managing director of the Wickaninnish Inn, suggests that planners review the pros and cons of a buyout very early in the site selection process: “How would the exclusive-use experience best achieve the program’s objectives? Often, these elements are more ethereal and hard to define but are so very important to the success of all organizations,” he says. 

A buyout allows a group to trumpet its brand in ways it usually can’t in a shared situation—anything from branded signage, restaurant menus, elevators, flags and cocktail napkins to providing special branded uniforms for hotel staff.

A buyout means you can blast your music as loud as you want, wherever and whenever you want, without compromising the stay of other guests, McDiarmid says. Few ideas are off-limits. You might even arrange to have VIPs or entertainers arrive onsite by helicopter, he adds. “There is tremendous value in generating a sense of belonging and togetherness,” Friedman says. “In a business very heavily based on the strength of relationships, exclusivity is worth a few extra dollars.” 

How Much Does It Cost?

A property must achieve minimum revenue levels for guest rooms and food and beverage, no matter how many groups they’re hosting at a time. The Wickaninnish Inn, for example, charges between $200,000 and $500,000 for an exclusive-use event, depending on the time of year and program details, says Charles McDiarmid. There’s a perception that hotel buyouts cost more, but that’s not always the case, says Laurence Mead. Consider these points:

• You’ll get better per-room value if your attendee numbers are close to the property’s guestroom capacity.
• Book your event during the shoulder season when less than 100 per cent occupancy is the norm.
• Contact the property manager and work out a creative solution. A destination might welcome an exclusive, offseason booking for a group that promises to eat and drink on-property.

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