Interview by Patricia Gallot-Lavallée
“My dream honeymoon? Bora Bora: the turquoise lagoon, the bungalow on the water…” dreamily utters Jennifer, a bride-to-be.
Bora Bora: a bucket list destination. Newlyweds come from all over the world, crossing it off their list of dream destinations.
According to Dr. Liz Gerber, PhD: “Experience = Expectations-Performance”
How does the luxury hospitality industry in Bora Bora deal with those ever-so-high expectations?
By serving up the postcard on a silver platter
“The location itself already fulfills most expectations from the get-go,” asserts Adelaide, the Wedding and Events Assistant Planner at the local St. Regis, painting an idyllic postcard merely with her words: “The beautiful hotel surrounded by bright rays of sunshine dashing onto the lagoon, revealing six different shades of turquoise across the water…”
“I usually advise guests to go on a parasailing tour they will get a fantastic panoramic view of the island, like the ones you see on a postcard. They also might get to see whales, sharks, stingrays and turtles in their natural habitat, almost undisturbed by human activity…” gushes Stephane Massarini, the General Manager at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa.
“The location, the beautiful hotel, are not enough. These two fulfill just about 60% of guests’ expectations” confides Adelaide, Event and Wedding Assistant Planner at the St. Regis. “But expectations are, of course, very high at the St. Regis,” she adds.
By always designing increasingly closer to where their expectations can be met
“They all want the overwater experience,” confides Nathalie Dubonnet, Director of Sales & Marketing for the St. Regis.
Over the years, the bungalows haven’t just spread further into the lagoon, but now ‘overwater’ encompasses a broader experience. The coffee tables have turned into aquariums and the 4-star signature restaurant Jean George now delights guests both with its cuisine and its architecture: the establishment’s glass floor sits atop a lively coral reef.
Even in the InterContinental’s spa, the massage tables sit right on a window into the deep blue sea, exalting guests’ relaxation experience with a soothing panorama of local fauna softly drifting past, intermittently pausing to nibble at the coral.
“We are now building bungalows with private swimming pools and jacuzzis, right over the water,” reveals Stephane Massarini, Director of the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
“We had numerous guests who mentioned their desire to seal their love in Polynesia, so we looked into ways to enable that. We are also very much aware that Japanese tourists, for example, expect to find a little piece of France, in French Polynesia. We therefore created a romantic secret garden of love within the resort’s botanical park, where sweethearts can symbolise their eternal devotion by sealing their love with a lock in Bora Bora,” offers Stephane Massarini, the General Manager at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
By educating them
“A guest might complain that they don’t get to enjoy a full 270° sunset over the water. And I tell them that they can get those anywhere in the world. The Bora Bora sunset comes with its signature landmark, the Mount Otemanu — our Eiffel Tower. I remind them that if they sit by the pool at 5:45pm, they will see the colours change against the black volcano. That if they are lucky, the light will reflect on the few clouds embracing its peak and create unique reflection that will make for a most singular sunset. Our signature sunset.”
“A guest wanted to propose during a candlelight dinner at the end of the pier. We told him that the dinner would be served at 5:45pm. He replied that he dined at 7pm and wouldn’t budge. So we forced him to have dinner at 5:45pm. His feathers got a bit ruffled at first, but thanked us in the end.”
“One out of 200 people remain blasé — and I’m convinced that, for certain people, there is nothing we could possibly do about it. But the girl at the concierge desk and I refuse to get discouraged by them,” shares Stephane Massarini, the General Manager at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
90% of your clientele are couples who come to Bora Bora for a special occasion: a proposal, a wedding anniversary or a honeymoon. How do you make them feel special in a sea of special couples?
“At the St. Regis, we create a connection that starts before the guests even arrive we might work with the agency that booked the trip and plot with them to obtain the couple’s wedding picture. We then print it, frame it and have it waiting for them when they arrive to their bungalow.”
“Another time —it was a second marriage— the travel agency wanted to do something different, so they talked to the son and obtained a picture of their beloved dogs. We framed it and put it up in the bungalow with a message that read ‘We miss you, have a nice trip’,” mischievously confides Nathalie Debonnet, the Marketing Director at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.
“I remember a bride being delighted to see her favourite colour in the bouquet I had ordered for the photoshoot that they wanted to hold in Bora Bora. She had forgotten that 6 months prior she had told me all about her favourite colour,” offers Adélaïde Le Masson, Assistant Wedding & Events Manager at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.
“We dispatch couples among the staff, and when we meet them in the resort, we make an effort to remember what they had planned to do the previous day, and ask them how it went,” voices Heimana, a staff member of the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
“At the Regis, villas come with our signature butler service; families and couples ring their dedicated butler, making it even easier to personalize their trip and the amenities on offer.”
“And of course, there is a bottle of champagne waiting for them in their bungalow when they arrive,” Nathalie Dubonnet & Stephane Massarini, from the St. Regis and InterContinental respectively, reveal in unison.
“People hand us a set of “cards” that we then get creative with. I remember a man who wanted to propose, and through the girls at the concierge desk, we also knew he had ordered a helicopter tour of Bora Bora. So we conspired with the pilot and the guardian of the heart-shaped island located close to Bora Bora. We arranged for the guardian to write ‘Marry me Sonia’ with coconuts on the beach. As the helicopter flew closer to the beach and his Sonia saw those three words, she turned back to see that her very-soon-to-be-fiancé was holding the ring.”
By remembering what the Bora Bora dream is about
“We really felt like, we were all alone in the middle of nowhere, far far away from the rest of the world,” recalls a former guest, 15 years after her Bora Bora honeymoon.
Bungalow Design: One-hundred bungalows designed specifically to guarantee both intimacy and a great view. The sitting areas are always for two. At the Intercontinental Bora Bora Thalasso Resort, four isolated Jacuzzis are available for couples to spend the day in.
“We have a romance concierge who offers a delightful menu of romantic activities: candlelit dinner on a private beach, picnic on a private motu, canoe-delivered breakfast to your overwater bungalow…” reveals Adelaide, Assistant Wedding & Events Planner at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.
“Thank you Adelaide, we really felt like we were in our own bubble,” writes a Russian guest in a thank you letter.
By using the TableTop Strategy: Polynesian culture for free
Pool boys at the Intercontinental will show couples how to create a sun hat out of coconut palms and offer you a flower crown for you to wear, just out of the blue.
“This year, we launched #HappyRainyHour : 50% off drinks at the St. Regis when it’s raining. It was popular on social networks,” asserts Nathalie Debonnet, Director of Marketing at the St. Regis Resort.
Photo Credit: InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
Patricia Gallot-Lavallée from Paris, France is author of J’adooore, Six Ingredients That Create Fans She is an expert in Designing for Emotions, a Customer Experience Researcher and a Design Thinking Facilitator who lives in colourful Tahiti with her ever-so-cute family. Patricia blogs in French at http://www.experiencedesigners.net/blog/