Montage Hotels & Resorts took over management of the newly named The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort this month. The iconic Lowcountry resort is located in Palmetto Bluff, SC just 20 minutes from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. Work is beginning on 150 new luxury rooms to join the existing 50 cottages and cottage suites, with expected completion in summer of 2016. New meeting facilities and a destination spa are also under development.
“When Alan Fuerstman founded Montage Hotels & Resorts in 2003, his whole vision was really to create a comfortable luxury hotel group that stripped the pretension out of old world luxury,” says spokesperson Alyssa Bushey. “We operate hotels that are in extraordinary destinations, but destinations where we can really be the centerpiece of the community. So it’s very rare and special to find something that fits our brand like The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, and it’s been such a seamless fit with the original vision.”
We also spoke with Paulette Peek, director of sales/marketing, to learn more about the attributes of the resort for groups.
Prevue: How does the setting where you are in the Lowcountry attract groups?
Paulette Peek: Most groups are looking for a place that’s very different that really gives them a sense of place, and gets them out and interacting in the surrounding areas. We have 20,000 acres of private Lowcountry forest here, along with 35 miles of waterfront along the May River, which is actually a saltwater estuary. Because of that we have needlenose dolphins all year round, so when you’re out there kayaking or boating, you see a lot of those, which makes it that much more special. And the water itself is one of the cleanest water systems remaining in the Southeast. A lot of that has to do with the fluctuation of tides, which is up to 12 feet at times.
We have some of the richest oyster beds left in the Southeast. The shells act as a natural filtration for the water when it goes that far in and out, so the ecosystem here is very rich with shrimp and crab. It’s amazingly beautiful. So you have all of that water activity here without groups having to get on any type of transportation. They all leave from the docks we have here.
Can you describe the room product and amenities?
Peek: Every cottage that we have, which is like a suite product, is 1,140 square feet with its own private swing and porch, fireplace and steam showers. And they all overlook either the beautiful May River or the 5-mile interior lagoon that we have, so everyone has a gorgeous water view. They come with two complimentary bicycles that you can ride everywhere throughout the village, so everyone is very active and it kind of takes you back to when you were a kid again.
We also have a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, which is a private course, so it’s impeccable since it’s not open to the public. And then we have the spa, which is all about health, but in the South, we’re all about comfort too. So in our spa, our pastry chef makes these wonderful cookies that you’ll find in the relaxation room. And then each treatment room has its own claw-foot, deep soaking tub on an outdoor balcony that overlooks the water. So who could not love that, right?
Then we have an equestrian center and a tennis facility—all of that is right here on-property. We do yoga, spinning, lots of water aerobics. There is no lack of things to do here. We even have our own conservancy on-property so groups can take a tour out into the 20,000 acres and learn about the wildlife and plant life. It’s very educational, and that’s very popular for groups. You can learn everything from what grows out in the forest that can be used for cooking to the all about the alligators. The biking scavenger hunt out in the forest is also popular.
What’s the general vibe like around The Inn at Palmetto?
Peek: When you come through the arrival gate at the front of our property, the sense of arrival is tremendous. You literally drive five miles through this beautiful tree-lined drive before you see any buildings. All you see are wildlife and the deer crossing the street. It’s a very unique experience and it has a way of taking people back to a simpler time very quickly.
So the feedback we get from meeting planners is how relaxed that the attendees get so quickly, and obviously that flows into some really stimulating meetings and brainstorming sessions. You literally leave here with a piece of us, as funny as that may sound. We hear that all of the time.
Tell us a little about the expansion.
Peek: One of the key things in expanding The Inn, because we do have such a strong following in group and leisure, is to keep the quaintness and uniqueness, and not make it be just another hotel. And so that was at the very forefront of everything that has gone into the plans for this expansion.
The main building that’s going to house 86 guest rooms is actually being built on a separate parcel of land that’s on the other side of our lagoon. It’s going to be in the theme of a very Southern, Lowcountry great home kind of feel. It will only be three stories high, so it’s almost like coming to someone’s big house, if you will.
In addition in that building, we’re definitely going to have more meeting space, because I think one of the biggest challenges I have is how so many groups want to come here but I only have so much room. I can’t tell you how excited the meeting market is that we’re going to have more space so they can bring those groups here they’ve wanted to in the past.
There’s going to be a new ballroom. It’s going to be roughly around 7,000 square feet, and there’ll be some smaller breakout rooms as well. There will be a few new restaurants, a brand new spa, and a great pool with a bar and restaurant overlooking that lagoon.
What is the layout between the new and existing product?
Peek: That separate parcel of land will be connected to what we have now by a small bridge, so it’s not going to take away from the intimacy of the main village but you can still ride your bike or golf cart over there. Then there’s going to build five individual buildings that will have 10 guest rooms in each that will be placed along the lagoon with a water view. That, to me, for meeting planners is great for grouping people together under one roof in a semi-private environment. Then they’re going to building 14 very high-end presidential-style suites overlooking the May River, and those are going to be placed more toward the main Inn.
So it’s not like this humungous hotel of 150 rooms is being built. These are individual buildings that are being nestled into the forest so they blend with everything else that Palmetto Bluff is.
What are some highlights of the meeting experience now?
Peek: Currently we have about 6,000 square feet, but that’s a little bit deceiving because we do so much outside with groups. We have an incredible ballroom now that’s about 2,000 square feet with a fireplace and a big wraparound verandah overlooking the May River.
And then for evening events, we have a place called Moreland where you can go by boat or by trolley. It sits on our property, but you know how a lot of groups want to do one event off property, this feels like you’ve gone offsite but you don’t have to, and you still get that level of luxury service and the quality of the food.
We do a Lowcountry oyster roast or Lowcountry boil there. They have this huge fire pit and they bring those oysters right out of the May River, and there’s this giant skillet, if you will, that goes over the fire pit. Then they pile the oysters on and throw these wet burlap bags over them that steams them up. It is awesome. We also have a big wood pavilion with a fireplace there as well for dinners, so it’s a very popular event with groups.
Any feedback from planners you want to share?
Peek: I hear it all the time about our seasoned team in banquets and conference services. The planners are always saying this is the easiest program they’ve ever had to put on because our team is so seasoned. Our goal is to take as much off their plate as we can. Although they’re working hard, we want them to be able to enjoy what we have as well.