I never really had a chance to write about my latest travel experience to Bora Bora in March 2008…until today!
So last night Bravo had a re-run of episode No 7 of Season 4 of Kathy Griffin’s My Life On The D-List. That is the episode that was filmed in Bora Bora during our first (and last) edition of Escape With The Stars. My company had initiated a project to create, once a year, an exotic trip where one celebrity would join along with a limited number of travelers. The idea was to provide our guests with a unique experience and a chance to discover one on one a celebrity, singer or personality they admire. Negotiations, preparation and logistics took over 6 months but by March 2008, we were ready to go and fly to Bora Bora with Comedian Kathy Griffin and actor/comedian Mario Cantone. A crew of Bravo Television followed Kathy around, providing our company major exposure in July 2008 when it first aired (that was the idea behind the whole concept).
The experience was terrific, at so many levels. The amount of stress and challenges, the negotiating to involve the tourism board, the behind the scenes at the airport and the AMAZING execution by the Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa made the trip an unforgettable one for all the guests. But there are “behind the scenes” moments you could have never imagined nor would ever be able to see on camera.
Kathy and her crew were fantastic. She is a great person who demonstrate the ability to interact, communicate and converse with her fans in the most basic and enjoyable ways. Despite initial fears our guests may be too overwhelming, those quickly dissipated to give way to what I had envisioned: a small group of behaved yet fun people having a good time getting to know a celebrity they enjoy watching on television.
Mario Cantone who was a guest also provided my team and I with an amazing sense of ease and down to earth atmosphere. His first call upon arriving at the hotel was to invite my crew and I for a drink at his overwater bungalow. For the next 4 days, this man made us laugh, made new friends, got us to hear amazing stories and most importantly remained down to earth and extremely enjoyable.
Some challenges did arise, including the disappearance of a client in the mountains of Bora Bora for 4 days (http://www.peacelovelunges.com/tag/bora-bora-nui/for a brief summary by Bronson Page). After Kathy left the resort to retreat at the St Regis on the other side of the island, and when I thought I would finally be able to enjoy some of my time, one of our client decided to go hiking in spite of the locals’ advice. A huge search and rescue mission was launched, headed by the hotel general manager, the local “gendarmerie”, the French army and myself acting as “liaison”. I was not sure how I would handle the after math of losing a client during one of my trips, but at the time, my focus was on the spouse and the rest of my guests. A rush of adrenaline was keeping me focused and clear headed. When time came for everyone to leave, our hiker was yet to be found. After a quick trip to the airport to take my other guests back along with my staff, and a change in airline reservation for me (thanks to Jim at Air Tahiti Nui), I felt alone and lost for the first time in a very long time. Yes, the setting was amazing and yes, a bit of peace after 6 months working 24/7 on this project was welcome. The circumstances however were not the best and I could not help thinking “WHAT IF?”. The next day and after working at cropping some recent pictures of our hiker to send to the local newspapers, we got THE call. A short boat ride to the local village must have seemed like an eternity for the spouse. Upon our arrival, we were taken to the local hospital (no more no less than a hut with hospital beds) where our hiker was brought down by helicopter after being found. Although his external condition seemed overall OK, his internal injury, mostly to the head, would require more HELIVAC and more scanners. But my job was done. I had seen this ordeal to a joyful conclusion and a happy reunion. A short ride back to the resort would only give me enough time for a shower, packing, settling the bill and a well deserved drink before heading back home.
After meeting Kathy and her crew at the Papeete airport lounge (she was coincidentally leaving the same day) and after catching her up with all the drama (and material) she had missed, I settled in the plane and for the first time in a week had a chance to look back and realize how much we had just accomplished. Needless to say I finally broke down in tears, tears I had been keeping away from my crew and my clients for the longest part of this whole experience.
My biggest regret is the lack of traction and leads following this project. If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would. In 10 years, this was the trip that, despite all of the complicated logistics and the numerous possibilities something might go wrong, was executed to perfection. The concept will be (mark my words) one to watch over the next few years. And who know, maybe will I be given the chance again to execute it.
Tahiti Tourisme, Air Tahiti Nui, Air Tahiti, Bora Bora Nui and Starwood have been HUGE and TREMENDOUS actors in this success. I can’t and could not say enough about the hospitality and the amazing passion the individuals behind those companies have for their islands. On your next trip to Tahiti, make sure to check them out first and foremost.
TAHITI TOURISME: http://www.tahiti-tourisme.com
AIR TAHITI NUI: Always offering amazing deals http://www.flyatn.com
BORA BORA NUI: http://www.boraboranui.com
AIR TAHITI: http://www.airtahiti.pf
Unfortunately, and despite a 500% increase in email subscription and some requests, the economy had already started to show signs of weakness and by the time our return on investment was completed, we could no longer stay in operation and had to close VIP Escapes for good.
A huge and eternal THANK YOU to everyone involved.