Partying Like It’s 2019
The global social circuit is roaring back this summer, with travel industry influencers leading the charge.
“Are you St. Moritzing this summer?”
Sabin and I had both jetted into Marrakech for the three-day birthday party extravaganza of a mutual friend. This was night two, a black-tie dinner for 80 in the sprawling, orange-grove scented grounds of luxury resort La Mamounia, where guests deeply inhaled the gently-perfumed air, not a mask in sight.
As the birthday boy, a British entrepreneur with international business ties—who’d now waited 18 months to celebrate his 60th—greeted guests nearby, Sabin leaned over and repeated the question, already planning the next Champagne-fueled get-together.
“See you in St. Moritz, dahhhhling?”
The normal European social season kicks off each May in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, and includes destinations at luxury hotels and resorts from Antibes (where the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc is the only place to stay), St. Tropez, Capri, and Sicily, to St. Moritz. Now, after years of Covid-cancellations and postponed events, that tried-and-true itinerary is back and crammed with more luxurious private events than ever due to an accumulation of three years’ worth of canceled plans.
“The destination celebration business is busier than ever. We are up 133% over 2019, with clients looking for any reason to take their party on the road,” confirms Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner at travel company Embark Beyond, who’s documented recent voyages everywhere from Jerusalem to the Ritz Paris to his 23,000 Instagram followers.
Long-postponed birthdays, weddings, and “just-because parties” are springing up in locales like Marrakech, Cannes, and Milan. And with travel becoming decidedly simpler for U.S. residents due to the Biden administration’s recent cessation of mandatory antigen testing on re-entry, travel insiders—including several high-end publicists and hoteliers—are planning endless extravagant parties. Their purpose is two-fold: Desperate to blow off steam, they’re also hoping to help rejuvenate their own industry.
Last month, Lake Como’s newest super-decadent resort, the 24-room Passalacqua Hotel, threw itself an opening weekend to remember. An exclusive guest list of the travel and design elite, including World of Interiors Editor-in-Chief Hamish Bowles, travel influencer Yolanda Edwards, David Prior, CEO and founder of an eponymous high-end travel company, and fashion designer Emilia Wickstead, the Duchess of Cambridge’s go-to designer of choice, amped up the FOMO by splashing idyllic photos all over Instagram.
That robust guest list was no exception this summer. Pre-Covid, Ezon says typically 70% of a guest list showed up. “Now it is literally 110%. Everyone just wants to go… no one ever says no, and in fact, every guest list we work with has grown since inception.”
The biggest special-event growth market according to Ezon is the destination milestone birthday party. He himself has recently planned multi-million dollar 50th birthday celebrations in five-star resorts from Mexico to the Mediterranean. And the luxurious accommodations are just the start.
“It’s not just about the private planes to shuttle you there anymore. Now, it’s the headliner. I’ve seen Jon Legend and Swedish House Mafia perform, as well as choreographed original performances complete with custom costumes paying homage to the birthday boy or girl,” he says.
Destination weddings are back too, with Italy topping the list. “We’ve got an Italian wedding every weekend this autumn,” says Ezon, where the guest lists range from 100–350. “Demand is insatiable. We barely have an opportunity to negotiate contracts. It’s more like, ‘We got this space for you, do you want it? If not, we have six others who do!’”
Melanie Brandman, CEO of the Brandman Agency, a high-profile boutique luxury travel PR firm, worked with La Mamounia and local event-planner Boutique Souk to create the magic for the 60th birthday party I attended, describing the festivities as “an opportunity for a group of people who travel together a lot to reconnect after two-plus years.”
Guests flew in from Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Antigua, London, New York, Hong Kong, and Canada, some by private jet—including D.J. Guido, of St. Moritz’s infamous Dracula Club, who blasted thumping tunes on the heaving dance floor. The crowd, bedecked in full black tie, silk gowns and jewels clanging, took to the bar top for dancing, with brief stops to refresh martinis.
“Parties are back,” confirms Patricia Black, a stylist and creative director at Irene Albright Fashion Library, a gown-for-hire stylist service in New York and LA. “People are ready to smile, embrace, laugh, dance, and take off their masks in celebration. We all want to celebrate these momentous occasions again.”
A friend just back from Salone del Mobile in Milan described a better-than-ever, buoyant, global party scene. “People came to reconnect. It was joyful and generous,” said David Prior, who also attended the Passalacqua Hotel’s opening weekend while in Italy. “It was three parties a night, but you could go to ten.”
“Galleries, courtyards, shops, and restaurants were spilling out into the streets with parties big and small. Not raucous ones necessarily, but so many that the city felt completely consumed by joy. For that reason, it was better than the pre-pandemic times.” Prior notes not one person spoke about the pandemic, nor wore masks, and Italy is a cautious country, after having been hit hard by Covid.
Meanwhile at La Mamounia, which has been experiencing extraordinarily high bookings since it was featured on Netflix’s Inventing Anna (they’re now drawing a younger, super-affluent crowd), the only Covid-era reminder was the hotel concierge organizing a doctor to administer tests for guests heading back to the U.S. (testing was still a re-entry requirement). A quick swab, followed immediately by party prep for that night’s festivities… a dazzling White Party.