How to Throw the Perfect Party Away from Home
Weddings and event planner to the stars, Colin Cowie shares how to host the perfect destination bash.
Colin Cowie, born in what is now Zambia, knows how to have a good time. “I grew up in a house where we always entertained,” he says. “When I came to the U.S., I knew my focus should be on demystifying the art of entertaining—making people welcome and happy in our homes.” He’s since become an expert at throwing the perfect party, and not just in the homes of his clients—who include Jennifer Aniston and Oprah. Many of his events are in far-flung locales. “When you host a reception in a city, you have a maximum five or six hours with everyone. If you’re in a destination, you could spend a good 72 hours of quality time together, which is the whole point.”
Here are his pro-tips:
For birthdays or corporate events, Cowie recommends starting four to six months out. Weddings can require a bit more prep, so he suggests a minimum lead time of nine months.
Go for weather…
A destination party is “invariably taking you to better weather,” says Cowie.
…but don’t count on it
Weather is unpredictable, so Cowie urges everyone to have a “buttoned-up Plan B,” such as a ballroom or tent alternative to account for potential hiccups outside. “Once we were in the Caribbean and there was a huge hurricane,” he remembers. “So instead of being outside, we were all huddled inside having a great time playing board games.”
Make the trek worthwhile
“Be aware of what it’s costing your guests in terms of time and resources,” says Cowie. He has a guideline of limiting travel time to one international flight, and making sure the event is within two hours of a major international airport. “Unless you’re really turning it out for the guests,” he adds. “We’re doing a remote wedding in South Africa, but it’s for six days.”
Find the right venue
“You want to have a place that is welcoming, beautiful, and that has a great sense of arrival,” says Cowie. He also suggests looking for spots that have multiple setting options for the cocktails, dance floors and food. Above all, he recommends venues that aren’t overly commercial or too big. “Enjoy the exclusivity of it.” It’s also a good idea to have options for activities off-property. “Look for places with interesting creature comforts—like great spas or hikes—nearby.
Embrace Everything Local
“When it comes to food, embrace local as much as possible,” he says. “If you’re in the wine country, savor the destination’s wine and cheeses, for example. The concierge can steer you in the right direction on vendors.” And don’t bother flying in a squadron of musicians or florists, either. “I bring a small management team but rely mostly on the people there. They’re the ones with all the resources who will be able to handle something should things go wrong.”
Don’t forget the swag bags
Cowie thinks it’s “very important” to have a gift bag. It’s part of being a gracious, thoughtful and a caring host.” That’s not to say they need to cost much. “It’s not about the expense as it is about the gesture,” he adds. Welcome packets, with an itinerary and tips on local sites to see, are also a must. “An informed guest is a happy guest,” he says.
No idea is too crazy for Cowie. He once had hosts charter an entire 747 for their 120 guests.
…but keep the numbers down
Cowie recommends putting a guest count cap at 250. “After that it starts to become really big.”
Remember why you’re inviting people in the first place
“Wherever you take your guests, the idea is to be generous and entertain.”