Courtesy Sea Island Resort
History is not always made in high-profile places. In fact, meetings of international importance often seem more comfortable away from the big-city limelight.
Such was the case in 2004, when the United States took its turn as host of the G8 Summit. Sea Island Resort was chosen as the site; President George W. Bush deemed the Forbes Five-Star getaway on the Georgia coast the right blend of laidback and luxury for the gathering of world leaders.
Small destinations have been a choice for important gatherings for generations. In 1905, Russian and Japanese leaders met in another seacoast town, Portsmouth, N.H., to hammer out the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Almost four decades later, world leaders returned to New Hampshire, this time to the White Mountains, to create a post-World War II monetary system.
In all three instances, these monumental meetings gave the venues in which they were held a history to hold onto and to market to meeting planners.
That Sea Island was chosen as the G8 site was a surprise, not because the AAA Five-Diamond resort was unworthy of the honor, but because the summit coincided with major reconstruction of the resort.
Early on, summit organizers asked if planned demolition of the main building and meeting space could be postponed. The resort said no; doing so would push the 2006 completion date into its prime summer season.
Organizers then asked if meeting space demolition could be delayed. Again, no was the answer. With that, the G8 organizers gave up. “They said ‘We’re still coming,’” said Merry Tipton, corporate communications manager.
World leaders met in the resort’s Beach Club, next to the shore. The construction was blocked from view, screening so effectively that that the world leaders never knew work was under way.
A local woodworker, by day an obstetrician and gynecologist, built a conference table of heart pine for the summit. Fifteen feet wide, weighing nearly a ton, “it had to be assembled in the room; it took two days for our engineering team to do it,” said Tipton.
Today, the resort remembers the most important meeting in its history in the Summit boardroom, a 1,064-square-foot space that is part of its new meeting space.
Business leaders sit at the same table, in the same chairs as the world leaders did eight years ago. Official photos from the G8 line the walls, wood paneling matches the table’s heart pine, and flags of the represented countries stand at salute around the room.
“The summit was a very special time in our history and a feather in our cap,” said Tipton. By being one of only six venues to host the G8, Sea Island has underscored its ability to handle important meetings, “from the smallest family foundation to the G8 Summit,” said Tipton.
When Russian and Japanese diplomats came to New Hampshire to hammer out a peace treaty in 1905, they spent their days in negotiations at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and retreated each evening to Wentworth by the Sea, a seaside hotel in nearby New Castle, N.H.
Diaries and other records of the near monthlong peace talks indicate that informal discussion continued after official meetings ended. Photos show delegates on the hotel’s porches; records speak of informal gatherings in the Russian ambassador’s suite. Legal advisers wrote the treaty at the hotel.
Sadly, some of the items tied to the history-making event were lost when the hotel was closed for 20 years and all of its fixtures, furnishings and records were auctioned.
When the hotel was renovated and reopened in 2003, however, developers did commemorate the important place it holds in world history through a new Treaty Boardroom, decorated with photos from the negotiations.
And although no official meetings were held there, the hotel is a shrine of sorts, especially to some tourists.
“Many, many Japanese visitors make the pilgrimage to Portsmouth,” said Stephanie Seacord, an expert on the hotel and its involvement in the peace treaty.
Its role in the historic negotiations brings other business the hotel’s way. Midshipmen from the Japanese Navy visited the hotel in busloads; the U.S. Navy and businesses that have ties to Japan often choose the hotel for their meetings.
A conference held at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire almost 70 years ago continues to bring business its way.
Just last year, the Institute for New Economic Thinking chose the resort in Bretton Woods, N.H., as the site of its second annual conference, where 17 Nobel laureates in economics were in attendance and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the keynote speaker.
The Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, held from July 1-22, 1944, has forever tied the resort to world economics. Representatives of 44 nations gathered to establish a post-World War II international monetary system. Among the conference’s achievements was the creation of the International Monetary Fund.
Even today, business groups that meet at the Mount Washington sometimes ask that the ballroom be set as it was for the conference, or that their attendees enjoy the same meal that Bretton Woods delegates had on their final night at the resort.
The resort is happy to do so, says Craig Clemmer, the hotel’s sales and marketing director, although it was a rather plain-Jane meal of “chicken, green beans and fruit cup. The resort elevates the meal by adding several courses, including a more interesting dessert, Clemmer said.
Clemmer has no doubt that modern businesses sometimes choose the resort because of its role in world affairs, especially in times of economic challenge.
“We get a lot of business because of the monetary conference and how important it was to the world,” said Clemmer. “Because of the economic downturn, people go back to these spots, they are like touchstones. Groups can come here and be inspired to come up with new ways to rectify their situation.”