PALM DESERT, CALIF.—When a technology company wanted to host a recognition trip for its sales winners, it turned to Access to create a five-star experience set at Empire Grand Oasis in California's Palm Desert. The desert oasis-themed closing reception took place Oct. 25, drawing 650 guests for an immersive, modern, and stylish take on a desert theme that leaned into the venue's natural elements.
Access—a 50-year-old DMC with offices nationwide—was involved in every aspect of the event's production, including venue sourcing and management, catering management, event design, entertainment design, production, and show flow, noted Kristen Francis, national senior creative manager for Access. "Everything was carefully curated for this client and their guests for an overall memorable experience from start to finish," she explained, adding that the Access team has worked with this client for several years and was challenged to top their previous work.
"For a client that has seen everything and is always looking for the next best thing, our creative team is always looking to take event trends a step further," she said. "By customizing aspects to help tell our story, it makes every moment impactful and unique. When there is a purpose behind what you do, it makes guiding a client much easier. It makes you part of their team, and they feel heard in their feedback."
To contrast with—and complement—the surrounding landscape, the Access team chose a white color palette, and then mixed in dark acrylic amber chairs, dusty blue and soft pink table touches, and accenting light wood. Stylized greenery, brushed gold-peppered accents, and large-scale mirrored elements furthered the oasis-inspired design.
"The desert, on the surface, is a dry, desolate place," pointed out Francis. "Once you really immerse yourself in it and start to look deeper, moments of wonder and magic start to emerge. We wanted to give guests that same sense and appreciation for the desert in a way that would resonate for them—with a modern, elegant twist so they felt honored and rewarded."
One way that goal was achieved was through a memorable entrance moment, which featured two mirrored arches. "We wanted the guests to get a sense of a desert mirage as soon as they stepped off the bus and into the event space," said Francis. "The way lighting reflects and dances off of a mirror material created an enchanting wonder and curiosity for guests to want to explore more and move farther into the space."
A real standout of the event, though, was the entertainment, which included a series of short performances in different designated locations throughout the outdoor space. "No matter where you were within the space, there was something eye-catching happening," said Francis.
Guests were welcomed with a custom-made "Desert Flower Living Carpet," which created a memorable photo moment to kick off the evening. Fire performers and custom logoed LED POI performers also greeted guests and set the tone for the evening. "In previous years, the group had really enjoyed drum performances," added Francis. "To give a twist on that, and also tie into the ambiance of the venue, this year we brought in taiko drummers. A mix of familiar with unfamiliar was a hugely successful way to open for the local band before guests danced the evening away."
Francis' favorite moment, though, was a flip-disc wall. "This work of interactive art, when on its own, depicted the coastal tides of the Maldives in real time," she said. "As guests walked up to the piece, their image was playfully reflected back. To create even more of a wow factor, we combined this with our fire dancers. With the movement of the discs and the reflection of fire on the piece, it generated an even more mesmerizing and memorable impact."
The event wasn't without its challenges, though—particularly because the venue space was long, narrow, and situated on a hill. Francis noted that the team had to be very strategic about the placement of the decor, the bars, and the food stations to ensure fluid movement throughout the evening.
"In turn, this meant that there was little area left within the space itself for essentials like bathrooms, catering, generators, and greenrooms for entertainment," she explained. The solution? "The Desert Flower Living Carpet was a way for us to 'smoke and mirror' the catering area hidden behind hedge walls right at the entrance at the base of the hill. First impressions are everything, and this really helped to distract from what could have been an eyesore if not strategized beforehand."
Ultimately, Francis said, the event felt true to the spirit of the client and its goals for the event. "High-end clients want authenticity," she explained. "As event producers, we are storytellers. When creating a high-end experience, you start by first asking what story are we telling, and what nuances need to be included for that story to be genuine. The best stories evoke feelings, and feelings can be heightened by stimulating certain senses."
To Francis, successful events go beyond high-end design. "The real impact comes from the intangible," she advises. "Consider scenting the event, add background environmental sounds to the perimeter of the space in addition to the band, or create a nostalgic factor that sparks joyful memories for guests. By doing this, we create shared experiences that inspire people beyond the walls of the event itself."
Catering: Carousel Catering, Best Beverage Catering
Decor: To Be Designed
Event Planning & Production: Access
Entertainment: Imagination Entertainment, Acoustic Spot
Flip-Disc Kinetic Art: BREAKFAST
Linens: BBJ La Tavola Specialty Linens
Venue: Empire Grand Oasis