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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE

Montage Palmetto Bluff – a hidden gem

Palmetto Bluff has zero resonance for anyone living outside of the United States. I’d almost venture to say it means little to many people living in the United States too but, as I’m not American, that’s not really for me to say! However, for any incentive travel professional who attended SITE Classic in early Sept 2018, Palmetto Bluff is up there now with the likes of Montreux, Switzerland, Napa Valley, California, Whistler, Canada, Adare Manor, Ireland as a place capable of insinuating itself into the jaded heart of those in our community who’ve “been-there-seen-it-all-before”.


Palmetto Bluff is on the South Carolina coast, situated about 30 minutes from Savannah / Hilton Head airport. It’s 20,000 acres of sub-tropical forest punctuated by 32 miles of waterways, fed off the majestic river May. Nature, in her glorious abundance, graces the area with all manner of flora and fauna including bottle nosed dolphins, alligators and skinny white birds with long yellow beaks that I don’t know the name of.


Montage, the boutique upscale hotel company, moved in 5 years ago to create Montage Palmetto Bluff, the astonishing resort that played gracious host to SITE Classic. Guest accommodations at Montage Palmetto Bluff total 200 rooms including rooms at the colonial-style Inn and in cottages, residences and homes dotted around a truly massive  campus.

The Inn is inspired by the original 1902 mansion build to host wealthy east coast socialites by New York banker, Richard Wilson. Sadly Wilson’s plantation-style home burned down in 1926 but Montage Palmetto Bluff is meticulously preserving the Wilson tradition of bountiful hospitality. Wilson  gives his name to the spacious 650 square metre ballroom where the educational sessions at SITE Classic took place. The Inn also boasts an extensive spa and fitness centre, adult and family pools and, of course, the  Jessamine restaurant and Octagon Bar & Gathering Place. Other meeting space and food & beverage outlets are located at Wilson village and Moreland Landing.


Providing this physical description of Montage Palmetto Bluff only scratches the surface, however. The guest experience there is turned golden by the dual alchemy of the unique vision of Alan J Fuerstman, founder of Montage and the rarefied natural assets of the South Carolina Low Country. Casey Lavin, General Manager at Montage Palmetto Bluff, accompanied at the podium by May, one of the hotel’s house labs, shared the Montage secret sauce with SITE Classic attendees. It’s all about being tethered to purpose, linked always to mission, led by a values matrix that cross references comfortable elegance, a unique sense of place and spirit, impeccable hospitality and memorable culinary, spa and lifestyle experiences.

Montage Palmetto Bluff – a unique sense of place and spirit

The unique sense of place and spirit is probably the defining characteristic of Montage Palmetto Bluff for me. I caught it most especially during my early pre-dawn runs as darkness gave way to a tentative half-light and the landscape emerged, step by step, like an gradually developing photograph. As I’d run the way-marked trails, the first notes of the dawn chorus would start to strike and I’d catch glimpses of nocturnal creatures scurrying into the undergrowth. One morning I turned down the trail to find two startled fawns.

I also became a dedicated fan of porching at Montage Palmetto Bluff, although, it seems, this is a practice common across the southern states. It seemed like the natural thing to do following an early morning run that ended with me lathered in a copious cascade of sweat! The front porch at the Inn is lined with wooden rocking chairs arranged either side of a small table. I’d sit there, rocking back and forth, enjoying early morning coffee and pastries while observing the comings and goings at Montage.


I also felt the uniqueness of Montage Palmetto Bluff as I moved seamlessly around the massive estate by bicycle – you can pick them up at the Recreation Centre – feeling 100% like a local and stopping occasionally to check the water for alligator sightings (I did see one eventually on my last morning). I’m a huge fan of biking generally but spinning with ease around Montage Palmetto Bluff, casually meeting and greeting other SITE Classic attendees, exploring different ways of getting  to the Inn from the Wilson side (there are several) was a special feeling of freedom in God’s great outdoors.

SITE Classic at Montage Palmetto Bluff

SITE Classic attendees occupied Montage Palmetto Bluff for 3 nights and enjoyed the quintessential incentive travel programme – an exceptional group experience with a smorgasbord of individual choice in a truly motivational setting. Montage Palmetto Bluff allowed incentive travel professionals to connect, discover and learn and doing business was indeed second nature there. The opening night party was themed “Backyard, Southern Style” and took place on the May River Lawn, the ruins of the original Wilson plantation home beautifully lit to recall the hospitality legacy of the location.

On the second night we ventured into Savannah and enjoyed a spectacular dinner at the Morris Centre while raising over $160,000 for the SITE Foundation thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the attendees and the donors of the auction items. Our final night involved a boat ride across the Bluff to Morelands Landing during which enjoyed a wonderful setting sun and spied a duo of dolphins while being regaled by a lively captain named Boo. Upon disembarkation we were serenaded by a Gospel quartet before continuing to connect, discover and learn, building relationships to sustain us both personally and professionally.


Montage Palmetto Bluff may have been a mere fragile pulse on the radar of incentive travel professionals but the word of mouth recommendations of 300 SITE Classic attendees will definitely change. And, as we all know, because we learned it during the education session at Classic, “WOM”  trumps all other promotions, transforming customers into champions.

Thanks to Sam Stanton and his wonderful team at for capturing so beautifully the experience we had at Montage Palmetto Bluff and telling the story so well with his wonderful pictures – access to the full photo session here

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training. Padraic also serves as CMO for SITE and Aoife as Director of Digital and Social Media.













4 thoughts on “Montage Palmetto Bluff – inspiration for incentive travel professionals

  1. Padraic, You conjure Palmetto Bluff perfectly and I absolutely agree with you on placing it in the ranks of extraordinary destination experiences…FICP was there recently and I fell in love with the space, the light, the spirit and the ambience, to say nothing of the extraordinary service and quality of the Montage property and staff. I am sorry to have missed the SITE Classic and here’s to next year!

  2. padraicino says:

    Thanks for the comment Bonnie – Montage Palmetto Bluff is truly special. Kind of like the way New Orleans is special too! Received a lovely note from Kate at Ace whom, I believe, you had lunch with recently!

  3. Michael Butler says:

    Nature has it’s own pace on The Bluff and SITE hit the bulls-eye with the networking and education for this world-class event. Great reflection here on another memorable SITE Classic! #SITEUnite

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Michael – I hope and pray that Montage Palmetto Bluff and all who work there are safe and secure following the extreme weather last week …

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