Guests at the Rome Cavalieri luxury hotel who spring for the "Roman Holiday Fantasy," get a professional makeup session, followed by a Vespa tour of the locales featured in the 1953 Audrey Hepburn movie and a driver who doubles as the camera-toting paparazzo.
The package is one of many over-the-top "experiences" hotels are offering that go beyond the typical tennis lesson or cooking class. It isn't enough, hotel executives say, to have a fabulous spa, great restaurant and sumptuous rooms. To stay competitive, properties say they need to give guests access to activities-and people-travelers wouldn't have otherwise.
"There's a sense of some bragging rights" for guests, says Mark Harmon, chief executive of Auberge Resorts, which launched its "Auberge Adventures" program in January 2012. The program includes activities such as tracking alligators with a naturalist at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, S.C., ($500 for one person) and a dusk dog-sled ride followed by a four-course dinner at Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo. ($365 per person).
At the Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, guests can cook dinner alongside celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. (Price: $9,999 for a three-night stay including many meals.)
Hotels hope an ever-changing roster of cool things to do will lure repeat guests. "Doing something unique gives them an incentive to come back," says Fabio Berto, director of business development at Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts in Italy. The hotel launched its "Roman Holiday Fantasy" in August 2012. (Price: about $335 including dinner.) The property also hosts a popular "Gladiator Training" program where guests don tunics and armor and learn to sword fight.
The activities don't usually generate big profits themselves, hotels say. But as a marketing move, the programs-particularly the most extravagant ones-can create buzz on social media.
And while some of the most lavish programs may rarely, if ever, be booked, they get people thinking about staying at the hotel, says Paul James, global brand leader for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.'s St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W brands. The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort only sold one multiday package with a $12,000 price tag that included a fishing trip with Mr. Vongerichten, the chef. But it "got a lot of people talking," says Mr. James, and generated other stays at the resort.
Also, unveiling new "experiences" gives properties a reason to contact past guests. "You are in a conversation with people to inspire them to travel," says Mr. James. In 2009, St. Regis launched a quarterly newsletter for its "Aficionado" program that now goes to more than 200,000 customers. The current Aficionado activities include a four-night stay at the St. Regis Bali Resort ($3,851 per night) that, besides many meals and other perks, includes a meeting with Princess Biang Bulan, a doctor and Balinese dancer whose grandfather was the last king of Karangasem in East Bali.
The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea in Hawaii launched its "Unforgettable Events" series in 2009 after completing a renovation. "We realized we were going to run out of stories. There was nothing new to talk about the resort, no more renovation, no more new pool," says Mark Simon, director of marketing. "We didn't want to go down the path of the boring golf packages."
This year's programs include a weeklong cycling camp with Ryder Hesjedal, a member of Canada's Olympic team, and windsurfing with retired professionals Matt Pritchard and Shawna Cropas.
Some programs don't fly. The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif., created a $5,000 per-person, two-night stay that included a day of fishing and a day of picking produce, each accompanied by a resort chef and capped by dinner. "Nobody booked it," says Giuseppe Lama, the resort's managing director. "It was too complicated." Sky diving and zip lining also weren't popular. More successful: The resort's "Keys to Luxury" program, which whisks guests from the airport into a waiting Ferrari or Jaguar. Directions to the hotel are preprogrammed into the car's GPS. (Prices begin at $795 per night.)