David Ghysels is the founder of Dinner in the Sky and Hakuna Matata, a Brussels based marketing agency that creates unusual events to create a buzz for clients. In 2004, he pitched an idea to the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe Association to host an airborne dinner because they wanted to communicate that they were the “Gastronomy at the Top.”
The client loved the idea and after a few months of research, David realized that he could not execute the task on his own. He connected with Stefan Kerkhof who grew up around his parents construction company and from there, Dinner in the Sky was born.
Since the initial concept, the event has been hosted over 1,000 times in 56 countries from London to Dubai. Destination Luxury was first introduced to Dinner in the Sky during a luxury trip to Qatar and will be hosting opening and closing nights on July 1 and July 31, 2016. We had a chance to catch up with the entrepreneur about his amazing concept.
Destination Luxury: How would you describe a good idea?
Ghysels: The art of disruption. Be always looking for ideas which create a true difference, which break the wall of indifference while being in line with your brand values and positioning. Associations of ideas, meetings, connections, and curiosity, always the same story.
Destination Luxury: Describe your creative process.
Ghysels: Throw my smart phone, let life inspire you, multiply brainstorming sessions…
Destination Luxury: How did you get into this?
Ghysels: I studied communication and worked during 12 years at Havas Advertising for many brands such as Canal+, Côte d’Or, and Club Med. After 12 years, I launched my own advertising agency – Hakuna Matata – specialized in communication for Premium Food Brands.
Destination Luxury: Talk about Stefan Kerkhof.
Ghysels: Stefan Kerkhofs is the boss of the Fun Group, a company that specialized in attractions linked to cranes. I met him 10 years ago when the idea of a ‘suspended dinner’ came into my mind. We still run our own companies separately. We set up a company called E.I.T.S. (Events in the Sky) to manage Dinner in the Sky.
We met each other every month to discuss different strategic topics. For the day to day job, we keep each other posted through phone and email as our respective functions are very clear: communication & commercialization for me, creation & logistic for him.
Destination Luxury: What was the hardest thing about getting the idea off the ground?
Ghysels: Convincing the others, for sure. It’s always tough when you come with a new idea. I don’t know why but the human being is not programmed for new ideas. The first reaction is always, ‘no, it’s not possible, you can’t do that, it will not work…’.
Destination Luxury: When you first started, how big was your team and how did you build it?
Ghysels: No team, just me and my assistant but many partnerships: with Stefan of course but also with many people I was used to work for years with Hakuna Matata. I strongly believe in outsourcing.
Destination Luxury: How did you persevere through the process?
Ghysels: Faith! I’m a mountain climber and I know that behind the supposed summit, there is another summit and another summit and… And finally when we are at the summit, you need to go down the mountain which is often more engaging than the climbing…
Destination Luxury: After the first Dinner in the Sky, what was the media buzz like? Did your life change?
Ghysels: Not at all. My wife (for 32 years now) is always joking with me because I don’t keep any press about Dinner in the Sky, or me. The buzz is huge but what makes me feel good is the smiles and the stars in the eyes of the guests when they stepped out Dinner in the Sky.
Destination Luxury: We imagine that getting permits is quite a process. When you enter a new country to do Dinner in the Sky, what are some obstacles that you must overcome?
Ghysels: Convince the local administration for sure and find the right cranes but this is the job of each partner as each local regulation is specific.
Destination Luxury: Your 10th year anniversary party was held in Brussels with 10 tables hoisted in the air simultaneously in front of the iconic Atomium. How long was the planning process and how did you come up with this idea?
Ghysels: I had the choice between a cake with 10 candles or this. I don’t know how the idea comes. For me it was obvious. Between the idea and the reality: 18 months
Destination Luxury: Who are some of the celebrity chefs that you have worked with?
Ghysels: Joël Robuchon, Michel Troisgros, Heston Blumenthal…
Destination Luxury: What are your plans for the future?
Ghysels: Put as many stars as possible in our guests eyes 😉
Destination Luxury: I saw a video of a platform that has multiple tables and goes up into the air. Can you tell us about it?
Ghysels: This platform – Lounge in the Sky – is operated in GCC. It was conceived to be more like a Club, allowing the guest to have more privacy, four by four. But also to be polyvalent as we can exchange 2 tables by 2 entertainment platforms for dancers, DJ or musicians. We can also transform the entire platform into a Casino or TV Studio.
Destination Luxury: What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ghysels: Put the right ingredients in the pan. If the ingredients are top, the dish will be good. And if the dish is good you will find customers to enjoy it. Not the contrary.
Destination Luxury: Who is your favorite entrepreneur?
Ghysels: My father. He is a sculptor and taught me the most important thing: have your mind in the sky and keep your feet on the ground.
Destination Luxury: Tell us 3 unexpected facts about yourself:
1. I’m fond of cooking. I spend my time with food producers/sellers, cooking for friends.
2. I love mountains, everything in mountains: hiking, climbing, skiing.
3. I recently started producing honey. I have 6 bees-houses in my garden and just did my first harvest… Gold, just gold.