Monthly Archives: January 2014

Concierges—The Keys To The City.

230 Fifth boasts the largest rooftop bar in NYC.

230 Fifth boasts the largest rooftop bar in NYC.

This week, I had the incredible opportunity to work with some of the best concierges in New York City.

While I’ve often had the occasion to work with concierges while managing events programs in hotels, as an individual traveler I recommend using their service to help acclimate yourself to any new, or familiar, destination you may visit. We may live in the “just Google it” era, but there’s no substitute for the human touch.

“The thing with us is, yes, it is the Internet age but you have guests that come to you with piles of paper from their online research that you have to sort through to put them on the right track,” says Domenic Alfonzetti, chef (French for lead or head) concierge for the InterContinental Barclay. “You booked the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, it’s not a time ticket. Now you’re stuck queuing for 90 minutes or 2 hours before you can go through the security check and board the ferry. To boot, you didn’t check the weather, it’s raining, and it’s 32 degrees, or there’s too much ice on the Hudson and the boats aren’t going out! It’s always best to check with us first before you do these things,” he said.The Statue of Liberty and the circle line Ferry

Similar to travel agents, concierges will often get you the best rates and save you time as well. They’ll give you the lay of the land, east side, west side, all around the town. Their role as hotel ambassadors isn’t just about recommendations. Speaking with guests and establishing relationships helps concierges glean information and get regular feedback on restaurants, shows, or experiences they can’t get to themselves. They count on guest feedback to get a feel for whether or not to promote these places.

Beyond these doors...

Beyond these doors…

Concierges are also tapped by other sources, like travel agents, for their expertise in sourcing the best experiences within a destination. “There’s a lot of hype in New York City tourism and the concierge is all about substance, about making the discerning choice for our guests,” said Rafael Susana, concierge with London NYC.

A pretty swank dinner awaits you.

A pretty swank dinner awaits you.

If you’re wondering if millennials use concierge services, they do…in addition to their smartphone. “A lot of young people come down for recommendations and then double check it online” said David Rahner, concierge for JW Marriott Essex House New York. “Or they might have found what they want online but had they not stopped by, they may not get that extra bit of info that they’ll need to know about location, traffic, or the best time of day to reach a destination to avoid rush hour, construction, or some other issue that’ll ruin their plans.”

Another similarity they share with travel agents is that they experience and live the information they deliver.

Nicole Longchamp, concierge for the W New York Downtown said, “It’s about providing service. For me, it’s not work. I’m a natural explorer and when I see things and enjoy them, I share them with people. I notice things that most people don’t notice and see their importance as places of interest—from hole in the wall restaurants to the hardest table to get. My life is my work.”

“The best part is when guests come back smiling and purposefully stop by my desk and give me a report back of how great their day or night was—that’s what makes it so rewarding,” says Rahner.

Ela Orosova, concierge for Loews Regency, will happily share how her service extends beyond the desk. “Many times, we deal with helping guests recover lost items, like passports, iPhones, or other valuables. Often, it’s only through the determination and follow-up of concierges that guests are reunited with their items,” she said. Orosova knows that part of her job is to ensure that a guest isn’t worrying but rather enjoying their trip.

Cold Spring, an inside day trip tip on getting outside of the city limits.  Car not required.

Cold Spring, an inside day trip tip on getting outside of the city limits. Car not required.

Alfonzetti recently taught hospitality classes for over 2,000 Super Bowl volunteers. He said he had a great time teaching, and with his warm personality, approachable manner, and killer smile, he’s a natural for this line of work. Afterward, he went on to represent the New York Concierge Association at the Super Bowl Host Committee media lounge at the Sheraton Times Square this week, where he worked with 52 fellow concierges from around the city. “Assisting the media and other guests who needed info on how to get the most out of this town has provided us a great opportunity to learn from one another and be ambassadors for the city and the state. It’s encouraging other host committees to use the untapped power of the Les Clef d’Or, the national organization, as well as the local organization of concierges.

All of the concierges I met this week have hospitality in their bones and it was a great pleasure to work and learn from them. In fact, whether you’re a traveler or a travel agent, the next time you’re staying in a hotel, if it’s not a regular practice for you, take the time to introduce yourself and ask for their assistance in turning you on to something you don’t have on your itinerary.

In the meantime, here’s an opportunity to meet Domenic Alfonzetti and hear about some of the sweet things he has in store for visitors to New York City (YouTube clips are sometimes temperamental, so if you have any issues viewing the video then just click here):

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Game Plan For Super Bowl Sunday.

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC.

While New York City has more than its fair share of football lovers, culturally we’re not a football town. I mean, when you think New York City, football isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

That’s about to change when football fever descends here next week in anticipation of Super Bowl XLVIII, co-hosted by New York and New Jersey.

From a tourism perspective, it’s great news. And while I certainly appreciate getting excited over a sport, when it comes to football I’d rather watch paint dry.

I’m not alone here, there are plenty of men—yes, men—and women who share my disinterest. There’s no shame in it, but it’s going to be a little hard to avoid all of the madness when it comes to town.

But there’s no need to lay low. Since the fans will either be on their couch, or in a bar, or tailgating in the winds of another polar vortex gearing up with pre-game anticipation, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy some alone time or take advantage of the lull that’ll blanket the city on game day.

Count me out.

Count me out.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for anyone in or around NYC looking to avoid any football festivities or criticism over giving the game a cold shoulder.

Eat & Shop
Let’s face it; one of the best things about living or visiting NYC and its surrounding boroughs is the exposure to some of tastiest food and shopping on the planet. Life gets even better when you can get it all under a warm roof and that’s what you’ll find when you visit Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. Known as a fortress of food, fashion, antiques, art and lots of other cool stuff, this weekend market has become a top attraction for locals and visitors, offering a unique alternative to the boring, big-box retail store experience.

Show Time
For anyone who still enjoys the experience of sitting in a movie theatre with a bucket of popcorn, here’s your chance. With the Oscars just around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on any films you might have missed without the crowds.

Pamper Yourself
Who doesn’t love a massage? Take advantage of the desire to escape by indulging yourself in a body or facial treatment.  Better yet, get a gang together.  Depending on where you live, I bet there’s a spa in your neighborhood or at a fancy hotel that’ll have what you’re looking for and without a TV screen in sight.

An easy place to while away the day.

Looks like a good plan to me.

Weekend Getaway
With everyone either heading towards New Jersey, this is the perfect weekend to travel in another direction. And with the recent snowfall, you couldn’t ask for a better time to hit the slopes. If being active isn’t your thing, no sweat. The arctic chill is the perfect excuse to hole up by a roaring fire with the Sunday paper or that book you’ve been meaning to read. The best part is, with some of the great options for winter getaway transportation you don’t have to worry about driving.

Go Downhill
The word on the street is that from next Wednesday until Saturday, Broadway from 34th to 47th streets will be transformed into Super Bowl Boulevard. With businesses in full swing, this already crazy and busy stretch of Manhattan will morph into a 14 block, open-air football festival. Yes, it will showcase all things NFL but it will also have a 180-foot toboggan run. Any excuse to hop a sled works for me, so I may have to suck it up and check it out.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

There may be those who succumb to the fever and just need to grab a pitcher and a chicken wing. So on game day, for anyone whose idea of a good time is not sitting in the stands and freezing your butt off, there are plenty of bars that have a warm seat waiting for you. If your goal is to stay cozy and be part of the festivities, the NFL Host Committee has done a nice job of laying out Fan Favorite Sports Bars in NJ and NY. Although since pretty much any bar worth its margarita salt will be showing the game, I’d say you’re covered.

As for me, I intend to huddle up in my cozy apartment, read, bake, eat and enjoy my own pre-show festivities in anticipation of the next episode of True Detective.

Whatever you’re doing, stay warm and enjoy.

Return of the Travel Agent.

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Last week’s wintery weather got a lot of play in the news and across the blogosphere. As mentioned in the last post, while the weather wreaked a lot of havoc, travel agents also grabbed some limelight as they came to the rescue of customers stranded in the deep freeze at airports or in places they were trying to make their way to or home from.

On the heels of their success in dealing with the upset caused by the weather disruptions, travel agents are getting another boost. It seems like self-booking online is beginning to drop like those cold temperatures, which has travelers looking towards travel agents for their expertise. For more details around this, check out Travel Agents Back In Demand.

For some folks, getting away from booking online is like weaning yourself off caffeine. We’ve become so addicted to living life through online channels, it’s a hard attachment to walk away from…but it can be done. The same way you bonded to your smartphone, you can bond with a travel agent.

If you’re accustomed to navigating your life through online activity, you probably cringe at the idea of someone else handling your travel. I get it, you like the self-drive aspect. It’s a control thing, especially if you’re good at it.

Most people flock to the web with the goal of finding affordable travel, forgetting that time is money. And while it’s unlikely that millennials will start using travel agents anytime soon, for anyone who has ever been burned by an online travel “deal” or whose online booking has been derailed, there’s security in knowing there’s someone who’s got your back, who’ll go to bat for you, and who acts as a lifeline of sorts. Plus, they’re real and won’t run out of batteries.

After taking a hit from all of the online competition, it’s good to see travel agents on the rise. There’s plenty of great travel booking options to suit every need, let’s not forget that they’re one of them.

Travel Agents Battle Frozen Flights

Hank Cain, Chicago, Polar Vortex

Chicago, a frozen city. (Photo credit: Pilot Hank Cain)

Some people feel a bit pressured over resolutions when the New Year rolls around. If you don’t have any, it’s easy to buy into the belief that you need to make some. At some point, it just becomes overkill.

The thing is, any time is a good time to bring positive changes into your life but the New Year certainly helps. If you’re a travel agent, counselor, advisor, or travel ambassador of any kind, and have been meaning to take a stab at writing about your trips, or publicizing photos or videos of your experiences, then why not use 2014 as the inspiration to do it? Forget about labeling it as a resolution; instead think of it more as a chance to play around.

I haven’t cracked the code entirely on how to deal with the bad angels that hold us back from putting pen to paper but I do believe that giving yourself time to play is one powerful arrow to have in your quiver. And that’s the great thing about writing, or taking pictures. Because when you start playing with an idea you go places in your mind that aren’t set up with boundaries and “do not enter” zones. It’s the ultimate playground. And there’s a bonus to playing, you get happy—and who doesn’t want to be happy?

This week, travel agents have been busy bees, working overtime helping their customers out of a frozen jam. Between holiday travelers trying to make it back home or business travelers hitting the road again, the recent snowstorms that socked the Midwest and Northeast grounded thousands of flights. Things got worse when something called a polar vortex delivered a bone chilling, deep freeze that settled in across much of the country and the temperature plummeted into the single digits.  Chicago, with record-breaking temps of -15 degrees and a wind chill of -47 that gripped the area, seemed to take the brunt of it and looked like a city suspended in a giant ice-pool. Niagara Fall froze.  But when JetBlue canceled thousands of flights it was the icing on the cake.

The polar vortex even gripped Niagra Falls. (Photo credit: Reuters)

The polar vortex even gripped Niagara Falls. (Photo credit: Reuters)

For anyone who booked their travel online, you could tap away on that smartphone and it wasn’t going to do you much good. Without the likes a travel agent or airline rep trying to sort it all out for you behind the scenes, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you were getting on a plane. Yeah, I know, I’m tossing the clichés around but it’s kind of hard not to play with them given the circumstances.

Any time there’s disaster that affects air transportation, travel agents hustle to get travelers where they need to go. These days, most folks find it hard to believe there was a time when if you wanted to fly, you’d have to use a travel agent. With all of the online options out there to book travel and hotels, it’s understandable. Especially for anyone who came of age using the Internet.

Polar Vortex, Boston, canceled flights, JetBlue

Boston’s frozen flights.

Although it’s faced mammoth competition from online services, the travel agency industry is still holding its own. It continues to prove that travel agents matter, but it shouldn’t take bad weather or a disaster for consumers to recognize their value.

Right out of the gate, 2014 presented travel advisors with the perfect opportunity to prove their mettle but there’s a lot more that they bring to the party and I hope they share it. With all of the competition out there in the travel zone, agents and advisors shouldn’t feel awkward about tooting their own horn.

It’s a new year—be bold, be brave, have fun with it. Play.

Happy 2014! Dive Right In, The Water’s Fine.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn, winter swimming,

I’m certified! Post swim at Coney Island.

Happy New Year! I hope it’s off to an incredible start.

After writing my last post of 2013, I thought—what the hell, why watch from the sidelines of life? So I threw myself into the frigid waters of Coney Island with the Polar Bear Club and the rest of the freaky folks who greet the New Year boldly with a running leap.

Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island, Brooklyn

Brrrrr.

And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was downright exhilarating and it’s going down in my book as the best New Year’s Day ever. After a shot of Jameson at Ruby’s, I met a bunch of folks on the boardwalk and we warmed our bones by dancing the afternoon away.

Boardwalk at Stillwell Ave, Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge 2014, New Year's Day 2014, Coney Island

Metrocard Man had unlimited dance moves.

So I started a new tradition and have set my sights on living bravely in 2014. I’m adding new travel destinations and experiences to my list and I hope you are too.  But what was really great is that in taking part in the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, I raised money for charity and started the year off doing two great things.

Do you have any New Year traditions or travel any place special? If so, I’d love to hear about it.