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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Don't Accuse This Hotel Music Director of Being the Muzak Guy

It’s likely that the musical experience of most hotel employees doesn’t extend far beyond karaoke. Not the case for a certain Hungarian concierge, whose vast musical background strikes a special chord with guests.

Kornél Magyar (left) Shows Off the Aria Hotel Budapest's Bogányi Piano

The music history of Budapest includes notables like Franz Liszt, Ernő Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály, and Béla Bartók. Now, you can add the name Kornél Magyar to the list.
The multi-hyphenate music aficionado (stage musician/concert promoter/music editor) has been the musical director of the Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection since a month before it opened in 2015.
Drawing from a childhood surrounded by the sound of music (his parents were both musicians), and from more than 20 years of a mostly creative career across all aspects of music, Magyar oversees the Aria’s musical programming. He is responsible for curating the hotel’s music library, liaising partnerships with music venues, coordinating musical experiences for guests and managing the ambient audio in all common spaces.
Yep, he’s the guy who selects the background music in the lobby and the elevators.
But at the Aria, this music is most definitely not Muzak. The hotel is made up of four wings, each representing a different mode of music (opera, classic, jazz, contemporary). Each wing’s lift and hallway soundtrack corresponds to the motif. As for the lobby, Magyar says the music selection has to be more subtle. “It’s a delicate thing to choose that playlist. (For example,) for breakfast music, you don’t want anything too upbeat. It should be relaxing, but not typical elevator music… which is darn boring.”
Magyar was not looking to enter the world of hospitality when he first stumbled across the position on LinkedIn. “They needed a person who doesn’t know the boundaries within music, who understands music as a global phenomenon.” So, even though he had never worked in a hotel before, he knew “this position is the perfect match for me. I’ve been working in music professionally since 1997, and I was always interested in linguistics and speaking languages, so it’s a nice challenge to communicate about music in other languages than Hungarian.” Plus, he had traveled around the world discovering how music reflects regional cultures.
Now that he’s on staff, he’d love to focus on music 24/7. However, the fact is that the musical director role is only one part of his job. He’s basically a concierge-plus, with “not enough time to devote to musical endeavors. Yes, I book restaurants and guided tours for guests. But the reason why this is an extraordinary concierge job is my knowledge of concert events and musicians — nobody apart from me who can provide this information to guests. There are certain days where I exclusively focus on musical tasks. According to my experience, we have 15 to 20 percent of guests who are interested in music programs at a level like this. They are choosing us for a reason. They are willing to come to Budapest for a concert and then reside in the hotel with a musical focus.”
For example, one couple came from Austria to see a concert by Hans Zimmer. They asked Magyar to add to the evening by finding a restaurant and an after-hours club that would harmoniously complement the concert.
“Another delicacy for me,” says Magyar, is the unusual request. For example, an elderly gentleman wanted to surprise his girlfriend with a marriage proposal accompanied by a curated mix tape. “He was choreographing the proposal, and the music he wanted was everything from Sinead O’Connor to Chopin. I had to do research to find original recordings and edit it together. But the frightening part of the entire endeavor was that the music had to be triggered remotely once they entered their room, and we had no control over it from then on. It was a huge relief to see the next morning that they were smiling and the ring was on.”
Music Garden Courtyard at the Aria Hotel Budapest
Among Magyar’s other major duties are creating background music for themed promotions in the hotel’s High Note Skybar; amassing a library of videos, DVDs and CDs for guests to borrow; and helping visitors tap into Budapest’s underground music scene. He particularly enjoys introducing guests to bohemian rhapsodies. “You cannot help noticing the gypsy subculture and how it is represented not only in folk, but in a unique flavor of the jazz scene,” says Magyar. “That gypsy heritage is only one color of our wide range of folk styles. The rich Hungarian folk traditions are best caught at a live Táncház (dance house).”
There’s also plenty of live entertainment at the Aria itself. The classic Bogányi piano in the Music Garden Courtyard gets played during the daily wine and cheese hour. Magyar is in charge of finding the pianists for the gig. “This has been one of the toughest and most surprising lessons as hotel music director — you can’t just invite the most knowledgeable musicians to play and let them make guests amazed. This is the farthest thing from reality. The hotel is not a stage for music.
“Guests are changing every two or three days with different expectations,” he added. “So, hiring isn’t necessarily finding the most skilled or those with highly-technical dexterity.” Instead, it’s about finding musicians who can pick up on the mood of the crowd, to improvise and understand “when they only need to play background music, or if there’s interest, to switch to a concert event or jam session.”
On those occasions when things get particularly lively, Magyar often cannot resist joining in. That said, he is more likely to be jamming on his blues harp than playing the piano. But every now and then, Magyar can be found tickling the ivories. After all, at heart, the guy is a musician, any way you spinet.

This story originally appeared on Skift, for which I am the luxury correspondent.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

In Austin, Wellness is Fast Becoming the New Weird

For many years, the tourism slogan of the capital of Texas has been “Keep Austin Weird.”But given recent developments, that slogan could easily be “Keep Austin Well,” and no one would bat an eye.
One of the city’s main luxury spa resorts is undergoing a $150 million facelift, while another continues to get regular shots of Botox. Furthermore, the first Miraval spa resort to open outside of the Tucson, Arizona, flagship comes to Austin at the end of this year.
And one more thing – this year, South by Southwest added a Wellness Expo to its agenda for the first time. Brittani Mathis, Senior Exhibitions Manager said that as SXSW transforms along with society, the Wellness Expo is a response to the public’s growing attention to health.
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Lake Austin Spa Resort
Courtesy rviplanning.com
So, what’s in the water in Austin? According to Hyatt’s Marc Ellin, global head of Miraval Group and Exhale Enterprises, “Austin is becoming a mecca for everything. Music, high tech, hospitality. Wellness is just another deliverable.”
Janis Clapoff, managing director of Lake Austin Spa Resort, shares that view.
“More types of people are seeking out Austin because it’s Austin. It’s grown into a mega-city known for arts, music and food. So it follows that in a city that is so very current… it makes perfect sense for wellness to follow along with everything else that’s happening,” she said
One more advantage, given the massive growth in spa resort culture, is the fact that, according to Ellin, “Austin is one of the fittest cities in the country, and very health-conscious,”
That’s a large part of why human resource departments won’t have to be on pins and needles as they seek out the holistic specialists, ranging from acupuncturists to yogis to reiki masters, needed to staff their facilities. They are already in abundance in the area.


Miraval began life in 1995 as a facility dedicated to helping guests live life in balance. Around the beginning of 2017, when Hyatt was purchasing Miraval’s intellectual and physical assets, it was also purchasing Travassa, a mindfulness resort located 40 minutes outside of Austin in an area called Hill Country.
This property, after a significant renovation, will have a soft opening in November, followed by a full-on opening in December. The existing guest room inventory is being renovated and 50 more rooms are getting added, bringing the total to 117. Other new facilities include a 21,000 square foot spa and Body Mindfulness Center. There will also be an expansive farm, complete with chicken coops, beehives and event spaces, as well as a ranch for equine programming.
Ellin distinguishes Miraval from its local competition in several areas. “Most notably,” he said, “we are an inclusive pricing structure. Also, the experiential nature of what we offer is a totally different deliverable from start to finish. There will be 100 well-being programming elements.”
Food and beverage will also be a big part of the menu, with a Life in Balance culinary program developed in partnership with Williams-Sonoma.
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Lake Austin Spa Resort Indoor Pool
Courtesy: tripadvisor.com
Lake Austin Spa Resort offers a counterpoint. The rustic luxury property, located on the shores of Lake Austin, dates back to the 1940s.  During its first 50 years, the property  welcomed everyone from nudists to cowboys to extreme weight loss devotees. However, in 1997, best friends Michael McAdams (who was once president of Trammell Crow Design Centers) and William Rucks purchased the property and decided to transform it into an all-inclusive luxury destination spa. They added and updated guest cabins, and by 2004, had built a 25,000 square-foot LakeHouse Spa.
“We are in the process of putting a big property plan together for a wider renovation,” said Clapoff. “Architects are drawing up plans, still under wraps. that will encompass significant changes to our rooms, public spaces and spa.”
So, for the next few years, the competition may have newer, shinier facilities, but Clapoff said Lake Austin Spa Resort plans to “capitalize on other people marketing the area,” while at the same time promoting the property’s unique selling proposition – its waterside location.
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Courtesy: FathomAway.com
“Not only can guests take a water taxi to get here,” she said, “but fifty percent of what you can do is on the water: We have hammocks over the water… yoga and meditation on the shore.”
While Lake Austin promotes the water, the Omni Barton Creek Spa and Resort focuses on its views. The current $150-million transformation will add spaces designed to take full advantage of the panoramic Texas Hill Country landscape. The updated 493-room resort will reopen on May 1, 2019.
The property opened in 1986 as a golf club. It added a hotel in 1987, and the spa component was added in the early 1990s. The renovation/transformation beefs up the wellness component, adding a 13,000 square feet spa to the mix.
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Omni Barton Creek Spa and Resort
Courtesy cvent.com
Still, the property will promote itself as an overall resort rather than a wellness destination per se. According to Dan Surette, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Omni, “This is a group and leisure destination, with four golf courses, an events pavilion, tennis and a spa. So, we are marketing it more as an overall resort. Wellness is a big part of the entire resort, but we won’t be selling just wellness.”
Even though the renovation was in the cards before Miraval came on the scene, Surette is not worried.
“The other resorts [Miraval and Lake Austin] are running with one real strength. For us, we have a lot of strengths.”
He also gives a nod to the theory of critical mass. “The more quality there is in this market, it heightens the awareness and draws attention to all of us.”
Clapoff agrees. “We love that we have competition from a wellness standpoint – it’s so healthy. It will bring more people to the area by building awareness of Austin as a wellness destination.”

This article originally appeared in Skift, for which I am the luxury correspondent.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

48 Hours in Adelaide

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, often gets overshadowed by its big city cousins, including Sydney and Melbourne. But lately, Adelaide has been quietly coming into its own, with a flourishing dining scene, and the addition of new sports and entertainment venues. And with only an 8-hour drive separating it from Melbourne, it makes for a worthy side trip for travelers looking for an off-the-beaten path city break.

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Courtesy Australia.com
Perhaps best-known for its Fringe Festival (the second largest in the world, after Edinburgh), the city is undergoing a revival, with its added cultural attractions and the transformation of a central business  district that, in parts, is still a bit rough around the edges. The bit of grit, along with the melding of Anglo and Asian cultures, is why Adelaide seems so real and approachable.


Start your visit to Adelaide with a stroll, as the city is eminently walkable. The three top routes are North TerraceRundle Street and the mysterious and action-packed laneways.
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Rundle Street Mall
Courtesy cityofadelaide.com.au
Most of the city’s cultural attractions are lined up along or near North Terrace. You can pop in and out of institutions like the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and the Migration Museum, or wander around the stately campus of the University of Adelaide, established in 1874. Nearby is the Adelaide Botanic Garden, where you can take in some fresh air among the exotic plants before heading to the National Wine Centre to taste some of that famous South Australian grape.
After a post-wine nap, enjoy the nightlife packed into Adelaide’s revitalized laneways, located in the central business district. These intimate and once-forgotten back alleys are now brimming with quirky shops, restaurants, bars and local trendsetters. Check out the scene at CasablablaUdaberri Pintxos Y Vino or Peel St.
When it’s time to turn in for the night, the city offers no shortage of great places to stay. For something charming and arty, check in at the Majestic Minima Hotel, complete with rooftop terrace. Or, for something more historic, look to the Mayfair Hotel, opened in 2015 in a stately 1930s building.


Start your second day early with a visit to Adelaide’s Central Market. If you get there at 7 AM, you can see  fishmongers mongering and  farmers setting up their produce stalls. Come a bit later and join in a market tour, which lets you meet the producers, sample the goodies and learn about the history of South Australian food.
Adelaide Central Market
Adelaide Centrail Market
Courtesy South Australian Tourism
With your blood sugar levels up, head over for a shop along Rundle Street. Keep walking past touristy Rundle Mall, a pedestrian shopway filled with chain stores and hordes of browsers. When you pass Pulteney Street, the vibe totally changes. On Rundle Street East, the crowds dissipate and the retail spaces fill up with funky gift stores, hipster cafes, an arthouse cinema and fashion houses (top shops include Gorman, M.J. Bale and Sass & Bide).
These blocks are also choc-a-block with chocolate outlets. Grab a sweet at Max Brenner or The Chocolate Bar, or better yet, indulge your sweet tooth at San Churro Chocolateria. They’ve got everything from handmade, chocolate-dipped churros to a dozen choices of Spanish hot chocolate to shakes, fondues and chocolate-inspired tapas. Yum.
One block over, Ebenezer Place feels like a little piece of France plunked down in the middle of Adelaide.  After dropping some Australian dollars at Leonard St. AdelaideUggs and Kisses, and Relove SA, a gallery featuring the works of more than 50 South Australian creatives, get your French fix at Hey Jupiter. The brasserie has all of your Parisian cravings covered.
Adelaide Oval Roof Climb
Courtesy South Australia Tourism
Finally, even if you aren’t a fan of cricket (and let’s face it, few outside the British Empire are), you’ll enjoy a literal round at the Adelaide Oval, said to be the most picturesque test cricket ground in the world. Walk around the edge of the stadium’s expansive canopy during a two-hour guided Roof Climb. It’s the best way to experience an Adelaide adrenaline rush.
This article originally appeared here.