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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Canvassing the Art Scene at Hotels

In times of yore, many hotels used art as the visual equivalent to Muzak. But in today’s Instagram world, the curation of hotel artwork is much more deliberate, as properties try to project their personalities onto the crowded canvas of the guest experience.

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Museum 21C Hotel, Bentonville

According to expert curators, art placed throughout the hotel, from the lobby to guest room corridors to the rooms themselves, can serve multiple purposes. It can help sculpt brand image or further claims to a local provenance. Moreover, art collections can create conversations, along with responding to the desire of guests to project who they are by where they stay.
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Artwork at The Drake
For Mia Nielsen, the art curator at The Drake in Toronto, the process of selecting art should begin by asking, “What kind of experience do you want to create for your guest? Is it something connecting to the local environment or broader conceptual ideas?”

At The Drake, hotel art “can be an essential way to celebrate what is going on locally, especially for travelers, who get an entry point into what’s happening locally,” Nielsen said. "There are real opportunities to build audiences at a local level through art." The Drake caters to residents by “creating a new context for them to think about how the art produced locally fits into a bigger cultural conversation," Nielsen added.”

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Gallery Space at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville
On the other hand, properties in the 21c Museum Hotels collection (which AccorHotels recently bought) take a more global approach. “Art isn’t just integrated in 21c, it’s our whole reason for being. The vision was to develop a multi-venue museum, a holistic institution with 80,000 square feet of exhibition space across eight hotels," Alice Gray Stites, the company’s chief curator and museum director, says.

The art selected for rotating public exhibitions "reflects what is going on in the world, and is designed to promote conversation and connection,” Gray Stites said. However, as a nod to the hot hospitality mantra of local, local, local, each guest room floor sports a specially designed alcove adjacent to the elevators showcasing the work of area artists.

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Guest Room at the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City 
The right art can further the guest experience at all kind of hotels, from lifestyle brands to more traditional properties. “Having unique and intriguing local art with a story adds to a memorable guest experience in the hotel, which is essentially what lifestyle hotels strive for, but can be equally applied to traditional branded hotels, too," Nancy Sweeney, principle at Vail, Colorado-based Art Advisory Service, says.

When incorporating local themes, however, Gray Stites warns against “being too literal. Be cautious about being too kitschy. You can use art to tell the local story, but do it in a sophisticated, understated way.”

Beyond establishing local credentials, Sweeney, whose firm has worked with Rosewood, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, believes "artwork helps each brand create its own identity and maintain brand standards." If a hotel is using art to convey the brand message, Gray Stites advises considering how the mission of the hotel intersects with the theme of the artwork. Sweeney adds that the property should select art to reflect its clientele.

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Hotel Arts Barcelona
Both curators agree it’s important take some risks. “By selecting original multi-media, three-dimensional, commissioned works that are singular, you create Instagrammable moments” that  can “show clients how innovative you are,” Sweeney says. Gray Stites adds, “Don’t underestimate your audience. People like to be challenged. When they see places and faces unfamiliar to them, it provokes curiosity and empathy. There's a hunger for people to connect to new ideas through art.”

As hotels ponder beefing up their art menus, it's also important to "define the key sightlines and spaces in the hotel," according to The Drake’s Nielsen. As they select art, hoteliers should "take a volumetric, spatial approach rather than focusing on flat walls. Walk through spaces and consider how a guest can interact with art to create moments of surprise and wonder."

No matter the approach, the bottom line is that art is not only an investment in aesthetics, but also in, well, the bottom line. “If you find work that people connect to, that is iconic, it will get tagged in social media,” Sweeney says. “There’s your free marketing. And that's how you can justify budgeting more money for art."

A version of this article originally appeared on Skift.com, for which I serve as the luxury correspondent.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Japan is Upping its Game in Anticipation of the 2020 Olympics

In anticipation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan finds itself at a pivotal moment—when an effective strategy to attract international tourists could have an outsize impact on the country for years to come.

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) wants to grow inbound tourism to 40 million by 2020. That’s a significant jump from 2017, when the country attracted 28.7 million international visitors.

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In order to achieve this goal, the JNTO has launched a multilingual promotional campaign to introduce tourism attractions to potential travelers in North America, Europe and Australia. It includes a new dedicated website showcasing lesser-known activities and destinations around the country. This is being supplemented by targeted digital advertisements and television commercials in select markets.

According to The Future of Japan’s Tourism: Path for Sustainable Growth towards 2020, after relative stagnation from 2006 to 2010, Japan's inbound tourism grew by 33 percent a year from 2011 to 2015. The report, issued by McKinsey, notes, “Given the exponential growth in tourism income, the Japanese government recognizes that inbound tourism could be an important engine of economic growth and regional revitalization.”

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However, about 85 percent of Japan’s current inbound travelers hail from Asia, whereas long-haul markets including Europe, North America and Australia make up about 11 percent. McKinsey says for Japan to become a "tourism-oriented country by 2020, it must address this visitor-portfolio imbalance."

The report suggests this discrepancy is due to several factors, including a lower awareness of Japan's tourism assets, the country's reputation as a pricey destination, a lack of English infrastructure, and an online tourism portal that could be more effective in catering to users.

Although luxury travelers aren't necessarily impacted by the perception of Japan as expensive, there's still the intimidation factor among this group. “While Westerners are fascinated by both the traditional and contemporary cultural elements of Japan, the majority are intimidated by the prospect of actually visiting," says Rob Stein, senior travel advisor with The Stein Collective by Ovation Vacations. Even among Stein's well-traveled clients, "the general misconception is that Japan is a closed homogeneous society and thus unwelcoming towards foreign visitors.” Part of the issue may be the formality of the Japanese culture. "Japan can better promote its tourism by adopting a more casual and modern approach. Formality is inherent in Japanese business practices, but perhaps a little moderation could go a long way," says Stein.

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The McKinsey report cites skewed regional distribution as another major sticking point. Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka get the bulk of international tourism. Part of the reason for the dearth of tourism to outlying regions, according to McKinsey, is lack of infrastructure and lack of regional cooperation. Without regional tourism entities, the country is “missing an opportunity to redesign routes to feature assets that could attract more visitors.”

Indeed, the luxury sector seems to be leading the charge to move travelers out of the big cities. Several big brands, including Ritz Carlton and Park Hyatt, are opening in less-visited destinations by 2020. Meanwhile, the new Japan Luxury Travel Alliance, made up of Kyoto, Sapporo, Ishikawa Prefecture and Nara City, has recently started a marketing campaign to spread the wealth of Western tourism around the country.

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Nara City

According to Ken Iwata, executive director of JNTO’s New York office, the newly-announced Enjoy My Japan campaign addresses several of these matters head on. In 2017, the JNTO conducted an extensive survey in Europe, North America, and Australia among avid travelers who had yet to visit to learn what they find alluring when choosing destinations.

The survey identified the “passion points” that make up a satisfying trip. According to Iwata, "The passion points we discovered are cuisine, nature, relaxation, tradition, city, entertainment, art and outdoor. We try to showcase each of these points (and any unique combinations of these) in our campaign videos."

What is still lost in translation, though, is language. According to Stein, “There is no denying that English is not as ubiquitous as it is in Europe, and other parts of Asia.” Iwata says the Japanese government is on it. “Recognizing the language barrier might deter those who don’t speak Japanese from visiting the country, the government is installing more English signage," he says.

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In a similar vein, the government has decided that, beginning in 2020, all high school graduates must achieve a moderate proficiency in English. He adds, "On a local level, the travel industry is responding by providing menus and instructions in multiple languages" and regulations on tour guides are being loosened, which will increase their numbers, diversity and style.

Having all of these elements in place prior to the 2020 Olympic Games will serve the country well. According to Sean Hyett, associate analyst for travel and tourism at GlobalData, "For such a large and costly event like (an Olympics) to really be beneficial ... the tourism board needs to incentivize travelers to visit again in the future or visit other parts of the country."

This article originally appeared on Skift.com, a publication for which I cover luxury travel.

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.