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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Laura on TV: Talking Bargain International Travel on WGN in Chicago

Looking to take a bargain international vacation this summer? Here are some of the suggestions I offered today on WGN's Midday News. And here's the segment itself for those who prefer watching to reading!

Strategies for Finding Inexpensive International Destinations

  • Look for countries where the currency is weak against the U.S. dollar
  • Look for airlines that offer low international fares 
  • Look for destinations where summer is the off-season, like the Caribbean

Bargain European Destinations

  • Portugal, including Lisbon, The Algarve Coast, the Duoro Valley and Sintra. New nonstop air service from Chicago to Lisbon via TAP Portugal starts in June.
One of the castles of Sintra

  • Greece, including Athens, the islands and all those historic ruins. New seasonal nonstop air service from Chicago to Athens via American Airlines starts in May.
  • Turkey, including Istanbul, Cappadocia and the the Turquoise Coast.


Other Money-Saving Strategies

  • Be flexible with dates and destinations
  • Comparison shop on last-minute deal websites or flight scanners like Hopper and Skyscanner
  • Use airline-branded credit cards to book flights. The caveat--you must book the flights on the airline's website. But in return, you get free checked bags and early boarding, so you don't have to scour the plane for overhead bin space.
  • Look for hotels that include value-added extras in the room rate, like free parking or an ample breakfast (stale doughnuts don't count). At the same time, make sure the hotel isn't tacking on a daily resort fee.
  • Book on Airbnb

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ooh, La, La: A Tasty Luxury Hotel Arrives in Paris

Courtesy: Fauchon

Fauchon has long been in fashion among epicureans. The Paris-based gourmet food purveyor has been around since 1886, and has outlets in 20 countries around the world. And now, it has a hotel.
Last fall, the company opened Fauchon L’hôtel Paris by  Place de la Madeleine. There are plans for 19 more openings around the world in the next decade. Next up is Kyoto in 2020.
We know…ho-hum, another new luxury brand. Except that, after speaking with Jacques-Olivier Chauvin, president and CEO of Fauchon Hospitality, it does appear that this one is actually fashioning itself in ways that might differentiate it from the competition. The idea is to win guest hearts through their stomachs.
Fauchon L’hôtel Paris has a certain je ne sais quoi 
“Fauchon has deep roots in French culture and French gastronomy,” said Anders Justenlund, a hospitality consultant and lecturer at University College Northern Denmark. “When you are talking about branding today, you are talking about engaging with the product, which in the case of Fauchon is food and beverage products. Fauchon Hospitality offers them a new way to market their main business.”
Indeed, in creating the new hotel, Chauvin said the idea was to enhance customer engagement by “finding the essence of what Fauchon is about and capitalizing on that. We asked ourselves what can we bring to this industry? Since everything we do is about glamour and gourmet experiences,” the answer was to create a hotel brand with an emphasis on French food and beverage, “from street level to the top floor.”
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At street level, guests find Grand Cafe Fauchon, naturally a gourmand affair. But the in-room food and beverage offerings are what distinguishes Fauchon from its competitors.
“To us,” said Chauvin “room service is the future of a different hotel experience.”
Reinventing in-room dining starts with the choice of furniture. Instead of wall-facing desks, rooms come with a table and chairs oriented toward windows. In other words, Fauchon guests will be using their dining tables for work, instead of using work spaces for dining.
Rooms come stocked with a tablecloth and Limoges tableware. So, transforming into an in-room restaurant is as simple as unfurling the linens, setting the table, ordering from the complete restaurant menu via tablet voice technology, and then awaiting the meal, brought to the room in individual courses.
Each room also sports a customized gourmet bar, designed by Sacha Lakic for Roche Bobois. It’s packed with Fauchon treats, from truffles and foie gras to macarons and champagne. And what guests don’t eat, they can take home with them, gratis, a smart move, said Justenlund, for extending the brand experience beyond the hotel stay.
Image result for fauchon hotelThese in-room food offerings might be considered part of Fauchon’s X factor, as in the desire to appeal to Generation X (aka The Forgotten Generation among travel marketers). Chauvin says Xers are Fauchon’s sweet spot, with their interest in “elegant comfort, food and their interest in learning about other cultures.”
Unlike many so-called millennial brands, where room space is sacrificed in the name of creating cool lobby hang-outs, Fauchon wants guests to luxuriate in their rooms.
“A room is where you want to enjoy the city where you are,” said Chauvin. “We are providing more than a place to sleep. We want the room to be spacious. To provide a view to the city. To allow guests to have a proper dinner experience.”
Fauchon is smart to distinguish itself through food, said Justenlund: “What is making the difference is that this is not a hotel company; it’s an F & B company opening a hotel to lift the entire brand.”
Naturally, Chauvin, a veteran of both Louis Vuitton and Relais & Chateaux, agrees.“We are capitalizing the Fauchon name, providing a thorough brand experience, and putting an umbrella over the brand…from food to cafes to hotels,” he said.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Little-Known California Surf Town Looking to Become the West Coast's Newest Luxury Destination

Dana Point, the starting position of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, is currently known, among outsiders as that place just south of Laguna Beach. But Dana Pointers think their community, which they consider the surfing capital of California and the whale watching capital of the West, deserves greater accolades.
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Courtesy Dana Point Chamber
For now, though, while Orange County neighbors like Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Laguna Niguel revel in the reputation of the California luxe life, Dana Point is largely anonymous.
The area’s recently-formed destination marketing organization, Visit Dana Point, is looking to change that. The goal, according to executive director Jonny Westom, is to position Dana Point as a competitor to its OC neighbors, along with other upscale California destinations like Palm Springs, Monterey and Santa Barbara.
In the crowded California luxury marketplace, Dana Point has a chance to exploit its under-the-radar status.
“In markets that are oversaturated,” said Daniella Middleton, vice president of destination marketing consulting firm Development Counsellors International, “people are looking for lesser-known nooks and crannies. Luxury travelers are looking for off-the-beaten path destinations, not wanting to go where everyone else goes. An elusive destination that is down to earth is luxurious in itself.”
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Courtesy Dana Point Chamber
Dana Point isn’t starting its efforts entirely from the ground up. After all, the town incorporates four major hotel properties: The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, The Monarch Beach Resort, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, and the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach. In some ways, these hotels have contributed to Dana Point’s anonymity over the years, although they are now a big part of the solution.
According to Westom, when he started in his position a year ago, he assessed the reasons why Dana Point was not well-known. He observed that “none of the hotels here have ‘Dana Point’ in their name.”
Since “the hotel mega-budgets promoting the area don’t have the name of the destination in their marketing presentations,” there is a gap in consumer recognition of the actual destination.
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Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point
But the quartet of hotels has stepped up to the marketing challenge. Back in 2009, they formed a tourism business improvement district in order to create a unified marketing voice. By mid-2016, the TBID had transitioned into a destination marketing organization, funded by a flat fee room tax.
In 2018, after Westom came on board, MMGY Global was hired to identify the area’s key assets, and to assess the perception of Dana Point among potential consumers. It was the beginning of “a rebranding exercise,” according to Westom, “that would help us identify what separates us from other destinations.”
Stewart Colovin is chief creative officer for MMGY Global and has been the lead on the rebranding project.
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“You have to understand the waters in which you are swimming,” he said. “To find the essence of a place, we first go and talk to everybody we can in a destination. That’s because the brand has to start at home, so that visitors can ultimately connect with locals.”
After speaking with locals, a study of visitors — actual and potential — found that while Dana Point evoked images of beauty and friendliness, some of the descriptors which it scored high on were local and proud, active and healthy, natural and picturesque, and homegrown and distinctive–the area was not necessarily seen as luxurious nor cool.
Compared to its competitors, Westom said, Dana Point rated low on descriptors like “surf-centric and soulful: stylish and chic; artsy and eclectic: and cool and trendy.”
In looking at these perceptions, Colovin said the survey suggested Dana Point could capitalize on offering a more relaxed experience than its competitive set.
“It’s an approachable place. People dress more casually; it’s not pretentious, it’s easy to get around. People here aren’t doing things because they are trying to impress everybody else; they are doing things because it’s what they love to do.”
After sifting through the studies, MMGY developed a brand architecture for Dana Point around brand essence; brand values; brand experiences; and brand voice.
The overall brand promise, which will be conveyed in everything from a new tagline and logo — currently a work in progress — to advertising and marketing campaigns. The promise: “In Dana Point, you are one of us. We make it easy to connect with the ocean and others around you.”
Image result for dana point downtown
Dana Point's Harbor is Undergoing a Major Overhaul
Branding aside, there has to be some real-life architecture in place to draw tourists. To that end, quite a bit of luxury development is already in progress. The harbor and marina are undergoing a five-year, $400 million renovation. The facelift will incorporate new restaurants and shops, plus a 126-room upscale boutique hotel and a 100-room luxury property (the latter owned by the group behind Newport Beach’s Lido House). 
Westom sees the development as the anchor in plans to become Southern California’s next great luxury destination. In fact, he is hopeful that within a few years, Laguna Beach will be seen as that place just north of Dana Point.

A longer version of this story ran in Skift's New Luxury Newsletter, for which I am a correspondent.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Spilling the Beans on a New Partnership: TWA Hotel and Intelligentsia

Long gone are the days when a hotel could install a nameless coffee outlet in the lobby and expect a steady drip of customers. But nowadays, even one-size-fits-all Starbucks outlets are being filtered out by many boutique properties, which are opting to align with coffee brands that are more on the cutting edge.

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According to market research firm Ibis World, “One of the fastest-growing segments over the past five years has been independent coffee shops, which target coffee connoisseurs. This trend, which has been termed ‘third-wave’ …considers coffee an artisanal product rather than a commodity.” The Coffee and Snack Shops in the US report goes on to say that “prominent third-wave coffee exponents, such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon and Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, have led the charge.”

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That helps explain why hipster brand Ace Hotels partners with Stumptown. But to understand what’s brewing between two high-design New York City properties and Intelligentsia takes a bit more explanation.


MCR Development, led by founder Tyler Morse, owns scores of hotels across the United States. Most operate under the flags of big hotel brands. But two of the company’s crown jewels, the soon-to-open TWA Hotel at JFK Airport and The High Line Hotel in Manhattan, are run as high-end independent properties.

In 2013, before The High Line Hotel in New York opened, Morse sent a coffee shop request for proposal to 30 operators. The grounds for selecting a partner, according to Morse, “The vibe that the coffee purveyor would bring — the je ne sais quoi — was vital.”

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Intelligentsia at the High Line
Enter Intelligentsia. The Chicago-based company was founded in 1995 by a California couple looking to bring fresh-roasted coffee to the Midwest. According to James McLaughlin, Intelligentsia CEO and president, “Our philosophy and approach is very particular. We want to educate consumers about extraordinary coffee. It’s our belief that the coffee bar should be a culinary experience. So, we look to elevate the coffee bar experience by spending a lot of time and money creating an experience designed for specifically for the neighborhood.”

That approach was appealing to Morse. “What we liked about Intelligentsia (at the time four stores strong) is that it’s not the Starbucks approach of the same thing over and over again. I visited their stores (in California and Chicago) and was taken with how each one fit the neighborhood they are in.”

Just as Morse appreciated the diversity and design-forward creativity Intelligentsia brought to its spaces, Intelligentsia, according to McLaughlin, appreciated that Morse was “trying to curate an experience for his hotel guests in a way that we are trying to curate experiences for our customers.”

And so, Intelligentsia opened its first retail outlet in New York at the High Line. Attracting both guests and locals, the coffee operation brings in $3200 per square foot in annual revenue, exceeding expectations.


Given the success of the partnership, when it came time to select a cafe operator for the iconic TWA Hotel at JFK, Intelligentsia was first in line.

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When he took on the project, Morse felt the pressure to do the conversion of Eero Saarinen’s landmark 1962 TWA Flight Center at JFK proud. “The TWA building is wildly iconic, and has so much historic fabric. So, we are looking at everything with a 1962 lens.” For perspective, Morse notes that was a time when “Kennedy was president, John Glenn had just circled the earth, the Jetsons aired on television, and the first James Bond, featuring Dr. No, came out.”

Given the history, “We couldn’t just plop a coffee shop in there like a Marriott or a Sheraton. The coffee shop had to fit in with the building’s mid-century modern atmosphere. We had to consider how Saarinen would have designed this.”

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Morse was closely involved in the “hands-on, iterative process,” as were representatives from Intelligentsia and the project’s interior design firm. Morse says historic design elements include everything from the glassware to the seating. As McLaughlin says, “We are going to activate a coffee experience reflecting the period. It’s going to be a perfect representation of a coffee bar that feels like it has always existed in that building.”

Just as the High Line Hotel does not rely on hotel guests, surprisingly, neither will the TWA outlet. Morse points out that the hotel is physically connected to the JetBlue terminal and a short walk from the Delta terminal. So, it’s easy to for passengers, and for airport workers, to get to.


“The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that airports are communities,” said Morse. “Forty thousand people work at JFK. There are FAA and Port Authority employees; baggage handlers, air cargo, flight attendants, pilots — all of whom may be stopping by to get a cup of coffee.”

While passengers rushing to their flights are unlikely to amble over to the hotel, Morse points out that 54 percent of JFK’s traffic is international. And, given the original design of the airport, passengers transferring from international to domestic flights (or vice versa) have to leave the secure area.

That’s why Morse believes he can capture a decent percentage of the 35,000 people a day who have a layover of four hours or more. Morse also suggests the coffee outlet will be the perfect place to hold business meetings. “All roads lead to JFK. This can be a mutual meeting place, where people can accomplish fly-in, fly-out meetings from around the country and instead of going into the city, meet at the hotel.”

“What Tyler is doing,” said McLaughlin, “is curating an all-star line-up of food and beverages.” Jean-George Vongerichten will be opening a restaurant there as well. “So, it’s not only going to become a destination for travelers, but we feel confident that it will become a destination for residents.” McLaughlin said, adding that for Intelligentsia, “The TWA project represents a phenomenal opportunity for us as a relatively small company. This has an international aspect to it, so it gives us the ability to expose more people to our brand, and more importantly, to showcase the idea of coffee as a culinary experience.”

This story originally appeared on Skift Table