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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Bright, Shiny Objects: The Man Who Puts the Sparkle in the Baccarat Hotel

When your brand is all about high-quality, custom-crafted crystal, you’d better be sure that the message shines throughout any product extensions. To uphold and safeguard Baccarat’s identity, enter the glass attendant.

When famed crystal company Baccarat decided to lend its name to the hotel business in 2015, it had to ensure that its primary product was the star of the show. And that is why one of the most important positions at the Baccarat Hotel New York is glass attendant.
First, a little history. Baccarat was established in 1764, during the reign of King Louis XV of France. Since that time, artisans have been crafting glassware, decorative objects, and lighting fixtures purchased by many of the world’s most discriminating connoisseurs. Baccarat chandeliers and decorative objects adorn many a palace, and Baccarat crystal stemware graces the tables of royalty and heads of state.
According to Hermann W. Elger, managing director at Baccarat Hotel New York and chief operating officer of Baccarat Hotels and Resorts, when there was “an opportunity to bring [the] 250-year-old brand to life in the form of the hotel, we had to make sure perfection of craftsmanship was incorporated in all aspects of the hotel. It’s brought to life throughout the hotel through decorative items, lighting, and the glassware.”  Seventeen custom chandeliers dot the property, while items like caviar sets, candle holders, and decorative pieces are also made of crystal. And there are hundreds of pieces of stemware.


That’s a lot of glass. Hence the need for a glass attendant, a person charged full-time with making sure that every piece of crystal, from the barware to the chandeliers, is looking good.
The hotel employs three attendants. Anthony Benitez, a 31-year-old first-generation New Yorker whose family hails from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, has been on the job for two years. Prior to coming to the hotel, he had never worked in hospitality. Instead, for 10 years, he had worked in moving and storage, which, he says, was perfect training for the glass attendant job. “In the moving business, it’s about taking care of things, making sure they get to where they need to go in one piece.”
A few years back, Benitez was poking around the internet looking for “something different, something a bit more grounded,” since he was starting a family. He first applied for a position when the hotel opened, but nothing came through.  However, a couple of years later, the food and beverage director called and suggested that the glass attendant role was “a position I would shine in.”
When asked to describe the job, Benitez said, “It’s hard to say. You could compare it to a dishwasher, you could…but you are washing God’s glasses,” along with immense vases, decorative pieces, and small chandeliers. Basically, he notes, “Anything that shines.”


Cleaning the stemware from the bar, restaurant, and rooms is the principal part of Benitez’ mission, since, he says, between 10,000 to 12,000 glasses may get washed on a typical day. “When I arrive at 9 a.m.,” he says, “the first thing I do is look for chipped glasses. I log in the glasses that are chipped and then they are sent to a special place to be resurfaced.” When glasses can’t be salvaged, the hotel has been known to re-purpose them by creating broken art pieces sometimes displayed in the lobby.
After chips are noted, Benitez polishes silver and then gets to work on the glassware collected overnight from in-room dining and from breakfast service. Caring for the crystal requires a high-alkaline liquid detergent, and a dishwasher set at 138 degrees for washing and 183 degrees for rinsing. After that the attendant has to polish each piece by hand with a 100-percent cotton cloth specially made for Baccarat.
According to Elger, “The glass attendant is one of the most unique jobs there is. It requires patience and a passion for caring for something truly special. The crystal must be respected, as it is the unique identifier of the hotel. It must be cared for, washed by hand, and treated with great respect.”
When Benitez got the gig, he knew that it was one “not to be taken lightly. I did extensive research to understand what I was getting into. After all, I am responsible for the thing that draws everyone here. The crystal is what this place is built on, so the training is extensive. I had to learn every name of every type of glass — there are nearly 40 different types of stemware alone — how it’s made, the colors, and all of the ins and outs.” He spent two intensive days training in Baccarat’s Manhattan store, learning about the art of crystal-making and the care that is required to maintain each piece. Further education was provided by the hotel’s existing glass attendants.


After two years, “Crystal is part of me now,” says Benitez. “I have an intimate relationship with the glass — I appreciate the glasses more.” Not only that, but he feels a certain ownership of the crystal. “The biggest challenge I face here is not having full control of the crystal. I wish I could make the drink, serve the drink to the customer, eat with the person using it, and then take it back to clean.”
In trying to maintain control, he does attempt “to keep everyone in line with the crystal.” That’s why, when a fellow employee brings him a chipped glass, he says (only half-kiddingly), “They get very nervous. They know I will ask who, what, where, and why?”
That’s because he has grown to fully appreciate the craftwork that graces his hands every day. “I knew nothing about Baccarat crystal before I got here,” Benitez says, “and I feel like I’ve learned so much. I learned the history and the work that goes into it and how the crystal ties everything together…literally, the hotel is a crystal palace. There is beauty everywhere you look, and I am responsible for keeping it beautiful. I love that, and makes me feel good every day I come here.”
Elger calls the job “a stepping stone to other positions.” That said, Benitez is “quite comfortable” with his current role. But at some point, he says “I would love to become a Baccarat ambassador of crystal or go somewhere else when they open another hotel and teach new attendants how to care for the glass."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Cincinnati Courts Luxury Travelers Through Tennis

Most major sporting events take place in cities that already attract large numbers of high-end tourists. But for one small Midwestern city, hosting a professional tennis tournament is a way to attract luxury travelers who might otherwise not consider a visit.

Monte Carlo, Rome, Miami, Paris, Shanghai, Cincinnati. Which of these is not like the others?
Tennis is a sport of glamour and luxury, attracting jet-setting spectators who travel the world’s sumptuous cities for Grand Slam events — the Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open — and other tournaments considered mandatory for top-tier players. Particularly attractive for fans are the rare events outside of the Grand Slams that feature both men’s and women’s draws.
Center Court by Vince Kincer
The Western & Southern Open brings the world’s top male and female players to the Cincinnati, Ohio, area every August. Held at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, 20 miles north of Cincinnati in Mason, the W & S Open is the largest annual summer sporting event in the Midwest. On the Association for Tennis Professionals (ATP) men’s tour, it’s a Masters 1000 event, ranked just below the Grand Slams and ATP Finals. For the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), it’s a Premier 5 event.
Because of the prestige, the prize money, and the fact that it’s the last major tournament before the U.S. Open (and played on the same surface), the tournament is a big draw for the world’s top players. That means the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka are courting tennis fans from around the world who are willing and able to spend top dollar to see these aces in action.
Another reason this tournament is a big attraction for fans is that it’s the only major tennis tournament held in the Midwest. And, as Shawn Leibold, director of business development for the Western & Southern Open points out, “It’s easily accessible from a distance perspective, and it’s really the U.S. Open at Midwest prices.”

Mind you, even though both admission and items like lodging and food are less pricey in Ohio than in New York, the Western & Southern Open is still not a cheap ticket. But judging from recent event sellouts, the cost doesn’t appear to be a problem. Perhaps that’s because tennis fans, in general, are big spenders. That W & S Open fans are well-heeled is borne out by the statistics that the average ticket holder has a household income of $150,000.
“Tennis historically, looking at the data from high-level professional tournaments — first of all, fans travel from all over to go. They tend to travel greater distances [than spectators for most other events]. Two, they spend more than most sports fans do at any other kind of sporting event. They stay at the nicer hotels, they eat at the fine restaurants. They typically would spend more than someone who might be coming [to Cincinnati] for a Reds games,” said Gordon Smith, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA).
Novak Djokovic by Ben Solomon
Naturally, the tournament is a vast economic contributor to the Greater Cincinnati region. According to a 2017 tournament economic impact study, tournament operations and non-local visitor spending generated a total economic impact of $46.3 million that year. The greatest impact was spending by non-local attendees. Sixty-seven percent of the nearly 200,000 fans were non-local, coming from 4,000 US ZIP codes and 25 countries.
On average, each non-local spent three days at the event, spending approximately $200 per day on hotel stays, food, and retail goods; spending figures do not include tournament tickets. That compares with the $108 daily spend rate for the average leisure visitor to Cincinnati. Aside from revenue earned by local vendors, state sales tax accumulated during the event totaled more than $545,000.
It’s expected that the spend will only increase this year, thanks to the new $25 million South Building, which sits smack dab in the middle of the tournament’s two largest courts. The five-story structure adds more luxury seating, including suites, outside boxes, and 252 indoor, air-conditioned box seats, along with upscale restaurants and concession areas.


The tournament’s impact, however, extends far beyond the money it brings in during its run. The Western & Southern Open envelops Cincinnati in an aura of luxury, which can go a long way in place-making efforts.

“The build of an annual event of this caliber has a range of incredible value not just as an event, but it also helps hype the value of the place as a destination,” said Candy Lee, a professor of sports marketing at Northwestern University.
For example, event sponsors this year include Emirates, Porsche and Rolex. These companies help spread word about the tournament and the city to their clients throughout the year and bring high-spending guests to the tournament.
“When sponsors bring in their clients from around the world, using it as a hospitality event, it furthers the area of Cincinnati as a destination,” Lee said.
Randie Adam, vice president, marketing and visitor services for Cincinnati USA, the region’s convention and visitors bureau, agrees.
“Professional sports are a top driver for leisure visitation. This is a tent pole event for our region, an event to hang our hat on. The exposure is reputation-driving. It’s a perception issue that we overcome through these events — we can live up to the luxury expectation,” she said.


Said Mike Laatsch, former chief operating officer of Cincinnati USA, as quoted in the economic impact study. “You know, when Serena Williams is walking around Cincinnati, it gets people’s attention. It helps underscore the power of the event, but also…one of the key things the Western & Southern Open has done is build credibility, nationally and internationally, that Cincinnati is a major world-class city.”
Susan Lomax is executive director of Source Cincinnati, the city’s marketing arm. She believes the event is crucial in helping to build the region’s reputation.
“The tournament is a very unique forum for the Cincinnati region, drawing thousands of business executives who zero in on high-end sports tourism experiences, global tennis fans who might not otherwise have this part of the Midwest on their radar,” she said.
“For a city of Cincinnati’s size to have a sporting event of this magnitude immediately creates a sense of curiosity around what other surprises this city might have in store. It really opens eyes to the quality of life and experiences offered here to new potential talent, business investors, and visitors.”
This story originally appeared on Skift, for which I am the luxury correspondent.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Going With the Floe: How a Canadian Province Uses Icebergs to Attract Visitors

Prize-winning marketing campaigns can put distant destinations on the map.  In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost province in Canada, “Find Yourself,” an umbrella marketing theme in existence since 2006, has been a launchpad for creative promotions that have won more than 300 domestic and international awards during the past 12 years.
“Find Yourself is about creating an emotional connection. It’s designed to tap into the heart and ultimately the wallets of the people we are going after,” said Dave Sullivan, part of the creative team behind Find Yourself.
Just this year, the province received six awards at the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International’s Adrian Awards. Top prizes went to iceberg tracking website IcebergFinder.com,  the Symphony of Sound integrated campaign, and a television spot entitled Conductor.

“Tourism as a travel and trade industry is so globally competitive. Award-winning campaigns making waves around the world [can lead] to success…and a competitive edge,” said Catherine Kelly, director of account management at Target Marketing and Communications, which helped create the campaign.
Image result for fogo island
Fogo Island Inn
Isolation be the newest thing in luxury travel. Still, gaining a competitive edge is not easy for a destination called one of the four corners of the earth by the Flat Earth Society, noted Christopher Mitchelmore, Newfoundland and Labrador’s minister of tourism, culture, industry and innovation.
"We face an exceptional challenge because of our location…the most easterly point in North America in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “It takes a determined effort to come here, in terms of distance, time and cost.”
That said, when visitors arrive, they find a destination “as far away from Disneyland as possible. It’s not a contrived destination. We have whales, icebergs, four UNESCO heritage sites, and unique cultures.”
Image result for fogo island
Highlighting the province’s attributes in original ways is key to the success of the award-winning campaigns, and by extension, to tourism growth.
“Our biggest opportunity group is curious people looking for the unexpected and intriguing. We looked at the marketing landscape and found a lot of the work is so similar and linear, covering places to go and things to do. That created a big opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves,” said Sullivan.
“We look at the province’s inherent creativity from a tourism perspective–its people, its culture, its natural landscape.”
Ah, that landscape. Wild, ancient, craggy coastlines filled with icebergs, which are a top travel motivator.

“Every spring, there’s a parade of 10,000-year-old icebergs waltzing along our 18,000 miles of coastline. But visitors need to know where to look for them. Our solution was launching Iceberg Finder. It was a responsive and interactive way to connect people by plotting icebergs on a live interactive map. Visitors could also upload photos. Iceberg Finder became a unique way to help people hear about the experience,” said Sullivan.
Image result for newfoundland
In fact, the site was chiefly designed “to facilitate the visitor experience while icebergs are here,” said Kelly. “The publicity was secondary.”
One of the other elements making the province’s experiences sing is sound.
“Experience here is felt through sounds. For example, there are the creaks and groans and fissures of the icebergs, which tell the story of their journey through the North Atlantic,” said Sullivan.
He adds that natural instruments, like the wind and waves crashing against the shore, along with man-made sounds–from music to the voice of storytellers, “demonstrate how we hear things very differently here.”
Thus, Symphony of Sound, an integrated campaign focusing on sound – both man-made and natural. Among the elements is Sounds from the Edge, a website allowing visitors to scroll through radio frequencies of both natural sounds and the region’s 200 dialects. The site includes a Play It by Ear contest. Visitors to the website were asked to build their own soundtrack, based on indigenous sounds. One composer won an all-expenses-paid trip to the province. The integrated campaign also incorporated a literal symphony inspired by natural sound. The symphony serves as the soundtrack of a seven-minute video.
This year, the focus is on storytelling. “The digital prong will be a website campaign page, a space where people can come and travel through the stories that exist here. There’s also a 90-second TV spot in the form of a long-form poem highlighting the oral traditions that exist here. It all goes back to the emotional connection with place and people, and where they can reconnect with themselves,” said Sullivan.
Will the new campaign win more awards? According to Kelly, that’s not really the point. “Awards won is not the measure. Success comes from visitors and spend and awareness and potential for future visits. Specifically, our job as the destination agency is to get it on the radar and create interest and drive visits to the trip-planning tool. We measure interest and intent to visit. The industry then has to convert interest to action.”
Apparently, it’s working. “Tourism spending is at an all-time high. Moreover, there are now 2,800 tourism-related businesses employing 20,000 people (making tourism the largest non-government employer in the province). Every region is seeing a benefit,” said Mitchelmore.

This article originally appeared on Skift,a publication for which I am the luxury correspondent.

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.”
Image result for fauchon hotel
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.