Tag Archives: travelling

Who needs a concierge?

In our internet driven and social media obsessed world we can access numerous review sites, read travel blogs, get directions instantaneously and ask friends for recommendations at the click of a button (or face to face if we are feeling old school). With this in mind, I have been questioning the need for a hotel concierge. I mean, what can they tell me that Google can’t?! Especially if they look like miserable, tired, ‘bored with life’ type people wearing uncomfortable hotel uniform…and start to awkwardly twitch as you approach them with a simple question.

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Yes I’ve experienced concierges like this many times over the past few months, one at a hotel in New York in the summer who even went to print something for me from the back room and never came back..!

Surely hotel owners should be looking for other cost effective ways to help travellers find what they need – internet kiosks in reception or no strings attached free WiFi for example which is increasingly a guest expectation rather than a ‘nice to have.’

That’s what I thought until staying at The Shore Club hotel in Miami. Half reluctantly being led by my hubby over to the concierge desk on our first day we were greeted by Reo, a friendly looking guy in his late 30s wearing a loose fitting, bright coloured shirt. He welcomed us over with a huge smile, shook our hands and immediately complimented my engagement ring. Yes one could argue this was maybe a touch on the ‘false’ side, but I didn’t care. I’m on holiday and this guy was making an effort to make us, as guests of the hotel, feel welcomed and a little bit special.

We got talking about all of the things we could do during our stay in Florida and it became clear quite quickly that he knew his stuff, telling us the best bars to go to, the best Keys to visit, the best restaurants to eat in on each Key and the best day of the week and time of day to go. He was talking from experience, giving us little anecdotes from his own personal adventures. He was passionate and clearly loved his job. Every other guest who walked past gave him a wave. He asked how the things he’d recommended they do had panned out, remembering each person and exactly where they had been without taking any focus away from us. He spoke to us about how he ended up in Miami, having lived in the Caribbean, South America, LA, Australia and London. He randomly switched to the most impressive South London accent I have ever heard an American do which could have fooled even a Londoner into thinking he was from Streatham. He printed stuff out for us from the room behind him whilst still talking to us, rather than doing a disappearing act.

All in all, Reo was amazing and completely changed my view of hotel concierges. We even became the people giving him a little wave the next day as we came back from our trip to the Keys and he couldn’t wait to ask us about it. As we hopped into our car yesterday he bounced over to see us off, asking where we were heading for the day, genuinely caring about us making the most of our trip, telling us ‘I’m here for you if you need anything.’

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Reo clearly injects his personality into every interaction he has with each guest of the Shore Club hotel, wholeheartedly caring about each individual having the best holiday possible with nothing being too much trouble. But above anything, he has a twinkle in his eye and loves what he does. It’s not so much about what he is recommending guests do, but the way in which he recommends it.

This is absolutely when hotel concierges are worthwhile – when they not only tell you about the experiences you can have, but become part of the holiday experience itself. Anyone can simply look up an address and send something to the printer. Hotels should be looking to only employ a concierge who can naturally do more than this…an individual who is passionate about travel and people…an individual who doesn’t just follow the hotel brand guidelines but someone who does their own thing to make every guest have the best trip they can possibly have.

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What is the quickest way to board a plane?

Many will agree that boarding a plane can be a frustrating experience. Being stuck in a queue, in a narrow aisle, whilst others around you fight for overhead luggage space is enough to get you in a bad mood. This article has acknowledged that the typical way we board an aircraft is not efficient and claims to have the ultimate solution:

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/25/5647696/the-way-we-board-airplanes-makes-absolutely-no-sense

The hotel mini bar saga

Something I pay close attention to whilst staying in hotels is the mini bar. In fact, one of the first things I do when I check into any hotel room is suss out the mini bar situation. This has become a kind of ritual as I settle in and familiarise myself with my temporary ‘home’, despite the fact that 95% of the time I wouldn’t actually buy anything from it. We’ll come onto that.

The contents of a mini bar can tell you more about the hotel brand and the location you are staying in than you might realise. For example, I stayed in a quirky boutique hotel in Moscow a couple of years ago called the Golden Apple and was amused to discover that vodka was cheaper than water. Got to love the priorities in Russia!

This mini bar in the Eros Hotel, New Delhi also intrigued me in its dominant offering of British branded alcohol:

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Coincidence? Or a reflection of how prominent British culture is in modern India?

And this picture below taken of a mini bar in the Zetter hotel where I stayed a couple of weeks ago in Farringdon London, has moved away from your typical classic ‘open-the-cupboard’ mini bar to having all the tempting snacks in full display on the unit next to the bed. What is more interesting is the hotel’s choice to supply a product called ‘Faust’s potions’ – a relatively new product on the market, described as a ‘recovery pack aimed at professionals to help you feel your best’… or in other words, to help ease the hangover. Says a lot about the clientele… I had in fact just come from an evening of wine tasting!

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So we have lots of different types of mini bars offering a range of different products. But who is actually buying the contents? Apparently very few of us according to TripAdvisor who shared results from a research study conducted for them by Ipsos earlier this year which suggests that mini bars are soon to be a thing of the past. Only 14% of global travellers consider the mini bar an important amenity whilst 63% of global hoteliers have already done away with the mini bar.

This made me question why I very rarely take anything from the mini bar and I came to two conclusions. Firstly, the majority of snacks in a mini bar are loaded with carbs and covered in chocolate. Although I love to indulge, especially when I’m on holiday, I tend to do my indulging when I’m out and about. Snacking on crisps and chocolate is often the last thing I want to do when I come back to my hotel room after a heavy meal, or when I leave the room first thing in the morning. Mashable, in its 15 ideas that would vastly improve travel suggests that healthy vending machines offering olives, dried fruit and organic foods would go down well in hotels and I have to agree…not just for corridor vending machines but within mini bars in bedrooms too.

Secondly, there’s the guilt thing. We all know that the prices of products in mini bars are likely to be at least treble the prices of the same products in the shop just outside the hotel. We have also clocked onto the fact that mini bars are designed to catch us at our weakest moment, with some hotels now (like the Zetter) having their mini bar products in full display, eyeing up their guests and luring them in. As tempting as the display might be, I think that travellers are outsmarting the system and realising that popping down to the 7-11 to stock up on water and snacks for the room is the way to go. People just can’t justify the current cost of products from a mini-bar, even business travellers using the company credit card. We want to feel smart about the choices we make when we travel and spending over the odds for a bottle of water, a packet of crisps and a shot of whisky doesn’t seem so clever. So we’ll apply control, restrain ourselves and resist temptation…or be shrewd and come armed with pre-purchased snacks.

Perhaps if hotels considered significantly lowering their mini bar prices to a level that guests are more likely to be able to justify (with less margin but still enough to make some profit) the impending death of the mini bar might be less of a reality. Oh and they should look to supply some healthier product options. Personally I think it would be a shame if mini-bars ceased to exist. They are an iconic feature within hotel rooms and, like I said earlier, having a look at what’s on offer helps ease us into our temporary ‘home.’

I’ll finish this post with a story of a mini bar incident that occurred on a business trip earlier this year which still makes me chuckle. We were in New York, staying at the Intercontinental Times Sq. One of my colleagues, the newest member of the team who was excited to be on his first trip away for work, started getting to grips with his room. He was intrigued by the bright coloured packet on top of one of the cupboards and upon closer inspection, realised this was a condom pack. He then realised that attached to this pack was a wire and that wire ran back behind the cupboard connecting to something else. By the time he had registered what it was connected to – the mini bar – it was too late. He had nudged the condoms and they had now been out of position for over 10 seconds. The sign next to the bar said that anything out of place for 10 seconds or more would be charged – the bar had a sophisticated sensor system so could recognise this. The panicked expression on his face and shaky explanation to our team of what might be appearing on his room bill at checkout is something I’ll never live down.

Dog friendly hotels

My three favourite things in life (aside from all the things you are meant to say) are travel, food and my dogs! This weekend I was fortunate enough to combine all of these on a trip to Lymington, a small town on the edge of the New Forest.

We (6 adults and 2 dogs) stayed in a dog friendly hotel called Stanwell House, right in the heart of the town.

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This got me wondering about dog friendly hotels in general, namely how challenging it must be to provide great service, not just to ‘human’ guests, but to those of the canine kind too.

Stanwell House certainly made my two ‘canines’ feel at home right away with the lovely greeting they were given by the staff at reception. I guess the key part of ‘dog friendly’ is the word ‘friendly’ and this was absolutely my first impression of the hotel staff as they stroked and cooed at my two furry boys whilst assigning us to our rooms.

The welcoming feeling continued as we moved into our room to discover some dog treats and a blanket laid out with an accompanying note:

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This was a lovely, unexpected surprise and in fact more satisfying to receive than the pack of shortbread biscuits laid out for myself and the hubby, knowing the hotel had cared enough to consider that a happy dog means a happy owner.

I have stayed in ‘dog friendly’ places before where, although dogs were technically allowed, this wasn’t really publicised. This resulted in us feeling like we were doing something wrong during our stay whenever other guests saw our dogs.

Let’s face it – even the most well behaved dog will bark, smell, knock things over, chew stuff, slobber, whine, growl, pee on things – you name it…these are the things that dog lovers let go over their heads. So a ‘dog friendly’ hotel has a big challenge on their hands – striking the right balance between making guests with dogs (and the dogs themselves) feel at home whilst keeping their other guests – those who couldn’t care less about dogs or those (I hate to say it) who detest dogs just as happy.

Stanwell House got this balance spot on. There were no traces of ‘doggy smells’, the hotel was immaculately clean with lots of doors to access the garden areas and there was even a separate eating area for those with dogs which, importantly, didn’t feel cut off from the rest of the dining area.

It’s a lot of fun travelling with your dogs, but my family and I often find it tough to locate half decent accommodation where having a dog on display in a hotel doesn’t offend other guests and make the hotel staff feel uncomfortable. I’d like to hope more of the places who claim to be ‘dog friendly’ follow the example of Stanwell House. Rocco (below) certainly slept very peacefully:

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And if you’re wondering about my other love – the food – this was absolutely exceptional. It was beautifully presented and tasted delicious. These pictures don’t do it justice:

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Hotel website: http://www.stanwellhousehotel.co.uk

The future of travel booking websites

Just sharing this thought provoking post from http://qz.com on the future of travel booking websites.

To give you a flavour, Steve Kaufer, CEO of tripadvisor reckons that “the next big revolution in travel is going to be about serving the traveler when they are in market, and we think technology will be driving that change.”

To read more about this visit :

http://qz.com/196746/tripadvisor-doesnt-just-want-to-help-you-choose-a-hotel-for-your-holiday-it-wants-to-come-with-you/

Fighting Jetlag

Tomorrow I’m off on a business trip to New York. I feel (just about) prepared for the week ahead and am looking forward to what will hopefully be a successful few days with a little time on the side to enjoy one of my favourite cities. However, one menacing element of travel which is currently lingering in the back of my mind and threatening to accompany me for the next few days is Mr Jetlag.

I’m sure many will agree that, when travelling, there is nothing more irritating than jetlag. It’s every long haul travellers enemy. For leisure travellers who have limited time to spend at a destination, jetlag eats into precious holiday time and can often prevent us from really making the most of a trip. When recently arriving in Adelaide, Australia at midday after what seemed like an eternity in the air, I tried my best to fight the beast and stay up as late as possible. This resulted in falling asleep standing up in the middle of a busy street at 6pm whilst en route to a restaurant, with a very hazy memory of what happened after that. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to dinner and consequently sacrificed one of my precious evenings to then find myself wide awake at 2am. Is there anything more frustrating?!

For business travellers jetlag can take the enjoyment away from any spare leisure time and seriously hinder the ability to think and function during meetings, presentations and conferences. When in Los Angeles on a business trip in November I experienced what felt like mini earthquakes the evening we arrived. I kept asking my colleagues if there was an earthquake happening as my head felt all over the place and I soon realised the swaying feeling was indeed one of my jetlag symptoms. Thankfully we had incorporated a day to ‘acclimatize’ into the schedule otherwise I’m not sure how I’d have been able to work productively.

I asked a few friends about how they deal with jetlag and thought I’d share some of their words of wisdom to help anyone else who wants to overcome the jetlag blues:

1. Choose a destination with limited time difference. As good a solution as this sounds, we don’t want to restrict ourselves from travelling afar and experiencing the likes of Asia, the USA and Australia. However, there are some fantastic holiday destinations if we fly South from the UK and visit places like Cape Town which is only 2 hours ahead. Some friends did exactly that over the Christmas period and only spent a week there which (for a long haul leisure trip) seemed a bit ambitious. But, due to not suffering at the hands of jetlag, they were able to really make the most of their time away and could fully enjoy their first few days without feeling like death.

2. Cut ties with the homeland. Small things like adjusting your watch when you’re on the plane and not checking Facebook to remind yourself that everyone in the UK is fast asleep can help get you adapt to the time zone of the country you are visiting.

3. Don’t fly in economy. I know most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to afford a premium cabin. However, for business travellers especially, if budget allows it’s always worth going to your boss with a case for flying in business class or even premium economy, emphasising that being more comfortable on the flight will help with productivity at the destination. For leisure travellers, it’s worth sticking with one airline and earning points with their loyalty scheme to then use as an upgrade treat for that long awaited long haul trip.

4. Acclimatization time. Be sure to factor in allocated time to acclimatize when arriving at a destination that has a time difference of 5 hours. Where possible, it’s worth having at least a day in the place you are visiting prior to any business events. When travelling for leisure, it’s worth considering the first day/evening as a write off and then if you do happen to feel more alert than anticipated, there’s a bonus time reward. Don’t forget about your trip home too. Jetlag can be at it’s most powerful on the return leg, so it’s always worth having a day to recover at home before going back to work.

5. Make the most of it. If you do find yourself awake before sunrise cursing the clock then why not use the ‘can’t beat em, join em approach’? Treat it as bonus time to catch up on work emails on a business trip. Have a work out in the hotel gym. See if there are any activities you can organise prior to your trip that require an early start and plan this in advance for the first day. WARNING – this is not advisable beyond the first day of a trip otherwise getting over jetlag will be hard to achieve in the long run.

Some airlines have acknowledged the pain and frustration their customers experience as a result of jetlag and have measures in place to try and help their customers deal with it.

On a recent Cathay Pacific flight from Sydney to Hong Kong they purposely blacked out the inside of the cabin to help passengers get to sleep. In theory this was a good idea as it’s difficult to get to sleep in a fully lit cabin. However it didn’t particularly help my situation when arriving in Hong Kong fully alert at 10.30pm after a good sleep on the plane…so it might have been better for my specific travel requirements if the entire duration of the flight was not in full darkness.

British Airways have a page on their website dedicated to helping their customers plan for jetlag. They advise on the best approaches to minimizing jetlag, such as how much light exposure you should get prior to a trip in accordance with Britain’s leading sleep expert. I’m not sure yet how viable this is, but the calculator has instructed me to seek light between 21:00 pm and 23:30  pm this evening and avoid light between 23:30  pm and 2:00 am – so will see how that goes!!