What’s better than a Twitter chat? Actually talking, face-to-face—with no concern over character limits. Which is why, every year, T+L celebrates our Social Media in Travel + Tourism (SMITTY) Awards—recognizing the travel industry’s best work on social platforms—by making them truly social, with a party celebrating the winners.
So, for the 3rd consecutive year, SMITTY winners tumbled into New York, and T+L went all out. Last week, we hosted a party on the roof of Manhattan's Refinery Hotel, in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
When is eight months an eternity? When you’re talking about the world of digital travel. New technologies are launched and companies are born—while others go bust. Since eight months have passed since last November’s PhoCusWright Conference, I wanted to check in with some of my favorite companies from the conference’s Innovation Summit, which showcases the next generation of cutting-edge travel companies. So I rang up the companies’ brass, and here’s what I learned.
First things first: I don’t do staycations. However, I’ve made exceptions for quirky experiences, like camping in Brooklyn’s Marine Park and checking in to Boatel, an abandoned-boats-turned-hotel/art project in Far Rockaway, Queens.
So I’m intrigued by a new potential project, also out by the beach in Queens: Camp Rockaway. The idea? A handful of safari-style tents with comfy beds, outdoor showers, private fire pits, and hot tubs overlooking Jamaica Bay.
Ten years ago, I stayed at the then-relatively-new Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, at the base of Colorado’s Beaver Creek resort. The ski lodge was a new concept for the Ritz-Carlton, and I loved everything about it: ski-in/ski-out access, a great room with a huge stone fireplace, an outdoor fire pit for roasting marshmallows. Thankfully, all of that’s still there, but last month, the hotel put the finishing touches on a big renovation. Since I was out in Colorado, I went to take a look.
The big news? A brand-new, three-meals-a-day, open-kitchen restaurant called Buffalos, which serves up its namesake in several forms, like a buffalo steak and eggs, a bison burger, and something I wasn’t expecting to like as much as I did: bison tartare (washed down with a few Colorado craft beers). The hotel’s other restaurant, Spago, didn’t exist when I first visited, but since 2007, it’s been turning out Wolfgang Puck’s sensational seasonal dishes. And as I sampled his stupendous pumpkin-filled pasta, bonus—Puck himself was dining with his family a couple tables away.
It’s not every day that a ski resort massively expands out its skiable acres. Maybe it opens a new lift or on-mountain restaurant, but for a resort to increase its footprint by 20% is an enormous undertaking. Yet that’s exactly what Colorado’s Breckenridge Ski Resort is doing with its new mountain, called Peak 6, which opens on Christmas Day. And since I was out in Colorado, I stopped by Breck for a pre-opening look.
First off, the stats: Peak 6 brings 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain (skewing intermediate but pretty evenly split between intermediate and expert trails), three new bowls, eight new cut trails, and two new chairlifts. In all, it’s one of the biggest ski-area terrain expansions in North America in the past decade. And it’s on top of Breck’s existing five peaks, 2,900 acres, four terrain parks, a 22-foot superpipe, 11 bowls, and the highest chairlift in North America.
By now, we’re used to hearing the big news that Trip Advisor has acquired some smaller company—it seems to happen about once a week. But the past couple months, we’ve also been hearing big news almost every week from a very different type of company: the Ritz-Carlton.
The luxury hotel company has unleashed a flurry of new properties on the world in the past couple months, opening three in October (Chendgu and Tianjin in China, and Bangalore, India) and two in November (Almaty, Kazakhstan and Aruba), with another on the way mid-December (Herzliya, Israel).
November means T+L’s annual pre-Thanksgiving trip to the epicenter of travel technology, otherwise known as the Phocuswright conference, being held right now in Hollywood, Florida. And Day 1 of the conference yesterday—the Travel Innovation Summit—is when we get a sneak peak at some of the cool new ideas that these innovators are launching.
One of our favorites: Peek, where you can find things to do in destinations all over the world, then book those activities right from the site. Another cool innovator: What Now, a soon-to-launch destination guide tool you can use in offline mode when abroad (bypassing roaming fees) with some great twists, like pulling in weather, public transportation, and other data that you’d expect to need a signal for.
Here’s a fun exercise: Tell people you’re taking an island vacation…to Ohio. Then see how quickly they start measuring you for a straightjacket.
It turns out, though, that Ohiodoes have islands, floating in Lake Erie just a few miles from shore. And they’re not the single-palm-tree variety; these tree-filled expanses spread over hundreds of acres and feature parks, Victorian-era B&Bs, historic sites, shopping, and wineries (yes, wineries).
Blending in with the locals. For most travelers, that’s the goal. We know that pulling out a guidebook never helps. But what about sporting funky headgear?
That’s what I was trying to figure out as I did a test drive yesterday of Google Glass at the company’s New York offices. Lens-less glasses with wraparound arms and a tiny screen above your right eye: Glass isn’t obstructive (that’s the whole point, after all), but it’s also not unobtrusive. And as my Google handler—who has worn hers in public—told me, you have to be prepared for some stares.
Sure, she’s in the summer’s biggest blockbuster, is on the cover of this week’s EW, and was just named the world’s most beautiful woman by People. But what Gwyneth Paltrow wants to talk about right now is travel guides—specifically, the ones she’s created for her lifestyle brand, GOOP. Yesterday she was promoting the GOOP app at New York’s Apple store in SoHo with Jessica Seinfeld; before they took the stage, I had a chat with her, travel editor-to-travel editor.
Turns out Gwyneth started these city guides for herself. “I’m a Libra,” she said, “I can’t make up my mind about anything.” Now she can just open the GOOP app for her own highly curated list of restaurants, shops, bars, hotels, and more in New York, L.A., and London. “I find them very helpful,” she said, “even though I made them.”
And what does it take to get the Gwyneth stamp of approval? “Quality,” she says, “which could be a $2 taco. It has to be worth going out of your way for.” In New York, only 13 hotels make the cut: well-known places like the Trump SoHo, but also lesser-known spots like the Inn at Irving Place, which doesn’t even have a sign. And the NYC guide has a separate section for pizza, which Gwyneth loves. (A couple of her picks, like Di Fara and Co., get the T+L approval stamp, too.) She’s personally been to “almost” every place in each guide, and if she hasn’t, at least three of her most trusted friends have to have given their thumbs up.
GOOP’s Paris guide is coming out next, and Gwyneth is excited to direct people away from hotel concierge recommendations, which she sees as a shady business. “Paris is the worst kickback city,” she said. “I feel so bad when people say they’ve saved up but gone somewhere terrible. It’s such a nice thing to say ‘this is where you should go.’”
So will we see the GOOP app in any upcoming movies—maybe Tony Stark using it in Iron Man 4? “I don’t know,” she said, laughing. “I don’t think so. Wouldn’t it be weird if I was in a movie referencing my own product?”