Hospitality Hive

Updates, opinions, and news for anyone working in Orlando's Hospitality community

Orlando Tourism Continues to Move On

Strong Orlando June 2016

Well ‘it’ finally happened.  Orlando, formerly known as both The City Beautiful and The Happiest Place on Earth was finally tested, and when I say tested I mean that in the worst possible scenario.  While there’s no point or need to rehash what happened to OTown over the course of one crazy-sad mind blowing weekend full of shocking gun violence and a singular gator stunner, here in the Hospitality Hive we think what’s most important moving forward is exactly that.

Moving forward.

It’s a sad truth that even while victims are still being buried and memorialized the city must continue to keep it’s heartbeat going, and in my opinion it’s being done in a most thoughtful and respectful way.  One only has to look at the daily newspaper to see what public activities are scheduled that provide comfort to the grieving and a voice for those who want to help and be heard. No matter at what level these tragedies touched you – and we were, indeed, all affected in some way – we’ve already learned (too many times. . .) from other cities who have dealt with this type of disaster that it’s vital to keep our pulse going.

And in the case of Orlando, our lifeline is tourism.

That’s not to say there aren’t tons of other vital industries that contribute to all that makes Orlando what it is, but we all know that tourism is the mo-jo from which most other juices flow here, so to stop doing what we do best and most of around here would not be an option.  Just as New York City didn’t stop ‘being NYC’ in the aftermath of 9/11,  nor did Paris. . .or Columbine. . .or Virginia Tech. . .or heck, no need to name them all.  You get the sad picture here. We can’t just stop being the number 1 tourist destination in the world because of recent tragic events.

But we can be smarter, which is exactly what will happen; in many cases it already is.  Our convention and visitors bureau has not only been both respectful and proactive in their omnificent worldwide presence but it has publically updated many safety issues for inbound travelers that can be viewed on their website.  You can check it out here at www.visitorlando.com.  And our friends at Walt Disney World have already made huge changes to their internal and public policies regarding that unbelievably tragic accident, most of which we only know about because of the watchful public eye now turned on their every move and not because they are trying to draw attention to their actions.

And depending on when you’re reading this post, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has joined forces with Visit Orlando to raise money for  the #OneOrlandoFund  via the June 30th Dine Out Orlando program.  Hundreds of participating restaurants have signed up to participate and donate generous percentages of their daily sales – some including breakfast, lunch, and dinner – to the fund specifically set up to benefit victims and families affected by the Pulse nightclub tragedy, aka our community.

 

And as our entire community continues to mourn and grieve,  heal and react, express our anger and sadness at having lost those precious lives while simultaneously gaining an ugly new statistic attached to our city, one thing will  remain certain in Orlando:  there’s a new layer to the meaning of the word hospitality and it involves safety first on many different levels.

Sadly, we have plenty of company in redefining hospitality because it’s also part of the new normal of worldwide tourism.   

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Stop ‘Wine-ing’ – Drink More Beer!

And I know just the place to start doing that. Harry’s Poolside Bar & Grill at the Rosen Centre Hotel is now hosting a series of beer-pairing dinners, Harry’s Brewmaster Series, that are both fun and incredibly educational, even after you’ve sipped and slurped and tasted your way through five complete meal courses and six exceptional beers.  That’s right, I used the words ‘fun’ and ‘educational’ in the same sentence; but did you also notice that I’m talking about drinking beer?  Kudos to the culinary braintrust at the Rosen Centre who concocted this unique event, which actually is an extension of their still very popular Vine and Dine at Rosen Centre which I’ve also written about here. Except that having attended one of each, I have to admit that the beer pairing seemed to hold the edge on the fun factor.  Why?  I don’t know, just trust me on this one.  Maybe it was the combination of the more casual but chic, poolside location of Harry’s Bar & Grill.  Maybe it was because when your first course is Steamed Pork Belly Buns and your last course is Beer Battered Granny Smith Apples (with a chocolate rum dipping sauce) it’s just more fun to talk about.  And eat.  Or, maybe, possibly it’s just because drinking beer itself tends to invite more colorful conversations (even without having a ball game blasting away in surround sound on ten different TV screens).  Whatever the reason, the night was lively, and at only $50 per person it’s a steal of a dining out deal.  Here’s the review in pictures and all photo credits go to professional photographer, Richard Pabis (what, like you thought I could be trusted with a camera while eating and drinking all this?):

Round 1 - Steamed Pork Belly Buns with pckled cucumbers & Cayman Aioli paired with a Tampa Style Lager

Round 1 – Steamed Pork Belly Buns with pckled cucumbers & Cayman Aioli paired with a Tampa Style Lager

 

 

2nd course - Bacon & Balsamic Crusted Scallops paired with FL Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale

2nd course – Bacon & Balsamic Crusted Scallops paired with FL Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 - Coconut Tempura Shrimp served over tropical rice with cilantro sauce, and the beer pairing was Invasion Pale Ale

#3 – Coconut Tempura Shrimp served over tropical rice with cilantro sauce, and the beer pairing was Invasion Pale Ale

 

 

The intermezzo was a just for fun nod to the FL Strawberry Festival - strawberry shortcake lager sorbet

The intermezzo was a just for fun nod to the FL Strawberry Festival – strawberry shortcake lager sorbet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4th course - Braised Short Ribs served over Manchego Polenta & Butternut Squash Puree with a Scotch Ale Demi, all paired with a Big Sound Scotch Ale

4th course – Braised Short Ribs served over Manchego Polenta & Butternut Squash Puree with a Scotch Ale Demi, all paired with a Big Sound Scotch Ale

 

 

 

 

But wait - we're not done yet! Dessert=beer battered Granny Smith Apples served with chocolate rum dipping sauce and a Maduro Brown Ale on the side. Oh yeah, baby.

But wait – we’re not done yet! Dessert=beer battered Granny Smith Apples served with chocolate rum dipping sauce and a Maduro Brown Ale on the side. Oh yeah, baby.

 

 

 

 

And for this event, Cigar City Brewing was the featured supplier of all the ales, so that’s where the learning part snuck in, just like the subtle tropical fruit hop finish from our opening Jai Alai India Pale Ale.  (Yeah, I was still able to take readable notes on that first round. . . ).  As each new course was skillfully presented in front of the diners, Eric Loy, whose business card lists him as El Lector from Cigar City Brewing but we now know him as El Cicerone – more on that title in a minute, was overseeing another pouring of the selected beer into our (surprise!) very cool souvenir beer tasting glass.  Actually, it was one of two souvenir glasses we left Harry’s with that night, plus a Harry’s Bar & Grill tee shirt so yes, we got to eat, drink, and grab a goody bag on the way out.

Now, about El Cicerone, did you know there is actually a three part Certification Program that educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers?  Well now you do, and Eric is already on level two of that process.  Which explains how terminology like ‘hoppy ale with tropical aromas and bitterness’ roll off his tongue when describing Invasion Pale Ale, and why I just called it, um, really good stuff?  In fairness, I use the same descriptions about the wines I enjoy – good, better, best – and leave the adjective laden commentary to the sommeliers.

And speaking of really good stuff. . .

And speaking of really good stuff. . .

But there’s another man who knows it all when it comes to pairing this with that – Chef Emeterio “Tello” Luna, the mastermind behind those aforementioned pork bellys, the bacon & balsamic crusted scallops that followed along with all the rest of that goodness that kept coming out of the kitchen.  When he’s not working magic with beer pairings, Chef Tello is the Top Chef at 98Forty located in the hotel lobby where he regularly pairs rare and premium tequilas with incredible tapas.  And you don’t even have to wait for a special invitation to enjoy those because they’re available every night of the week.

So it’s affordable, delicious, and educational, and if a beer-pairing dinner sounds like your ‘mug of choice’ (sorry), make sure to reserve your spot at one of the two remaining events on the Rosen calendar.  The next one is May 13 with pairings from Crooked Can Brewing Company from Winter Garden, and who knows what Chef Tello will be conjuring up in the kitchen for that one?  Stay tuned!

 

Finally, to answer your question (I heard when you asked) yes, I was hosted for this event but opinions and perspectives are totally mine. Not one drop of Florida Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale (with moderate notes of orange peel) nor a sip of the Maduro Brown Ale (notes of caramel, toffee, chocolate & hints of espresso with a roasted peanut expression in finish) influenced me in the least.  Sayin’ 

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Human Trafficking in Orlando?

I know what most of you are thinking – not in my backyard, right?  Well think again, dear reader, because this topic keeps rearing its ugly head, even right here in our own beautiful city full of magic and make-believe.  In fact, as recently as January 22 of this very year the Orlando Sentinel featured an article on page one, “She wages fight against trafficking,” about a local photojournalist, Dianna Scimone, who has taken this cause to heart and is trying to do something about it. Further, if you simply Google Orlando Sentinel human trafficking you would be amazed at how many articles pop up over the past few years pointing out that, sadly, Florida has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation.  21880395315_6d326b600f

And now you might also be wondering why this dark topic is being covered in the Hospitality Hive – generally a forum for information and, well, happiness about the industry “hive” that employs more people than any other in our Central Florida community.   Two reasons: 1] January was National Human Trafficking Awareness Month (I know, I know, I’m a little behind with this post, but. . .)  2] It’s a current hot topic in the meetings and events industry which brings us full circle back to that Hospitality stuff.

You see, beyond the human element, this type of trafficking involves two basic aspects of hospitality:  hotels and travel.  Hello, Orlando!  Now do you see where this is going?  And if you’re still shaking your head in denial, how about this news flash:  Tourism industry giants like Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels have actively come out and become leaders in helping to identify and stop this kind of activity.  How?  Here are some simple signs that hotel and airline employees are now being trained to watch for:

  •  couples checking in with no luggage at airport
  • girls being watched, even in bathrooms, and appear to not know where they are headed in their travels
  • bar code tatoos on female travel companions
  • no cleaning allowed for multiple days in hotel rooms
  • lots of cell phone usage with numerous phones
  • oddly matched ‘couples’ – don’t look like they belong to each other, yet traveling together
  • paying cash for rooms, one day and a time, and/or travel tickets – bus/train/air
  • female never speaks; man does all the talking and handles all transactions

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In fact, in case you think this type of degradation can only happen in dive joints think again because even four and five star properties have been the target of successful sting operations.  [Case in point, remember Subway spokesperson, Jared Fogle, was arrested in a five star hotel for child prostitution.]  Further, both Marriott and Hilton hotels have now removed pornographic movies from their pay-per-view channels saying that it had contributed to the demand for sex trafficking.

And here’s a doosey of a fact:  the Superbowl is widely considered one of the largest annual events for human trafficking.

I could go on and list other gruesome statistics, but I think it’s more important to point out what we – you and I – can do to right now to help combat this disturbing activity that by some estimates affects nearly 100,000 children each year and millions more adults around the globe.  First, we have to agree to push the conversation; accept discussing the facts instead of continuing to ignore things.  Next, we have to be willing to speak up and report suspected victims/abuses as we observe them in our surroundings, wherever and whenever.  Finally, look up and read about the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct created in 1996 by ECPAT INTERNATIONAL, a global network of organizations dedicated to the protection of children from sexual exploitation.  This code of conduct allows for training employees on how to spot trafficking and promotes a zero-tolerance policy of sexual exploitation among those who sign as participants.  Small but meaningful steps in a global problem that plagues the hospitality industry like no other.

Cooking Up a New Career

From time to time I like to write about different jobs in the hospitality industry because, well, there are tons of them.  So many, in fact, that I always tell people if you are unhappy with your current hospitality position you have no one to blame but yourself because all you need to do is look around and spread your wings – fly right,turn left, look up, then down. There is such a variety of jobs under this broad category that I could write about a different one every day of the week and you and I both would still be learning .  But, I’m not going to do that because, well, frankly that might get boring.  Plus, I’m not a headhunter (please don’t start sending me your resumes), so I’m going to spare you the details of Hospitality Jobs 101 and go straight to some of the more interesting ones.  Please consider this part of the advanced course.

My last post about an interesting hospitality career position was last August, and you can read about here Have You Ever Been First?. That was explaining how Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales, got to be hired as employee #1 at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World Resort.

Now, judging by the title of today’s post you might think this story is about a waiter who decided to become a chef, but you would be incorrect. This is a story about a Chef who left the kitchen for the excitement of event operations at a major convention hotel, the Orlando World Center Marriott.  In fact, this facility is the largest convention hotel in the worldwide Marriott family, and Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, has no ordinary hospitality job.  Jon oversees a staff of over 500 (plus hundreds more that come and go on a temporary basis as needed to work larger events).  The permanent positions include those in catering and conventions services (the people who organize all the details of the meetings and events that clients bring), banquet staff (those that serve and supervise the coffee breaks and banquet meals), housemen (they do all the meeting room set ups including the heavy lifting of tables and chairs placed to the client’s specifications), the ‘famous’ Marriott Red Coats (if you manage meetings and events you know these people as being your ever-present assistants), and more.  You see, in case you haven’t been involved in this end of the industry before, it really does take a village to make a convention into a flawless and memorable event.

mcowc_phototour194

Aerial view of Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center

 

From the beginning stages with his newly minted degree from Johnson & Wales University, a hotbed for those training in culinary arts, Jon worked in the kitchen climbing up from Banquet Chef (where he once supervised a complete meal service to over 7,000 guests at one sitting and yeah, that’s impressive even in this industry) to Sous Chef (the second-in-command right under the head or executive chef) where you could spend an entire day plating twenty very special covers (meals), to Food and Beverage Director (usually responsible for all restaurant outlets within a hotel plus banquets) and now this position where no two days are alike.  “My daily routine is dictated by what’s going on in the hotel.  Are we turning banquet rooms and meeting space from one group to the next, are we in pre-planning meetings for the next customer, are we trying to accommodate some planners special set-up or menu requests, or are we winding down from the last big push?  All these efforts require appropriate staffing, massive paperwork, meetings with each department as well as plenty of vendors and clients to pull it all together.  My typical day is never the same, and I like that about this position.”  And while each of Jon’s past positions have been stepping stones in his career growth, by his own admission, he still had a learning curve when he settled in to this one which is a common denominator for many who are on an expanding career path in other professions as well as in hospitality.

Jon Espelage MOWC Jan 2016

Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center

IN HIS OWN WORDS:

ME: Can you share any ‘secrets’ from your time in the kitchen?

JON:  “Buy the best quality ingredients and execute flawlessly.  At some point, everyone wants to attempt ‘scratch cooking’ (taking a recipe for something you loved in a restaurant and trying to replicate it back home),  but they might look at the ingredients and try to substitute or find a short cut, but there are no short cuts to doing in properly.”

ME:  Where do hotel executives go on vacation or what do you do in any spare time?

JON:  “Always learning, I seek out cool food places.  As far as vacations, cruises are the best way to totally disconnect.”

ME:  I know you’re a guest lecturer at UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, what’s your best advice for industry newbies?

JON:  “Find what you want to do and become a master of it.  Take something off your boss’s plate if you want to be the boss.  Get your head out of the gadgets and focus on building relationships, because that’s what really matters in this industry.”

Good advice for anyone, don’t you agree?  

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Faces of Hunger – Right in our Own Backyard

Many of us are already up to our turkey necks with food prep for the big holiday ahead, so reading another blog post about pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce might not seem too important right now.  Go ahead and thank me for avoiding same because that’s not what this story is about.  Instead, I want to focus on a different food issue.  The one some people turn a blind eye to.

Hunger.

More specifically, hunger in our own neighborhoods, in people we meet and pass each day within our own communities.

If you’re reading this right now you probably aren’t worried about where your next meal is coming from.  In fact, you might be hard pressed to even remember what it feels like to be hungry, and I’m not referring to that gap between your last Starbucks and the chicken salad you bought for lunch.  I’m talking about to honest to goodness hunger pains that start to take over your stomach first, then your mental state of mind when you’ve only had one meal in the last two days.  Or, maybe none at all.

And while I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner, I do think it’s worth taking a moment to see some of the stats about who goes hungry right here in our own Central Florida neighborhoods.  Like this one:

Central Floridians turned to charitable feeding programs for help with food procurement 71,600 times in a typical week during the course of this 2014 study.

And if that wasn’t startling enough, how about this number:

Among all those clients [from right here in Central FL], 27% are children under the age of 18, and 11% are seniors age 65 and older.

hungerstudyhomepage2015a

 

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There are plenty of other eye-openers in this recently released report, and I encourage you to see for yourself by visiting this link, put together by Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

And while we all know this is the time of year when we’re asked to dig even deeper into our cupboards and pockets for both food and $$$$ donations, I wanted to share another way you could help with the local food crises. This involves letting Second Harvest Food Bank cater your holiday party or next event.

Huh? You want me to contract with a food bank to cater my event?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  You see, Second Harvest works with Darden Foundation Community Kitchen to train future chefs to be able to go out and get jobs working creative culinary greatness in the world.  So to review, a giant corporation in the American restaurant scene sees the need to do more than just donate food to feed those in need.  They take the time to train those without jobs and then give them the opportunity for actual on the job experience all while giving back to the community.  How?  Oh, did I forget to mention that 97.4% of every dollar going to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida goes right back into the food bank?  Cool, right?

It’s really an amazing organization and a unique concept, including the fact that they actually have beautiful event space to rent right there on location, or you can simply order your food to go for pickup or delivery.  It’s that easy.  The program is appropriately called Catering for Good and you can check out the complete menu here.  And while it’s most likely too late to get that Thanksgiving order in at this point, this service is available year round.

For further details contact Lanette Jarvis at 407.514-1048 or via this link.

 

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Bone Shaking Fun With Skeletons this Halloween

This is the week – Halloween is here!  Have you heard enough about it yet, or can you stand a little more?

If you’re not into the whole HHN freak out at Universal, and yet Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party doesn’t quite do it for you either, here’s another option, Skeletons: Animals Unveiled!  It’s ‘under the wheel’ at the Orlando Eye complex and for sure it’s the real deal with over 40 exhibits featuring more than 400 real animal skeletons in poses and dioramas that will give you a whole new perspective (dare we say, um, the actual inside scoop?) on our friends in the animal kingdom.  Plus, the price of this one might not rattle your bones as much as those other options with current ticket prices at $19.99 per adult and $12.99 for kids ages 3-11.

Wondering why you should load up the car and take the family to go see a bunch of bones?  Here are just a few compelling reasons:

  • It will get you in the Halloween mood at a price point that won’t spoil the fun (like all that bad stuff that the yummy Halloween candy does to your teeth. . .)
  • FREE parking, plus it’s easy to get to located right off International Drive at the Orlando Eye Complex
  • It’s educational but in a way that the kids might not realize they are actually getting educated – make sense?  It will.
  • There’s a two headed cow on display, and you know you’re curious about it, right?

I could say more but instead I’m going to show you some fun pictures I snapped during my visit a few months ago. Mind you I was with an adult group and every one of us thought it was a blast, so I can only imagine what taking a group of kiddies would be like, but I’m guessing they’d say things like “awesome!” and “euwww” (meant in a good way. . .) and “that’s what my dog looks like under the skin?”  Yeah, it’s way cool.  See for yourself.

Ever wonder what Skeletons do when the museum closes and the party begins?

skeleton centaur

This Centaur still can’t figure out what he is – man or horse, or both?

The skeleton cowboy was still havin’ a good ole’ time!

 

skeleton gator bones

I liked looking at this gator better than the real deal that creepy-crawled his way into my neighborhood one night.

 

 

 

Why? Because we just can’t miss a photo opp, right?

So this Halloween, try something different to get you into the spirit of the season.  It will certainly give you a new perspective of the 400 everyday animals and amazing creatures on display!  And oh, by the way.  Aren’t these the coolest attraction uniforms around? 

skeleton crew tee shirt

 

 

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Ready to Get Halloweeny Yet?

This post is about vampires. . .and asylum. . .and James Bond. Oh my!

October’s a long, busy month, so for sure it’s a slow build, but when you get to the crazy holiday climax at the end – aka Halloween – it just seems right to let loose then, doesn’t it?  Even if you don’t dress up or party, sometimes just watching the entire build up of orange and black decorations appearing everywhere right alongside those bottomless bowls of creepy candy is enough to put a smile on your face and help you get started on the slide to the finish line of yet another calendar year.  And while I know this post about the October 31 holiday is a bit early for some, I’ve received some really cool offers in my inbox recently, and I think they’re worth sharing.

First up is a vine and dine event this Friday at Rosen Centre Hotel with a very clever Halloween twist.  “Love at First Bite” just screams like a gathering of vampires, and yet anyone is welcome to attend.  And check out this menu, a ‘dangerously delicious’ five course meal with openers like a Death Door Cocktail and Oysters with Bloody Mary Mignonette followed by a Blood Orange Sorbet to um, cleanse your bleeding mouth?  But wait, you’ve got to see the rest of the menu because it’s not only incredibly creative, but the wine pairings are bloody awesome:

Grilled Filet Cloaked in Tapenade Served with a Sinful Pinot Noir Sauce and Accompanied with Phyllo Custard Potato and Batonette of Vegetable
Insurrection Shiraz/Cabernet Blend 2014
South Eastern Australia

Grilled Hellish Habanero Chilies with Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Mousse and Brandied Cherries
Quady Electra 2014

Yeah, I thought you’d get a kick out of seeing that.  But don’t wait a minute longer because the event is this Friday, October 9th, starting at 6:30PM (I know, a bit early for some of the walking deads, but try to make the effort to dress up and get out a little, okay?).  Plus, the price is very reasonable for this type of unique event at $75 per person including valet parking at the hotel on International Drive.  Call 407-996-8551 right now and tell them a ‘Hospitality Spirit’ whispered this news into your ears. . .

Now, if this week is still a bit early for you to strut out your cloak and cape don’t worry, the next two events I’m highlighting don’t happen until the end of the month.  I’ve written about the rockin’ times you can have at Velvet Sessions out at the Hard Rock Hotel before, but this month they are really spot on with the entertainment because you’ll be doing the Monster Mash to music by Soul Asylum.

Soul Asylum
Soul Asylum – all ready for their Halloween-themed appearance at the Hard Rock Hotel’s next Velvet Sessions on October 29.

Plus, it’s an adults-only costume party with the winner getting a two night stay in the plush Hard Rock Hotel Graceland Suite which, as you can imagine, has most likely seen some hard rockin’ itself over the years. Sayin’The date is October 29, and tickets pre-purchased on line are $50.  Details can be found here, Velvet Sessions, or by calling 407-503-2401.

James Bond Spectre 2015

Seriously, he doesn’t really need any introduction, does he?

 

Finally, it’s quite possible I’ve saved the best for last, especially for the James Bond fans who are already shaking their martinis waiting for November 6 US release date of Spectre.

Flemings Restaurants are jumping on the Aston Martin theme-night express and offering an excellent opportunity to live out your double agent fantasies by dressing the part and eating, well, let’s just call it stuff that’s good enough for 007 himself starting with an authentic Belvedere 007 Martini, shaken, not stirred of course, and then followed by other proper cocktails like the Clandestini and Bang and Burn. (Wouldn’t you just love to be in on the taste testing and name-that-cocktail for this event?) This “Evening of Espionage” is planned on the big night, Saturday, October 31, and the invite specifies that “M requests your presence” so really, it would be so rude to say no to this one, right?  It also says, “come dressed to kill – any 007 character will do, villain, agent, leading lady”,  with prizes awarded (and I don’t think they’re referring to best clown costume).

Halle Berry as Jinx

Do we have any takers for this costume? Halle Barry as ‘Jinx’, the James Bond muse in Die Another Day.

And oh yes, that menu?  Let’s just say it ends with a Black Tie Soufflé, so whatever is served before that has got to be incroyable, oui?  This one is $95 per person but come on, James Bond will be there, so what’s not to love about this rogue mission!

 

 

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Hotels and Hurricanes

As I finished up my work with another convention group here in Orlando today the client mentioned they were heading out to the airport early due to all the hurricane preparations.

“Huh?  Joaquin has already passed Florida and moving on up North” I replied. “Looks like this one is missing us.”

“We know, and now it’s expected to hit us back in New Jersey, so we need to get outta this place right away and get home!”

Image acquired February 19, 2010: Tropical Cyclone Gelane had sustained winds of 125 knots (230 kilometers per hour) and gusts up to 150 knots (275 kilometers per hour), according to a report from the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) on February 19, 2010. The JTWC reported that Gelane was roughly 315 nautical miles (585 kilometers) east-northeast of Port Louis, Mauritius, and was forecast to travel toward the southwest, weakening slightly as it moved. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on February 19, 2010. Gelane’s spiral arms span hundreds of kilometers over the open ocean. Credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott. Instrument:  Aqua - MODIS For more details and a higher res file of this image go to: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=42767

Credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott.

And just like that the conversation reminded me of how many times over the years I’ve been involved with hurricane preparation both on the home front and while out traveling.  So I thought I’d share a few details about what happens at hotels behind the scenes while the wind is howling and the waves are wildly crashing and the unsuspecting guests are, um, in the middle of hurricane mania, usually for the first time in their lives.

For starters, most hotels have some kind of disaster management plan in place whether it’s for hurricanes or heart attacks, or as can often be the case, heart attacks that happen during hurricanes.  And this is especially true for beachfront hotels that have to weather the brunt of the storms.  Considering that guest safety is first and foremost, pool and lawn furniture quickly gets picked up and moved inside before becoming the next beach side launch missile.

But many hotels also have plenty of balcony furniture to deal with, too.  A friend found herself in the thick of things in Los Cabos, Mexico during this past summer when hurricane Blanca was stirring, and suddenly preparations were under way for an evacuation. As a side note, this area had just taken a huge hit during the 2014 Hurricane season thanks to Odile, and some hotels there had still not even reopened yet.  Anyway, this time hotels were more prepared, even slipping frequent updated notes under guests’ doors to give the latest details and help calm the tourist panic.  My friend told me the hotel was doing just a super job in every possible way including turning the ballroom into a makeshift restaurant for all guests remaining (the airport had closed) once the gusting winds made it impossible to eat outside or anywhere close to glass-enclosed restaurant areas.  But, there was a brief moment of potential meltdown due to language challenges between her and the hotel maid that was frantically knocking on her door one afternoon apparently motioning to get out on her balcony.  She cautiously followed the maid and realized she had been instructed to move all the balcony furniture into the safety of the hotel room and well away from the windows.  Okay, then.

Cancun hurricane 2005

Uh-oh. Who’s going out after all that beach furniture?

And yet another friend sent me this picture of the hotel ballroom where she was staying during Hurricane Wilma when it hit during a 2005 business trip she was on to Cancun, Mexico (yes, people do take business trips to Cancun).  This ballroom was filled with cots for guests to sleep on while they rode out the storm, although it should be noted that she said most from her group of professionals weathered the storm from the safety and security of the comfy-cozy lobby bar (and yes, business can be conducted in a lobby bar in Cancun).

This ballroom was turned into a different type of guest room when filled with cots to sleep on during Hurricane Wilma.

This hotel ballroom was turned into one giant guest room when filled with cots to sleep on during Hurricane Wilma.

Living in Florida we’re quite familiar with the hurricane preparation drill.  But next time you’re hunkering down in whatever location you’ve taken refuge, try to imagine what it would be like from the standpoint of an unsuspecting tourist in town to find some sunshine and magic to help them forget about the hardships of daily life during their brief time here.  All our friends in the hotels, attractions, and tourism complexes have a huge job on their hands whenever storms hit because there’s nothing very hospitable about starting your vacation at the same time as a monster storm!

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What Do Women Want in Hospitality?

Last month I wrote a post about Chinese travelers – specifically about 1.4 billion of them that could be showing up very soon at a hotel or restaurant near you right here in Florida.  Today I’m “narrowing down” the discussion topic a bit more by talking about only 49.6% of the total world population, aka women, the single largest target market in the hospitality industry.  Specifically, the most recent stats show there are 3.52 billion women on this planet (roughly half the population).  And yes, I know that tittle you see up above is a loaded question but seriously, even though women are only about half of the world’s population, by some estimates we still account for 92% of the vacation decisions.  Using those numbers it’s destined to be a hot topic in this industry which in turn makes it super important to Orlando, so let’s just let those stats sink in for a minute.

Women are always busy making vacation decisions for their families

Women are always busy making vacation decisions for their families

You read that correctly – 92% of vacation purchases including airline decisions, hotel selections and restaurants as well as buying all those precious souvenir tchotchkes are made by women, and even I was shocked by the estimated dollar volume this accounts for because, are you ready for this? In some reports, women are shown to be responsible for a whopping expenditure of, drum roll please, $7 TRILLION dollars annually related to vacation purchases. Just in the USA. (Notice I didn’t print that in numericals because frankly I’m not really sure how many zeros to use.)

Cue the fireworks behind the castle!  Wait while Shamu gives a water-soaking-splash-worthy-salute of a high jump!  Shoot – was that Harry Potter himself flying in the sunny skies above Orlando?

And while even I have to say “enough with all those statistics!”, I do feel it’s worth mentioning because there’s a lot of money currently being spent in the hospitality industry to find out exactly what women want when they travel (no, besides a bikini-worthy body for those lazy days on the French Riviera with James Bond by her side. . .we’re not talking about those dreams, okay?).  Recent marketing research has proven the number #1 thing that female travelers want when browsing for vacation options is an enjoyable and engaging travel shopping experience.  (Go figure. I really hope they didn’t spend too much money to figure that one out!)  That’s right, from the internet search to the constant checks on social media sites, women tend to research with the desire to enjoy the whole experience along with obtaining the final product. Admittedly, it’s a thing with us, right?  Most women are shoppers, end of story.  But what this means to the tour and travel industry is that women buy hospitality with their eyes.  We like descriptive text along with a lot of visuals.  We prefer detailed explanations (think spa services, pool size, and restaurant ambiance – especially when the cocktail photos show drinks with tiny little umbrellas in them) as opposed to the men surveyed who make selections based on the overall value for money of what they’re purchasing.

Are women all born to shop?  It would appear that way!

Are women all born to shop? It would appear that way!

And why am I even bothering to write about this?  Because here in Orlando hospitality is a really, really big thing.  As mentioned in another of my blog posts that you can view here, this industry employs over 232,000 people here in Central Florida and that number keeps growing.  If you’re a member of that statistic – meaning you’re already employed in this industry – then you’d be smart to understand who’s making the majority of the decisions among our tourists and hopefully continue to make them the happiest segment of travelers on the planet.

Oh, and make sure to wrap up that hospitality nice and pretty in a detailed, happy package sprinkled liberally with pixie dust and Potter magic! 

 

 

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Chinese Travel Trends

I recently wrote about Cuba being a hot destination topic, but now it’s time to recognize the emerging importance of China to not only travel but also just about everything on this planet including the recent downward spiral of the numbers coming from Wall Street.  And while I’m not attempting to solve the world financial crises here in the Hive (we have to leave something for politicians to do, right?), I do want to talk about the entrance of numerous Chinese travelers and investors into our own little corner of the planet right here in Central Florida.

And for those of you that think we are besieged by visitors from Brazil and the UK you are technically correct.  Numbers from Visit Orlando show that’s where the majority of foreign visitors to Central FL come from to the tune of 770,000 and 759,000 respectively in 2013 alone (last available statistics). But want to know who’s expected to be coming in record numbers in the future? HINT:  the answer is in this blog’s title.

7833149018_049a68a12aYep, it’s China.  Chinese tourists are now said to be very keen on making the 8,000+ mile trek that takes about 17.5 hours of in-flight travel time to get from there to here (no direct routes yet either, so add connecting times/airport waits and you’ve got the better part of a two day journey, each way) even though they’re not necessarily sun worshippers.  And if that’s not surprising enough, here’s another tidbit about these visitors:  due in large part to the bottomless pit of advertising dollars we’re collectively pouring into this new travel market, the Chinese think that Central Floridians offer a prime example of Western Culture.  Imagine that?  Floridians are now viewed, at least by some in the world, as true Americans!  Wow.

And here’s another potentially surprising statistic:  China’s population is currently over 1.4 billion which keeps it at the top of the leader board when ranking countries by virtue of population. By comparison, USA has over 325 million and is ranked #3 in population stats.

So want to know where I’m going with all this?  Right back here to Central Florida where members of the collective hospitality community recently rolled out the red carpet by hosting a prestigious group of the Asian travel community for a three day familiarization trip highlighting Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Deland along with a whole lot of other area love thrown in.  Put together by the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for delegates that traveled to Orlando to attend the June conference of International Pow Wow (IPW, organized each year by the U.S. Travel Association), this area fam trip packed in quite a bundle of Florida hot-spots without ever stepping foot into any of the fantasy theme park destinations.  Why?  Because we’re learning that Chinese travelers prefer authentic local experiences, and turns out we’ve got plenty of those to offer, too.

Recent fam group to Central Florida

Recent fam group enjoying Central Florida

But those of us that live here already knew that, right?

Now don’t get me wrong, the Hive is not professing to proclaim that Chinese travelers are shunning the theme parks.  But we do have it on good authority that these members of the new travel frontier want to learn more about what make Americans tick as opposed to how we escape reality and live out our fantasy life.  And they’re spending serious money to prove that by dishing out on -by some reports – an average of $7,000 USD per person during trips outside China.

Orlando fam group #2

Members of IPW Central FL fam group enjoyed our natural environment – even in June!

 

 

 Further, one quick look at some area websites including our own Visit Orlando Media page shows translation of press kits in just three languages – Spanish, Portuguese, and you guessed it -Chinese.

And just this morning there was an announcement in the Orlando Sentinel business section about the launch of a Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Central Florida with the primary quote being, “[Chinese] have money, and they can’t let their money sit in China now.  They know Disney and Universal Studios, but some of them may not know where Orlando is, or even Florida for sure.”

Huh.

For final proof of the growing US interest in courting the Chinese travel market just take a look at what Hilton is doing to make these visitors more comfortable when they leave home base.  Hilton Worldwide announced the expansion of it’s Hilton Huanying program (the word Huanying means Welcome) that offers Chinese travelers a customized hospitality experience during their stay at Hilton properties around the world.  The program assures that each participating hotel has staff members that speak Mandarin, rooms have special amenities like slippers, Chinese language TV stations, teakettles and a welcome letter in Chinese.  All are little but important things that this new market segment will be expecting as they venture out into the world.  As Conrad Hilton himself used to say, “it’s all about the hospitality”, and you can bet your last Mickey Mouse dollar that other hotels are soon to follow this lead.

Photo Credit:  Hilton Huanying Program

Photo Credit: Hilton Huanying Program

Now welcoming all Chinese visitors to Florida!  

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