Breaking AwayPosted on Saturday, January 4th, 2003 by Gay Jervey
(Photo by Per Breiehage
Admit it. You need a vacation. But the idea of leaving the office behind makes your head pound. That’s why hundreds of vacation spots worldwide have reinvented the getaway—creating venues where you can stay connected to the office and still have the time of your life.
It’s not a moment that Andrea Arena is particularly proud of. But it’s one that many a business owner can empathize with. Several years ago, she was vacationing with her then-boyfriend’s family in a beach house on Hilton Head, S.C. “It was my first outing with them, so it was important that I make a good impression,” explains Arena, the 35-year-old CEO of 2 Places at 1 Time (www.2places.com), an Atlanta-based corporate concierge business.
“Well, I made an impression,” she says with a laugh. It was not, however, the one she would have chosen.
As Arena tried to use the telephone to access the Internet, another guest picked up an extension and disconnected her. “I stormed into the living room and announced to the entire family—all of whom were in total vacation mode—that I was going to check into a hotel. I said that I was going to drive until I got a good cell-phone signal and then find a hotel so I could work.” She pauses—still bemused by, if somewhat resigned to, her behavior. “‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I’ll come back in the evenings.’ Sharing a house with them was no problem, but not having dedicated Internet service and a strong cell-phone signal was unacceptable.”
Sound familiar? Hundreds of hotel and resort moguls across the country are banking on it, as they’ve created escapes that redefine getting away from it all. The new escape mantra is getting away from most of it—and staying connected to what drives your company.
Resorts in places as far-flung as Bali and the United Arab Emirates are providing—at the very least—business centers and high-speed Internet capabilities. “Business amenities have become as common as running water,” says Marshall Calder, the managing director of Leading Hotels of the World (www.lhw.com). Calder suggests that business owners who still want to stay connected need the extraordinary. At Al Maha, for example, a Leading Hotels resort and 25-square-kilometer nature preserve in the Dubai desert, there is no road access; you arrive via a four-wheel-drive vehicle that carries you over the dunes. There is, however, Internet connection in the tents where you’ll be staying.
and Racquet Club,
Montego Bay, Jamaica
So go ahead—take a vacation. You deserve it. Or at least that’s what you should keep telling yourself.
No Request Too Large
At the end of the day, it’s all about service. “Anything that a guest may require, we can accommodate,” says Tim Sanders, guest relations manager at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colo. (888-625-5144, www.stregisaspen. com). “I’ve arranged everything from 1 a.m. European conference calls to a private jet—which enabled an executive to fly to a meeting on the West Coast and back in the same day.”
Luckily, the modern business owner is pretty savvy about staying connected,” says David von Winckler, the general manager of the Serrano Hotel in San Francisco (415-885-2500, www.serranohotel.com), which offers guests high-speed Internet access in their rooms and a 24-hour business center. The general manager says that what sets the best hotels and resorts apart is personal service coupled with business perks. “People are time-deprived,” he says. “We have found that, up until recently, customers have had more money than time on their hands. So when they go on vacation, they’re looking to use that time efficiently.”
Kevin Ryan knows what von Winckler means. For 25 years, Ryan, a partner in an actuaries consulting firm, has been visiting the Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Racquet Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica (800-626-0592, www.halfmoon.com.jm). On a recent trip, he needed to complete an actuarial report. When it was done, “I took the disc that I had, went to their print shop and they were able to print it out for me.
It really wasn’t any different than being in my office.” Ryan also took advantage of the cyber-lounge kiosks that the Half Moon has installed throughout the property, which allow visitors to collect and print their emails. “The one I used was close to the bar,” Ryan says with a chuckle. “You can go from the beach to the bar to the emails—and then go back to the bar. It’s almost too easy to transact business.”
While you may not want to be reminded of the office while soaking up rays, it doesn’t hurt to know that all the comforts of the home office are within striking distance. The 291-room British Colonial Hilton Nassau (242-322-3301 www.nassau.hilton.com) now offers the “Office Al Fresco” program, which is a mobile office (including Internet connections) by the beach or pool.
poolside: The “Al Fresco” mobile office at the British Colonial Hilton Nassau
At the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne (800-241-3333, www. ritz-carlton.com/resorts/key_biscayne), the pool concierge performs above-and-beyond services—sometimes on the sly. Recently, an executive was lounging on the beach, slathered in Coppertone, when his cell phone rang. This was his first vacation in two years, and he had promised his wife that he would not work. However, the caller needed him to fax a document—ASAP. The guest knew that leaving the pool and beach areas would arouse his wife’s suspicion, so he asked the concierge to take care of it for him, explaining exactly where in the room he could find the document. Twenty minutes later, the pool concierge found the businessman sitting with his wife and informed him, “Your dinner reservations have been made, sir. Is there anything else I can assist you with?”
Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscay
“The concierge said that it happens more often than you could imagine,” says Michelle Payer, the area director of public relations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts of Miami. “Many times, people—usually men—have to hide their business calls from their significant others. They just don’t want the person to know that they’re not focused entirely on the vacation. And with a pool concierge and a travel butler, who are attendant to your needs, you can get things done without physically doing them yourself. You delegate, just as you would in your office.”
The Ritz-Carlton also employs a “technology butler” on its properties. “The technology butler is a fancy word for an information-systems technician, who is available 24 hours a day,” explains Char Schoeder, the director of public relations at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. “If you have any problems with your laptop or any kind of Internet or technology-related problems, he is on call 24/7 to help you.”
There is little doubt that catering to the wireless is the wave of the future. Several years ago, the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas (702-632-5000, www.fourseasons.com/lasvegas) installed wireless capabilities in all of its public places. “Originally, we saw this as a growing need,” says Russ Ketchum, the regional information technologies director for the hotel. “From a technological standpoint, we saw this as something that would become a popular and necessary item.”
Even Holiday Inn has gotten into the act. Perhaps the most technologically sophisticated hotel in New York, this 18-story property in the Wall Street District (212-232-7800, www. holidayinnwsd.com) boasts a cellular-connect service that transfers your hotel calls to your mobile phone, and “Smart Rooms” with secure network printers, laptops and broadband ser-vice. The hotel also provides a virtual office in each room; you get everything from paper clips to white-out…but no water coolers.
Loft 523 (504-200-6523, www.loft 523.com), which opened last spring in New Orleans, also provides wireless capabilities. “This just seemed like a smart thing to include in a boutique hotel that attracts a high percentage of Internet users,” says Sean Cummings, who owns Loft 523 (16 SoHo-style lofts and two penthouses) and the neighboring International House (800-633-5770, www.ihhotel.com). “When guests check into the International House, if we see them come in with a laptop, we always tell them that for a few dollars more they can stay at Loft 523, where we offer wireless,” says Amy Riemer, the general manager of both hotels. “And we’re rushing them down the street.”
Allison Mitchell, the vice president of Microsoft’s world marketing group, works closely with small businesses. One day last July, she played golf in Albita Springs, La., shopped in New Orleans until the stores closed and, upon returning to Loft 523, answered some 100 emails and approved expense reports before dining in the French Quarter.
No doubt, Andrea Arena would appreciate such a day. Although she did split with the boyfriend she vacationed with on Hilton Head, they remain friends. “We broke up over conversations about how much is enough when it comes to staying connected to your business,” she says. “I realized that there was no real answer to that question for some entrepreneurs. There is never enough.”
Arena reflects on a vacation she took with a group of friends from the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “We were at a hotel in Cancun. And one of the guys in our group asked someone from the hotel staff to bring one of their little portable phones down to our beach cabana. Because we had to have it—there’s comfort in that. She pauses, “We were like Linus with his blanket.”