This week saw the first edition of the virtual New Travel Conference, 22-26 June 2020. See, above, one of the panels, featuring such names as New York chef-restaurateur Andew Carmellini (Locanda Verde and The Dutch), top right; Lydia Forte, middle right, and Amar Nahai, Acoor’s Mr Food, bottom left. This was the important panel on food and drink.
The New Travel Conference was put together by Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond and Camp Beyond – this guy is a real innovator in the travel advisor world of today – plus the Fathom travel portal’s founding CEO Pavia Rosati, and a journalist, Shivani Vora. It ran, all five days, from 9 a.m. New York time, and the first presentation, to open the event, was Olivia Richli, explaining Heckfield Place (as Girlahead says so often, having the owner or, as in this case, the GM, present a product is so much more powerful than a sales and/or marketing person, and the nadir is a PR spokesperson – also, when virtual, every event commands the top person, as happened here with the fair Olivia). Multi-person panels had moderators who were, perhaps, inconsistent. Some were very good, others not so good and some were, well, horrid.
At one point over the week we heard François Delahaye, COO The Dorchester Collection, explain that while the group’s two California properties had remained open throughout the lockdown, the others all re-open 1st September. There have been no staff lay-offs, but because of extra cleaning requirements expect some redeployment, to give bigger Housekeeping departments. Ratio of staff to room will be 3:1, but those team members will not be, well, hanging around. They will be there when guests want them, otherwise they will be busy out of sight. But, said Delahaye determinedly, human touch is the key.
On the food and drink panel, Accor’s Amir Nahai said that honestly, after emerging from lockdown the experience has been that people are itching to go out. At Royal Monceau Raffles, Paris, all eating places are packed, lunch and dinner, and the inner courtyard has become a very attractive Secret Garden. That hotel is offering dinners at home, brought by a chef who cooks bespoke. Nahai believes that today anything that is bland will really suffer – at Royal Monceau Raffles, Paris, champagne ‘by the glass’ is all vintage, only poured from magnum or jereboams. This is not the time to cut back but to take risk. Speaking about Rocco Forte hotels, Lydia Forte, the collection’s food guru, mentioned how the glorious near-vertical outside garden at Hotel de Russie, Rome, really illustrates the pull of ‘dining out’ right now. Hotel guests are not using room service as much as anticipated, though non-hotel guests are, somewhat contrarily, opting to dine in unoccupied bedrooms. (Lydia Forte is such a presentation asset – it was a bit of shame that no-one had told her father, Sir Rocco Forte, later doing a solo act, that it is an absolute no-no to sit in front of a well-lit open window, illustrating that Gilbert & Sullivan ditty, from Trial By Jury, ‘She could easily pass for 43 in the dusk with the light behind her.)
Oh what names there were during the week-long New Travel Conference: Liz Biden, Chip Conley, Doug Gollan, Philippe Gombert, Catherine Heald, Farhad Heydari, Ori Kafri, Shannon Knapp, Wendy Perrin, and so many more – yes, there were big brands missing (where were the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott families?). On the final day, one highlight was James McBride, who found himself in lockdown at otherwise-empty Nihi Sumba (he thought he might be there for a month, and set himself the goal of losing five kilos, but actually gained one). Also on that panel, the equally ubiquitous – in virtual thinktank terms – Neil Jacobs admitted that at Six Senses, sustainability and wellness were increasingly becoming indistinguishable. It was an overall admirable experience, and Girlahead wishes New Travel Conference well for its next edition.