In a New York Minute

It's been a week of tooling around New York, visiting with industry colleagues to see what they've been up to.

Just yesterday I ventured up to the Essex House on Central Park South. I've been anxious to see what's going on with this classic hotel, which is close to wrapping up a $70 million renovation following its acquisition by Jumeirah. I caught up with an old friend, Thatcher Brown, who is overseeing the sales and marketing of the hotel. But, as is so often the case when a hotel is undergoing a major change, all executives have all hands on deck, and Brown, whom I had known when he was in development for Fairmont, appears to be involved with much more than the marketing of the hotel. This became ultra clear as he showed me the details of the wonderful upgrades that Jumeirah has implemented to the hotel's physical plant during its renovation. First off, he introduced me to the lobby, which has undergone a dramatic change. The Essex House's entryway has always had a welcoming feel, but it was rather functional. Now the registration desk is displayed with an open and airy design while the concierge desk is discreetly set back into a recessed area where guests can quietly consult on available activities and services. The big news is that the other half of the lobby is now a lounge with posh leather settees and where afternoon tea and cocktails are now served. I can't wait to see what it all looks like at night when it's illuminated by candlelight. I think it may become one of my new favorite after-hours haunts.

I was also thrilled to see a model guest room. Here, Jumeirah has invested $12,000 in each unit for technology alone. I loved the fact that motion sensors signal a gentle light under the bedside tables to go on, so if one needs to arise during the middle of the night there's no need to turn on the overhead light. Even better, a light automatically goes on in the bathroom at the same time. All in all, guest rooms are also larger as Jumeirah has taken the inventory count of 605 down to 515.

Supreme Service

Guests will find that the most dramatic upgrade to the Jumeirah Essex House is in the level of service offered. During my visit, I was fully aware that I was just feet away at all times from someone who was subtlety there to assist me with whatever I needed, and that is exactly what was intended.

There's no question Brown is having a good time as this stately gem is revived. But what's most satisfying of all for him, he says, is the fact that he grew up just blocks away from the hotel and saw it every single day of his childhood.

It's always exciting in a big city when its grandest hotels start to renovate to compete with each other. In the end, it creates stronger product for the travel agent to sell. Just last month I was up at The Pierre (now a Taj Hotel), which hosted one of the classiest parties of the year to introduce travel agents, meeting planners and other key players to its newly renovated ballroom. While I was there, I separately met up with Jodi Dell Leblanc, vice president of sales and marketing for Taj Hotels, and Jack Bloch, owner of JB's World Travel Consultants on 57th Street, who had just appeared on the March issue of Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent magazine's sister publication. (To view the article, visit www.luxuryta.com and click on the "past issues" link). "I thought the renovation was warm and inviting, without being too ostentatious," Bloch says. I agree, the room did look fabulous, and I can't wait to see what comes next with Taj's multi-million-dollar re-do of this landmark hotel.

Visiting IsramWorld

Just before visiting the Essex House, my colleague, Jennifer Merritt, and I visited with IsramWorld's CEO Ady Gelber on Park Avenue. Gelber is once again back in the saddle, having returned to the company after being away since last March. In fact, he is now the majority owner. What's better than that? When I asked Gelber, who joined the company in 1979, if there had been a magic moment since he'd returned, when he'd just felt like shouting, "I'm thrilled to be back!," he smiled and said, "I've been extremely happy to be back every single day."

You'll read in Jennifer's story that IsramWorld is seeking input from a newly formed travel agent advisory board for its 2008 programs. During our visit, we were also privy to some exciting plans for next year, and while we're not at liberty to reveal what they are, we feel that travel agents will find that this tour operator, which does not sell direct to consumers at all, is always coming up with fresh product to sell.

In case you haven't seen it, IsramWorld takes up an entire floor of an office building on

Park Avenue South
near
19th Street
. Set amongst some of Chelsea's most exciting restaurants and shops, the office houses 60 employees, many of them destination experts on the various regions that IsramWorld serves. These experts, says Gelber, are what he considers to be the company's greatest assets.

I suspect he also feels as strongly about his travel agent partners, to whom he's shown a tremendous loyalty over the four decades he's been at IsramWorld.

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR rterrero@questex.com

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