Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.
As summer winds down, airport lines thin out, and everyone gets back to business, it is worth taking stock of the winners and losers of the summer travel season.
Bet you didn’t expect to see this brand as number one on my list! But the beleaguered American rail company just announced significant upgrades to the product traveling the Northeast corridor. Though they look like the Shinkansen’s shorter, stubbier brother, they promise better seats, more wi-fi (that actually works), and a faster, smoother ride. The catch? It’s not coming until 2021. But it gives frequent travelers something to look forward to as they waste away in a sub-standard and overpriced Acela product. Now if we could only do something about people tapping away on Lenovo keyboards that still actually make noise
2. Upper House Hong Kong
I’m calling Upper House my favorite hotel in the world. Full stop. The past few visits have had anticipatory, exemplary service. Every member of staff knows your name on sight, and they get the small details absolutely right — from in room scent, to amenity kits, to perfect espresso bar in the lobby. They blend technology, CRM and the human touch perfectly and consistently,. Worth checking into the hotel in Pacific Place when your next trip takes you to Hong Kong. Other top hospitality brands will be cribbing from this playbook.
3. Copenhagen dining scene
Sure, everyone knows Noma for good reason. But there’s some good new entrants on the Copenhagen dining scene. Matt Orlando’s Amass was just announced it is 100 percent organic (this actually means something in Denmark) and is doing incredible work with eliminating waste from their kitchen. A lot of the food is locally grown in the back garden and a recent tasting menu blew the doors off in terms of creativity, nuance, and local approach. Other restaurants to add to your to-do list: the unfussy and excellent 108 from a Noma alum, and a new entrant in Nyhavn, Restaurant Havfruen, from the founder of noted cafe Atelier September. For drinks, don’t miss Balderdash.
4. Qatar Airways
There’s a lot of talk about how good the Middle Eastern airlines are. Emirates and Etihad have incredible products. But in terms of in-cabin service, the award goes to Qatar. Everything they do is five percent better than their local competitors. And while they might not be flying the a380 on the JFK route, the perfectly polished 777 suits just fine.
5. Modern Atlas app
Modern Atlas is a great iOS app for exploring a city, bookmarking to-do’s and generally adding depth and interactivity to learning about a place. I tried the Hong Kong culinary tour on a recent visit and found it smart and easy to use. 99 cents well spent.
6. Raleigh newsstand
At the front of the Raleigh in South Beach is a perfect newsstand, coffee shop, and outdoor seating. It is the perfect place to read the paper away from the crowds and is open 24 hours a day for a nightcap if need be.
8. More hotels on messenger
As Skift has previously reported, more hotels are adopting widely used messaging platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp for customer service and requests. It is smart and intuitive to adapt to the platforms people are already using rather than try to re-invent the wheels through the dusty IT department.
9. The Monocle travel guides
Andrew Tuck, Tyler Brûlé, and the Monocle crew continue their print-loving run with some excellent hardbound guides. New entrants include Madrid, Vienna, and Sydney. Well worth picking up for your next trip.
While silence is often the best response to mediocrity, a few sentences on things that are dying for improvement.
1. Legacy domestic carriers
I can’t shake the WSJ piece from my brain about U.S. domestic carriers colluding toward mediocrity. Seems they are making sure to keep in pace as they cut benefits from their elite passengers, as well as general cuts across the board. Can you imagine what those conversations sound like? American sliced its benefits for their most elite Executive Platinum Passengers and across the board upgrades are harder to come by. As I’ve argued in a previous column, when do people just abandon their blind loyalty and become free agents?
2. San Francisco hotel scene
Someone please put a small, perfect boutique in San Francisco, because the current offerings are dire. At the top-end, the Four Seasons and the St Regis are shadows of their cousins in other cities, and the Clift is looking rather scuffed and like a Philippe Starck hangover.
3. TSA and Port Authority
The TSA is great at yelling at passengers in security lines, not so great in responding to active shooter scares. Reports of agents recently abandoning their posts during the JFK scare, stoking more panic, and generally losing the plot make me fear something actually terrible happening at a U.S. airport.
4. New York’s LaGuardia airport
Construction is turning a terrible airport into even more of a hellhole. Avoid at all costs if you can.
5. Customs at Nice airport
On the security front, even after the terrifying attacks in Paris, I was ushered into France via Nice passport control with a cursory glance at my document. No scan, no cursory flip. Nothing. I could have handed him the back of a cereal box. When will this change?