Thursday was yet another really HOT August morning in New York City. The public relations firm for the hotel and the in-house PR people selected a roof-top venue for the event. The stated objective: to introduce a global amenities program targeted at Chinese travelers.
The invitation did not say, “Wear a bikini,” “Bring a fan,” or “Grab an icepack.” I might have been able to laugh about the steaming rooftop if I had been forewarned; however, when I got off the elevator and received a blast of hot, smelly NYC summer air, I was worried about what would happen next.
What is the Point?
I really do not mind dashing on subways and busses, running for a taxi to reach a venue when there is a direct link between the program/event and the location. I remember trudging down to Battery Park City on a hot summer day a few years ago to see a top-of-the line speedboat (Fearless) and was rewarded with a fabulous ride around the tip Manhattan (shades of 007) plus I walked off with a terrific ball cap and tote bag that I proudly use to this day. The boat, the water, the NY skyline… all worked, and the event was worth the extended journey to get to the locale.
I am still looking for a connection between the venue and the press conference objective. The release indicated that this global hotel group, recognizing the importance of the Chinese market to their properties decided to provide ethnic-directed services and amenities to encourage the Asian traveler to stay their hotels.
OK! The concept of adding special services for specific target markets is not a new idea. Decades ago, when hoteliers discovered that the Japanese were becoming an important source for hotel rooms, they hired attractive Japanese women, put them in kimonos, gave them a desk in the lobby, and encouraged them to act as Geishas to welcome Japanese business executives. The hotels added Japanese breakfasts, slippers, robes with Japanese designs, and the really savvy ones, provided a message from the General Manager in Japanese. Hotels that have Muslim guests may have a “women only floor” that addresses the culture and customs of some Middle Eastern women. So – creating unique services for a particular market is just savvy marketing.
Where is the Chinese touch?
I schlepped across town in a sultry New York summer, pushed through rush hour crowds on busses and sidewalks, dashed across streets against the lights – all to get my “Chinese fix” and hopefully an interesting story and an interview with the Chinese executive heading up the program.
It is obvious that I am interested in experiencing the unique services the hotel has designed. I eagerly look forward to being greeted in Chinese, seeing Chinese-inspired uniforms, sharing congee, dim sum, fried dough fritters, and other Chinese morning delicacies, and authentic Chinese tea.
What did I get?
I got a hotel located in the wholesale/furrier section of Manhattan. I got yogurt with muesli, and containerized diluted orange and grapefruit juice and warm water. The ice was melting so fast that the drinks could not be kept cold and insulated mugs were not being used.
So – here we are, one of the hottest days of the August summer, and the event is held on a roof top that has no air conditioning! To add to the bewilderment, the breakfast offerings were not Chinese, and the women welcoming the media and other guests were dressed as if they were preparing for a Fashion Week runway event and not a program to welcome travelers from the PRC.
How am I to cover an event about Chinese services when there are no Chinese services to experience?
Made in China
Finally a hotel executive stands on a make-shift platform and announces the beginning of the program. He talks about the importance of the Chinese traveler to their international hotels and details the services available at some of his hotels (I guess this one was not included in the group). After speaking for a few moments, repeating the information that was on the press release, he turns on Skype and lets us know that the key speaker for the program, stuck in the PRC because of bad weather, was going to be interviewed remotely.
Because of the glare of the sun, and the poorly-positioned TV screen, it was impossible to actually see the woman being interviewed. I could not hear what she had to say because the speakers could not compete with the vast roof-top space or the noises of New York City. The best I could gather is that this designer was delighted with the strategic alliance between her Chinese company and Hilton, and she liked to eat congee when she was a guest at the hotels.
Finally, the Chinese connection: the designer was born in China and currently running her business from the PRC. What was the product she designed for this “unique” hotel Chinese program? OMG! She designed a pair of slippers!
I may be wrong, but somehow I do not think a pair of made-in-China slippers is going to make a difference to any guest; that they will select one hotel rather than another because they can get a pair of slippers. The entire focus, Chinese services for Chinese visitors, was summarized by the presentation of a pair of slippers.
What I cannot figure out is why the project was considered worthy of a press event; why the event was held outdoors when the temperature was in the high 80s and humid; why the Chinese designer had to be seen at all. I can think of at least a dozen unique and appropriate ways to promote a “made for Chinese guests” program and this is not one of them.
I really have to become disciplined and maybe acquire a crystal ball. I want to be able to determine when an event/program will be worth my time and when the main purpose of inviting me is to add another body to the group that will justify the expense of a press conference that turns out to be a non-event.