Look on the Bright Side

Written by admin on March 13, 2009 – 12:26 pm -

If anyone isn’t experiencing the impact of the economic downturn, bless him and her. They must be living in a bubble of wine and roses.

There are very few people who are so isolated or rich that they don’t know people in Europe and the States who aren’t feeling the crunch. Acquaintances are losing jobs and homes, closing their businesses or at least tightening their belts, and it’s simply not a happy time. And unfortunately, this crisis is not going to be ephemeral—here today and gone tomorrow. 

The tourist industry is suffering and business travel is down. People who traditionally take vacations are going to find that vacations will be among the first things they’ll have to sacrifice. For the French, vacation time is sacred. During this past month’s winter break, many people sent their children packing to their grandparents. If they took a vacation en famille, they went to substantially less expensive places. Or they were able to negotiate a better package deal. 

So what can people do to lessen the pain? Adopt the mantra to go without and decide to take advantage of things that come with a zero to minimal price tag. It’s a question everyone is asking and that includes many Bonjour Paris readers.

For example, walking in Paris’s Luxembourg Garden is a respite. Any well-maintained city park is free for the looking. If you’re so inclined and don’t have a child of your own (and there are times when it’s easier not to because of the responsibility), emotionally adopt a perfectly behaved one and share in that child’s innocent joy of exploration. 

Watch his or her excitement when finding a flower or a piece of ribbon that’s more than simply a piece of cut fabric. Share the child’s exuberance when he sees a new bird or notices a tree that merits climbing.

When taking a walk last Sunday, the person I was with suggested we buy some roses. The florist is by no means the fanciest in Paris. But for ten euros, I received nearly a week’s worth of pleasure. The bouquet was better than any meal and certainly more affordable. Were the flowers an extravagance? Some people might say yes if it were a toss up between them and eating. But the joy the arrangement gave me (and the florist arranged the bouquet as if it cost ten times more, complete with ribbons and wrapped in clear plastic) was worth the three subsequent days of eating exclusively pasta. 

Adopt a neighborhood and really get to know it. Gaze up (and down) in Paris. There’s invariably something new and different to discover. Map out walking tours wherever you live or pinpoint a town near you. Play tourist. How many times do people run from here to there without taking the time to look around? I know I’m guilty.

In France, people escape by going to the movies when times are tough. They’re more affordable than dining out. As a result, theater attendance in Paris has risen. Netflix rentals have yet to become a way of life as they are in the U.S., where an inexpensive way to pass a family evening at home is to schedule a movie time and cook up a couple of huge bowls of popcorn. There’s something decidedly exotic even about seeing an American movie (labeled V.O. for Version Originale)in Paris. 

Paris is full of churches where free or nearly free concerts take place. But people don’t need to attend services, only. Find out what time practice recitals take place and join the audience. In Washington, D.C., the Kennedy Center has Millennium Stage performances at six p.m. every evening, open to all for free. Let’s hope funding for the arts doesn’t disappear from the Federal budget and there will be people with enough money and foundations to underwrite artistic presentations. 

This is the time to return to reading. Many of us are guilty of buying books because Amazon.com makes it so easy and so fast. Visit your local library and become a borrower. Read books to purely escape from the reality of everyday life. 

Another thought—now’s the time to pare down your possessions. If you haven’t worn something in more than five years, chances are you’re not going to. Take those clothes, dishes and items you’ve been collecting in your attic or closets and try to sell them or give them to charity so others who are in need can make use of things you can hardly remember.

France is filled with stores where you can sell second-hand goods, and your cast-off may very well be someone else’s treasure. Why not generate a few euros or dollars, clean out your storage areas and make someone else happy? There are yard sales and flea markets springing up everywhere and many people frequent them as a form of recreation. And big hint: May is a big flea market time!

This is the time when people need to band together and treat one another with increased kindness.

Please feel free to add any and all of your ideas as to how to get through these more than difficult times. People are scared and with good reason. Let’s help assuage some of those fears.

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Posted in Around the World |

Would the French ruin one of their main tourist attractions?

Written by admin on March 11, 2009 – 8:45 pm -

The movie Sideways highlighted wine tasting junkets as a major sightseeing activity for wine lovers in the U.S. People go from one wine producer to another, sample a bit of that year’s crop (or older vintages) and buy bottles of their favorites to take home.

Limousine companies got into the marketing act by chauffeuring oenophiles (tasters out for a good time) from one producer to another. Driving after too much drinking is frowned upon and punishable by hefty fines with points being added to a driver’s license. Worse yet, you may find your car wrapped around a tree with you and your passengers in it. That doesn’t factor in the cars you might have encountered head on.

The French have traditionally enjoyed wine tastings at caves throughout France. Many wine growing parts of the country have designated wine-tasting routes where people stop and sample tiny glasses of wine and may or may not came away with a bottle or even a five- or ten-liter bag-in-box. Off they go to the next cave, which may be less than five minutes away. People from all over the world come expressly to make wine pilgrimages. France’s hospitality industry has benefited.

Last week, France’s Minister of Health Roselyne Bachelot proposed a law that would make it illegal to have wine tastings. This is intended to ban binge drinking at soirées sponsored by liquor companies in open bars where young people, often students, pay an entrance fee to drink as much as they like. But it could be interpreted as banning wine tastings.

As the French like to do, vintners went on strike over this proposition that would severely impact business and their ability to sell wines. Gone would be tastings in liquor stores and grocery stores (that sell enormous quantities of the country’s best-known beverage.)

Most observers of the French wager this law will never be adopted. It has too many marketing ramifications and would destroy a huge draw for French tourism.

Wine growers are proposing they be given a status differentiating them from producers of hard liquor and fortified spirits. That’s what’s done in Spain.

“How can one imagine that French wine, without even talking about its economic weight or its place in our heritage and our cultural identity, can have any real export growth opportunities when everything is done to censor it in our country?” questioned Bordeaux mayor, Alain Juppé.

Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you read about the French striking and a lot of lobbying and posturing.  C’est la France.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What are the worst hotel experiences you’ve had?

Written by admin on March 10, 2009 – 8:41 pm -

Hotel horror stories abound but some are definitely worse than others. At the moment, they may feel horrible and catastrophic. Later, you might view them with a touch of humor. You can always hope.

The following are a few hair-raising hotel sagas I’ve heard over the years.

Bumped by a convention
A group of people assigned to an on-going business project always stayed in the same hotel. They would arrive on Sunday or Monday and check out on Friday. One would think it would be good business for the hotel and that these clients would be given A+ service? Well not precisely.

Upon arriving one Sunday, they were informed there were no rooms available. Their standing reservations weren’t going to be honored since there was a convention taking place. But they shouldn’t worry since alternative reservations had been made. The group was bused to a hotel approximately 45 minutes away in a rather seedy area of the city. Some rooms were clearly being rented by the hour.

When one person complained that his room had no phone (this was pre-cell phone days), the manager unplugged his phone on the front desk and gave it to him. The group survived the night but never returned to the original upscale hotel. Not only did they nix that city’s hotel but also they decided to sever its relationship with the chain.

Even dead bugs like classy places
Another not-so-funny hotel story but certainly creepy and memorable, it told about an upscale establishment. A woman decided to splurge and booked a room in a luxury boutique hotel that cost nearly $400 per night and promoted itself as the cream of the crop.

After a grueling workday, she was looking forward to relaxing in the hotel’s whirlpool. Before she took the plunge, she cleaned the hair littering the tub. After filling the tub, she discovered the whirlpool jets weren’t working but decided to use the tub anyway. As she looked up at the light over the tub, she was horrified to be greeted by generations of dead bugs. That clinched it. She put on her clothes and checked out of the hotel ASAP.

Can we get the windows opened?
Sometimes the hotel problems are caused by previous clients. This story about maintaining the heating, or cooling, system seems humorous in hindsight.

Now that so many hotels have gone the no-smoking route, the room’s windows are often bolted shut. I guess this is probably to maintain the sanctity of its no-smoking designation. Some clever client had managed to pry open the window just enough so the room felt as if it were being overtaken by howling gale winds. The next hotel guest had to turn up the heat full blast to stay warm. The end of the room with the pried-open window was frigid while the other end was roasting. Happily, the bed was in the middle of the room. The hotel gave him a 50 percent rebate when he checked out that morning. Thank goodness he didn’t contract pneumonia along with his discount.

It meets corporate criteria, but …
A businessman was booked into a hotel by the personnel manager’s secretary. The criteria were that the hotel should be near the conference venue as well as near the train station. The company quality standard specified four-star accommodations. When he arrived, there weren’t any taxis. After eventually finding one, he was driven to the hotel that was on very impressive grounds and looked as though it had once been a very grand country house.

He thought there might have been an old-folks convention taking place based on the number of wheelchairs and walkers not to mention the median age of the guests. After checking in, he asked for directions to the bar. The receptionist shot him a strange look and informed him Quakers owned the hotel and no liquor was permitted on the premises.

In addition, part of the hotel was a retirement home causing the ambiance to be something less than cheerful. The receptionist took pity on him and directed him to the closest village. It had a pub, served meals and he hung out there until closing time when he returned to his long-term-care facility.

I still can’t figure out what kind of convention he was attending and why his secretary booked him there.

I’ve been collecting these stories and could go on and on. But rather than continue rambling on, let’s hear your accounts. Some of them must be zingers. And the real questions are: Did you find them amusing at the time? Are you laughing about them now?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The revered Michelin Guide awards its stars

Written by admin on March 3, 2009 – 8:48 pm -

For people who want to know about the (alleged) best restaurants and hotels in various countries, the Michelin Guide is more than likely their culinary and hotel bible. Or one of them.

People who happened to be passing Paris’s Musée d’Orsay yesterday might have thought the Academy Awards were taking place. The area was filled with police and there were dozens of satellite broadcast trucks, so the press could announce the newest winners (and losers) of the much sought over Michelin stars.

France has twenty-six three-star restaurants. There’s only one new addition this year and it’s been awarded to 45-year-old Eric Frechon, head chef at the tres chic and expensive Bristol Hotel. Frechon has already worked in the restaurant business for 32 years and has done everything from mop floors to cook for royalty and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s home is literally a three-minute walk to the hotel.

But as Paris is feeling the economic crisis and even the very rich have been cutting back when it comes to eating out and opting to go to less expensive restaurants. Frechon wagers this star will insure every table is booked as they were in the past.

This year was the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Michelin Guides that are printed by the tire company. During the two world wars, the guides were put on hold. Inaugurated in France, Michelin now publishes guides covering twenty-three countries and forecasts further expansion. As of this year, the information is now accessible via mobile phones including the iPhone by accessing Michelin as well as the Internet.

In addition to the 548 starred restaurants, Michelin’s 2009 French edition has awarded 527 restaurants a “Bib Gourmand.” That designation signifies restaurants that offer good value for money. These meals cost no more than €35 (without wine). They are where I’ll be eating when I’m not eating pasta in the kitchen.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 tips for traveling with kids

Written by admin on March 2, 2009 – 8:51 pm -

Traveling with children is often the most rewarding, not to mention necessary, ways to take a vacation. But the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared” takes on new and more creative meaning.

Forgetting things such as a favorite teddy bear, blanket or a night-light can cause the most well-behaved children to have meltdowns.

Times have changed radically since my nearly 40-year-old son and I took vacations. Today, the travel industry offers cruises and all inclusive package vacations catering to families, plus  resorts with camp programs target tots to teens and offers activities for all ages.

Still, you need to be prepared:

1. Plan for plane trip
Be sure to have water, juices, snacks, small toys, coloring materials, wipes, tissues, and body lotion (dry air  cause children to be itchy especially when sitting still all the time). Bring an extra blanket, an extra pair of socks that you can toss since there’s invariably yuck on airplanes’ floors. A portable DVD player (with movies the child has selected) can save your trip and your sanity.

2. Remember rest stops when traveling by car
Time goes slowly and be sure to factor in enough B&R breaks (bathroom and recreation stops). Children should stop approximately every two hours (unless they’re sleeping) to visit the bathrooms and run off some energy. Pack a picnic lunch (and snacks). You’ll be glad you did if you’re trapped by fast food places on highways. Bring extra wipes and an extra change of clothes in the event of an unanticipated disaster for a member of younger set. Look for rest-stops with playgrounds.

3. Look for family-friendly accommodations
Try to rent an apartment or a residential suite. If not, be sure the room has a refrigerator. If you’re renting two rooms, be sure there’s a connecting door between the two.

Don’t make yourself a slave to room service that may or may not be functioning or cost a fortune.  When you arrive at a destination, go to the grocery store and stock up on snacks, fruit, bread, peanut butter and a few other jars of edibles and have them available for your children without having to wait. My son survived on bowls of Raisin Bran, bananas with milk for days and did so more times than I care to remember. When we traveled to strange and “exotic” destinations, I knew he wouldn’t starve.

4. Don’t forget car seats and strollers
Be sure there are car seats available. If not, drag your own.  Bring an umbrella stroller if your child is of that age when he or she can’t or shouldn’t be expected to keep up. Anticipate that children become increasing tired in unfamiliar environments.

5. Pack enough clothes, but not too many
Life is easier when you have easy access to a washer and a dryer. Bring enough clothes but not so many that you need to pay for extra luggage or break your back transporting it.

6. Include the needed extras
Don’t forget sunscreen if you’re going to a sunny destination and a hat. Pack extra zip-lock plastic bags. More than likely, you’ll find numerous uses (some unanticipated ones) for the bags.

7. Bring a personal suitcase or backpack
Each traveler should have his or her own. Be sure you can survive if you arrive without your suitcase and you have the essentials to tide you over. Children should have input into what goes into their carry-on bags. Play the “what’s the most important things I need game.”

8. Double-check medications
Be certain you have what your child (as well as you) need in the carry-on in the event suitcases are delayed. Pack a mini-drug store plus prescriptions with the medications’ molecular breakdowns. If your child gets sick, vacation time isn’t the ideal time to be experimenting with new drugs. Even allergy pills in different counties may not be the same and why chance ruining a trip?

Do buy evacuation insurance and have enough cash in the event you need to return home quickly.

9. Stay in charge
If you’re headed to an unfamiliar destination or your child’s schedule will be thrown off. It’s up to the parents (or travel companions) to stay rested and well grounded. Children need their parents or companions to be steady and be their life-lines.

10. Do not over plan
Leave time for serendipity and plain and simple enjoyment. That includes time for the parents or the caregivers to take a night or two off on their own and know their children will be 100 percent cared for and well.

These are a few ideas. There are many more. Please post them. Now that I’m a grandmother, I need all of the help and possible advice I can get. Traveling is something I want and aim to share with my two granddaughters. And we won’t be staying at the Ritz.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

It was one of those Days

Written by admin on February 28, 2009 – 12:29 pm -

No matter how long you live in a country, there are days expatriates feel as if they arrived the day before. Whatever you touch turns to mush, and there must be a full moon somewhere in the sky and it’s glowing on you, emitting bizarre vibes.

Having lived in Paris twenty-one years, I’m fairly confident I understand the French system. How wrong I am. No matter how fluent you are in the language, cultural differences get the best of you.

The day started with a cracked front tooth. My dentist retired last year so I had to scramble to find one who would take me tout de suite. I contacted one who came highly recommended and explained to his assistant, who recently moved to France from Romania, that this was an emergency. 

She offered me an appointment four days later and our conversations were mysteries to each of us. Even though we were both speaking French, let’s say our accents would cause members of the Académie française to wonder and shake their heads in disbelief. 

I sent frantic emails to the dentist, who speaks numerous languages, was trained in America, and practices in London, as well as Paris, begging for compassion and an appointment. That seemed to do the trick (plus, asking my friend to intervene), and I was being drilled on before 2:00 p.m. that day. The song “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” kept going menacingly through my head.

In the process of getting that appointment, I had made numerous calls on my land line. Each time I called a number, a recording played that I wasn’t authorized to make calls from this number—eh? My phone bill is automatically deducted from my bank account and I’d been receiving incoming calls; however, I’d been making out-going ones from another phone which permits me to make unlimited calls anywhere in France, so I wasn’t aware until then that I had this problem.

After dialing France Telecom’s (now Orange’s) support line and playing the “if you’re experiencing this, push that…” game and being cut off four times, I had lost any semblance of patience. Finally opting to speak to a real live person, and being placed on hold for 20 minutes in order to have the privilege of paying to do so, he informed me that another company had high-jacked my phone. He couldn’t tell me which or when, but I would have to file a complaint. And by the way, I shouldn’t be surprised if I receive a hefty disconnect bill from the culprit group that never received my authorization. 

Clearly, this was going to be a problematic day. I stopped in a France Telecom/Orange boutique thinking that if I were able to make eye contact, the problem would be resolved. Not quite. Giving up on that, my next errand was to go to the bank where I’ve been doing business for more than 15 years, albeit with a few name changes. It was a little more unsettling when I realized the bank was no longer there. We’re not talking out of business (thank goodness), but it no longer has a physical office in Paris. That meant not being able to deposit or cash checks or speak to someone. Anyone.

I had been contemplating opening an account at one of the 42 banks within a mile of my apartment. So it was time. I went to three branches of one bank and was told there were no available advisers authorized to open an account, and would I like to make an appointment for next week? 

At branch number four, I made a discovery. My French is less than perfect until I get angry. Then I am amazingly communicative. Insisting there must be someone in one of their branches available immediately to open an account, I suspect that bank manager guessed that this American lady with the expensive-looking coat might a.) have real money that she could put in another bank, or b.) have a meltdown in the bank worthy of a two year old or c.) both of the above. 

I was ushered to my new best friend’s office. Sébastien had been with the bank for ten years and was more than willing to open a bank account. I was not depositing big bucks (the manager didn’t need to now that), but as we talked (in part English and some French), he got the idea that I might become a decent client and yes, he could refinance the mortgage on my Paris apartment.

But first things first: I signed multiple papers and numerous copies, initialized each page, signed where appropriate and took care of the essentials, including signing copies of 1099 US tax forms.

I gave him my ten-year residency card on which my address is noted, my press card and some checks and cash with which to open the account. He could see I had more than a few US credit cards since my wallet was in the process of disintegrating. When Sébastien requested a utility bill in order to prove I was domiciled in France, my mouth must have fallen to my knees. He conceded I could email him a copy, as it’s the law. 

We hit it off swimmingly. I was getting my way and he was signing up a client. No, there weren’t big bucks involved. But before I left his office, I promised I would send him clients as his English is good and he understands customer service. He even has a Blackberry and said he would email me as soon as my checks and credit card arrived. 

Americans are used to banks begging for their business. French banks and, I’m told, banks in the U.K., are more cautious. Bankers are on the lookout for people wanting to launder money. If a cash deposit is made in excess of 10,000€, the rule is that it must be reported to the French banking authorities.

With all the awful news about the economy, frozen credit, and big-time scams, it never occurred to me that not having a checkbook would be a major disaster in my life or might even be related to the awful news. But it was and it could be. 

Even so, the day was a success, if you believe two out of three ain’t bad. I not only have a front tooth but a bank account as well as a private banker. The phone line is still on hold and in the system. The reality is that it probably wouldn’t have been any easier had I been in the U.S. Since I’m here, I might as well believe that.

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Posted in Paris |

Are B&Bs viable business travel lodging alternatives?

Written by admin on February 26, 2009 – 8:53 pm -

Looking for less expensive places to stay when traveling on business?  All you need to do is access the Internet and you’ll find thousands of listings for B&Bs.

These are no longer exclusively delegated to Mom and Pop country homes that have a few extra rooms where cityfolk can escape from downtown pressures. You know the type: rooms with four poster beds, lots of country prints and a delicious breakfast served with homemade breads and jams. The host family generally hovers and serves as guides with a vast amount of information about the area that they’re delighted to share.

There’s a new trend. B&Bs in major cities are mushrooming and many of the owners are doing their best to cater to business travelers. Some business travelers think they’re the answer. Others wouldn’t go near them.

For example, one road warrior says he always shies away from them for work related travel because he needs a certain amount of anonymity. The management consultant explains, “During breakfast, I don’t really want to chat about homemade scones. I’ve got to get my mind/notes together for that day’s meetings.”

Others are converts who opt for B&Bs over hotels even though they might not be substantially less expensive than inexpensive hotels or motels.

But, there are certain requirements and an increasing number of B&B owners are willing to supply them.  The economy is tough for everyone.

Here are a few things people cite as priorities when opting for B&Bs:
1. Location
2. Easy access to public transportation
3- Free WiFi
4- Use of a printer and a photocopy machine
5- Good beds
6- TV’s in the room with English language channels
7- Good showers with lots of hot water

When it comes to breakfast, some business people say they prefer having the option of self-service and being able to carry it away rather than sitting down at a communal table.

Other necessities:
24-hour-a-day access to the premises without disturbing others.
Being able to book on-line and pay with a credit card.

Some people do appreciate the coziness of B&Bs plus the ability to connect with others. One friend stays at them when she’s attending conventions. She’s willing to walk up to 20 minutes and likes returning to a smaller place after she’s spent the day being jostled by too many people in a convention hall. She’s quick to say it’s nice to be able to have a drink in her temporary home’s living room and relax. In addition, she’s met some nice people.

The B&B concept is growing in popularity. Ten years ago, there weren’t any in Central Paris. Now there are hundreds.

What’s your take?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Thailand wants tourists and will go a long way to attract them

Written by admin on February 24, 2009 – 8:55 pm -

AirAsia, Southeast Asia’s top budget carrier, is giving away 100,000 “free” tickets to Thailand to support the nation’s tourist industry that was badly impacted last year when the Bangkok airport was closed because of political demonstrations.

“Get Your Baht To Thailand” is the theme of this aggressive marketing campaign that’s being sponsored by the airline in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Tickets are available until March 31 on AirAsia’s official site. The airline operates approximately four hundred international flights between South Asia and China and nearly that many within Thailand each week.

Free is not always free. First, you’ll have to get yourself to an Asian city where you can climb aboard one of the airline’s flights. Second, passengers will be responsible for airport taxes and an administration fee. But AirAsia has waived fuel surcharges.

Surf the Internet for hotels and resorts in Thailand and there are an amazing number that are practically giving rooms and extras away. If you have the urge to go and the money, you’ll get the most bang for your buck and return having experienced a special culture — or simply vegged out on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

How I’d love to go.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What are senior executives doing to save on travel expenses?

Written by admin on February 23, 2009 – 8:57 pm -

With the economy at an all time low since the depression, what are corporate executives doing to cut costs and still generate business? If they’re going to ask staff members to hold back, many believe they should set an example.

Many executives have adopted the mantra that they need to spend money as if it’s their own. If it is, now’s not the time to flaunt it even if they have it.

The days of chartering private jets are on hold unless there’s no way you can get from here to there without spending days away from the office in the process of competing for a mega-buck contract.

Some executives justify flying business class if they can depart early in the morning and sleep all the way to their destination with the proviso the aircraft’s seats are sufficiently comfortable. More than one person states he or she takes the first flight departing New York City for Los Angeles or San Francisco and returns after dinner (on the West Coast) essentially packing two days into one.

Other road warriors have resorted to using frequent-flier miles to upgrade (if they can). No more accumulating them as a perk for family vacations. Now’s the time to utilize affinity/airline programs, hotel programs and other incentive programs such as credit card points.

Try to avoid last minute travel since it tends to be more expensive especially if you lack flexibility when it comes to the date and the time. Book as early as possible if you know of an upcoming trip. Some business travelers might stay over a Saturday night if the meeting is on Friday and the destination is interesting. But few bosses insist that employees do so, since they respect that people need weekends to be with their families. Now’s not the time to add additional stress to marriages which invariably are already experiencing pressure.

Executives appear to be unanimous about analyzing whether or not the trip is essential. They may prefer face-to-face meetings. But frequently there are times a conference call will suffice.

Where entertainment/meals are valuable in building and nurturing relationships, executives say they’ll continue to wine and dine. But they no longer feel it’s essential to impress people by entertaining at the newest or most expensive restaurant in town.

Other money savers: Stay in the company’s best rated hotel that’s as close as possible to office where the meetings are taking place, and if possible, walk rather than taxi. Savvy travelers try to stay in the same hotel group to amass points that can be converted into free room nights.

Some people are staying at mid-major hotels, making sure the value they’re getting matches their business needs. An executive explained, “Once we’re in a conference room for meetings, we can’t tell whether the room is in the Ritz or a Marriott Courtyard or, for that matter, whether we’re in Fort Lauderdale or Fort Worth.” Try to group trips, especially if international travel is involved. Intra-Europe travel usually can be booked relatively inexpensively.

It’s a whole new and challenging world in the realm of travel cutbacks. How are you coping?

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Big savings at luxury hotels — uncovering surprising bargains

Written by admin on February 19, 2009 – 8:59 pm -

The time has come to get down and dirty when it comes to saving money when traveling for business. The faltering economy is enough to give most people hives. How and where to save money has become a major factor.

Hotel consultant Michael Matthews, a frequent contributor to JoeSentMe advises people to set their sights higher rather than lower. “Hotels at the bottom of the lodging ladder are doing fine because travelers, who normally stay in the mid-tier properties are being forced to downgrade. Mid-tier properties are hurting too because their rooms are not being filled by travelers dropping down from the five-star rung. Why? There are far fewer hotels in the top tier. Therefore fewer travelers downgrading to the middle tier.”

Matthews says that, “luxury hotels at the five-star level are currently hemorrhaging cash. Their revenue per available room, a crucial measure of financial health, is off 16 to 20 percent. And occupancy rates have plunged to the 50 percent level.” As a result, luxury hotels are discounting and cutting rates like there’s no tomorrow. (And for some of them, there may not be a tomorrow.)”

Always a skeptic, I decided to test Mr. Matthews’ premise. After surfing the Internet’s many many hotel booking sites, I was amazed by some of the prices that are currently available. Even in Manhattan, rooms in super-deluxe hotels are costing out at less than $250 per night.

If you’re somewhat flexible and (even better) can book at the last minute, you may be able to score a room in a “palace” hotel for less than $200. Hotels need to keep rooms occupied so they aren’t forced to fire staff members. Something of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

Travel agents who work closely with specific hotels may be able to find rooms at a fraction of the cost of the quoted rack rate. For that matter, anyone who pays the full rate now (unless there’s a special event taking place and a limited number of available rooms), should have his or her heads examined.

Wondering if French hoteliers would be receptive to negotiating, I called one of Paris’s top hotels and spoke with the General Manager. He said that some hotels are opting to be rated with one (or more) fewer stars that are awarded by the Ministry of Tourism. Jean-Jacques explained hotels that as a consequence, hotels are liable for paying lower taxes to the French government. In addition, many corporations don’t want their personnel staying at the most expensive hotel in the city.

One friend, Arthur, who spends a great deal of time in Paris, has negotiated a rate of $225 per night at one the Paris’s most prestigious hotels. Dinner for two people in the dining room costs considerably more than that. Arthur guarantees 100 room-nights per year and pays the total amount each January. As a result, he’s treated like a king and is usually upgraded to a suite and generally the same one. He concedes that he’s shuffled to a deluxe room during the fashion shows.

What happens if he doesn’t need to be in Paris all of that time? He says that even if that’s the case, it still costs less than booking a room as needed. Last year, he gave two sets of friends wedding gifts of five nights each at “his” hotel. They were thrilled.

Have you discovered any money saving hotel secrets? I was thinking B&B’s were the solution. But this is an intriguing idea.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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