Almost two-thirds of vacations canceled

Being a working stiff blows. It’s bad enough that two years of recession sorrows have forced us to “work smarter not harder” and “do more with less.” Now, we’re also turning our vacations into office time. A study commissioned by Westin Hotels & Resorts, based on 1,500 employed professionals, found that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) canceled their vacations this year. A third canceled their vacations for work-related reasons.

For those who pushed forward with their time off … well, why did they bother? Twenty-five percent of respondents say they check into work hourly while on vacation – by e-mail and phone.

Okay, so are you ready for the real shocker now? A whopping 58 percent of respondents say “they are more in need of a vacation than last year.” What good would it do, though, if they’re just going to spend the whole trip checking in at the cubicle farm? To make matters at least a shade grimmer, 67 percent “feel better on vacation” and 64 percent “sleep better when they’re not working.”

[photo by Evil Erin via Flickr]

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: Pick the right lobby for your meetings

If you want to hold a business meeting in a hotel lobby where you really don’t have any reason to be, it’s worth doing a little homework. Pick a hotel without doing a little reconnaissance, and you could suffer an embarrassing moment in front of a potential client or investor. You’ve worked hard enough for the meeting – and a faux pan may ensure that you won’t get another.

Invest some time in choosing the hotel lobbies you want to use (and you should definitely use more than one). Take a day to wander the city and look for big hotels that have spacious seating areas. Conduct follow-up visits to see how the traffic flows through the lobby on different days and at different times. In general, get to know your environment.

Once you have a feel for the hotel lobbies that could define your future, it’s time to take a closer look. You want to make sure you have everything you need at your disposal. Keep the following in mind when selecting hotel lobbies to use for business meetings:1. You need power
Make sure the lobbies on your list have plenty of power outlets. You may have a laptop with a long battery life, but you don’t know how long you’ll need. If you’re running around from one meeting to the next, you may not have time to stop to recharge in between. The best hotel lobbies for business meetings not only have lots of power outlets but have them (a) near seats and (b) in parts of the lobby that are out of the way.

2. Stay connected
You may not think you need internet access for your meeting, but it’s good to have a connection in case you need to look something up. Also, you’ll probably arrive early, and that connection will make you productive while you wait. If you can score free wi-fi, that’s fantastic. A good backup is a hotel that has a service anyone can tap into for a fee. What’s $10 when you’re future’s on the line?

3. Lots of motion
A busy hotel where nobody spends much time in the lobby is ideal. The action around you will camouflage your activity, but you won’t be taking up space that a paying guest might want. Hotels near financial or business centers are great places for this dynamic.

4. Busy employees
A staff that is regularly and fully engaged with guests won’t have time to think about you. A hotel lobby that has employees actively engaged in efforts to look busy is dangerous. A bellman looking for something to do could find a reason to hassle you.

5. Make sure there’s a “Plan B” nearby
This is what I loved about the Westin Copley Place Hotel. It was adjacent to a Marriott with a large lobby, and there was a Starbucks right around the corner (and across the street). Within a short walk, there were countless other hotels you could use.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: Where the future is conceived

The seeds of economic recovery will be sewn in the travel industry. No, it will not be the hotels that pump new jobs out onto the market, and it certainly won’t be the airlines, which seem locked in perpetual battle against any positive influence the economy can have on them. Rather, the future will come from inside the hotels – specifically their lobbies. Historically, this venue has been the den of entrepreneurs with high hopes, small starts and an opportunity to pitch their wares. When lobby action heats up, you can forget about the unemployment rate or the value of the dollar against the euro – the economy will begin to come back.

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent most of the past decade not paying too much attention to hotel lobbies and the people in them … you know, like every other traveler does. Lobbies constituted a space between the present and the goal, whether you were entering the hotel or leaving it. To me, they were nothing more than a space to be traversed. My perspective changed this year, and I haven’t been able to get out of my head that every time I walk to my guestroom, I might be passing my next boss.

Hotel lobbies are an obvious choice for business professionals and startup jockeys. They tend to be large, have plenty of seating and afford a considerable degree of anonymity. People come and go all the time, and they generally mind their own business. Even the hotel staff will leave you alone, as long as you stay as unnoticeable as possible and don’t disrupt the guests (it also doesn’t hurt to buy a drink at the bar every now and then). The confluence of these factors means that the entrepreneur can flip open his laptop and walk a potential client or investor through his hopes and dreams, all crisply and clearly detailed in a PowerPoint presentation.I have been to my share of hotel lobbies. My most recent experience came only a few weeks ago, at the Union Square W Hotel. A friend of mine (no names, it’s still early in the proces), invited me to discuss with her and her partner a new business venture they were exploring. On the corner of E 17th St. and Park Avenue South, I dropped my cigar to the street and nudged it softly with my toe through the sewer grate underfoot. With that one fluid motion, my mind raced back to Boston, almost a decade earlier.

The carnage from the collapse of the dotcom economy was still visible back then. Two years after the NASDAQ took its initial plunge and a year after Enron hit the skids, the tech industry up there was in disarray. Networking events held by the Massachusetts eCommerce Association had become job-hunting dens, populated only with buyers – there were no sellers to be found. Of course, entrepreneurship is born of economic woe, as bright minds unable to find a paycheck from someone else are forced to turn to the dreams they’ve nurtured quietly for years – decades, even.

It was against this backdrop that I let my cigar butt fall to the ground where Dartmouth, St. James and Huntington converge and pushed through the revolving doors to the Westin Copley Place Hotel. I met a familiar face in the lobby at the top o f the escalator. No names, of course, even this far down the road – but, he was tall, a tad gaunt and had the obvious look of the academic he had once been. Doc, I’ll call him, had developed an unusual and interesting bit of software – the kind of thing that would have mattered only to a relatively small community of people with deep pockets – that he was trying to peddle in a market that didn’t favor anything with a price tag.

I joined Doc on the couch in the Westin lobby, which was buzzing with the activity of tourists and locals milling around the adjacent Grettacole salon and spa, and he began to discuss his appreciation for hotel lobbies. They offered plenty of space at the right price, and the comings and goings of people who aren’t permanent provided a sufficient screen behind which to hide from employees. He’d held meetings in countless lobbies, he explained, and had no plans to abandon the practice.

I was in no position to criticize. Having just started a consulting firm of my own, I’d done the same thing on a few occasions. My partners and I routinely met in public spaces, including the Amtrak/commuter rail station on Route 128, but none compared to hotel lobbies, which were closer to home, far more comfortable and within stumbling distance of an endless list of restaurants and bars. If the conversation went well in a hotel lobby, you could always go celebrate with a drink afterward.

Doc and I used the same hotel lobby regularly for more than a year, sometimes to meet with each other, and often to pursue our own separate agendas. I ran into other entrepreneurs there, as well. So, I wasn’t surprised when I was summoned to the W at Union Square this year – twice (by two different entrepreneurs).

When I strode into the lobby this year, in the comfortable position of being pitched rather than doing the pitching, I took a look around. The couches weren’t packed, but you certainly wouldn’t get one of your own if you wanted to sit for a moment. There were individuals working alone, fixated on computer screens and scribbling on notepads. I also saw a few groups, huddled around glowing screens, looking over each other’s shoulders and whispering ideas. They could have been business travelers and guests of the hotel, putting their heads together for a quick strategy session before dashing off to see a client, but I sensed otherwise. Memories don’t fade all that easily.

Finally, I saw a hand wave and quickly made my way to the meeting I was about to attend. In a strange way, it felt like home. Within seconds, I was tete-a-tete-a-tete with two people ready to change the world. I felt 30 pounds lighter, nine years younger and almost like I had a full head of hair again.

If you feel down about the current state of our economy, stroll through a big city’s hotel lobby. It might be hard to feel better, but you can be sure a few people in there are working on the cure for what ails you.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.

Westin hotel to layoff employees after protests over pay cuts

The Westin Hotel announced it would cut the jobs of almost 50 employees at its Providence, Rhode Island hotel. The layoffs come after several months of demonstrations at the hotel.

According to the Providence Journal, the hotel workers were notified Friday that their jobs would be farmed out to a subcontracting firm at the end of the month.

Demonstrations began in March when the 200-member hotel workers union called for a boycott of the hotel after learning that Westin management wanted to impose wage cuts, health-care cost increases and increased work loads.

The union, whose contract expired in October, says it will continue to call for a boycott.

[via The Providence Journal]

New York City on a budget – is it worth staying in New Jersey?

This past weekend, I embarked on a journey I have often avoided taking: I went across the Hudson River and spent two nights in New Jersey. My goal was to determine whether or not staying in New Jersey is actually a smart, cheaper, just-as-good way to visit New York City.

My snobbish aversion to New Jersey is partially born of fear. I don’t know how to “do” New Jersey, and everyone I know who lives there pays less rent for an apartment twice as big as mine. All this makes me very uncomfortable. That, and the fact that I love living in Manhattan.

Still, Manhattan is expensive — and that goes for hotels, too. Everyone in New York knows full well that it only takes about 15 minutes to get to New Jersey, and yet many of us view it as a whole other country. The fact is, for the frugal traveler, you can get a hotel in New Jersey for a lot less than you can in NYC. The Westin Jersey City Newport, where I stayed this weekend, typically costs 30 percent less than the Westin in Times Square, and you’ll see that kind of price variance and greater across the board. And, as I said, it’s only 15 minutes away. But is it really worth it to stay in New Jersey when visiting New York City?It turns out that some people, particularly Europeans, like to stay in New Jersey. The energy of New York is admittedly hectic, and can be stressful for some. “People like to be able to walk in and walk out,” said Bob McIntosh, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Westin Jersey City Newport.

That makes sense to me. The difference you feel when you exit the Newport/Pavonia PATH station (just one stop from Manhattan’s Christopher Street stop in the trendy West Village) is palpable. There are fewer people, everything’s clean, the views of NYC are stunning and nobody asks you for spare change. Staying the night at the Westin in the spacious, airy room with a view of Manhattan was comfortable and unbelievably quiet — I was impressed. And when you think about it, why pay money to sleep in noise?

The answer came to me the next day when I looked out the window at what seemed like a different country, as I mentioned before in reverse. When you look across the river, the effort to get to Manhattan feels monumental. I had hoped to take a ferry ride across the Hudson and catch some sun along the way, but unfortunately, it was a Saturday. I learned that ferries and water taxis don’t run on the weekends, and the PATH trains don’t run as often as they do Monday through Friday.

Still, I timed my trip from the white tea-scented lobby of The Westin to the World Trade Center via PATH train with one transfer — 22 minutes, and I had just missed a train when I got there. That’s not bad; as a matter of fact, it takes longer to get there from my Manhattan apartment. The PATH train is just $1.75 and runs 24 hours (albeit slower nights and weekends).

During the week, according to the concierge, you can get a ferry for $12.75 or a private water taxi (NY Waterway) for just $7.25. The earliest ferry is at 6:58 AM on weekdays, and the latest return is at 7:39 PM. Alternatively, you can get a car service any day of the week for about $45 plus an $8 toll.

So, is it worth it to stay in New Jersey? Financially, yes — you can often find cheaper flights into Newark, and you might be able to afford a luxury hotel like The Westin in New Jersey even if it’s out of range in NYC. The obstacle is making yourself commit to trekking under or over the Hudson River every single day of your trip, because if you go for a wander outside a hotel in New Jersey, it’s really, really not the same; not the style, not the food, not the people — but after a frenzied day in New York City, that change to a safer, calmer place may be just what you want.

My stay at The Westin Jersey City Newport was free, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are only biased by my personal snobbery, not the hotel.