Behind the Scenes: A Travel Writer Press Junket
When I mention that I write travel features for magazines and newspapers, I invariably hear one of two responses: “If you ever need someone to come along, call me!” or “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.” Everyone, it seems, yearns to be a travel writer. You get paid to eat at a passel of restaurants, indulge in fancy hotels, and snare lots of swag, right?
Not exactly. For the most part, gone are the days when fat travel magazines send freelance writers out on glamorous assignments. Actually, gone are the days when travel magazines are fat. Loss of ad pages, rise of the internet and shuttering of respectable publications have conspired to turn freelance travel writing into a side business, if a business at all. In fact, some publications only hire writers who do not partake of any complimentary services, meals or stays.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been at this gig for nearly 15 years and wouldn’t trade it for anything. It helps that I’ve never been in it for the money, the freebies or the fawning attention - those perks come few and far between (if ever). I’m a travel writer because I love to explore, I’m nosy and adore passing along information to others. I’ve had a modicum of success with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Newsday and Westchester Magazine and due to that kind of potential exposure, I get invited to ‘press events.’
Years ago, such events came fast and furious – Connecticut’s ‘Mystic and More’ at the Russian Tea Room, Pennsylvania Tourism at B. Smith’s, and an all expense paid four-day trip (airfare included) to Versace’s old house, now the luxurious The Villa by Barton G . in Miami Beach (which I turned down because I couldn’t guarantee feature placement in a suitable magazine). But since the world economy tanked, these snazzy events have dried up.
So, a few weeks ago, when TWO invites arrived in my email box – both coincidently from firms that represent the Hyatt Corp.– I quickly RSVP’d “yes!” A luxury brand with locations in some of the most iconic buildings in the USA (Hyatt Arcade Cleveland has commandeered the 1890 Victorian Arcade, the oldest indoor mall in America), I’ve included many Hyatt properties in my travel roundups with confidence in uniformly fine décor and customer service. I might be realistic about what a travel writer can expect these days but, hey, I do love a party.
Evening One, the debut of New York’s Hyatt 48 Lex: I barely had a second to take in the long slim foyer done in earth elements - one wall of roughly-chiseled New York schist setting off a row of dramatically under-lit water-and-lily-filled glass tubes - before a flute of champagne appeared magically in my grip. These days, many boutique hotels offer a personalized greeting (and for security reasons, a reception area off the main floor), and mine came with a swift elevator ride to the hip Lexicon Lounge, where guests can use several available iPads and enjoy a complementary craft coffee from a machine that costs “many thousands of dollars.”
The lounge’s torso-high communal table - generally used to lay out complimentary afternoon snacks - was set with wine and cheese while the staff passed delicious hors d'oeuvres. But I barely had a second to eat before being encouraged to tour several rooms, which are crisply posh and modern with a certain masculine cachet; charcoal pinstripe carpeting, a streamlined “galley kitchen”, and floor-to-ceiling windows presenting dioramas of midtown commerce framed with grey flannel curtains.
One room was set up as if a guest had ordered spa room service – “Suite Spa” in the lexicon of the Hyatt Corp. I’m not sure if the naked person face down on the massage table, receiving a deep tissue kneading, was a man or woman, but I wanted to be him/her at that very moment in the low-lit luxury space with soft music and subtle fragrance enhancing the mood. But, alas, massage was not included in this press event – so I took a final inhale of the Suite Spa scent and savored it on the three-block walk back to Grand Central Station and then home.
Evening Two at the Grand Hyatt, NYC: Three Hawaiian Hyatt properties - Maui, Waikiki, Kaua’i - celebrated the launch of their beefed-up (or sushi’d up, as the case may be) on-site restaurants and room renovations. This was a popular event, lots of press showed up, and it turned out to be a culinary awakening of sorts for this foodie.
Classic Hawaii clichés everywhere: I was ‘lei’d’ with fresh orchid blooms as I walked through the door while a deeply tanned roast pig – with requisite apple in mouth - awaited the carving knife. A Don Ho-esque musician entertained the crowd with his ukulele while girls in grass skirts and coconut-shell tops transfixed us with hula moves.
There were cocktails galore and glass canisters brimming with pineapple and lichi-infused water. The real stars of the show, however, were Head Chefs from each of the three Hyatt Hawaiian properties flown in expressly to impress the press…mission accomplished.
From my Travel Writer’s perch, I’ve detected a sea change in the way hotels run their in-house restaurants; many seek to create stand-alone destination hot spots rather than default cantinas for tired hotel guests. As least, this is what appears to be at the heart of the three Hyatts in Hawaii, which served up several spectacular signature dishes apiece.
As I now stare at my blubber belly, I can attribute most of it to a) the decadent Lobster Mac and Cheese care of Hyatt Waikiki, b) the tasty Macadamia-Encrusted Butternut Squash thanks to Hyatt Kaua’i and c) my ultimate favorite from poolside Umalu at the Hyatt Maui – the Ahi Poke, a sort of sweet, chunky ceviche made with brown sugar and oyster sauce. I returned for (at least) four helpings and still couldn’t get enough.
As if this rare press party was not exhilarating enough, the generous swag put it over the top; a pound of Kauai Coffee, a bottle of sake, a full-size Anara Spa Lomilomi Coconut Mango Lotion (Grand Hyatt Kauai), two boxes of Malie Kai “Hawaii-Grown Cacao” Chocolates, a large cocktail-table book of photographs, recipes, and of course, press kits.
Before leaving, I thanked the Hyatt PR team for a wonderful evening. It’s not everyday that journalists are fêted this way. “We figured we might get a large turnout, since companies don’t do this much anymore. But it’s a win-win situation,” said one Hyatt manager. “You get to have a night out, and we can assemble lots of media locally without the expense of flying everyone to Hawaii.”
Nevertheless, I'm considering traveling to Maui at my own expense for more helpings of the mouthwatering Ahi Poke.
Stay off the Interstates and Stay On Route 6