Staying Classy in San Diego

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Sorry – I couldn’t resist.

Had the wonderful opportunity to escape from the snow and cold of Baltimore for a few days to visit a new agency partner out in sunny and warm San Diego.  I love trips like this – lots of business going on, but also a chance to explore a town and see new things.  Given the time difference, I also found myself awake at 4 in the morning, meaning extra chances to do things like grab breakfast and walk around town.

Here are three basic things I try to do everytime I travel for work:

1.  Eat something local.  In San Diego, it’s the Fish Tacos.  Great Fish Tacos, people told me.  So I tried some for myself.  My favorites were here, but I also tried them here and here as well.  Always try and find something that the city is known for, that you can’t get anyplace else.

2.  See something local.  I’ll admit, I was working too hard and dropped the ball a bit on this trip.  Still, I managed to have a drink at the renovated and historic U.S. Grant hotel and wander around the Gaslamp Quarter each morning (imagine the French Quarter, but a little less congested).  Next time, I’ll make some time to see the sights.

3.  Spend as little time in my hotel as possible.  Have a few minutes to kill?  Go take a walk.  In fact, I’m writing this post in a local breakfast place.  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the hotel I’m in, but visiting a new city means getting out and seeing the city, right?  And you can only see so much from your hotel room window.

It’s been a nice visit, but it’s always good to head home (well, when it’s not 3 degrees and snowing, I suppose).  My next trip takes me to Columbia, MO (where I’ve never been), and I’m looking forward to finding something memorable out there – suggestions are welcome.

Choosing the Right Hotel

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I spend a lot of time on the road for work, and even more time choosing the best place to stay (as my family and associates know very well).  This all started during my work as a social media consultant for one very large hotel chain, when I helped introduce a number of different properties to review sites like Yelp! and Trip Advisor.  I began to appreciate the little differences in a hotel.  Some of my “mandatory” requirements:

  • Free Internet.  Nothing bugs me more than tacking an additional $15 to my hotel bill for the “privilege” of using a never-very-fast WIFI network.  I don’t understand why the Courtyard can afford to give it away, but the full-service Marriott insists on charging me for it.
  • A Convenience Store in the Lobby.  Not a mini-bar in my room, that overcharges for drinks and snacks.  But a fairly-priced, well-stocked “closet” of items ranging from the practical (Advil, Deodorant, Toothpaste, cold bottled water) to the indulgent (Ben & Jerry’s, Microwave Popcorn, Muscle Milk).  I don’t always have a car, or the time to get to a 7-11, so having these options inside the hotel is critically important.
  • Free Breakfast.  It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate, but some combination of waffles, breakfast meats, toast, cereal, yogurt and eggs means that I don’t have to spend an extra hour finding a restaurant early in the morning (or spend an extra $25 at a buffet that I really don’t need).  Oh, and lets include free (decent) coffee in that as well.
  • Self-Parking.  I understand having to pay in an urban setting, but let me park my own car if I want.  I hate having to wait for the valet, especially during a busy check-in/check-out time or if I’m in a hurry.
  • Good Management.  I like it when the manager introduces himself, when the front desk clerk greets me by name (in person and on the phone), and when they can answer my questions about the area or solve any issues I might have.  You’d be surprised at the difference this can make.
  • All the comforts of home.  This includes an HDTV (with HD channels, please), comfortable beds (with clean sheets and modern bedding), plenty of electrical outlets (that don’t require me moving furniture around), name-brand soap and shampoo, a refrigerator and microwave (you know, for the popcorn and water mentioned above), a couch or chair I can sit in.  Whether I’m someplace for one night or two weeks, I like to be comfortable.

Some of my favorite chains these days tend to be either new construction or recently updated:  Homewood Suites by Hilton (especially the new ones), Courtyard by Marriott (especially the new ones – even though I have to pay for breakfast in the morning, it is quick and easy), Cambria Suites from Choice Hotels (when I can find one) and the newly-updated Embassy Suites (although not many of them are around).  I’m staying at a Springhill Suites by Marriott this weekend, which also meets my requirements.  (And yes, when I can indulge on a Kimpton Hotels property or a full-service W hotel, I’m willing to make an exception to ALL of my requirements.)

Here’s a link to a recent report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranking the top hotel chains.  What was most interesting to me was that Marriott’s Fairfield Inn ranked number one of ALL chains in customer satisfaction.  I always thought of that as a somewhat tired brand, not quite as nice as the Courtyard and not quite as new or roomy as the Springhill Suites.  Maybe I’ll have to give them a shot and see what the buzz is about.

When you’re traveling, where do you like to stay and why?

Visiting Fort Wayne

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One of my favorite things about my job is the travel.  Yes, it takes me away from my family (not a good thing), and it can involve airport delays (a worse thing).  Plus, late nights, noisy hotel rooms and that un-natural smell of a rental car.  But, I love getting to see new communities and experience all the local treasures that makes each of them different.

Take the city of Fort Wayne, for instance, where I happen to be headed today. My agency is doing some work for the city, so I’ve had the pleasure of visiting four times over the past few months, with two more trips to come.  It’s a small midwestern city, so similar to many others, yet we’ve found some amazing places that makes it completely unique.

Did you know that Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana, and that it has over 65 miles of walking and biking trails?  That it’s the final resting spot of Johnny Appleseed (as well as home to the Fort Wayne TinCaps – a Class-A Minor League Baseball team with one of the most incredible stadiums you’ll ever visit – pictured above)?  Or that it’s home to Vera Bradley Designs?  And Powers Hamburger Shop?  We’ve been lucky to meet a number of residents of the city during our time there, eat at some fantastic local restaurants, and experience a place that I may not have ever been if not for work.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to conduct social media training for local hotel properties.  We coached them on how to use social and digital media to become “local market experts” who could provide added value to tech-saavy travelers.  Some of the tools we introduced them to were Yelp! and TripAdvisor.  I still rely on them both every time I travel (along with a smartphone app called GateGuru, which gives me valuable information about the airports I visit).  They help me follow my own golden rule:  If I can see it, eat it, or do it at home, I’m not going to do it on the road.  It’s easy to stick with the familiar, but so much more rewarding to go with the local.

Where are some of your favorite places you’ve visited while traveling for work?  How about out-of-the-way restaurants that we may miss?  Any Fort Wayne-related tips?