I'll admit I'm a bit jaded when it comes to hotels. Some would say I'm a "snob", others might call it a "nice life" to be able to stay in luxury hotels around the world. However you view it and whatever you call it, I'm the first one to admit I'm fortunate to have experienced a side of travel journalism that keeps me connected with hotels around the world. It didn't come without hard work, sleepless nights and a perpetual state of jet lag - even when I'm home in Boston - but that's for another time... today is about the moments that capture this journalist's heart, and remind her why she's in that perpetual state of jet lag to begin with.
I'm in Florida right now preparing for the EyeForTravel conference that's taking place this week in Miami. I'm speaking at the event, along with many others in the travel industry, about the state of the market and travel trends in online marketing. I'll be speaking on social media, and how businesses can and should use content as a way to communicate with guests and the media via social media networks (more on that later).
I checked into the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach before the conference, to see family and catch up on some beach time before three days inside conference rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, where the conference is taking place.
If you've stayed at any Ritz-Carlton before, you know it's the service that sets them apart from their competitors. And while it's no secret I've spent many years covering Ritz-Carlton news and events, and following the brand's efforts on social media and expansion in new markets, I'm still always looking for that extraordinary moment to write about. That simple gesture that turned a bad day into a good one for a guest, the late-night cup of tea that is delivered when you're just off a 2 am flight from China, or a quiet conversation with a staff member. Believe it or not, when you cover hotels as frequently as I do, the employees of these hotels become family - the people you look forward to seeing and catching up with when you return. Which is why what came next truly touched me.
I walked into my room at the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach and all was expected. King-sized bed, private balcony (available in all rooms, by the way, at this beach-front property), in-room WiFi, Eau Spa bath amenities. These are the things you come to expect - and that provide that familiar "welcome" - to guests as well as those who check into as many hotels as I do on a given year. But it was the in-room amenity that shocked me. Maybe "shock" isn't the right word... wowed me, or even, in a strange way, comforted me.
A plate of bite-sized cupcakes was sitting on my desk. Not unusual, I thought (most people who follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook know I'll cave at any cupcake). But these cupcakes were different. They were a tribute to Boston. On each of the bite-sized cupcakes was a Boston Strong montage. One had the running ribbon, one had a replica of the Boston Magazine cover with the running shoes in the shape of a heart, and one even had a Boston.com logo and the Boston Globe logo, with the date 4.15.2013 on it. There were Red Sox and Bruins "Boston Strong" emblems, and a photo of sneakers and runners - all on the cupcakes.
I had no words.
I also will admit for the first time in this column, that I haven't truly allowed myself to internalize the events of April 15. I put myself in work mode - got back to the grind and focused on what I needed to do to move forward. On April 15 I received emails and phone calls from around the world making sure I was safe. Since then, I've stopped by the memorials at sunrise a few mornings before anyone was there in an effort to have my moment. I dedicated a pair of my running shoes as a symbol of strength, and I've been available for interviews from other media sources on the state of the travel industry in Boston (which, by the way, is very strong). I cried at a moment, but then stopped the tears. I haven't allowed myself the opportunity or the time I need to heal. And I might not get that time now, and I'm OK with that. Boston is my home. I'm Boston Strong in my heart.
And then I got the cupcakes. And then I sat on the king-sized bed in my fourth-floor room at the hotel, and I cried.
Let me be clear about one thing: I didn't cry over cupcakes. I cried because the staff at a hotel - a hotel among hundreds in the area and thousands around the world - thought enough in advance and enough about me to let me know that they care. That we're family. That the news of the world - no matter how near or far to them - impacts them as much as it does their guests.
This is what the Ritz-Carlton calls a "wow" moment - that moment that connects with their guests and that makes an impact. It was the perfect reminder that while life has its bitter moments, there are so many sweet memories that we must cherish. It was this moment, over a plate of cupcakes in room 440, that allowed me to heal.
It's the little things like this that separate hotel stays from hotel experiences. And it's these little things that remind me how fortunate I am to have friends around the world, and a special family in Palm Beach.
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