With Plaza Hotel stay, Ovation Travel recommits to agent fams

NEW YORK — Despite being a longtime New Yorker, Ellie Colin, an independent travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group and president of the travel company Elite Team, exuded a palpable level of excitement about her stay at The Plaza Hotel.

“I haven’t seen The Plaza in such a long time,” said Colin. “Even though I live in New York with Central Park right around the corner, it’s so wonderful being immersed back into the city again.”

Colin was bedding down at the recently reopened Plaza as part of Ovation’s Sunday in the City program, through which the travel agency organizes mini-fam trips for its advisors at notable New York properties. The program was put on hold due to the pandemic, and July’s overnight event at the Plaza marked the first Sunday in the City fam to take place since last year’s pause.

In interviews with Ovation agents about the weekend, it became clear that “pent-up demand” doesn’t apply only to consumers. Advisors, too, are champing at the bit to get back out there.

“These types of visits are so important nowadays,” said Beverly Waldman, director of leisure industry relations at Ovation Travel Group. “It’s about seeing what hotels have done while they were closed, and where they’re at now. This is also our way of seeing firsthand what the current occupancy rates are. As one of their partners, this can help us in helping them.”

Also of particular concern is whether a reopened property has been able to ramp up sufficiently in terms of both service and amenities.

“To me, a room is a room is a room, but it’s the experience that really makes a hotel stay. And if it’s luxury, there needs to be a certain level of service,” Waldman said.

The Plaza is one of the most iconic properties in the city. It is simultaneously a luxury hotel (managed by Fairmont), the home of Eloise from the children’s books, the location of the fabled Palm Court restaurant and a gathering place for executives, dignitaries, ladies who lunch and tourists alike. 

The landmark hotel overlooking Central Park closed due to the pandemic in March 2020 and reopened in May, in anticipation of the summer travel season.

Denese Senno, a luxury advisor with Ovation, said it’s been especially important for city hotels to up the ante in order to remain competitive amid the pandemic. 

“City hotels have to do more to keep up than, say, a resort hotel these days,” said Senno. “Their prices aren’t any lower, so they definitely have to stay on top of things, at least within the luxury market.”

The Plaza certainly sought to surpass expectations during the one-night Sunday in the City fam, hosting an intimate group of five advisors for afternoon tea at the Palm Court, followed by a site inspection. 

From there, the Ovation team was whisked away by two horse-drawn carriages, which wound their way through Central Park before dropping the advisors off for dinner at another veritable New York institution, the park’s Tavern on the Green restaurant. 

Few tables were empty there, suggesting the city’s recovery is in full swing. 

Related: Travelers’ current mindset: High-end, high-spend

Indeed, Senno reported that she’s seen a fair share of regional demand for New York travel over the past several months. Many of those clients spent more than they typically would on a larger room or suite upgrade, she said.

As business continues to pick up more broadly, however, Senno has found that nowadays, most clients are less concerned about catching Covid and more concerned with what luxury travel in today’s “new normal” looks like.

“They’re more afraid that the level of service won’t be quite right, or the food and beverage places won’t be open, and you have to manage those expectations,” she explained. 

Ultimately, however, Senno has found that those worries haven’t put any significant damper on demand. 
“Travel is the new toilet paper,” Senno said. “Everybody needs it, everybody wants it. My clients want to travel so badly, and they are traveling. But you do have to be ready to pivot, you have to expect delays, you have to book dinners in advance because there are capacity controls. And they all realize that. 

“It’s not about just going online and finding a hotel. There are a lot of moving pieces.”

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