Hospitality is symphony. Please fix your internet, United.

You know why I can’t stand United Airlines?

United Airlines dispatches thousands of flights every day. They shoot tens of thousands of humans safely through the sky at six hundred miles an hour in metal tubes. They server passengers cold drinks and hot food. They have call center reps, gate agents, baggage handlers, dispatchers, flight attendants, and pilots- many moving around thousands of locations across the globe, every day. They never sleep. Their planes are always in the air. Scanning tickets, checking bags, and marching guests in and out of airplanes every hour of every day. And if that’s not enough, they have a mobile app, a website, a massive software system, and thousands of people in call centers, offices, control rooms, and airports to keep it all together. Blizzards, high winds, missed connections, crying babies, upset customers complaining in hundreds of languages, and passengers getting sick on their airplanes. Thousands of bathrooms to clean, every day. Even on Christmas.

And why can’t I stand United Airlines? The internet. It’s terrible.

Although I expect United to comfortably and safely ship me around the world- often for the same price as what it costs to send a small envelope via overnight Fedex from Denver to San Francisco- I can’t stand United because the internet doesn’t work half the time it’s supposed to.

Hospitality is symphony. Hotel General Managers are conductors. Housekeepers, flight attendants, and dishwashers are the orchestra. And each aspect of guest expectations and service delivery is a musical instrument. When the entire ensemble plays together seamlessly, it’s elegant and beautiful. But if one member misses a beat, if one instrument is out of tune, the entire piece falls flat.

Please fix your internet, United. You work too hard to be the shitty internet company. 

Travel That’s Much More Than a Place to Sleep: Introducing Collective Retreats

I started in the hospitality industry when I was 15 years old. I was a dishwashing intern at a hotel restaurant helmed by a talented chef with a drinking problem (he called it “Chef’s Fuel”–most would recognize it as Jack Daniels). That year, despite spending much of my time being yelled at and dodging plates thrown my way, I fell in love with hospitality. Something about the magic of creating amazing experiences for people — the combination of creativity, empathy, and service — just felt right.

After graduating from Cornell’s hospitality school, I went to work at Starwood Hotels and Resorts where I spent 10 years in a wide variety of roles and countless nights in hotels all over the world. During that time, I learned the art of hospitality from some of the most amazing, renowned hoteliers in the world, but I also began to realize something was wrong. Whether I was in Japan, Brazil, or New York, the hotels inevitably looked and felt the same. Comfortable beds, reliable service, decent morning omelettes, but completely cookie cutter. I didn’t know what country I was in until I stepped outside.

I love hotels, but they’re broken

The truth is, traditional hotels are broken. While the last decade has brought tremendous advances to the travel industry, the vast majority of the innovation has been in booking and travel search platforms. This has made it easier than ever to find the best possible flight or string together an itinerary, but it doesn’t help once you’ve landed in a place and realize the accommodations you chose are little more than a convenient home base.Sure, there’s been a rise in cool boutique hotels — properties with strong, differentiated design — but they aren’t innovating on the basic hotel premise. They’re still just nice places to sleep.

What the hotel industry has ignored is the fact that consumers aren’t just looking to go to a place; they’re looking to experience it. We’re all after authentic experiences — getting to the heart of a place, understanding what it’s about, and leaving enriched and changed for the better. There’s a new focus on experiential programming — just look at Airbnb’s latest venture — but it unfortunately hasn’t made its way to the hotel industry.

I started Collective Retreats because I love hotels and I know they can be better. They can be a part of the overall travel experience — the place, the people, the exploration — not just a clean bed and a shower. Our approach completely upends the traditional brick-and-mortar model: we create luxury retreats in stunning destinations without investing in massive buildings. That way we can invest more dollars and more hours into what we think really matters: the experience.

Bringing out the best of a destination

Traditional hotels spend the vast majority of customer revenue on big buildings, taxes, maintenance, and other expenses that don’t improve the guest experience. We skip that part completely. We’ve created an asset-light model where we work with property owners to create temporary luxury accommodations that are connected to their surroundings but still have all the creature comforts you expect, from high-thread count sheets to exceptional dining. This lets us put retreats in places where traditional hotels simply couldn’t exist; we look across the country at mountain tops, farms, valleys and vineyards for the most inspiring places, while being mindful that we want these destinations to be accessible for weekend as well as week-long vacations and special events.

Beyond our physical accommodations, we make it easy for guests to take advantage of the best of the destination. Unlike the usual method of travel planning, where you cobble together dining and activity recommendations from friends, websites, and guidebooks, when you come to Collective Retreats we bring it all to you. Our chefs create one-of-a-kind dining under the stars with ingredients sourced from our retreat gardens, and our local staff has already done the pre-work to assemble the best area activities and providers — and can book them for you before you arrive.

We call our service culture “Aspen Hospitality” inspired by the Old World tradition of personal service that exists in places like the French Alps and our home turf of Aspen, Colorado. Of course, we’re delivering that idea in a fresh, connected way: from the minute you book, you have one-on-one attention from a concierge dedicated to personalizing your trip to your tastes and style. Onsite, our team members are there to give you local intel and tips, from the best spot to watch the sunset to the secret hike that leads to a pristine waterfall. Over delivering on service is their passion, and it’s in our company DNA. Because we aren’t tied down by the nuts and bolts of a traditional hotel, we can invest in every aspect of the guest experience.

Five places to come visit us…and growing

We’ve been quietly operating in Vail and Yellowstone over the last 2 years, hosting thousands of guests from all over the world. We’re now excited to share that we’ve secured $2.5 million in seed funding from First Round Capital, Slow Ventures, BoxGroup, and BBG Ventures, as well as visionary entrepreneurs in the tech and travel space like Sam Shank (founder and CEO of HotelTonight) and Evan Frank (founder and CEO of One Fine Stay) to continue to expand our portfolio. And in just a couple months, we’ll be welcoming guests back to Collective Vail and Collective Yellowstone, and are thrilled to announce our next three retreats: Collective Hudson ValleyCollective Sonoma, and Collective Hill Country.

While each retreat will have its own flavor and style, the mission is the same: to connect people and places, and help us all connect to ourselves in a more meaningful way. When you remove the confines of a traditional hotel, the possibilities are endless: I dream of bringing a retreat to Central Park in the spring, or opening up in one of the world’s finest museums.

I hope you’ll come visit us soon so we can show you around in person.

Get Personal, Make More $

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This morning I went to Caffe Ladro for a cup of coffee.  While brewing my latte, the girl behind the counter casually asked me, “Is anything exciting happening in your life today?”  I found myself in an unusually deep conversation with her about my day to come.

With little thought I tipped her twice what I normally tip a Barista and almost 50% of the cost for the coffee.  The personal connection she created moved me to look down at the tip jar and think of her, as opposed to looking down at an emotionless mug filled with dollar bills.

Personal Connections Lead to Better Tips

“If servers can establish a social connection with their customers, they’ll get better tips,” says Michael Lynn, a professor in food and beverage management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, who has been studying the topic for years. “The simple fact is, we’re more likely to want to help someone we’re connected to, and we’re more likely to care about someone’s opinion, what someone else thinks of us, if we have a social connection to them.” Servers and bartenders should focus on asking questions that engage customers more personally.  (for more information, Psychology Today has recently posted a great article on how to attract more in tips.)

Giving Makes us Happy

Connecting personally, especially when it’s unexpected is a form of giving.  The Barista conversation I had this morning made me smile and gave me a sense of value through connection and a new relationship.

There’s no question that giving to others has emotional rewards for the giver, as well as the receiver.  Sonja Lyubomirsky and friends scientifically show that people assigned to commit five acts of kindness on one day a week for six weeks were happier than those who didn’t. Similarly, Lara Akinin and Elizabeth Dunn show that spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending money on oneself.  Even toddlers display greater happiness when giving rather than receiving.  In this situation, my Barista gave to me and I gave back to her.

A Win-Win Situation

Here’s the real insight-  When service industry professionals help create meaningful interactions both the customer and the server benefit from the “warm glow effect”- the positive emotions and feelings that come through giving.   At the same time, the likely under-paid service professional makes more money, while both feel good about the new relationship. Win-win-win. nike air max thea damen nike air max thea damen

Time + Experiences + People = Smiles

Last week my face glimmered with an ear-to-ear grin.  In retrospect, I used my time well.  I went to a Tough Mudder– the intensely fun event which has given millions of people a challenging thrill and “a story to tell.”  I had drinks and dinner with old friends.  I experienced Queen of the Night at the Diamond Horseshoe, which the New York Times calls a spectacular experience of “Subterranean acts of sudden intimacy”.  And to top it off I spent the holiday weekend with family I don’t get to see frequently.  Why did I smile so much?  I had rich experiences, I made good use of my time, and I felt togetherness with friends and family.

You likely already know that psychologists have proven that there’s no real relationship between more money and increased happiness.  However, personal happiness is directly connected to how people choose to spend their time.  Spending time wisely is proven to make people happier whereas spending money does not.

How can we spend time wisely to create happiness?  57% of Americans say that paying for experiences makes them happier than buying things.   And satisfaction with experiential purchases increases over time, whereas satisfaction with “stuff” decreases over time.  Invest in what you love to do, not things you want to have.

What can you combine with good, experiential use of your time to make you even happier?  Social connection and time with friends or loved ones can bring you even more satisfaction.  Things that bring us together satisfy us most deeply.  Spending Money on others and giving to other makes us happy.  Psychological studies have proven this time after time, even among young children.  In one study, two-year olds were happier giving away goldfish crackers from their own stash, rather than receiving the crackers or giving away crackers from someone else’s pile.

Why did I smile so much last week?  What’s the magic equation?  [Time used wisely] + [Interesting experiences] + [People whom we love] = Big smiles.  It’s that simple.  Try it and let me know if you get the same resulting grin.

 

Sources:

Van Boven & Gilovich, 20303, ‘To do or to Have, that is the question’
Dunn et al., 2008, ‘Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness’
Kahneman et al., 2006, ‘Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?  A Focusing Illusion’
Mogilner, 2010, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness.  Time, Money, and Social Connection’
Aknin et al., 2012, ‘Giving Leads to happiness in Young Children’ nike air max thea damen nike air max thea damen

Uncomfortable Experience Design

Ever wonder if something you use everyday was purposefully created to frustrate?  If you spend any time on an airline website you know the feeling.

 “The Uncomfortable”, by the Italian artist Giuseppe Colarusso  hijacks everyday objects to make them beautifully unusable.  And these creations are much more appealing and more likely to make you smile than United.com.  Uncomfortable experience design is intriguing- it’s almost impossible to look at these without imagining yourself struggling as you use them…

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For more intriguing designs by Colarusso, check out Improbabilita‘- “Unlikely… but not impossible.”

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An Interview with Damian Bazadona, President of Situation Interactive

Last week I sat down for an interview with Damian Bazadona, contributor to Inc. magazine and president of Situation Interactive, a top experiential marketing firm.  The short form of the interview is posted here, on Inc.  Here is the entire discussion, in full form-

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Damian Bazadona: What is your job title?

Peter Mack: VP of Experience & Innovation

DB: So as VP of Experience & Innovation, what are your primary job responsibilities? 

PM: The way that I define my job on a daily, weekly, monthly basis is delivering new, mind-blowing shared experiences every weekend all year long to help people feel more connected and fulfilled. Most of my time is spent trying to determine the next big, different thing that we can do. A lot of my time goes into new obstacles. Sometimes it goes into course design—we take a lot of pride in our innovative obstacle and course designs. Sometimes it has to do with event innovation and the way that people assemble teams. But at the end of the day it’s always about delivering new, unconventional, and mind-blowing experiences.

DB: What makes your brand “see-it-to-believe-it?” 

The fact that you can actually see people literally having their lives changed right in front of you. I think that you get to see this cool aspect of Tough Mudder which is that people can overcome a lot more than they believe they can overcome.  Teamwork and camaraderie makes people much stronger, much more able, and much more capable than they think they are and to see people overcoming substantial obstacles in-person and to see the look on their face before and after is pretty amazing.

DB: From an entrepreneurial side for people wanting to get into the business, what would you say is the best thing about working in the experiential business? 

I’ve been in the experiential space my whole life. So I’d have to say that knowing- when done well- that great experiences bring people together. Whether it be the experience itself or the storytelling that follows. After a Tough Mudder, in barrooms around the world, in offices on Monday mornings, people are telling amazing stories of how they overcame something immense. Stories about the wonderful people they met. The crazy team costumes they saw on our course. Once you’ve delivered an amazing experience, the storytelling that comes afterwards just makes the experience that much better. You know, sitting and drinking a beer and talking about how I got over Everest or I jumped into a massive pool of ice water and I loved it or whatever it may be- that’s pretty cool.

DB: Do you think that there’s specific characteristics or traits that are needed to be successful in the experiential business? 

PM: Intuition and compassion. The ability to deeply care and understand what satisfies and fulfills others is not an easy thing to come by. I know it’s something that I work on all the time. I don’t think anyone’s perfect at it but the more able you are to open yourself to understanding others, the more deeply you can understand what fulfills them, what they’re desirous of. I think that that’s the key.  At the end of the day if you can’t figure out what makes people feel satisfied, fulfilled, and happy, you’re nowhere.

And I think when you look at the actual tactical delivery side– whether it’s checking someone into a hotel and putting them into a room that makes them feel great and giving them an excellent experience around the property or it’s a Tough Mudder where 15,000 people show up to do this life changing event. Whatever it is, you have to be someone who thrives in environments where you have a limited period of time, space, and captivity to deliver something special. It’s a perishable good and it’s usually really complex and detail oriented.

DB: Two part question: What is the biggest misconception about working in the experience business and what is the biggest misconception about Tough Mudder? 

In my mind, the biggest misconception about working in this business is that it’s easy to deliver an exceptional experience. I think it’s so simple but people who are truly passionate and good about delivering an exceptional, life-changing experience, they make it look easy.  And so lots of people believe that it’s easy to deliver these things but it’s not. It’s really, really hard. Very little that’s worthwhile in the experiential space is easy but the people who really thrive make it look simple.

And in terms of Tough Mudder, it’s not a misconception, but there is one thing that I don’t think most people realize about Tough Mudder. I think that there’s so much content from Tough Mudder–pictures, Facebook, our website, sharing through emails, people telling stories in barrooms, people telling stories in their office. They think about it as an obstacle run, on a muddy course in the outdoors. I don’t think that people, until they’ve done a Tough Mudder or been on site at a Tough Mudder, realize that it’s about so much more than the event itself. It’s about connections. It’s an aspirational movement that has to do with overcoming challenges, connecting to others, experiencing something truly memorable that’s both challenging and rewarding. So for example, in the entertainment space when a show makes someone laugh or connects them to other values or to other cultures and people, it does something much broader than entertains them for an hour or two, right? Well with Tough Mudder, when somebody experiences the fulfillment of overcoming something truly tough, that they didn’t think they could ever do– and with the help of someone they didn’t know they could do it with, maybe even someone they didn’t know previously, it connects them to such a broader value system.  And that’s what it’s all about.

DB: So this is a hard one. Define success and failure for yourself. 

I definitely define personal success as how many people I connect deeply with, how I can make myself feel fulfilled by connecting with others, how I can help myself change for the better by connecting with others, and how I can help others change for the better by connection with them. And I don’t think that my professional desires are disconnected from that at all. I think that in my professional role it’s how many people am I able to help deliver an experience that can changes them for the better, that can touch them, that can make them laugh, smile, feel satisfaction, enjoyment.

DB: How do you stay inspired?

PM: I mean, I hate to keep boiling it down to the same things but the people around me keep me inspired. I think Ne York City, by the way is a wonderful place to stay inspired.

DB: Why?

Well, I’ll tell you. And I think it’s an ironic thing for me to say because I’m someone who is just so connected to mountains and nature, but the people in NYC keep me inspired. The other day I was in the 14th Street subway station and the trains were moving slow and I realized it was because there were five or six subway workers on the tracks doing some track repairs, but the trains were still running. I don’t know how they do this, its so dangerous. Every time trains would come, the guys would get in between the tracks and wait for the trains to pass just holding their breath–sometimes two trains at once! And I stood and watched it for a few minutes and I just realized how wild it was because everyone was relying on the trains to get home from work to their families, their friends, whatever. And the trains just kept going by and these guys were working on the tracks, and these guys have families and friends at home, too.

So what I decided to do was in the middle of all of this as if it was a Broadway show, to just out of nowhere shout, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the NYC subway workers!” and start a round of applause.  So I did it and everyone—there were probably a hundred other people on the platform—looked down at them and started applauding and cheering.  Because it was so amazing what they were doing. But I don’t know where it came from. I was in a moment and I just decided to create an ovation for these people on the tracks and they were just guys who were working hard.  They smiled and bowed in pride.  And I don’t take any credit because I could have done this and if nobody clapped I would have just been the crazy guy on the subway platform, but every single person on the platform joined in. Everyone. We had this massive round of applause until the next set of trains came by.  Everyone was smiling and excited about it.  That’s inspiration.

If you want to open yourself to be inspired by people, there’s no better place to do it than New York.

DB: That’s a great answer.  It’s like life is a performance.

PM: Well I don’t even work in the performance space. I just knew that these people needed a round of applause; I’ve never done that before. I don’t consider myself to be someone who always appreciates public work, but it was just so cool. We were all doing it.  And everyone applauded. It was rousing—it was like Book of Mormon applause!

DB: Is there any book you consider “required reading” for working in the experiential space?

PM: My favorite book and a book that has often encouraged me in lots of different ways is Le Petit Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery.  It’s a classic French kids book; I say it’s a kids book, it’s not. It’s basically about human nature and how you should make decisions and choose what you should value and prioritize. That’s my go-to reading. I actually keep that book next to my bed. air max air max

Life is as Good as the Relationships you Have and the Experiences you Create

My friend Dr. Christopher Hart, once told me, “Life is as good as the relationships you have,”  and he’s mostly right. Be it the end of a day, year, or lifetime, the fulfillment we receive from relationships with others is an important measure of our happiness and satisfaction. But long gone are the days when choosing the right people to spend your time with was enough. In today’s hyper-connected, human contact deprived world, we must focus on curating high quality experiences for ourselves and with others- doing things, seeing things, feeling things and connecting with those things and people in ways that are meaningful and bring satisfaction and happiness.

This concept used to be more simple and linear. If you chose to surround yourself with the right people, happiness and fulfillment would likely follow. The key aspect was which people you chose. But this was when our lives were much less connected to the rest of the world. Choices were straightforward: chocolate or vanilla, regular or decaf. These were the easy days before mass customization, before Facebook, before texting and driving, and before the constant avalanche of opportunities, choices, and nonstop distractions. Back then the simple act of choosing the right personal relationships was everything. The experiences that could and would follow were more limited and naturally took a conventional course.

But times have changed. Choosing the right people for our relationships is still just as critical as it ever was, but there’s so much more, now. In a hyper-connected, always turned on world filled with more choices than most people have time to ever process, we need to go one step deeper to understand why relationships are created and how they succeed and bring us happiness. What should we do with relationships to cultivate them and allow them to fulfill us? How do we prioritize relationships among a swelling sea of connections, choices, decisions, and customization? What is the difference between a light connection or contact with one person and a deeply valued relationship with another? The answer comes when we seek and create high quality experiences.

For most people, good relationships create comfort, joy, self-assurance, and psychological safety. When we feel safe and supported by our relationships, we don’t have to focus on our concerns or our fears of the future and what’s to come (or not to come). The reliability of relationships helps us to make room so that we can explore and learn. Most people have known this comfort or joy through the feeling of a smile, laughter, conversation, touch, a handshake, a hug, or a high-five. Each of these gifts of relationships enables us in some way.

When we feel the warmth and comfort of relationships, we look forward, explore our world and find more feelings of joy, love, and confidence. This opens us to opportunity and positive future experiences, which leads to increased happiness through more relationships and, eventually, more experiences. It’s a beautiful, self-fulfilling cycle. Combining relationships with meaningful experiences open us up to more, better experiences and increased happiness.

But it’s the choice we make to experience something (either by ourselves or with others) which enables us and serves as a foundation for relationships. Choose not to get out of bed in the morning and you’re implicitly choosing to not create experiences and relationships. Choose not to listen to another person, or do something new and different and you’re implicitly choosing to not create experiences and relationships. But choose to do one of these and you’re opening a door- an opportunity to find happiness through experiences with yourself and others.

Even the experiences we have when we’re alone can bring us fulfillment. And yet the decision to experience something is the catalyst, and the quality of the experience defines our satisfaction. A fantastic experience with one’s self or with another cultivates our thoughts, senses, growth, and happiness.  Not allowing yourself to experience something precludes all else that may lead to happiness.

In the past, there was a limited set of experiences (coffee, dinner, a walk in the park), conventional tools for connection (postal mail, telephone, or in person), and simple means for communications (written word or conversation). These standards acted as a consistent and reliable blueprint for growing a relationship. The progression from who you choose to spend your time with to what you experience with that person was predictable. Now, there’s no longer a conventional set of expectations. The experiences, tools, and means are changing rapidly and will continue to do so. The sooner we acknowledge and accept the change, the happier we will become.

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In this age of endless option, possibility, prioritization, and customization, we can’t afford to choose our relationships and just expect experiences to follow via societal conventions and traditional means. We must choose to focus on curating high quality experiences in order to feel as much joy, love, and fulfillment as possible. If you choose not to take command of your experiences, you’re opening the flood gates to an overwhelming deluge of choices, people, and priorities that will kick into autopilot and drown you. In this increasingly crowded world, prioritize relationships carefully, then embrace meaningful experiences above all else.

My friend William recently learned this lesson and changed his life. For one week he carefully tracked the amount of time he spent text messaging, emailing, and purposelessly floating around on social media. He was shocked to find it was hours every day. The next week he started replacing this wasted time with a walk in the park beside an old friend, an evening drink with a neglected co-worker, and a few minutes here and there talking to neighbors in his apartment building each morning (many of whom he’d never seen before because his head was buried in something else). William found that he was sleeping better at night, laughing and smiling more, and much more productive in his relationships and work.

Many people have studied the fundamentals of relationships – family relationships, friend relationships, and intimate relationships – and how they bring us happiness. But perhaps recent focus has been too narrow. If happiness and relationships rely on quality of experiences, we need to prioritize, create, cultivate, and curate experiences over all else, particularly in this new world of endless options. Open yourself to the new priority of owning your experiences and the rest will follow.

Life is as good as the relationships you have and the experiences you create.  To own your experiences is to own your happiness. airmaxco airmaxco