Extra Mile Awards Recap

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Last week, we had a blast toasting the winners of our second annual Extra Mile Awards. We had a great turnout, with representatives from JetBlue, Hilton, MAXjet, Eos, GetHuman.com, VisitBritain, and Maison de la France. Most important, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.

Like the previous year's party, it was at The Modern, a fabulous restaurant in New York City that looks out on the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art. Chef Gabriel Kreuther prepared a marvelous meal, and Orbitz Chief Marketing Officer Randy Wagner spoke on behalf of the Extra Mile Award dinner's sponsor, CheapTickets.com.

Then I got up and handed out the awards--custom snow globes filled with glitter--which the winners gamely shook with verve.

I'm not Liz Smith, except maybe on Halloween, so rather than try to write a full party report--including an explanation of why one guest left her shoes behind--I'm going to paste in the remarks that I made. Here they are:

Danny Meyer, the restaurateur behind The Modern, has a new book out: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. In it, he writes about his theory of enlightened hospitality; it's upside-down from how most organizations think: Only after you take care of your employees, your guests, your community, and your suppliers--in that order--will you be able to take care of your investors.

I found his thoughts on employee/guest interaction to be particularly interesting. Here's an excerpt: "In every business, there are employees who are the first point of contact with the customers. Those people can come across either as agents or gatekeepers. An agent makes things happen for others. A gatekeeper sets up barriers to keep people out. In the world of hospitality, there's rarely anything in between."

This active hospitality--but at the macro level--is exactly what we've aimed to draw attention to with our Extra Mile Awards. And tonight, what every winner has in common is that their initiatives imrove their guests' experience. It's our firm belief that treating people well can only help the bottom line, because happy customers come back.

It's also our belief that enlightened hospitality means finishing up prepared remarks as soon as possible. So without further ado, let's hand out some snow globes.

JetBlue Airways

There may be no way to make long-haul flights any less long, but JetBlue Airways has made them less of a haul. The airline opened self-serve snack pantries on all cross-country routes, so passengers feel less like caged animals waiting to be fed. The airline also cleverly branded its red-eye flights as shut-eye flights, giving each passenger a Bliss spa kit with eye masks, ear plugs, lip balm, and a tranquilizer--wait, I mean moisturizer. Is it any wonder everyone loves JetBlue? Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Eric Brinker, Director of Brand Management and Customer Experience.

MAXjet Airways

Actually, it's always been a theory of mine that one reason people love JetBlue--and Southwest, to be fair--is that there's no group of folks at the front getting better treatment. The idea of the single-class airline got an upgrade this year, with two new entrants in the transatlantic field. The first is MAXjet Airways, which gives all of its passengers business-class treatment starting at just $700 one-way. Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Lori Tucker of Tucker & Associates.

Eos Airlines

There's a joke in the magazine business that all you need is three of something and you can call it a trend. Well, we now officially have a trend! We can say with authority that airlines are treating passengers better! Eos Airlines, like MAXjet, introduced transatlantic flights last fall. The service is plush, with fully reclining seats. But best of all is the welcome: The airline has employees who meets passengers on the airport sidewalk, then speed them through check-in and security. The result: Passengers can arrive as little as 45 minutes before departure. Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Roberto Lebron, Director of Communication.

Westin Hotels & Resorts

Not long ago, every hotel room was potentially a smoking room; in recent years, you've been able to request a non-smoking room and hope for the best. Now you can know going in that the air will be clear, thanks to Westin's move to make all of its North American guest rooms--and bars and restaurants--smoke-free. Will someone from Westin please come up and accept the award? [Pause.] They must be outside sneaking a smoke... That was a joke! No one from Westin could make it, so we'll pack up their snow globe and send it to them.

Transport for London

This next initiative was aimed more at locals than travelers, but travelers benefit, too, so we're totally onboard. Transport for London, the city's transportation authority, first made buses and trams free for kids under 17, and then made the Tube free for kids under 11. There are a couple of restrictions--the kids have to be with a paying adult, and it has to be during off-peak hours--but that sounds exactly like most travelers to us. Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Rupert Peters, Executive Vice President of VisitBritain.

Paris, France

When you need to use a restroom in a big city, there are usually two courses of action: Beg at a restaurant, or track down the elusive public toilet. If you wind up at the latter, you might be required to insert a few coins--and finding a store that'll make change may prove harder than begging a café owner to take pity on you. The city of Paris solved what can be a very urgent problem by eliminating the fees at its 420 self-cleaning toilets.

Accepting the Extra Mile Award on behalf of the city is Marion Fourestier, Director of Communications for Maison de la France.

GetHuman.com

I think it's safe to say that an automated phone-answering system is the very definition of unenlightened hospitality (even if we're all guilty of having them). Paul English, a cofounder of Kayak.com, decided to something about it (besides complain like I'm doing). He started GetHuman.com, a blog on which he listed the keys you need to press to get a human on the phone at major companies. Others joined in, and now GetHuman.com has 500 of these shortcuts online. Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Paul English himself.

Hilton Hotels

I don't want to give the impression that we at Budget Travel don't like machines. Hilton Hotels has embarced them in a terrific way. Having noticed that its guests want to be able to print their boarding passes before they go to the airport, the company installed kiosks in its lobbies. You can check in, print boarding passes, even change seats on 18 airlines. The company expects every one of its North American properties to have the kiosks by the end of the year. Accepting the Extra Mile Award is Marty Barris, Senior Director Brand Services & Education Integration.

On behalf of all travelers--someone has to speak for mankind, might as well be me--I want to thank every one of you for your efforts. Travel has become harder in recent years, and any time you can do anything to make it easier is much appreciated.

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