Holding Down The Plaza
August 4, 2012
by Matt Villano
© The Plaza Hotel
If you (or your kids) ever have read a book about Eloise, you’ve read about The Plaza Hotel in New York. In the books, this is where Eloise lives, the backdrop for each of her adventures. It also happens to be a real-live place (with a real-live “Eloise Suite”) where real-live families can visit year-round. The property has become such a popular destination for family travelers that last year it hired Julia Marrek as “family ambassador.” I recently caught up with Marrek to discuss the parameters of her job, and the legacy of Eloise.
Q. First off, what does a Family Ambassador do? How is your role different from a regular concierge?
A. I take care of all the Tower Suite and Eloise Suite arrangements within the hotel. I also can help with arrangements prior to guests’ arrival to help make everything as easy as possible once they get to New York. The pre-arrival experience consists of a call to the parents to find out the children’s preferences and favorite things so we can customize their experience. I can always suggest where to eat that kids and parents can enjoy outside of The Plaza. I also am able to create custom family packages for those who aren’t staying in one of our specialty suites, yet want a customized experience in one of our other guestrooms or suites.
Q. What percentage of guests would you say take advantage of the services you provide?
A. Because only one family at a time can stay in either The Eloise Suite or the Tower Suite, I work with a small percentage of our guests who are looking to create a special memory for their children.
Q. In what ways does your position symbolize the property's renewed commitment to family travelers?
A. The Plaza’s commitment to family travelers extends well beyond just making sure their everyday needs are met. As the Family Ambassador, my goal is to create moments and memories that last a lifetime for families, and this is done through continually surpassing expectations and delighting guests by remembering the details that really make a difference. For example, we created a once in a lifetime experience for a little girl who was scheduled for a heart transplant and her only wish before her surgery was to stay in the Eloise Suite. We worked closely with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to make her dream come true. And the appeal of Eloise spans all generations: another time, I received an email from the niece of a guest to inform me that her Aunt has been a lifelong fan of Eloise. I sent her Aunt a personalized letter from Eloise along with Eloise-themed goodies to make her stay extra memorable.
Q. How does the Family Ambassador (and The Plaza in general) accommodate super-young kids?
A. We offer complimentary baby shampoo and soap, diaper genies, cribs with pink or blue linens, and a cookies and milk welcome amenity. Babysitting services can be arranged through our Concierge. Strollers are also available to rent during their stay.
Q. What, in general, are the most popular family-oriented activities there on-site?
A. Afternoon Tea in The Palm Court is a quintessential activity for families. The Eloise Tea and the Chocolate Tea are the most popular with children! A visit to the famous Eloise portrait to take a picture is also a must. Of course the “Eloise at The Plaza” shop is a must-do for any little girl traveling through New York. The shop has a Fashion Room with costumes for dress up, so mini-Eloises can model their favorite looks from the podium. There is also a library room where visitors can watch their favorite Eloise movie clips. And of course, fans can’t leave without a visit to the Tea Room where family and friends can come together for tea and birthday parties and other celebrations. The shop has a great seasonal event series, with activities ranging from French lessons for Bastille Day to cupcake-frosting to beach bag-decorating.
Q. It seems that more high-end hotels are offering family-specific amenities these days. Why do you think this is becoming a trend?
A. Families today are looking to create special memories. Roughly 90 percent of all our family stays are for a special occasion: birthdays, reunions, graduations, and holidays, especially Christmas or Thanksgiving. It is becoming more and more important for families to restore ties and we are seeing guests embracing the family vacation as a time to enjoy special moments and reconnect rather than as an exhausting obligation.