3.30.2020

what I've learned about working remotely

my old paper-and-pencil system of keeping track of bookings


When I started Ourisman Travel in 2006, I implemented a simple paper-and-pencil system. Each client had a manilla file folder. Inside that folder was a sheet with the client's basic information and preferences. Hotel confirmations, travel insurance certificates, etc. were also filed in the folder. But key to my system was the form above — a chronological list of each booking with tasks to be done.

Details for each reservation were recorded listing the name of the hotel, room category chosen, bed types requested, and room rate. There was a space in the middle of the form to record the Sabre PNR  and the confirmation number. At the right was a box to make note of special requests. There was even a checkbox to remind me to provide my IATA number to the hotel when making a reservation on the phone.

The workflow was quite simple. I filled out the form, then put the folder in a physical "inbox" on my assistant's desk. She would invoice the reservation and send a VIP email, tick off the appropriate checkboxes, then refile the client's folder in the file cabinet.

But as Ourisman Travel grew, my simple paper-and-pencil system became obsolete. We now had home offices in both California and Maryland. We hired assistants who lived elsewhere (Arkansas and Kentucky, at the time). Of necessity, our office became "virtual." Every client still had a file, but it lived in Dropbox. Every reservation still had to be invoiced and VIP'ed, but without an assistant sitting across the room, we had to invent something new ... and we did!

reservations in Paris and Rome in Ping Pong
It's called Ping Pong, a proprietary software platform being developed by our software designer to meet our specific needs. Ping Pong has replaced my paper-and-pencil form. When it's ready, Ping Pong will be made available to the entire travel industry.

When I fill in the details and enter a confirmation number, the reservation magically appears in the to-do list of the Team members who will take the next steps — invoicing and VIP'ing. They'll tick off those tasks when accomplished. It's just like my paper-and-pencil system, but everyone on Team Ourisman has access to the entire trip, even though we're separated by thousands of miles.

We have years of experience working remotely! There are now eight of us; we live across the country in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and Arkansas. We are available constantly to one another in real time. With Dialpad, customers calling our main number are transferred to their travel advisor. With Slack, the Team stays in constant contact, asking questions or sharing ideas. Asana (project management software) helps us keep the details of complex itineraries organized. With Uberconference, we can schedule conference calls with clients and vendors, even sharing video presentations.

My verdict on working remotely? The members of Team Ourisman can be anywhere in the world, even when we're separated by oceans, yet it very much feels like we're one Team collaborating together, sharing the same space. Sheltering-in-place is no issue for us when we work with clients to plan their next wonderful trips!

copyright (c) 2019 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.20.2020

remembering the ladies and gentlemen...

doormen at The Goring (c) 2020 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

So much has changed since last I wrote you a little more than two weeks ago about travel in the age of the coronavirus.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed at 27,090 on March 4th, is currently at 20,212, down over 25%.
  • Countries around the world are closing their borders to tourists. Americans can't travel to Europe. Europeans can't travel to the U.S. The Governor of Hawaii asked visitors to stay away. The US-Canada border is closed.
  • The list of hotel closures is growing daily. Even the iconic George V in Paris has closed its doors through May 4th.
  • Cruise lines are shutting down operations, and two clients are currently stuck on a Seabourn Cruise off the coast of South America waiting for an evacuation plane to fly them home to the US.
  • The entire State of California has been ordered to shelter in place.

The world has changed profoundly over the past two weeks. My original assessment was clearly overly optimistic. We are all disappointed at long-anticipated trips we've had to cancel. I had intended to travel to Hawaii this Sunday and to Amsterdam next month, but when the Conservatorium in Amsterdam emailed to inform me the hotel was closing and my reservation was canceled, that pretty much settled matters. I'm "sheltering in place" in California, and that seems like the wisest thing for me to do.

But my deepest concern is not my own disappointment. It is for the many people in the travel industry who truly are hurting right now. We love the experience of staying at luxury hotels. Our stays are made so comfortable by doormen who greet us and offer to carry our bags, front desk agents who show us to our rooms, concierges who make restaurant reservations and arrange transportation, housekeeping staff who clean our rooms daily, and restaurant staff who serve our breakfasts and keep our coffee cups full. So many of these people are out of work for the time being, missing out on paychecks and gratuities. And hoteliers themselves are facing massive financial pressures.

So let us be mindful of those ladies and gentlemen who make our hotel stays so special. When we travel again — and we will — let us regard them with new eyes, with true appreciation for the service they provide us. They are gracious hosts. Let us be grateful guests.

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.19.2020

great American road trips | chapter 4

sculpture at Post Ranch Inn (c) 2014 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Looking for places to travel, far away from big cities with their busy streets and crowded venues? Read on to learn about one of the most stunning seaside resorts anywhere on the California coast. Less than three hours south of San Francisco, your scenic road trip will take you through Gilroy (garlic capital of the world), past Monterey and Carmel, and along the Pacific coast to Big Sur. The journey itself is a good enough reason to make the trip.

But the ultimate destination of your journey ... Post Ranch Inn. I had a memorable visit in March, 2014; you can read about it here. The inn is secluded, sitting high on a hill with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. Just 39 rooms on a 100 acre estate, you'll luxuriate in an oasis of peace, quiet, and luxury. The food is superb, the spa is divine, and the views are priceless.

Guest rooms are elegant, contemporary yet rustic. Your room's complimentary minibar has all sorts of goodies, including an irresistible jar of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. We finished them the first day, and the jar was magically refilled the next morning.

Frustrated with sheltering in place? Camp out instead at Post Ranch Inn! Virtuoso guests enjoy a daily full breakfast and a $100 credit you can use toward dinner or at the spa.

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.17.2020

great American road trips | chapter 3

view from Aviary at Twin Farms (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Social distancing is a strategy to avoid contracting Covid-19. The advice is given to maintain a distance of six feet apart from other persons in order to avoid contagion. This, along with washing one's hands frequently, is the recommended practice to minimize one's chance of being infected with the coronavirus.

So if you want to avoid close quarters in airplane cabins, city streets, and crowded hotels, why not take a road trip? This is the third in a series of articles highlighting some absolutely exquisite places where you'll encounter no crowds.

Twin Farms is a resort in the state of Vermont. Its 20 guest accommodations are spread over 300 wooded acres. The photo at the top of this article is the view from Aviary, the cottage where we spend our first night. The floor-to-ceiling windows brought in the beautiful outdoors. You can read about our stay here and learn about the incredible gourmet food included with your stay in this article.

Pig Barn at Twin Farms (c) 2017 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Virtuoso guests receive even more — a locally-made pottery jar filled with house-made honey valued at $150 and, if you're quite fortunate, an upgrade to Aviary (pictured at the top of this article). Get in touch for the full story.

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.14.2020

great American road trips | chapter 2



This is the second in a series of articles about travel that avoids crowded places. Yesterday's Travel Horizons highlighted four boutique resorts in the Napa Valley. Lesser known is the valley just to the west, the Sonoma Valley.



Why visit the Sonoma Valley? Joe and Catherine Bartolomei make the case in this short video. Just as close to San Francisco as the Napa Valley, you'll have access to a different set of world class wineries. Napa, further inland, has hot summers that make it ideal for Cabernet grapes. Sonoma, closer to the cool sea breezes off the Pacific Ocean, is known for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.


Farmhouse Inn

Where to stay — Farmhouse Inn. A boutique resort with just 25 rooms and suites, Claire and I loved our stay in 2015. Read about it here. The original cottages are charming, but the suites are absolutely amazing with feather beds and jetted soaking tubs. Book through your Virtuoso travel advisor for a daily 3-course farm fresh breakfast, a $100 credit towards spa services, and complimentary wine tasting itineraries to selected Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers with all fees waived.

And did I mention the chance to toast your own gourmet Vahlrona chocolate S'mores around the fire pit every evening at 6 p.m.? Or the Michelin-starred restaurant (open all days except Tuesday and Wednesday).

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.13.2020

great American road trips | chapter 1

road in Napa (c) 2020 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

It seems like the entire world is on lockdown. Italy has closed for business. Cruise lines have cancelled entire cruises. Hotels are relaxing cancel policies. And while aircraft flying with low load factors may be a boon to passenger comfort, airlines are grounding planes and cutting flights.

What to do? Travel local. In that vein, I'm starting a series of occasional articles I'm calling Great American Road Trips. I'll be exploring boutique resorts in bucolic destinations within easy driving distance of the cities where most of us live. There won't be a single big hotel on my list, and nothing located within a city or town with streets and sidewalks. The whole idea is to explore wide open spaces. In the words of the classic folk song of the American West
Home, home on the range,
where the deer and the antelope play,
where seldom is heard a discouraging word
and the skies are not cloudy all day.
By the way, I invite my hotel partners in secluded, rural settings to pitch me their best offers. If you can include a promotion exclusive to readers of Travel Horizons — and to my followers on Facebook — I'll feature it on this blog!

Four great ideas for the Napa Valley... I've stayed at — and loved — each of these. You can drive from San Francisco to any of these resorts in about 2 hours (depending on traffic, of course). Whether you love tasting great wine, enjoying Michelin-star cuisine, hiking on beautiful trails, or luxuriating in decadent spas, Napa is an ideal destination. If you travel mid-week, you'll benefit from lower prices.

Meadowood Napa Valley

St. Helena is a small town, population about 4,000, with tree lined streets. Ten minutes away (2.3 miles) by car is Meadowood. Located in its own mountain valley, Meadowood is far from the stress of city life. Its 85 rooms and suites are scattered across a 250 acre estate filled with Live Oak trees indigenous to the area. The entire resort has a light, informal New England feel. You can read about my latest stay here.

Carneros Resort and Spa

Carneros Resort is literally in the middle of the Carneros vineyard region, and many of its cottages have direct vineyard views just over the fence. I spent a Thanksgiving weekend at Carneros Resort in 2016; you can read about my stay here. Each of its 100 rooms is a 450 sq ft cottage that brings to mind the cottages in which vineyard workers used to live during the harvest (except, of course, for the cherry floors, gas fireplaces, and soaking tubs that today's guests enjoy). We loved our Thanksgiving dinner at Boon Fly Café!

Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort 

Calistoga is a small town, population just over 5,000, known for its hot springs. Calistoga Ranch is five miles from the town. Located at the northern end of the Napa Valley, this is the most remote of the four resorts in this article. Its 157 acres of woodlands are dotted with 50 stand-alone guest cottages. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in the outside in — you'll feel immersed in nature. What my wife loved best about Calistoga was its spa. Located at the top of the mountain valley, the spa has a casual woodsy feel. After your treatment, be sure to relax in its Healing Waters soaking pool, reserved for guest use only. Click here to read about our 2015 stay.

Auberge du Soleil

An adults-only resort, Auberge du Soleil was created due to the success of the successful Provencal restaurant opened by Claude Rouas in the Napa Valley. Restaurant guests would drive up from San Francisco, enjoy fine dining and a bottle (or two) of fine wine, and then what? It made sense to create a resort so that tired and buzzed diners would not have to drive back to the city in the dark. Out of that need came Auberge du Soleil. You should choose this resort if you're after a more elegant, less rustic feel. Only 50 rooms, I definitely recommend that you reserve one with a Valley View. Though it's not Virtuoso, Virtuoso guests will receive an upgrade at booking if available and an additional welcome amenity (i.e., a very nice bottle of wine); breakfast is included. Both Calistoga Ranch and Auberge du Soleil are featured in this 2015 article.

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

3.09.2020

travel bargains in the age of COVID-19

 


United Airlines must have a lot of availability per the email blast they just sent me. Look at all the unsold seats on that route ... only 51 seats left at this price.

A chance for a last minute weekend getaway, you'll depart this Friday on the 7:01 p.m. flight to Kona. With the three hour time difference, you'll arrive Kona at 9:33 p.m., giving you four full days to soak in the sun and enjoy the waves of the Big Island.

Here's a suggested itinerary to take full advantage of this travel bargain:

13MAR (Friday)
United # 1723 departs SFO 7:01 p.m., arrives Kona 9:33 p.m.

13MAR-4NT — Mauna Lani 
Virtuoso Mauna Lani Journey Promotion (requires a four night stay)
  • $250 daily resort credit
  • Daily buffet breakfast for two in HaLani Restaurant
  • additional one-time $100 resort credit
Ocean View Deluxe King room @ $774 per night 

17MAR (Tuesday)
United # 435 departs Kona 2:46 p.m., arrives SFO 10:49 pm.

Mauna Lani has just reopened following an extensive $200 million renovation. Guest rooms are large and gorgeous, and The Mauna Lani Journey Promotion is one of the best values I've seen. With $1100 in total resort credits for a four night stay (the promotion combines with Virtuoso amenities), your NET per night room rate is $499 per night, an amazing price for a luxury resort. With complimentary buffet breakfast for two and (hopefully) an upgrade to an Ocean Front King room if available at check-in, your resort credits could pay for virtually all your meals.

Hawaii, anyone?

copyright (c) 2020 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.