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Heating Up Polar Vortex Profits

Last week's deep freeze was a great opportunity for some hotels to make some great profits from special promotions. Here’s how they did it.

Monday, January 13, 2014
Caryn Eve Murray
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Even as temperatures dropped to an all-time low in the nation’s capital – delivering 6 degrees, the city’s coldest since 1996 – visitors gathered in the PostScript Lounge inside the Loews Madison Hotel, insisting they couldn’t get enough of the Cold Snap.

Let’s make that uppercase “C,” uppercase “S,” to differentiate from the single-digit freeze and sub-zero wind chills that were drawing an icy reception in D.C. and much of the nation.

This particular Cold Snap, designed by the hotel’s beverage manager, Aaron Beaver, was a spiced, drinkable tribute to this month’s big chill, a cocktail blend of Bulleit bourbon, gingersnap liqueur and hot spiced apple cider, among other things. And like the polar vortex itself, it quickly became a much-buzzed-about short-timer with a limited lifespan at the bar.

“We had thought about saying we’d serve it until it hit 32 degrees or higher outside, but we decided to let it run [a little longer],” said social media manager, Kallie Bienvenu Cornett. The popular potable also got a favorable and highly retweetable run on social media channels, said Cornett. “We thought it would be fun to have a special offering and play with it and warm people up.”

Cold comfort meant something very different earlier this month in various parts of the U.S. With Arctic temperatures whirling through major population centers, the Loews Madison and other hotels in major cities gave this chilly cyclone even more spin by putting their guest-warming amenities front and center, or devising new ones to promote.

In a way, it was a gift from the North Pole that even Santa couldn’t have envisioned a month earlier. The timing could not have been better in Boston where the colder-than-cold-air played directly into a promotion at the Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common, identifying 14 ways to warm up for the winter of 2014.

“We’ve actually been working on our ‘14 ways to warm up this winter’ for some time,” said Barbara Lootz, the Boston hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We’re hardy Bostonians and we know what to anticipate each winter,” she wrote in a recent email. “And one of the things we’ve come to expect is that it can get very cold here in Boston at the start of the New Year.”

On Twitter, the hotel’s Salon Marc Harris posed the query: “Done with Jack Frost nipping at toes?” and offered an opportunity to savor a hot towel exfoliation pedicure.

The Boston Common hotel also promoted total avoidance of the polar vortex phenomenon: “Luckily, our hotel is in a unique position to keep our guests and local residents warm,” Lootz wrote. “For our hotel guests, they can check-in and never venture outside into the cold if that’s their preference. We are connected to the Sports Club/LA and the Spa at the Sports Club/LA, so that means you can take the elevator directly to their health and fitness center and state of the art luxurious spa.”

She said the hotel is also promoting its array of warm cocktails, such as the Caramel Apple, in Avery Bar, and steamy, scented rose-petal baths with champagne, drawn by the bath butler in guests’ rooms.

The hotel’s Facebook page will be promoting these and other 2014 seasonal warm-ups – even after the thaw but certainly before the heat wave. “Social media is the easiest and most immediate way to share these warming trends with our guests,” said Lootz.
With their home city nicknamed Chiberia by the National Weather Service, Chicago hotels greeted 16-below-zero temperatures with Midwestern common sense and more than a little hot chocolate. The longstanding complimentary amenity warmed more than a few hearts, if not fingers and ultimately toes.

“All of our hotels in Chicago have a hot-chocolate bar and we have been seeing guests coming in and enjoying that during the cold snap,” said Jennifer Borders, regional public relations manager for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, which has four properties in the city.

“This is creative fun, not just hot chocolate but lots of toppings,” she said, including crushed nuts, shaved chocolate, cinnamon, chili powder and coconut flakes, toppings served at the Hotel Allegro inside the Chicago Loop. “During our cold snap it was a great perk for guests who didn’t want to venture out or really couldn’t because it was THAT cold, to enjoy in our cozy living room lobby areas.”

Hot chocolate also helped a large group of business guests at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel make the best of a tough situation, after a city water main froze and burst and water to the property had to be cut off.

“Fortunately, by then most people had taken their shower,” said Jaimi Gordon, director of public relations. “But because we felt so bad, all the attendees got hotel mugs with [packets of] hot chocolate, wrapped with a ribbon. We thought the hot chocolate would be the perfect amenity in the 2 degrees here. That was awful. Well, they were very understanding and knew it was not our fault.”

The blue mugs, with the hotel logo imprinted in white, were left in the guests’ rooms “and it was with the message that ‘we hope this warms you up,’ “Gordon said.

Of course, a five-day polar vortex does not define a winter season.

“It is warming up a little bit now” in Washington, D.C., Cornett said late last week. “The temperatures are starting to come back up.” But March 20, and the spring equinox, is still weeks away and hotels still need to be poised to turn ice into diamonds.

“We are not going to pretend like it is 70 degrees here,” Cornett said. “Everyone knows what the weather is. We are all about providing personalized service that is going to be an enjoyable experience.” Yes, even if extreme weather once again leaves them and their guests cold.

Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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