When Convene editor-in-chief Michelle Russell wished me well on my first “fam-trip,” I was puzzled. What exactly did that mean?
She clued me in that it was shorthand for “familiarization trip,” and I was about to embark on my first one — of Brooklyn and Queens. I’d joined Convene only a few days prior, after several years of writing about food and drink at a Vermont newspaper. Until now, my work-related trips usually consisted of visiting dairy farms or going incognito at restaurants — definitely not whirlwind trips of hotels and meeting spaces.
And so at 8 a.m. yesterday, I climbed the escalator inside the bustling New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge and made my first acquaintance with event planners. All of them were old hands at fam-trips, and all of them were effervescent and warm in a way that writers, especially New England writers, are not used to.
The tour had been arranged by NYC & Company, an organization that handles tourism and marketing for the city of New York. It was a revelation to me that there are a string of new hotels and unique event spaces outside of Manhattan proper — which, I guess, was the point of the trip: outer borough education.
We began the day in a neighborhood I rarely visited during my years in New York: Downtown Brooklyn. On Duffield Street, a trio of hotels have opened since 2010, and new buildings are rising nearby. After breakfast inside the boutique Hotel Indigo (or rather, the Brooklyn Brewhouse, which operates on its ground floor), my tour-mates and I cooed over the funky rooms upstairs. Across the street, we drank in the sunshine and views from aloft Brooklyn’s rooftop lounge, then descended into the adjacent Sheraton Brooklyn’s meeting spaces.
Three hotels down, two to go — and (as I was soon to learn), lots of food, too. Up in Astoria, brassy tour guide Susan Birnbaum plied us with Sicilian pizza before shepherding us to a few neighborhood joints for powdery Greek cookies, feta, olives, and Middle Eastern-style baklava.
A mile away, at the Laguardia Airport Marriott, “Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day” was in full effect — and the staff’s gathered children shouted “welcome” as we walked in. Then it was down to the ground-floor meeting rooms for more food: Dumplings, chicken Milanese, fried rice, and steak with chimichurri, a display designed to show off Queen’s multicultural riches.
After a visit to the sleek Museum of the Moving Image, we hightailed it to JFK Airport to visit a pair of hotels nearby. Though one planner confided that airport hotels are a “difficult sell” to her clients — who choose New York partly for the Manhattan experience — she nevertheless admired the spaces in each spot. I began to suspect that event planners are relentlessly positive people, no matter the circumstances, no matter if they’ve already seen five hotels that day.
Eight hours in, and it was clear that Brooklyn and Queens harbor a wealth of options for event planners — a few of which, such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I didn’t get to see. I’ll write them up in Convene‘s June issue — so stay tuned. What I probably won’t recount, though, are my rookie mistakes: Never wear heels on a fam-trip, and forget about carting around your laptop. By the time we made it to the funky Brooklyn Winery for dinner, I was a limping, bleary-eyed Quasimodo, watching in wonder as my tour-mates (most of them now in evening wear, and looking as fresh as daisies) cast experienced eyes on the winery’s barrel-filled rooms and brick-lined event space. After we polished off some buttermilk fried chicken and escarole salad, a flurry of business cards exchanged hands, and my fam-trip virginity was no more. I still, however, have a lot to learn.