'wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking. we're all wanderers in life.' -spanish poet, antonio machado

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vesele Vánoce (Merry Christmas!) - Vánoce v Praze (Christmas in Prague!)

Hey all!

Just a quick note to give you a little taste of what the vibe is like here in Prague over the holidays with the introduction of the Vánoční trhy v Praze (Christmas Markets in Prague)! I wish everyone could experience this real life winter wonderland...the yummy smells of svarak (hot wine), cinnamon and sugar trdelnik (a pastry...and my fav czech treat - mmm!), klobasa (sausage - yum!), grog, medovina (warm honey liqour) and more.

As I was exploring the Christmas markets yesterday, what struck me as most intriguing is that even though a large percentage of Czechs profess atheism (upwards of 89%), as a people they very much embrace Christmas traditions...singing Christmas carols, decorating Old Town with a manger scene, etc.

On 5 December it will be Mikulas (St. Nicholas Day) in Prague. I'll be spending the weekend in Zurich and Laax, Switzerland boarding the glacier (yeah, that's right!! check it out!), so I'll miss out on the festivities, but it's been fun and slightly to see the little ones running around with devil horns. Why do they do this? Well, On this day you may meet in the streets of Prague face to face the St. Nicholas with the Devil and the Angel.

As soon as it gets dark out, St. Nicholas with his helpers walks in the streets of Prague handing out small presents to children. He is omniscient...he even knows whether this or that child was good during the past year! If the child has been good, he/she will receive a present (usually in the form of sweets).

If the child was behaving well, he or she will receive a present from him, usually some candies, nuts or fruits. However, if he or she was not behaving well all year, the Devil will put the child into his sack and take him or her to Hell! That is why all Czech children are unusually good on this day. Isn't this crazy?! Anyway, I find all of this very intriguing...and helps you to understand why my bro does what he does here (as a Christian missionary).
Old Town Square Christmas market by day

Old Town Square Christmas merket by night
Vesele Vánoce!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

extra, extra, read all about it...

...after many months and way too many web-related discussions, the new and improved miss-sophies.com launched last night and we are all very excited!

Check it out and let me know what you think. I'd like to give kudos to Ramos Creative back in the States (Sean and Andrew!), my wonderful friend and employee, Christina (PM on the project), and Mark Stewart for capturing the beauty of Miss Sophie's with your camera + many more!

This week in general was a great one for me. I feel like we're making progress in many realms and our team is really gellin'. I love that.

We also submitted a press release about our new partnership with La Strada, a human (sex and labor) trafficking-prevention organization here in the Czech Republic (with branches across Eastern Europe), focusing on the Halloween party we threw at Czech Inn (with silent auction - 100% proceeds going to La Strada). It was soooo much fun, and a great success for us on many fronts. More to come on that soon.

Thank you, as always, for your support...and for swinging by zmena!



Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brand the Experience. Experience the Brand.

Last week I read an Imagehaus (agency back home) newsletter that made me think of our brands and the brand experience we provide at our properties. Here goes...

Brands with that “stand-apart appeal” don’t just happen. They’re built, one experience at a time. And every touchpoint you have with your customer is an opportunity to make an impression and create an experience.

We help our clients’ customers gain that belief and trust with solid answers to these 4 key questions:

Differentiation What is the advantage of your brand over the competition?

Relevance How do you add value to the customer's experience?

Credibility What is the single thought that defines your brand?

Compliance How do you ensure brand consistency in look and feel, personality, voice and tone?

Often, people come to us and think they need a logo, a tagline, or the “look and feel” of a website.
A brand is so much more than just components. Simply stated, a brand is the perception of your company based on the expectation of value.

There's some food for thought...thanks to Imagehaus! At our properties, we make an effort to offer our guests with an unmatched customer experience, and I think we do a pretty good job...or so our guests have said. Of course, there is room for improvement, but suggestions and ideas are always welcome! So, come and stay and let us know what you think:).

Here's to loving the brand and appreciating the customer experience...


good for the sole...

...TOMS shoes!

This is a company I have become pretty passionate about as of late. With a core focus on philanthropic entrepreneurialism, owner Blake Mycoskie started the Shoes for Tomorrow project back in 2006 after a visit to Argentina, where he was befriended many children who didn't have shoes to protect their feet. A good number of these children were contracting diseases from different bacterias in the soil through the wounds in their feet. Blake's vision for the company consisted of a one-to-one giving model...for every pair of shoes purchased, one was given to a child in need around the world. Simple, but brilliant. I see this as a creative effort in tackling a big problem and I think that philanthropic entrepreneurialism is the hardest and most inspiring kind of entrepreneurialism.

I've always both appreciated and made an effort to practice social responsibility in my professional life, looking up to former CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson (supporting ECPAT and various sustainable tourism initiatives) as a businesswoman with more than just the bottom line on her mind. When I ventured to Prague to tackle this new and exciting opportunity with hybrid hostel/hotels Sir Toby's (sirtobys.com), Miss Sophie's (miss-sophies.com), Czech Inn (czech-inn.com) and Mosaic House (mosaichouse.com - opening in 2010), I packed up this appreciation and carried it with me.

Now I get the chance to put this appreciation into practice, with a social responsbility initiative my team is introducing to all of our properties. Not only will we be supporting a human trafficking prevention organization in the Czech Republic, La Strada (human trafficking for both sex and labour reasons is a very real and sad problem across central and eastern europe), but we're also becoming an official TOMS shoes retailer at all of our properties. Made by a traveler, these shoes are perfect for travelers...and we're hoping they can also take pride in literally walking in the shoes of impoverished children around the world, making a difference, embracing the TOMS vision, and sharing it with fellow travelers.

You see, Blake's vision fits our vision perfectly, because in the end it is all about sharing and experiencing. Our vision is to give travelers a unique place to play, stay and share...a space that would enhance their travel experience.

I recently came across this quote by Spanish poet Antonio Machado, "Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking". We're all wanderers in life. I wander the alleys in Prague and cities all across Europe. As I've wandered, my TOMS have helped me create a path...a literal (walking) path as well as a path for sharing.

Follow me and my TOMS as we travel around Europe!
TOMS in Trafalger Square, London, England

TOMS in Cesky Krumlov(e), Czech Republic

TOMS at Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain

...stay tuned for next week when we travel to Zurich, Switzerland and Laax for glacier boarding!

We hope our guests and friends will take a bit of the TOMS story and share it with wanderers from around the world. As I often say, sharing is caring.

Take a peak at the video below, for more information.

and another...

If you leave this blog post with at least a bit more of a perspective on social responsbility in the corporate realm, I'd be smiley as ever. As they say in the video, "...anybody who is starting a small company...everybody who has an idea...incorporate giving in what you do."

Happy sharing and (even happier) caring,


what i do in prague...

Yes, it may seem like all I do is take silly iPhone tram snaps of Prague fashion (or lack thereof), facebook about all the PDA I see around the city, go to cool coffee shops, blog about my recent travel adventures to Oktoberfest, Berlin, London, Dresden, etc. and plan trips for the future (to Krakow, my home-away-from-home (Krumlov(e) House in Cesky Krumlov), Barcelona with my bro, skiing in the Alps (Kitzbuhel + Schladming world cup and maybe Gryon, Switzerland too, emerald isle, and more)...but to be honest, this is just a small chunk of my time here.

So, you may wonder what I spend most of my time doing, then?! Well, working...to be honest. The thing with my career here (Experience Manager for four accommodation properties), is that being in the hospitality industry...it never sleeps. Plus, my work life intersects with my personal life here and all of my relationships end up being pretty incestuous since friends overlap with work overlapping with church...you get the picture. It has proven to be a challenge for me in many ways, and I have grown in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

The way our organization works is that we have three existing properties - all located in Prague:

Sir Toby's (sirtobys.com) - trad'l backpacker hostel decorated with czech antiques featuring dorm rooms and private rooms, cosy communal spaces, guest kitchen, brick cellar pub, chapel, garden terrace for bbqs in the warm weather, warm and welcoming atmosphere and good vibes galore. I love Sir Toby's for the eclectic spaces and people!
(these are smokin'-hot-off-the-press-pictures...photography by my dear friend and freelancer, Mark Stewart - Black Gecko Photography)

Sir Toby's furry little mascot - Hugo

Hey! That girl looks familiar!

Sir Toby's reception with Talitha at bottom left.

Sir Toby's Cellar Pub - my favorite couch!

Bueno - private rooms at Toby's
Kudos to Mark for capturing the beauty and warmth of the
Sir Toby's nooks and crannies! Truly awesome!
Miss Sophie's (miss-sophies.com - new website to launch soon) - boutique accommodation featuring chic, modern, minimalist decor, cool brick music lounge, gigantic rain-head showers, brushed steel beds, lacquered cement, ultra-comfy beds and so much more. Was recently featured in local boutique, Timoure et Group's catalogue, for their fall '09 line of clothing.
Timoure found us through the article about Sophie's in Czech design magazine, Dolce Vita. They make the space look so fab: http://www.timoure.cz/teg/index.html. Take a peek! Also, here's your sneek peek at our new website...it is under construction...will be launching next week: http://new.miss-sophies.com/!

(photography by my dear friend and freelancer, Mark Stewart - Black Gecko Photography)

Big red couch in the Miss Sophie's Music Lounge

Music Lounge from a different perspective

Miss Sophie's apartments are stylishly-appointed and super-spacious.

Czech Inn (czech-inn.com) - I hold Czech Inn dear to my heart, not only because it is where I spend almost all of my time (my office is located on the third floor), but it is also where I manage events - open mic night, gallery openings, musician gigs, holiday parties and more!! This is where my passion truly lies, so for me this has been a great experience. However, since the events are an extension of my day job, I find myself spending a great deal of time at the Inn. Czech Inn's design is much like Miss Sophie's - upscale ikea, is what I like to call it. Sleek, chic and minimalist - again, offering everything from dorm rooms to private rooms to apartments.

Czech Inn's newly-renovated 4th floor - SO fab...

...and don't forget the rough-luxe-designed bathrooms!

One of the many gallery openings at the Czech Inn Kavarna
(I'm in the yellow)

These properties are redefining the term 'hostel' and my goal is to educate the masses. Our properties have been featured in Elle, the New York Times, Glamour, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Let's Go, Routard, Lonely Planet, and other various design pubs as well as guide books. People are amazed when they come through our doors, not expecting the quality we provide.

When expats come by for events, they often have the preconcieved notion that they are coming to a hostel with dorm beds, and when I tell them what we offer they don't believe it. But, what it is really fun for me is when I give these individuals a tour of our spacious, wow-designed dorm rooms, twin rooms, newly renovated double ensuites (my personal favorite - room 406!), and apartments with wide-open spaces and high ceilings. They leave truly impressed.

For the most part, the hotel industry lacks in providing a communal experience conducive to meeting new people and sharing experiences...our properties fill this gap. Our offering is a unique combo of communal spaces for sharing + high quality (designer) accommodation at affordable rates. It's an awesome concept...and one that will continue to thrive in the recession and onward.

My focus (ha...'focus' is a funny word to use in this case) is on spreading the word and creating buzz about our properties...which plays out in the form of partnership marketing, interactive marketing, relationship management, event planning, copywriting, strategy and planning, operational marketing (managing a sales team who focuses on reservations and answering guest inquiries via email and phone), training, customer experience, press relationship management, social responsibility initiatives and more. Yeah. 'Focus'. Ha. As always, I feel like I am okay at a million things and not particularly amazing at any one of them...a generalist in life.

But, really...the main focus during my time here is not solely on the above, but to build as much positive buzz about our newest (and my personal fav already...shhh, don't tell!;)) property, Mosaic House - currently under construction and opening in early 2010.

Mosaic House, the most central of all of our properties (located near Karlovo Namesti in a historically-maintained 1920's style building) is special because it will be a cultural melting pot under one roof - the space will fit nearly 300 people and will feature 4-star quality designer private rooms, designed with green in mind. What this means is that Mosaic House will have numerous green components that'll make it truly green...not just faux green like the other guys.

Featuring the Czech Republic's first grey water recycling unit, energy-efficient elevators, LED lighting, solar panels, green insulation (keeping the warmth in during the winter and the cool air in during the summer, the smartest electricy in-room (sensored electricity that shuts off when no one is in the room), recycled paper products, use of city recycling, and various other green elements (potentially including an airport shuttle powered on french fry oil coming from our restaurant, Belushi's). What's more, we'll have a games room, fully-licensed bar and restaurant with the biggest TV screens in Prague (and the best burger!) featuring a theatre bar and lounge with a full stage for nightly events, zen garden and more. Our vision is to bring together people from all walks of life under one roof, where they can share their experiences and experience Prague in a unique and meaningful way...to make their stay in Prague a memorable stay not just because they slept in a nice room, but because they met a fellow traveler who shared the same love and innate passion for travel and sharing stories.

It will truly rock the house. And, I am so excited to be involved from the early stages through launch next year. I encourage you to take a peek and follow the progress on facebook. If you have any suggestions for taglines (calling all creative friends out there! - style guide is underway as I type this), memorable/quirky marketing ideas, ideas for opening party (we want to make a big splash! so, any PR contacts you have in green/design/hospitality industry would be much appreciated! also, if any of you event planners have any cool ideas for opening party, let me know), and more - email me. I'm open to any suggestions.
A visual tour through the sample room at Mosaic House...
Sample room - beautiful!

Owner Mathias Schwender shows off the view
from the penthouse - that's the Prague Castle to
the top left! I call the penthouse!
Fancy-shmancy sink
Bathroom - of course it's nice - Mathias
is mad about nicely designed bathrooms! :)

Light inset provides a cool ambiance.

Close-up of bed and the oh-so-soft pillows!

I adore the design...the mixture of things you
wouldn't normally put together is so appealing...
check out the tree branch free-hand painting on
the wall and light inset above! WOW.
The comfy, cosy bed!

The room - check out the beautiful wood floors!

Hang your digs on a sweet tree-branch-turned-hanging-rack!

First thing you see when walking into main entrance,
up the stairs - theatre bar and lounge!
SO jazzed about this for events!
Facade of building - under construction!

Become a fan of Mosaic House on facebook
Check out (Mosaic House) on flickr

Thanks for hanging with me. I miss you all very much.

Thank you for your support and love
(especially to my wonderful fiance!).
It means more than you know. Really.

Love, smiles, bear hugs and good vibes from Praha,