The Washington Diplomat / October 2003
By Larry Luxner
No U.S. city has suffered more from terrorism than New York, and when foreign diplomats these days travel to the Big Apple, security is uppermost in their minds.
But so are personalized service and proximity to the United Nations a fact not lost on the half-dozen or so New York hotels that compete year-round for diplomatic business. All these properties are located along Manhattan's East Side, most of them within walking distance of UN headquarters at 45th Street and First Avenue.
One of the closest is the aptly named Crowne Plaza at the United Nations, just two and a half blocks from the UN itself and not much farther from the Empire State Building, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal and other major New York points of interest.
Originally built as the Tudor Hotel in 1931, the building has been owned and operated by Six Continents since 1997, and is a recognized historic landmark. Its 300 guest rooms and suites are newly decorated and feature modern amenities.
Argy Koumas, director of sales at the Crowne Plaza, says government and diplomatic business accounts for around 12% of the hotel's revenues.
"We quite a few representatives of African countries, and also delegations from the South Pacific," Koumas told The Washington Diplomat in a telephone interview. "Out of our 300 rooms, 14 are suites, so we tend to deal with smaller delegations. It's more of a niche market. The larger countries would likely migrate to the Waldorf-Astoria or the Millennium."
In September, when the UN General Assembly is in session, the Crowne Plaza's room rates range from $259 to $329, while suites go for $500 to $600. During the rest of the year, rates vary from $179 (a promotional government rate) to $229.
Dining options include Cecil's Bistro, which serves traditional American fare, while the hotel's Regency Lounge and Cecil's Bar offer light snacks and a variety of drinks.
In addition, the Crowne Plaza's flexible meeting and banquet facilities can cater for up to 120 guests in a reception setting. Audiovisual equipment is available together with the services of a typical business center. For fitness and relaxation, a complimentary fitness center is available.
Kate Simpson, the hotel's general manager, said "it's not unusual for a hotel to have 700, 800 or 1,000 rooms, so by New York standards, we're relatively small" which enables the Crowne Plaza to pamper its guests a little more than usual.
"We've always placed an emphasis on personal service," said Simpson, who came to the hotel two months ago after running the Crowne Plaza Times Square for 10 years. "We're extremely friendly, which unfortunately is not always the norm for New York hotels. We try to anticipate people's needs, from the doorman to the person who checks you in."
Besides foreign dignitaries and diplomats, the Crowne Plaza also caters to U.S. government officials representing agencies ranging from the Department of Homeland Security to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
Simpson added that many of the hotel has "an extremely good relationship with the local precinct" of the New York Police Department especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the more recent FBI terrorism warnings that have put the entire city on edge.
"In times of high alert, we check the IDs of everyone entering the hotel, and everyone getting on an elevator ,to make sure they are guests at the hotel," she said. "Whereas that once might have been looked at as an inconvenience, we're now taking all possible measures to make sure our guests are secure."
Added Koumas: "I don't want to say anything specific, but I can say that securtiy has been a big concern of the hotel. We have always been approved to house diplomats."
He noted that the building's exterior is mostly brick rather than glass, which reduces the risk of injury in the event of a terrorist attack.
"Aside from that fact, we have proximity to the UN," he said. "Diplomats who stay here avoid traffic issues. If you need to giving a speech, you want to be there pretty much on time, and not hold up everybody else."
Another option for diplomats is the Helmsley Middletowne Hotel, located on Manhattan's East Side at 48th Street.
"The hotel is pure New York and totally Helmsley," hypes the Helmsley corporate website. "Enjoy the kind of hospitality that makes UN diplomats, corporate executives and others feel the Helmsley Middletowne is their home away from home in New York."
Yet another fine choice is the Millennium Broadway at 145 West 44th Street, which is about as close to the UN as a hotel could possibly get.
The Millennium Broadway, with 638 rooms, "offers contemporary lodging in an atmosphere of modern sophistication, well-matched with the refreshing comforts of hotel features... that offer the spaciousness, style and solace needed to get the most out of your stay."
For diplomats who want something smaller and a bit more intimate, the Pierre Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 61st Street might fit the bill.
The Pierre boasts 201 rooms, including 52 suites each with a unique interior. Situated across the street from Central Park, this venerable New York landmark prides itself on its multilingual staff (35 languages spoken) and its Café Pierre restaurant, highlighted by impeccable service and internationally acclaimed cuisine.
"Because we are more of a European hotel in feel and look, many European diplomats feel at home here," says Tiffany Cailor, director of public relations at the property.
One thing all these properties share is a depressed market. According to the New York Hotel Association, average room rates have dropped between 15% and 25% since 9/11, though they've recovered slightly since then.
John Fitzpatrick is owner of the Fitzpatrick Grand Central, located on 44th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. The hotel has 155 rooms, including a penthouse on the roof, and charges anywhere from $170 to $225 a night during high season.
"It's basically what we call a European boutique hotel," says Fitzpatrick, who says his is the only Irish-owned hotel in all of New York. "A lot of people have sought us out because we're small and personalized."
Fitzpatrick, who also owns another hotel on 57th and Lexington, says between 15% and 20% of his clientele are diplomats mainly from Ireland, England and other European countries.
"Because it's small, they can get in and out of it very quickly. A lot of customers don't like these long check-in lines, especially diplomats who are always under pressure."
In addition, he says, "we've got only one entrance, not like a high-rise building which could be a nightmare to look after. People feel safe with us. Our elevators are right across from the front desk, so we can see everybody coming in and going out."
The Fitzpatrick Grand Central, which began life as a hotel in the 1940s, eventually became an office building. In 1993, Fitzpatrick bought the property and converted it back into a hotel. Since then, a number of world leaders have stayed there, including Irish President Mary McAleese and Ireland's prime minister, Berthie Ahern.
"About 80% of our clientele is repeat business. We were one of the first hotels to come back after 9/11, thanks to our repeat customers," said Fitzpatrick, estimating occupancy in the high 70s. "That's not where we'd like to be, but we can't complain."