Natalie Benson, Corporate Travel Management’s Chief Operating Officer and CFO North America, explains why she loves doing business in one of the world’s truly great cities.
New York City. The city that never sleeps. The melting pot of people, cultures and taste sensations. Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. Subways and food vendors. Streets that make you feel brand new. It’s the financial capital of the world, bustling every day with business travel.
The speed of the city and the pace of its people leaves you in no doubt you are about to engage with success.
Q. WHAT MAKES NEW YORK CITY A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT FOR BUSINESS?
A. When it comes to business travel, no place can compare to New York City. The concentration of the population and the city’s irrepressible energy, makes you feel confident you can negotiate – and close any deal. New York is the financial centre of the world. Whether on Wall Street or the 6th Avenue Business District in Manhattan, there’s a good chance you will rub elbows with top lawyers, bankers, and accountants. Visiting for business – and pleasure – creates a feeling that simply can’t be matched. The speed of the city and the pace of its people leaves you in no doubt you are about to engage with success.
Q. IN YOUR OPINION, WHICH IS THE BEST AREA OF NEW YORK CITY TO STAY IN WHEN TRAVELLING FOR BUSINESS, AND WHY?
A. To identify any of New York’s hot spot areas you must appreciate the city’s iconic grid plan. For instance, a great deal of business is conducted around the 6th Avenue commercial thoroughfare between 59th Street and Madison Square Park. There’s the Financial District, also the new Technology District located around Flatiron. If your meetings end up near any of these quadrants, consider staying at:
- Andaz 5th Avenue (Hyatt), loft-style suites, near numerous attractions
- Archer Hotel, a boutique gem in the Garment District with a nice happy hour
If you are destined for business in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, stay at:
- Crosby Street Hotel, designer hotel in the SoHo neighbourhood
- The James New York, a modern art luxury boutique in SoHo
There are countless other great options, such as the new Wyndham hotels cropping up all over New York, or the budget-friendly Pod Hotels, and out-of-the-hustle properties, such as Kimpton Ink48. It is good to be prepared for the possibility of small rooms — a characteristic of New York.
I travel with the mindset to bring the minimum you need for business meetings. Boutique hotels align well with this, providing quiet gyms and nook dining that make travelling both pleasant and efficient for people on-the-go.
Q. IF RECOMMENDING A PLACE TO HOLD AN UNFORGETTABLE BUSINESS MEETING IN THE CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
A. It is common for companies to hold business meetings in standard office environments. However, in New York nothing is really ‘standard’. In high-rise boardrooms one can easily become distracted by spectacular wall-to-wall views of the city. Still, New Yorkers have caught on to the value of the shared workspace, where you can find comfortable work centres and coffee shops to host a successful meeting. The best spots for a caffeine hit can usually be found at the best coordinates, such as:
- Locally owned Culture Espresso, at 6th Avenue & W 38th Street in the heart of the Garment District
- Taylor St. Baristas, at E 41st Street & Madison Avenue, founded by Aussie siblings with a hankering for London-style coffee
- The adorned ambiance and delectable bites at Two Hands Café, at Broome Street & Mott Street in SoHo
One of the most stunning business meetings I have ever had was held on the rooftop of the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District. The panoramic views are spectacular, the service is good, and dining is not overcrowded. Go for happy hour and to catch the sunset.
Q. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT TO THE CITY? WHAT ABOUT GETTING AROUND THE CITY?
A. The most common airports that travellers fly into are John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) out of New Jersey (about 20 miles from Manhattan).
Both JFK and Newark have train access into the heart of Manhattan. The NJ rail transit from Newark will take you into Penn Station (Pennsylvania Station). The AirTrain connects with the MTA Subways and Long Island Railway from JFK, with common stops via Jamaica Station in Queens to Grand Central Station.
Shared economy or cab services as well as subways are also great options to get around the city, while apps like Arro or Curb offer mobile pickup. New York is a highly walkable city, so once you are in town, much can be reached on foot.
Q. BEST PLACES TO TAKE A CLIENT TO DINNER IN THE CITY?
A. On one notable business trip, I took a client to a local restaurant near where I used to live, in the Chelsea neighbourhood, called Cookshop. It is one of those amazing restaurants offering American food along with a seasonal, farm-to-table concept. It has a nice ambiance without being overbearing so as to still allow a business conversation. My client said it was one of the best dinners he’s ever had!
There are countless other options. With more than 20,000 restaurants in New York City you are spoiled for choice. As a devout foodie, I have many favourites:
- The charming French brasserie, Balthazar, in SoHo
- The grandiose décor and modern Asian fare that is the Buddakan, in Chelsea
- STK in Midtown or Meatpacking for a steakhouse fine dining experience
- The Red Cat, a New York staple in Chelsea, serving a range of dishes from duck to pastas
- Maialino for Italian fine dining and great for private dining,inside the Gramercy Park Hotel
- Euro-style Italian trattoria, Morandi, in West Village
It is crucial to note the majority of restaurants in New York demand a reservation, weeks or, at times, a month in advance. This is not just folklore. If you get off the beaten path you will discover cozy wine bars and unique cultural finds. You can also source websites like Eater or Tasting Table for a different approach.
With more than 20,000 restaurants in New York City you are spoiled for choice.
Q. WHAT HIDDEN GEM WOULD YOU RECOMMEND FOR OUT-OF-TOWNERS?
A. New York City is home to so many attractions, you are bound to uncover a hidden gem in your neighbourhood, while a sight-seeing walk is never far away. Good examples include:
- The High Line is a unique park and architectural greenway that runs for a mile-and-a-half atop the old New York Central Railroad
- It is still amazing to marvel at the scale of Central Park, whilst finding film flashbacks, visiting popular fountains, or ice skating in the winter; and don’t miss “Strawberry Fields” further north that pays tribute to famed Beatle John Lennon
- There’s also the must-see and must-dos of the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre
- Bryant Park for fantastic gift shopping during the holiday season
- Union Square for farmers’ markets
- West Chelsea Neighbourhood, a rising art gallery district
Q. WHAT’S THE BEST AND WORST TIME OF YEAR TO TRAVEL TO NEW YORK CITY, AND WHY?
A. The least appealing time to travel to New York City would be in August or February—in the deepest of hot summer, or the peak of below freezing temperatures in winter. My favourite times to travel are between November and December, to see the city decked in Holiday spirit and sparkling window shopping. As well as during the spring in May, when everything is back in full bloom and the city comes alive with “al fresco” outdoor dining.
Q. WHAT SHOULD EVERY BUSINESS TRAVElLER EXPERIENCE WHILE IN NEW YORK CITY, AND WHY?
A. If you’d like to set aside time to exercise during your business trip, skip the hotel gym and go for a walk or run around Central Park or along the Hudson River. Take a break from transport and walk to your next meeting. Explore the neighbourhoods, find a bodega to have a breakfast sandwich, enjoy a spot of shopping, take advantage of the late hours if you are able; even the Empire State Building is open until 1am in the summer months!
From a vacationer point of view, try an eclectic Airbnb in Brooklyn which is easily accessible from Manhattan on the subway. For the sports enthusiasts, don’t miss the new Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden. You can also catch the half-price ticket window in Times Square between 2pm-3pm for Broadway shows. Go to Harlem to take in the history at a Jazz Supper Club, find a concert to see – there are many.
Q. IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL THROUGHOUT NEW YORK?
A. I think it is very safe to travel throughout New York. But like any city, you have to still be conscious of your surroundings. Would I go to Central Park in the winter at night? No. Would I go at 7pm during the summer when there are lots of people around? Absolutely. From a neighbourhood perspective, I’ve travelled throughout the island, from the Bronx to the Lower East Side, and while there are pockets of areas I avoid, I have always felt comfortable.
Q. WHAT WOULD YOU RECALL AS YOUR FAVOuRITE MEMORABLE MOMENT IN NEW YORK?
A. It’s not so much a single moment but every time I hit the pavement in New York, I literally pinch myself that I’m back there. I break into a big smile, then receive smiles back, and I’m right back into that buzz.
It’s a vibe—the traffic is humming, horns are beeping, streets are crowded, smells are wafting out of the restaurants. You recall the iconic buildings, and yet you notice something that wasn’t there during your last visit that changes the landscape. The city heightens your senses. I find that incredible – it makes you feel alive.
All opinions and recommendations are the interviewee’s own. CTM recommends all travellers conduct their own thorough, independent research into their travel destination(s) prior to making any travel decisions, and take out adequate travel insurance prior to travel.
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