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Seeking Hospitality Outside Its Traditional Realm

Tony Chi, founder of Tonychi & Associates, in Taiwan.

I’M a control freak, and I guess I’m proud of that because that means that my clients don’t have to worry — I’ll do that. Since I’m a designer, and principal and founder of Tonychi & Associates, it’s very important for me to go where the jobs are, and my travels can take me anywhere throughout the United States, Europe or Asia.

I don’t stress about business travel, but I don’t love it. Security is now dominating the experience, and although I understand the need for it, it’s not comfortable, for me at least.

I design in the hospitality space, and I think we need to define hospitality beyond hotels and restaurants. In the United States, the security issues are much more unsettling than what I find in other countries. Connecting flights used to be doable and more pleasant. Now it’s a burden and I, like others, always cut it way too close when trying to make those connections.

My most memorable travel experiences involved island-hopping in Indonesia. I used to work there quite regularly. Back in the late 1980s, I was a young designer. The stock market tanked around 1987 and it was tough to find work in New York, so I decided to go to Indonesia.

Things were really booming there, and it was a good move. It was not uncommon to go from island to island by a diesel-powered fishing boat and then connect to a small propeller plane. Most people didn’t even have a seat on the plane. We’d just hang out with the cargo, behind a little plastic net.

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It wasn’t fancy, but in many ways it was a privilege. This travel really engages you and provides you with an intimate connection with the local culture.

Today in our large-plane culture, that intimacy may have been lost. So if I’ve learned anything about business travel, it’s that I need to never lose the wonderment that I get from meeting new people and exploring cultures. But I’m still never going to be happy about the process nowadays.

As a frequent traveler, you learn to anticipate when a delay is actually a cancellation. Your intuition can smell these like a dead rat, and you figure out creative ways to avoid the worst case. However, you can sometimes be caught off guard.

I remember boarding a Northweast plane headed for Tokyo in the mid-1990s, during a major snowstorm. At the time, there was competition between United and Northwest. I felt reassured when the previous Tokyo-bound flight from United took off successfully. However, my luck must have run out.

We boarded the flight, and I took my seat and promptly fell asleep. I thought I was going to wake up in Tokyo, but no. After several hours of a wonderful nap, I found myself still on the runway in New York.

The weirdest layover occurred in the blizzard that paralyzed New York and the Northeast just after Christmas in 2010. I did not anticipate the intensity of the storm when I arrived at Kennedy Airport. After the snow stopped, nothing was able to leave New York — including me.

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