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Peter Strebel knows a thing or two about hotels. He has 30 years of experience in the hospitality world and previously served as chief marketing officer and senior vice president of sales for Omni Hotels & Resorts before becoming president.

Strebel is responsible for repositioning Omni in the luxury hospitality space especially when it comes to developing brandwide property standards for its convention center hotels and resort portfolios.

He shares his thoughts on travel in 2021, the company’s growth plans and how to plot the way forward after a year of such turmoil.

Are you noticing any trends in travel right now?

Among growing leisure demand, we are noticing a large uptick in seniors traveling since many have been vaccinated. Using data from our senior discount rates and comparing the first two months of 2020 with 2021, Omni Amelia Island Resort in Florida saw a 137% increase in sales by “baby boomers” while Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort saw a 25% jump in bookings. There are pockets of demand that are ready to travel now.

We are seeing our Texas hotels starting to experience an uptick in small meetings. Not by a lot but there is some upward movement. Arizona is also doing well – our Tucson and Scottsdale properties are seeing some spikes in group bookings. Southern states seem to be rebounding first when it comes to group travel.

What is Omni’s current growth plan?

We’ve been heavily focused on group and convention center hotels for over a decade now alongside building up our resort portfolio. As we emerge from this crisis, we must be forward-thinking about our brand strategy and portfolio offerings.

In an effort to deliver a consistent guest experience, we sold five hotels. Pursuing the potential sale of assets that no longer align with the direction of the brand was a part of our strategy pre-Covid.         

In the past year, we have also added hotels in Minneapolis – Omni Viking Lakes Hotel – and in Oklahoma City – Omni Oklahoma City Hotel. And, we are opening a property in Boston late this summer – Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.

How is Omni approaching business travel now?

In the near term, we are predicting that 100% of our profit will come from resorts (leisure travel). Long term, we are seeing a trend in the right direction toward meetings.

The pandemic was challenging for group business, but it was an opportunity for us to be creative with our offerings and think outside of the box. “Here Comes Omni” from our sales team to test our Omni Safe & Clean protocols and stay connected with clients. During one week in October, the Omni team traveled 5,115 miles in an RV stopping at 15 Omni locations to show customers how Omni is ready to safely host meetings and events.

During that same month, we implemented a social distancing “filter” to the meeting and event pages on hotel websites, which allow users to book event space at Omni based on the number of attendees. Users can toggle between standard, moderate and strict settings while viewing new meeting space diagrams and enhanced visuals. Omni was the first hotel group to offer such a feature.

How is Omni addressing virtual and hybrid meetings?

We’re all at different comfort levels right now. The new “Ready, Set, Go Hybrid with Omni” program, designed via customer feedback, brings a new level of production quality and technology support for our customers’ presentations, small meetings and hybrid events.

How important is food and beverage for Omni?        

Like our design process, it’s important that we’re tying into local cuisine and resources to ensure the highest quality and creativity. We’re proud to locally source food products where possible, too. For the launch of Minneapolis’ Omni Viking Lakes’ culinary program, we worked closely with Ann Kim, a Minneapolis-based, James Beard award-winning chef. Her menu is the highlight of the hotel’s Kyndred Hearth restaurant.

At our newest hotel, Omni Oklahoma City, we partnered with accomplished corporate chef and restaurateur, David Gilbert, who now serves as the executive chef there. Gilbert’s menus have turned heads all over the world in international competitions. The property has seven culinary offerings, all of which are regionally inspired, which includes Bob’s Steak & Chop House, already receiving rave reviews.

Why does Omni look for sport arenas and convention centers in new markets?

Leaning into large sporting facilities and event spaces – in addition to resorts – is our way of assuring continuous growth in multiple markets beyond business destinations. When we choose a city to build an Omni hotel, a professional athletic organization in town is the “cherry on top.”

These organizations allow us to bring our luxury hotel experience to the affiliated team’s mixed-use development highlighting a “live, work, play” model that has proven successful. These partnerships include Omni Frisco Hotel with the Dallas Cowboys (opened in 2017), Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta with the Braves (opened in 2018) and Omni Viking Lakes Hotel with MV Ventures, the development arm of the Minnesota Vikings (opened last year).

In May, we’ll also break ground on Omni PGA Frisco Resort, (slated to open in spring 2023), in partnership with the PGA of America and the City of Frisco.

What is the design process like for a new hotel?

Including regional culture in both new and existing properties is a part of the Omni DNA. Hotel decor draws inspiration from the landscape, the city’s current economy, as well as its history. We want locals to feel at home while those traveling from elsewhere get a sense of place.

In our newest hotel in Oklahoma City, every aspect of the design was pulled from the state of Oklahoma in some way, from the earth tones meant to represent the layers of earth, to the cowboy and oil-inspired features of the bar and lounge. The hotel’s Mokara Spa incorporates one of Oklahoma’s most prolific resources, cotton, into its design look.

What is Omni’s “Say Good Night to Hunger” program?

Omni is committed to helping the local communities in which we are located. The Say Goodnight to Hunger program, launched in June 2016, is our partnership with Feeding America that helps to provide one meal for every completed guest stay. To date, nearly 18 million meals have been donated, and all 60 Omni properties participate by supporting food banks and pantries in their areas.

Did you see the “Super Pink Moon” this week? It was coming, then it was gone (and it wasn’t too dangerous), but some stunning images have come to light since that you need to see.

May’s full Moon, traditionally called the “Pink Moon” in North America because this time of year sees the flowering of phlox.

That’s not the case globally, but the name has stuck regardless. It was termed a “supermoon” because out satellite was almost as close to Earth as it gets on its slightly elliptical orbit.

The result was a full Moon about 6% larger than normal, but a much rarer event was photographed around it close to the South Pole.

Not, not an actually pink Moon (a common misconception), but a “moon dog.”

Rarely seen, though typically only spotted only when the full Moon is low in the sky, a “moon dog” is a halo caused by hexagonal ice crystals in thin clouds, which refract moonlight.

Officially known as “paraselenae,” they’re also called lunar halos, moon rings and winter rings.

This image (above) was shot by Matt Young at the South Pole Telescope, a 10-meter diameter telescope at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station close to the South Pole in Antarctica. 

For fans of rare solar phenomena the “White Continent” is hotting up. Antarctica will see a spectacular total solar eclipse on December 4, 2021 when it will be possible to view an eclipsed Sun low on the horizon above ice-scapes and floating icebergs. 

Meanwhile, about 8,000 miles away on the Arabian Peninsular a team were out to capture the very same “Super Pink Moon” in a completely different environment.

Partnering with local astro-photographer Vinay Swaroop Balla, the Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) has issued these stunning images of the “Super Pink Moon” besides camels, the desert and some landmarks in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

The photos are partly to promote Qatar as a destination for stargazing, with new astro-toursim packages announced for when the country reopens its borders later this year.

An “Arabian Nights” package includes a moon-lit camel safari and stargazing with an astronomer, but do be careful on timing; you can never get a full Moon AND a dark sky on the same night because the big, bright full Moon rises at dusk and sets at dawn, looking beautiful all night, for sure, but also bleaching the night skies and making stargazing virtually impossible. In reality you have to choose one or the other (go around New Moon for truly dark, moonless skies).

The package includes BBQ dinner banquets by the campfire and a stay at the Regency Sealine Camp in the south-east of Qatar overlooking the UNESCO-protected Khor Al-Adaid, where sand dunes meet the ocean.

Qatar has recently been the perfect place to view a spectacular “ring of fire” solar eclipse on December 26, 2019.

It was caused by the very opposite of a “supermoon,” when our satellite was the furthest it gets from Earth in its monthly orbit. Consequently smaller in the sky, it wasn’t able to full cover the Sun when the eclipse occurred, resulting in a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

From Qatar is was possible to see a rare “Devil’s Horns” crescent sunrise as a partially eclipsed Sun poked above the horizon.

Although the “Super Pink Moon” was impressive, it’s nothing compared to what will happen next month as a “Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse”—a rare total lunar eclipse—will see the lunar surface visibly turn a reddish color for about 15 minutes.

The key date for your diary is May 26, 2021. However, lunar eclipses are visible from about half of the Earth’s surface, and this one will only be seen by those around the Pacific Rim in western U.S. states, western South America, the islands of the Pacific, Eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

“Did you know that Filipino slaves—the ones brought to Mexico by the Galleon Trade—taught Mexicans to distill?”

No. No, I did not.

That was how my first phone call with Rebecca Quiñonez, a longtime spirits educator, started. In that moment, I felt massive shame that I had zero clue that the agave spirits I enjoy today were in fact a product of a clandestine Mexican and Filipino collaboration while both nations were under hundreds of years of Spanish rule. The sharing of knowledge and skills were basically a show of brotherhood, if you will. After all, Mexico and the Philippines are colonial cousins.

“In fact, if you really want to take a deep dive, tequila was birthed out of colonialism because the Spanish-Mexicans owned the land they grew agave on,” Quiñonez explained further. “While mezcal is truly ancestral, because it’s made by the indigenous communities of Mexico, who own their own land and the agaves they cultivate in it.”

It was heady stuff to digest for sure. But it’s no secret that Quiñonez certainly knows much more than the usual spirits professional. And I’m glad she brought up all this historical information, while many others often hesitate to go that far back and shy away from inconvenient facts. In that sense, she’s fearless—talking about heritage, culture, and people without any of the usual marketing jargon. Instead, she used her 20-year career working in the spirits industry—15 of which was spent as a global brand ambassador for Diageo—shedding light and dispensing valuable intel that go way past what’s trending at any given time.

“My romance with agave and Aztec culture began as a teenager in the ’90s while growing up in Eastside San Jose, California—where I enrolled in Mexican and Aztec studies at local colleges to understand the history, language, and mythology,” Quiñonez says. “I’m a first-generation Nicaragüense and I was raised in a diverse and culturally rich community dominated by hard working Mexicanos from Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. My first experiences with tequila were mainly during celebratory and joyful occasions: family gatherings, weddings, and holidays. And the brands that resonated with my early years were Chinaco, Siete Leguas, and Tres Magueyes, because they had always represented quality and tradition.”

Today, Quiñones is still in the spirits industry, but she’s made the leap to become her own boss: She’s now the CEO and founder of her own boutique consulting firm, which specializes in global route-to-market strategies—focusing on agave-based beverages, cannabis, and the multi-cultural luxury world at large, where she works only on projects and clients she truly believes in.

“I can proudly say that I’ve had a unique front row seat into the world of tequila, not only within my own career and extensive travels throughout Mexico but through my mother’s as well,” Quiñonez says. “She ignited a new and early passion for the industry—as she was an amazing bartender and cocktail waitress for 25 years. I was learning about tequila, rum, Cognac, and fine Scotches from the age of 14, so my early love for history, culture, and hospitality created the perfect foundation to an illustrious path into the world of fine spirits.”

Here, Quiñonez listed some of her favorite tequilas and mezcals—many of which are not part of the “Big Boys” club she had previously worked with: Beyond that she’s also worked with the the “Big Boys” of tequila—Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Cazadores, and DeLeon. Instead, she wanted to highlight more offbeat distilleries than aren’t going to be in every single big box store or retailer. These picks are more artisanal in nature, and in its own way, truer to the way locals—not Americans—drink.

“The curated list is a tribute to the legacy, art, and craft of the unsung heroes in the industry: the agaveros, los jimadores, tequileros, and mezcaleros. For centuries they have honored a past that connects tradition, the magic of the land, and its people,” Quiñonez emphasizes. “The tequilas and mezcales that I selected are the finest representation of Mexican heritage, in my opinion…not only for their exceptional taste but in the manner with which they’re produced. All use mindful and sustainable cultivations practices. Several continue to use pre-Hispanic milling methods such as the tahona—an art and rarity in the 21st century. There’s the fractional aging of reposado and añejo tequilas; techniques seen in aging fine Sherry wines; and the hand selecting of the most mature agaves to deliver the most remarkable profiles, styles, and flavor combinations. And although Cinco de Mayo is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, it does represent the most important holiday for tequila and mezcal sales in the United States. I only hope that whatever agave-based spirit that you choose to celebrate with, you appreciate not only its great taste but its unique origins.”

The Best Tequilas and the Best Mezcals for Cinco de Mayo—and Beyond


“El Tequileño Reposado Gran Reserva is a favorite among tequila drinkers, judges, and connoisseurs. El Tequileño, located in the heart of el Valle de Tequila with its 60-year-old tradition and legacy, has created one of the best-tasting reposado tequilas in the market,” Quiñonez says. “This blend of eight-month-old reposados and reserve 18-month añejos create absolute perfection from start to finish. Bold notes of vanilla, nuts, dried fruit and spice. I really enjoy sipping on this with a large cube of ice and great company.”


“This expression comes from an incredible distillery with heritage, using tradition and artisanal methods with five generations of production and history,” Quiñonez says. “‘SS’ is a very special sipping-style blanco at 46% ABV. A must have for any tequila lover, it boasts of beautiful earthy notes combined with bright fruit and cooked ripe agave. I like to sip SS on the rocks or with tonic and a lemon peel.” 


“Terroir plays a vital role in tequila production, as it does in most fine spirits and winemaking—and the single estate grown agaves yield some of the sweetest piñas from the highland region,” says Quiñonez. “A wonderful bouquet of herbal, citrus, and floral aromas deliver balance and elegance with every sip. I really enjoy drinking this plata style on the rocks. You’ve got crisp notes of green apple, fresh herbs like basil, and yerba buena and sweet tropical fruit.”


“Cascahuin Tahona Blanco is a true display of harmony, ancestry, and balance,” Quiñonez says. “There are powerful notes of cooked agave, herbal, sweet fruit, and mineral essence. It’s my favorite tequila among the ‘tahona-style’ tequilas for its purity and elegance.” 


“I highly recommend that you record the day and time you taste this,” Quiñonez insists. “This is yet another masterpiece from destilería La Tequileña, where only the finest most mature agaves are able to make the cut. Their use of fractional aging, combined with the different styles of barrels used for maturation, such as French Limousin oak, American white oak, and wine casks deliver an exceptional liquid with an even more exceptional finish. Notes of cooked agave, dried fruit, spice and caramel offer a sensational añejo style for any agave connoisseur.”


“This expression, from destilería La Tequileña in the heart of el Valle de Tequila, only utilizes hand-selected estate-grown Highland agaves to produce Don Fulano Blanco, which provides exquisite beauty and elegance. Blanco tequilas—to be properly classified—are typically unaged. So to sample a six-month-aged tequila reinforces the bounty of the land and the maguey. The aging creates more delicate fruit, herb, and spice notes to deliver one of the best tasting blanco tequilas in the market.”


“Fortaleza Blanco is another beauty from NOM 1493. You can pour Fortaleza Blanco in a mixed drink, neat, or on the rocks—and it will not disappoint,” Quiñonez says. “It’s all sophisticated and refined sweet notes—with hints of citrus, butter, and white pepper. Copper pot distilled, alongside the use of the traditional tahona milling method, adds mineral notes—making it a standout tequila for me.”


“This is a true beauty,” Quiñonez says. “This reposado is aged for six to eight months and it’s everything that you would want in a classic ‘valley-style’ reposado. Notes of cooked agave, honey, and vanilla produce depth and body with a silky rich finish. I prefer to sip on this reposado with orange wedges to enhance the spice and honey notes.”


“El Tequileño Reposado Rare is absolutely unique, not only for its aging method—as they blend añejo tequilas that have been aged for over six years in a ‘pipon,’ which is a wooden oak tank that’s able to hold more than 23,000 liters of tequila—but for its depth of flavor and deep finish,” Quiñonez says. “With its elegant notes of dried fruit, ripe pineapple, honey and cooked agave, I recommend using a tequila glass or a champagne flute to truly take in the expression’s bold flavors and luxurious taste.”


“This is the perfect daytime drinking style reposado of the bunch! This reposado is rested for a little over eight weeks in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s got a rich fruit-forward nose with notes of honey cooked agave, tropical fruit, mango, and apricot—the perfect reposado to have neat or in my favorite cocktail, the Paloma.” 


“La Gritona reposado is such a special tequila from Distillery NOM 1533, not only for its great taste but for their standout master distiller, Melly Barajas,” Quiñonez says. “Only a small number of female master distillers produce tequila—and an even smaller number have an entirely female production team! La Gritona utilizes nine- to ten-year-old mature agave from the highlands region of Jalisco—so these agaves yield more sugar and tend to be sweeter and more aromatic. This reposado is incredible: so many exploding flavors such as cooked tropical fruit, honey, spice, hints of clove, and aniseed deliver a wonderful reposado style tequila from start to finish.” 

G4 AÑEJO ($65)

“Master distiller Felipe Camarena has created such a refined, elegantly crafted, rich sipping style añejo,” says Quiñonez. “It’s incredibly expressive on the nose with hints of cooked pear, apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove spice. It’s a stunning representation of flavor, complexity, and harmony—with elegant hints of oak, honey cooked fruit, and spice on the palate. Certainly one of my favorite añejos on the market.” 


“This is the perfect dessert-style reposado, to sip neat or with a large cube of ice,” says Quiñonez. “It has a velvety feel with notes of chocolate vanilla, cinnamon, and butterscotch with complex spices such as chile de arbol and clove. Expressive from nose to finish. The pretty bottles make for interesting conversation as well.” 


“I absolutely enjoy the bold earthy, smoky, and herbal notes that this reposado delivers. The honey and white pepper notes carry forward along with hints of fresh cut herb, wood, and citrus peel—creating a rich long dry finish,” says Quiñonez. “I recommend pairing this with oysters or ceviche, on the rocks or in a long drink.” 


“Such a great classic añejo style from the incredible state of Guanajuato. This añejo is aged for 12 months in oak barrels, is bottled at 38% ABV, and delivers bold flavors of charred wood, herbs, nuts, and sweet piloncillo. Such rustic classic flavors from beginning to end.” 


“Founded in 1873, the Santa Rita factory has been producing tequila for 15 generations,” says Quiñonez.  “This jewel of a blanco offers complexity, harmony, and depth. It delivers a range of rich flavors—from wild honey, cooked agave, fresh cut grass, tropical fruit, citrus, and smoke. As a higher-proof blanco at 45% ABV, it creates a long rich finish, one of the best tasting blanco tequilas on the market!”


“I absolutely love this añejo: so expressive on the nose with notes of bourbon, butterscotch, dried fruit, figs, and raisins,” says Quiñonez. “Beautifully rich on the palate with a silky finish. I recommend enjoying this añejo with a dessert or cigar pairing.” 


“This expression is the perfect link to bridge the old world to the new. This joven mezcal delivers a well-rounded body and a sophisticated finish,” Quiñonez says. “The floral hints of cooked fruit, smoke, and spice create the ideal introduction to a traditional-style mezcal made in the fashion of tequila. Produced in the small village of Huitzila, Zacatecas, near the Valley of Tequila, master distiller Jaime Bañuelos continues the tradition of pre-hispanic artisanal production methods, while maintaining complexity and balance with every sip.”


“What an incredible treat to have gotten my hands on this beauty,” says Quiñonez. “San Bartolo is produced in the gorgeous village of Yautepec by award-winning mezcalero Valentín Martínez López, who was recently recognized by the CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal) for his historic 50-year contribution to the production of mezcal! So much harmony and balance: a fine blend of floral, citrus, and tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and mango—with light pepper and smoke flavors that deliver a refined and elevated liquid. This made me smile from ear to ear. A wonderfully refined representation of the category.” 


“Tosba mezcal from the remote village of San Cristóbal Lachirioag in Oaxaca embodies passion, heritage, and an outstanding commitment to community and the land,” Quiñonez says. “Bold and expressive, its earthy, herbal, vegetal, and smoky notes deliver an outstanding full body and perfectly balanced espadín mezcal. I recommend sampling this neat in a Champagne flute to truly appreciate its rich complexity and elegance.” 


“This expression is made with wild agave that naturally grows in the high plateau of San Luis Potosí. From the village of Charcas, the mezcal cultivated in the desert delivers a more sweet, floral, and herbaceous mezcal—unlike in any other place in Mexico,” Quiñonez says. “Maestro mezcalero Manuel Perez showcases the expression’s beauty, balance, and intensity by foraging for dry salmiana leaves and quiotes to use as fuel during the cooking process.”

Last spring, while quarantined with his family at his Connecticut home, Wylie Dufresne decided to put his pizza oven to use. He’d been responsible for feeding the four adults and four kids in the house, isolated and relying on delivered ingredients or efficient trips to the supermarket to keep everyone satiated.

“It was a full blown lockdown, and I was cooking for eight every night. I was trying to think of fun things to do,” Dufresne recalls. After shutting the doors at his most recent venture, Du’s Donuts, early into the COVID-19 crisis, he wasn’t necessarily looking for a new business concept, but that’s exactly what he got. His unused pizza oven became a source of joy, inspiration, and eventually, entrepreneurship: Dufresne launched his first-ever pizza venture, Stretch Pizza, out of Manhattan’s Breads Bakery this April.

“Pizza saved me mentally in this last year. It was something to wrap my head around” Dufresne says. “From a work and creativity perspective, I didn’t have a lot to do.” Rather than scrolling through TikTok endlessly, Dufresne fell down a different rabbit hole: Pizza making. As a father, he felt a responsibility to feed his family, and also bring some joy in the food that was sustaining his loved ones day after quarantined day. He started by using the King Arthur pizza crust recipe, and wove in his own technique and various research, from there. Like doughnuts, he says pizza is deceptively simple, but hard to perfect.

“It became an obsession pretty quickly,” Dufresne says. “There was always opportunity to keep learning.” This intense focus kept Dufresne sane in the craziest period of the twenty-first century. He started trying to understand pizza from a very technical level, focusing on the details to keep his brain occupied. Being most familiar with New York-style pies, that’s the style he chose to focus on. He estimates he has photos of over 700 pizzas he baked during quarantine, and is now ready to share the highlights with New Yorkers.

“It’s a dangerous business getting into pizza in New York City,” Dufresne says. “You’re putting a target on your back.” Dufresne is just one of many, many acclaimed chefs who have pivoted to pizza and comfort food in our time of takeout-friendly need. Near Breads Bakery, Dan Kluger recently launched Washington Squares Pizza in the West Village.

The relationship with Bread Bakery helped Dufresne further strengthen the pizza program and get his menu for Stretch Pizza ready to distribute. “They have a great knowledge of dough,” Dufresne says.

Those who are familiar with Dufresene’s edible repertoire won’t be disappointed by the way he melds humor and deliciousness on a classic 12-inch New York pie. Stretch, named for the technique of stretching dough to craft the pie on, is inspired by local Greenmarket incredients and city flavors. An Everything Bagel Pizza is topped with cream cheese, aged mozzarella, everything bagel spice and chives and a calzone is stuffed with scrambled eggs, muenster cheese, american cheese and scallions,

“Pizzas are both a nod to New York City in a traditional sense and an acknowledgement of my culinary past and the high art of dough making,” Dufresne says. “Hats off to the pizzaiolos who came before us and make it look easy.

Stretch Pizza is open for takeout at Breads Bakery, 18 East 16th Street (between 5th Avenue & Union Square West), from Tuesday – Thursday, 5 – 8 p.m. Pre-order via Tock.