Book puts best of region at your fingertips

TRAVERSE CITY – The best travel advice I ever heeded was, “Make friends with the concierge.” That advice has led me to the best restaurants, galleries, and shops nationally and internationally, no matter what my mood or budget.

Realizing that few hotels in northern Michigan have full-time concierge services, Christian Vannequé has written “The Concierge Book,” a handsome, leather-bound book that can be found in finer hotels, resorts, and bed and breakfasts throughout Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. Additional volumes will be published for the Petoskey/Harbor Springs and Mackinac Island/Straits Area next spring. Vannequé plans to franchise The Concierge Book for other cities in the U.S. by 2002, highlighting places just coming into their own as vacation destinations.

The idea of a categorized reference book is not new to the travel industry, but it is new to northern Michigan. “This is the first time anything like this has been done on this level,” commented Vannequé, former owner of Baliwood in downtown Traverse City. “This book, unlike other publications or guides, has the ability to not only pass along information, it’s also able to capture the essence and the atmosphere of the business.”

Vannequé, a Paris native, developed the idea for The Concierge Book about five years ago when he became frustrated by the lack of good local guidebooks in the United States.

“My inspiration came because I found myself traveling extensively, but having to wade through pages of advertising in dining guides trying to find the best places to go. I couldn’t tell by these ads what the place was really like,” he said. “I also remembered the vastly different guidebooks from my travels in Europe, where hotels would write their own books for hotel guests, and would only feature places they could personally recommend. I wanted a book that would be informative, yet visually stunning.”

Vannequé has achieved that goal by assembling a talented group to help launch The Concierge Book. Photo sessions are shot by Glen Graves, whose work has been seen in Architectural Digest, House & Garden, and House Beautiful; Carl Rogers, of CP Rogers Advertising, is in charge of layout and art production; William Gapinski is the account representative; and Artist Robert Purvis is creating a bookstand with special lighting so the book can be set apart from front desk areas.

Each “member” page has space to showcase entire menus for restaurants, wine lists for wineries, amenities for spas, or seasonal collections for galleries and boutiques. The photographs show not only the establishment, but also highlights the owner, chef, or manager. Vannequé likes to call this “the human element–something that’s been missing from other guidebooks.”

Since July of 2000, The Concierge Book has been placed in 42 area hotels, but will be offered in airports, restaurants, bookstores, shops, and through various links to a Web site. A unique experimental feature lets members track new business that could only have come from their listing in the book.

The book reads like a Who’s Who of the area’s upscale places, including La Becasse, the Riverside Inn, Venus boutique, Medici Gallery, Jack’s Market, Pavlova Salon, and L. Mawby Vineyards, to name just a few. With 15 to 20 new members being added each month, Vannequé hopes to keep his members in good company by keeping membership restricted to the finest each area has to offer. “Anyone can buy ad space in other publications, but it will be cachet to be in The Concierge Book,” he said.

According to the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1.5 million people visited Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties last year. Over 73 percent of those visitors stayed in hotels, motel, resorts, and bed and breakfast inns and 75 percent asked for recommendations about dining, shopping, entertainment, and recreational activities.

“The Concierge Book is meant to supplement the front desk staff or concierge, not replace it,” Vannequé added. “It’s not only for visitors, it’s also great for local people looking for a new experience.” BN