New York Business Travel: All Work and No Play

Watching at least one Broadway show during a stay in the Big Apple may be on the wish list of many business travelers, but deciding which show to see, when to see it and how to go about obtaining tickets prior to arrival might put some people off.

To help in the process, several companies can assist the individual business traveler or meeting planner trying to arrange a theater evening for a large group. Though you can pay as much as 25% over box office prices, brokers say their services provide added security, convenience and firsthand knowledge of the product that makes the extra cost worthwhile.

Edwards & Edwards is a theater ticket agency that can assist with just about any question you have. According to Janet Medina, sales representative at Edwards & Edwards, not only can her company help agents and planners get tickets (for a minimum of 20 to in the hundreds), but they also can provide valuable information about what shows may or may not be appropriate for your group.

"We pride ourselves on customer service," said Medina. "If your group is from a rural town, or is made up of older people, 'Rent' might not be appropriate.

Medina pointed out that a full 40% of the people who call do not know specifically what show they want to book. The company makes sure it has the background information necessary to offer such advice, Medina said, by sending sales representatives to see all of the shows they offer, simply to get a feel for it.

She added that it is also important for their ticket agents to become personally familiar with the actual theaters, so they can decide which seats would be best for a particular show.

She said that orchestra, for example, is not always best, despite the general consensus. "Short people are better off in front mezzanine, and extreme side orchestra seats are not as good as mezzanine."

They can provide box office pickup, and, though Medina recommends at least six weeks' advance booking, Edwards & Edwards can fax confirmation of a last-minute order.

In addition, Medina said Edwards & Edwards can arrange backstage tours for groups, and often can offer advance booking to shows not yet available to the general public. Theater tickets are commissionable to agents at $4 per ticket, provided payment is made by agency check.

At Theatre Direct International, ticketing agents can help secure individual or group tickets of some of the most popular shows on Broadway, but again, advance planning is the key. TDI tickets can be mailed, picked up at a TDI office or held at the box office.

TDI also has available dining packages consisting of pre-theater lunch, Sunday brunch or dinner. These packages, as well as the sale of the theater tickets themselves, are commissionable to agents at 10%. In addition, cancellation insurance is available for $5 per ticket, if cancelled or exchanged within two business days of the performance.

For group orders of 20 tickets or more, there is no service fee for tickets except Saturday evening and select holiday performances. TDI also makes VIP packages available for select shows, which guarantees the best seats and includes other perks such as a souvenir brochure and cancellation and exchange protection.

To help agents and planners, TDI can provide sales materials such as videos, guides and slides.

Some companies, such as Applause Theatre & Entertainment Service, not only can help agents and planners get Broadway tickets (as well as sporting events) but also recently introduced theater packages in conjunction with certain New York City hotels. For example, Applause's Best of Broadway package provides two nights accommodations in a select hotel, preregistration at the property, roundtrip airport transfers and one theater ticket, priced from $325 depending on hotel choice. These packages were introduced last April and, according to vice president and co-owner Richard Gladstone, the company expects to expand its package options.

"About 70% of our business comes through the CRS, and we want to continue doing what the travel agencies need," he said, adding that packaging creates the kind of one-stop shopping many agents are looking for. Tickets are commissionable at 10%.

Gladstone said that, except for blockbuster shows that come along once every few years ("The Lion King" being the current one), agents don't have to call as far in advance as they might think, because of the company's huge inventory.

The common theme for all of these companies: purchasing Broadway tickets needn't be a hassle for corporate groups and business travelers. Any of these companies can do the legwork, and in many cases, provide tickets for shows that would be very difficult for visitors to obtain on their own.

There are many fine theater options among the Off-Broadway circuit as well, and any of these companies can aid in arranging tickets to such shows. A word of caution from Medina of Edwards & Edwards: though it used to be true that tickets to these productions were easier to come by than Broadway, this is no longer the case. "Recently, a lot of these shows are selling out faster because they have amazing casts and big names," she said. "They also have a very small house, and many offer ticket subscriptions to season ticket holders, which leaves very few tickets for the brokers or other individuals."

She added that once a show gets a good review, you probably need as much notice as you would for a hot Broadway ticket. So plan ahead for these events to avoid disappointment.

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For more information or reservations, the companies mentioned in this article can be reached at the following numbers:

Applause Theatre & Entertainment Service: (212) 307-7050, (800) 451-9930; fax (212) 397-3729.

Edwards & Edwards: (800) 223-6108; fax (914) 328-2752.

Theatre Direct International: (212) 541-8457, (800) 334-8457; fax (212) 541-4892.

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New York Business Travel: Additional Advice

In a destination such as New York, finding out-of-the-way places that are not on every tourist's to-do list can be a challenge. One of the best ways to find the lesser known (and almost always less expensive and better quality) establishments is to turn to your hotel's concierge.

Martine Alexandra Dominique, concierge at the Salisbury Hotel on 57th Street, says one of her favorite places to recommend to hotel guests is Bar 9 on 9th Ave. between 54th and 55th streets.

"The food is great, with some great cocktails and wonderful Greek and Mediterranean dishes." She says one of the reasons she feels so confident suggesting this place is because she used to live in the neighborhood and is a satisfied customer herself. "The atmosphere is very nice; real candles all over, lots of couches and different tables -- some high, some low."

Another fine choice, says Dominique, is Bravo Gianni on the East Side. She describes this family-run eatery as a little more expensive, with a "magnificent" wine list, wonderful hors d'oeuvres and a festive atmosphere.

"If you don't eat everything, the mother comes out of the kitchen and gets mad at you," she notes jokingly.

Another treasure Dominique has been known to propose is the garden at the Museum of Modern Art, with a cozy coffeehouse that is like a dream in the summertime.

Dominique says she enjoys informing guests of the out-of-the-way places be-

cause, with the better known restaurants, you run the risk of getting "a lot of hype and food that isn't that good." On occasion, however, she says she'll point guests in the direction of the more famous places that never disappoint. For example, she notes that a lot of men still ask for the quiet steak places, and she happily steers them toward Ben Benson's and Gallagher's because they are consistently good bets and are not pretentious in any way despite their fame.

"The best part of my job," says Dominique, "comes when people come back to me and say, 'That was great.'"

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