We thought we’d take a behind-the-scenes look at how our editors choose which properties become Hideaway Report-recommended hotels. Our editor-in-chief’s answers prove that the life of a luxury travel editor is as much about amazing hotel stays as it is about seeing iconic bird species, suffering subpar service and, occasionally, avoiding snakes.
What is it that makes a hotel a Hideaway of the Year?
A Hideaway of the Year possesses some special magic that is above and beyond mere excellence. Of course, it will be one of the most highly rated properties of the year, and it will exemplify the kind of hotel or resort that we have been searching for during the previous 12 months. But it should also be different, one-of-a-kind. This year’s Hideaway of the Year, Nihi Sumba is unlike any other resort in the world. It is remote but civilized, laid-back but extremely sophisticated. When you arrive, you are surprised. It is not what you had imagined. But your expectations are reliably exceeded.
All luxury hotels should have excellent service. What does the Staff of the Year do to stand out from the crowd?
Sometimes properties achieve a level of service that is more than professional competence. It is proactive: Staff members are not merely doing their jobs or responding to specific requests, but they are anticipating what guests might need. And it can also come down to personal charm: people just being extraordinarily friendly and polite, without ever lapsing into familiarity.
Does a hotel have to be Michelin-starred for you to recommend it?
No, absolutely not. Most of our recommended properties have excellent restaurants, but some just offer breakfast and/or room service. Michelin stars are often a reliable badge of excellence, but not infallibly so. Michelin inspectors can be rather conservative. And we also look for restaurants that serve food with a strong sense of place. What is appropriate in Paris may be undesirable in Bangkok.
What was the oddest thing that happened in your travels this year?
On arrival at an eco-lodge in the depths of the Borneo jungle, my guide led me along a raised boardwalk to my room. “If it sounds like the roof is going to collapse,” he said “it’s only the proboscis monkeys. Oh, and you want to be careful walking around at night. There are a lot of snakes around here. And you really don’t want to get bitten by any of them.”
I have seldom been so assiduous in my use of a flashlight.
Are there any new travel trends that you loathe and/or love?
Personally, I dislike bathtubs in bedrooms. Apart from anything else, you tend to get water all over the floor. Other people hate baths that are open to the bedroom. I don’t mind this, but I prefer to have the option of a screen of some kind. I am slightly ashamed to say that I do like televisions that miraculously appear in the bathroom mirror, so that I can watch the news while getting ready. Most in-room iPads are irritating. All you want is scrambled eggs and coffee and you have to spend 10 minutes navigating your way to the relevant section of the room-service menu. It all seems suspiciously like the hotel just trying to save money. Technology is supposed to make life easier for the guest, not cheaper for the hotelier. There is no substitute for picking up the phone and having a friendly voice say “Hello, Mr X. What can I get for you this morning?”
The most odious trend in travel is the 4 p.m. check-in, especially when combined with the 11 a.m. checkout. This kind of cheeseparing is purely to economize on housekeeping staff. It is often grossly inconvenient and should be no part of the luxury hotel experience. Being obliged to pay for Wi-Fi in an $850 a night room is also infuriating. As are minibars, where you have to pay $30 for a half-bottle of indifferent white wine, or $7 for a bag of peanuts. Most people have wheeled suitcases nowadays, so this has allowed many hotels to dispense with porters, which is also consistently annoying.
Upon walking into a hotel, can you immediately tell if it’s got that special something that will get it recommended? Or do you always have to stay a few days to make that decision?
First impressions are extremely important. If the porter or receptionist is unfriendly, or inefficient, it is unlikely that the property will recover your good opinion. And, conversely, if you feel immediately at home, you are likely to overlook one or two minor failings during the course of your stay. But generally, it takes a while to form a settled impression. Very often, places grow on you, which is why we always try to stay a minimum of two nights in order to arrive at a considered judgment.
The Editors’ Choice awards highlight fine hotels and experiences from the year of travel. What kind of experiences can Hideaway Report-recommended hotels specially arrange for guests?
Because hideaways tend to be small, they can offer experiences that are individually tailored. On a recent trip to Awasi Iguazú in Argentina, I had a private guide throughout my stay. I expressed a desire to see the spectacular toco toucan, with its magnificent 9-inch yellow-and-orange beak, so she took me into the rainforest to a place where she knew they might be found. We saw six. Hideaways provide dinners for two at the edge of the ocean; breakfast at dawn surrounded by grazing wildebeest on safari; private tours of local food markets and vineyards.… The list goes on, but it is ultimately about treating each guest as a unique individual.
Have you ever been fooled by a well-designed hotel website and gotten there and been completely disappointed?
On more occasions than I care to remember. By definition, websites exist to make a place look fabulous. The photographer always finds the best angle, or shoots in the most favorable light. But very often the reality is much more prosaic. This year, I was seduced by a website called Historic Hotels of Sweden. The properties looked lovely, and as a result I stayed in three or four. But they all turned out to be well below the required standard, with poor maintenance, indifferent service and, on several occasions, lackluster food. Very often websites conspire to deceive, which is precisely why prospective travelers need Hideaway Report editors to be Sherpas preparing the way for their trips.
To learn more about how Hideaway Report editors discover and recommend hotels, visit “How We Find One-of-a-Kind Hideaways.”