Boutique hotel experts and hunters of all that is cool in accommodation experiences, Mr & Mrs Smith, is the latest group to unveil its predictions for the top trends for the industry ahead for this year as well as the destinations it thinks are going to be the hottest. Here's what they think
1 Experience seekers
Today’s new luxury travellers want more from a globetrotting getaway than just a pampering break. Once happy to be insulated in a cocooning 5-star, avoiding immersion in their host country, high-end guests are increasingly seeking more high-impact experiences. As much about social awareness as spiritual enlightenment, their desires are being met by forward-thinking boutique hotels with an increase in cultural tours, local cooking, arts and crafts classes, and the chance to get actively involved in charity schemes and conservation projects. Expect this trend to continue, with more crossover between top-tier travellers and adventurous backpackers. Amantaka hotel in Laos offers tempting Guest Experiences that tap into the Luang Prabang scene, including exploring the old city on foot, making a temple offering or visiting a Buddhist Archive. In Bali, Alila Villas Uluwatu’s Journeys by Alila promote cultural exchange, including visits to leading Balinese artists, private kitchen time with the hotel chef (as well as trips to Jimbaran Fish Market) and outings to an orphanage backed by the resort.
2 Local rules
The locavore and hyperlocal trend that has taken over the food world is fast becoming de rigueur in the hotel scene, too, particularly at high-end and boutique properties where chefs are growing their own produce to keep food miles to a minimum. In Australia, dishes at award-winning Circa, The Prince restaurant, at The Prince hotel in Melbourne, include heirloom herbs and vegetables from Circa’s kitchen garden. At Bells at Killcare hotel, on New South Wales’ Central Coast, chef Stefano Manfredi draws on an organic kitchen garden and the hotel’s own chickens to whip up Italian-inspired treats. MONA Pavilions in Hobart has a vineyard on-site and Spicers Vineyards Estate in the Hunter Valley goes the whole hog, with its own veggie patch, chickens and pigs.
Local rules when it comes to boutique hotel spas and toiletries, too, with Ceylon Tea Trails in Sri Lanka using tea and essential oils grown in the surrounding hills for pampering treatments, as well as harnessing tea’s antioxidant and fragrant qualities in its cuisine. Bunga Raya in Sabah, Malaysia, uses indigenous flowers in its Solace Spa, and Coqui Coqui Tulum in Mexico offers a Mayan clay wrap.
3 Global roaming
The strength of the Aussie dollar and Asian currencies has led to a rise in long-haul trips from these regions to Europe and the United States, while Asia continues to represent good value for northern hemisphere travellers feeling the credit pinch. Six hot global destinations we’re tipping for 2012 are:
- Sri Lanka, the beach - and temple-dotted island, back on the traveller map after years of civil war.
- Luang Prabang, Laos, still off the beaten track with rich Buddhist culture and inspiring boutique hotels.
- Tasmania, Australia’s under-the-radar southern island, fast gaining a rep for modern art, local produce and pristine nature
- London, the creative UK capital hosting 2012’s Olympics.
- China’s less visited cities and regions beyond Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.
- Fiji’s offshore islands, where boutique retreats are a far cry from mass tourism on the main island
4 Cool customisation
Boutique stays are becoming more bespoke, thanks to smarter technology and customisation. New travel apps up the ante, such as ‘Mr & Mrs Smith: Plan and Play’, which allows you to research and book your weekend away, but also includes fun games to entertain you on the road. Pre-arrival customer surveys whet your appetite for pampering long before your hotel experience, and can include everything from dietary and activity preferences to a pillow menu or toiletries, flowers and room scent options. The Amala in Bali even susses out guests’ taste in music, movies, fruit and cookies prior to arrival.
5 From touchdown to turndown
Seamless service is a growing boutique hotel trend, starting before you arrive and continuing after check-out, with pre-arrival questionnaires just the start of the exclusive experience.
The spoiling steps up a gear at the airport on touch-down, where savvy hotels, such as Saffire in Tasmania’s Freycinet Peninsula offer a dedicated lounge to provide guests with unsurpassed service from the get-go. Met at Hobart Airport’s terminal, guests are treated to refreshments, free WiFi, TV or a shower, while their bags are loaded into a chauffeur-driven car. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam offers similarly luxe hospitality, picking guests up at the airport and transferring them to its Six Senses Lounge in Nha Trang town, before the water taxi ride to the resort.
6 More bang for your buck
For a while now consumers at all levels have been looking for holidays that provide extra value and they’re no longer afraid to ask for more, even at the luxury end of the scale. It’s not about luxe for less, as such, more about seeking quality value-adds at all price points, and spending smarter, with resort’s touting ever-more appealing offers from free experiences to extra nights, half-board stays, gratis breakfasts, transfers and spa treats.
7 Joining the jet-set
Flying in a private jet may not be as far out of reach as you think, with the jet-set trend particularly prevalent in the US and the UK. Though it’s still not cheap, prices are rivalling first-and business-class tickets — and even, occasionally, coach — thanks in part to new websites, social media and a greater willingness by charter companies and private jet brokers to negotiate in an era of high fuel prices.
Air Partner, an aircraft charter broker based in London, introduced emptysectors.com in 2010, to help fill so-called empty legs (when the aircraft flies without passengers back to base or between jobs) at discounted rates. Other brokers and private jet operators such as JetSuite (jetsuite.com) also make empty legs available to individual travellers, so it can pay to shop around. For canny travellers, social media is also opening up new avenues to private jet travel, including the chance to split the costs with others. Recently, JetSuite started SuiteShare, which allows a customer to charter a four-passenger aircraft and then offer seats that won’t be needed through Facebook (facebook.com/jetsuiteair).
8 Radical spas
No longer content just to offer relaxing treatments, boutique hotel spas are reinventing themselves with soul-enriching experiences that help guests change their lives, not just their looks.
Boutique health retreat Como Shambhala Estate in Ubud, Bali, includes a holistic wellness consultation in rates, and offers support from an Ayurvedic doctor as part of a personalised programme. Your goals can range from getting fit to detoxing, better nutrition, stress management or rejuvenation. Award-winning Gaia Retreat & Spa, near Byron Bay, Australia, offers more than 40 revitalising wellbeing treatments including facials, reiki and spiritual healing, with options tailored to men and couples. Male-centric spa pampering is a growing trend in itself, with The Balé in Bali targeting men with a 90-minute coffee ritual.
9 Great escapes
Celebrating a big birthday, bespoke wedding or group getaway with family or friends? These days you no longer have to choose between a service-swish hotel or the intimacy of a self-catering stay, thanks to the new wave of holiday houses with five-star service. Sure you can cook for yourself, but why bother when your private army of staff includes chefs, 24-hour butlers, drivers, concierges and more? Enjoy the flexibility and freedom of what you want, when you want it, in your own private home-from-home. Exclusive-hire boutique retreats for great escapes include YL Residence No. 17 in Koh Samui, Thailand; Eagles Nest in Bay of Islands, New Zealand; Molori Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, Australia; Dolphin Island in Fiji; and Luna2 Private Hotel and Villa Sungai in Bali.
10 Grand designs
Smart, stylish interiors continues to mark out true boutique hotels from their cookie-cutter imitators, but with comfort and practicality never sacrificed for wacky, look-at-me effects. It’s no longer just about being a slick ‘design hotel’ though. A broad church of inspiration means minimal shrines to modern design and heavenly historical revamps are equally on trend for 2012. We’re particularly excited by the rise of locally relevant interiors, including reclaimed heritage hotels made new. For a pared-down take on Malaysian style, we love Clove Hall in Penang, Malaysia. Fort-set Amangalla in Galle, Sri Lanka, also pulls off colonial chic with effortless elegance. Satri House in Luang Prabang, Laos, teams a heritage royal residence with a cutting-edge stylist’s eye for accessories. On the contemporary front, we’re looking forward to the launch of The Siam in Bangkok this year, a sharply tailored modern build strong on Thai antiques and art.