Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘Hot List’: Too Rich For My Blood

Condé Nast Traveler (CNT) released its annual “Hot List” of the world’s “best new hotels” this week, featuring 154 newish properties in 57 countries around the world. CNT boasts that 62 of these hotels have room rates that start at $300 per night or less but is that really a realistic threshold for separating expensive hotels from affordable ones? I’ve been traveling the world for more than 20 years and I very rarely spend more than half that on accommodation.

Obviously there’s a huge difference between what $300 a night buys in New York compared to Buffalo, or Tokyo compared to Saigon, but in most places around the world I can usually find a pretty nice place to stay for $100 per night or less – sometimes much less. And I’d rather take a 12-day trip and spend $100 per night on hotels than a four-day trip where I spend $300 per night on accommodations.

I went through CNT’s Hot List and was dismayed but not surprised to see just one hotel – the Tantalo Hotel in Panama City, Panama – where room rates start at $100 per night or less. The introduction to the list explains that CNT staff and stringers anonymously evaluated more than 1,000 properties and whittled the list down to 154 of the very best new hotels.But in their ten months of research they could find only one place where room rates start at $100 or less? Meanwhile there are 32 listings for hotels with room rates between $501-$999 per night and seven listings with room rates of $1,000 per night or more? My guess is that for every one traveler who wants to spend $1,000 per night on a hotel room, there are about a million who want to spend close to $100.

I have no doubt that most of the hotels that made their list are delightful places, but many of the recommendations are useless for everyone but the 1 percent. For example, just one hotel in Greece made their list, and it’s the Amanzo’e, where room rates start at the low, low price of just $1,450 per night. The reviewer also mentioned that the place isn’t on the beach (they do have a Mercedes SUV shuttle to one though) and notes that the service could be better.

I spent six weeks in the Greek Islands last year and wrote about a host of very nice hotels, all with room rates starting at $100 per night or less, (see here and here). At Lila’s Guesthouse on the island of Syros, for example, the owners picked us up at the ferry terminal at 2:30 a.m. and did our laundry for us, both free of charge. And at the Palazzo Duca, (see photo) a beautiful yet affordable new boutique hotel in Chania, on Crete, the nice family who runs the place bent over backwards to help us. So if you’re going to recommend just one new hotel in a country, why pick one that has poor service and charges nearly $1,500 per night?

I guess none of this should be surprising for a publication that in March featured an article on how the .01 percent travel (“How to Vacation Like a Billionaire) in which the author lounged around on a private island near Grenada that can be rented for a cool $165,000 per night.

“Though the price may seem a little astonishing,” the author writes, “there are quite a few ultra-affluent travelers who can afford it – and their ranks are growing. Last year, more than 2,000 people on earth were worth $1 billion or more, 185 more than in 2011…lower the bar to include people worth $30 million or more…and there are 187,000.”

In the warped world of travel media, 187,000 people in a planet that has more than 6 billion seems like a lot, I suppose. Hell, even I’m convinced, pretty soon we’re all going to be renting out our own private islands!

The truth is that luxury hotels are good potential advertisers and most have P.R. companies that know how to get their properties on the radar screen of writers and editors at all the right publications. It’s perfectly legitimate for P.R. firms to do what they do, and many of the places they promote are terrific, but the reality is that the hotel recommendations you read in the glossy magazines and even in some websites and newspapers might be right down the street from places with no P.R. muscle that are just as good but half the price.

To be fair, CNT is a great magazine and their focus on high-end travel is the rule not the exception in the travel industry. Last March, I analyzed the hotel recommendations of a variety of glossy travel magazines, including CNT and concluded that most but not all of the publications I looked at were catering more to the 1 percent than to the rest of us. Based on what I see in CNT’s Hot List this year, it looks like business as usual.

Of the 154 new hotels on the list, 25 percent have room rates starting at $501 per night or more, 13 percent have a base rate between $401-$500, 21 percent range from $301-$400, 21 percent are at $201-$300, and 19 percent of their selections ranged from $101-$200 per night. (The lone $99 entry represented .06 percent of the sample) 60 percent of CNT’s selections have room rates starting at $301 per night or higher; and nearly 40 percent have base rates of $501 per night or more. Of their 62 listings that weigh in at $300 or less, 27 of them have no review – just a listing. (And remember that these are base rates, so a place that has rooms starting at $300 might typically charge much more).

Maybe I need to hobnob with a ritzier social circle but I don’t know anyone who spends $500 per night on a hotel room, even on a special occasion. I read publications like Afar and Condé Nast Traveler because they both offer high quality features writing and beautiful photography. And leafing through their pages can be like a little vacation in and of itself, but I’d love to see more realistic recommendations for places I can actually afford. And I sincerely hope that $300 per night isn’t the new affordability threshold for hotels, because in my book, that’s still a lot of dough.

[Photo credits: Nelson Theroux]