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]

Indianapolis Refines The Art Hotel

“Restroom?” the guest asked near The Alexander hotel’s registration desk, a pair of antique bureaus encased in glass.

“Follow the birds,” the employee answered, referring to a flock made of sculpted vinyl records fluttering along a lobby wall.

“Follow the birds” and “just past the graffiti” might become common directions at Indianapolis’s new boutique hotel, located three blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of last year’s surprise-hit Super Bowl. Visitors are arriving not only to check in, but also to check out a remarkable collection of contemporary-art installations, from the aforementioned graffiti by Banksy rival Nick Walker to an entire bar designed by Jorge Pardo, a MacArthur “genius” award winner.

The street-level vestibule and second-floor registration area serve as a de facto museum gallery, complete with flat white placards on the walls. The first work guests see is Brooklyn-based Alyson Shotz’s vertical wave of acrylic strips that reflect a shifting rainbow spectrum. Next, pendant lights that look like jewel-toned jellyfish dangle above a long staircase to the registration level – those are Pardo’s, and they lead to a swarm of the same fixtures in the lobby bar.

%Gallery-178921%Three more large-scale works anchor the lobby, each referencing local culture. In what might be viewed as a clever way to get you to stay an extra night, several pieces make you stop and study their intricate details. You’ll want to “read” a lacy metal curtain of laser-cut words that represent Brooklyn artist Mark Fox’s impressions of Indy, and continually step close to and back away from “Madam C.J. Walker II,” a portrait composed entirely of 3,840 black plastic combs; up close, the technique astounds (artist Sonya Clark of Richmond, Virginia, broke teeth from some of the combs and layered them to create shading), and from a distance, the image of the namesake woman comes into focus (Walker created a cosmetics empire in Indianapolis in the early 20th century and became the country’s first female African American self-made millionaire).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which claims one of the 10 largest encyclopedic collections in the country, curated the hotel’s installations, as well as photos and murals for every floor and guestroom. The museum’s involvement sets The Alexander apart from other art and design hotels, most of which fill one of two niches: an owner’s personal art collection not related to the site, or surreal experimental architecture.

The Alexander, operated by New Jersey­–based Dolce Hotels and Resorts and named for the architect who platted Indianapolis in 1820, opened January 21 as a mid-size property targeted largely to business travelers. It boasts 157 guestrooms (each has dark-wood floors and a seek-and-find mural behind the coffee station), 52 extended-stay suites, an innovative local restaurant, and Pardo’s artisanal-cocktail lounge. Located a block from the Indiana Pacers arena, it’s also catering to visiting NBA teams with California king beds in many rooms. The tactic worked: The Brooklyn Nets were among the first guests, though the hotel evidently made them a little too comfortable because they arrived at an ungodly late hour and still managed to beat the Pacers later that day.

With some weekend rates well under $200 and a prime location near the city’s new $60 million Cultural Trail recreation path that ribbons past every downtown attraction, The Alexander is poised to draw plenty of leisure travelers, as well. Those captivated by the artwork will want to venture four miles north and check out the museum’s other public-art showpiece, 100 Acres, an art and nature park with al fresco contemporary installations, opened in 2010.

[Photo credit: Enrique Fernandez]

San Francisco’s most exciting 2012 opening: The Inn at The Presidio

Just one hotel is planned for a 2012 opening in San Francisco, but it’s a rather exciting venture. The INN AT THE PRESIDIO, the first hotel in the Presidio of San Francisco. Located in a national park, The Inn will be located in historic Pershing Hall, previously the post’s bachelor officers’ quarters, The Inn will will feature 22 spacious guest rooms – 17 of which are one bedroom suites for the low price of just $195-$350 a night.

Established in 1776 by Spain, the Presidio served as the northernmost outpost of colonial power in the New World. Today the Presidio is a unique urban national park spanning 1,491 acres at the tip of the San Francisco peninsula.

Historic touches like memorabilia and photos as well as modern regional art will add a local touch. Guests will have access to the Presidio’s wide variety of recreational opportunities including a golf course, wedding and event facilities, bowling, a YMCA gym/indoor pool, urban spa, fitness/Pilates/yoga studio, indoor rock-climbing studio, trampoline park, and hiking and biking trails.

The hotel is expected to open in April 2012 – we’ll mark this on our “must visit” list.

New Los Angeles hotel, Mr. C., opens in April

The Cipriani Family, most famous for running New York’s established Rainbow Room since 1999, just announced it will open a new luxury Los Angeles hotel called simply, Mr. C.

Slated to open in the spring of this year, Mr. C will be a 138-room boutique hotel with 12 suites, all ranging from 365-800 square feet. Each room comes with a private balcony and many have panoramic views of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. The hard wood flooring, burgundy and grey color palettes combined with dark wood accents add a bit of mystique to the stylish interior of the hotel. Vintage black and white film photography lines the walls and rooms, playing on Los Angeles’ iconic and historical moments.

The hotel will also have five multi-level, residential-sized bungalows averaging approximately 3,000 square feet, each with a private garden, gourmet kitchen, plunge pool and views of Beverly Hills. Each bungalow will feature all the Mr. C amenities, including spa treatments, housekeeping, and room service from the signature Mr. C restaurant.

The hotel restaurant, under the same name, will feature classic dishes from Cipriani alongside grilled specialties and pizzas. The restaurant will offer indoor and outdoor seating, a separate entrance for non-hotel guests, and two private rooms for more intimate occasions. Mr. C will also feature an outdoor pool for hotel guests only and indoor/outdoor private event space boasting 360-degree panoramic city views from the 12th floor of the hotel, with a private exterior glass elevator.

Our prediction: Mr. C. might just be the new see-and-be-seen locale in L.A. for 2011.

InterContinental Hotel Group prepares for 2011 openings in Russia, Portugal, Qatar, more

A new year brings new hotels. While travelers are prepping their calendars in anticipation of 2011 trips, hotel groups are working hard to open new properties around the world for guests. International expansion in Asia and Europe are top priorities for hotel groups including Marriott, Starwood and Hilton. Next up: InterContinental Hotel Groups plans their 2011 expansion including hotels in Russia, Portugal and a second property in London.

I caught up with my contacts at InterContinental to get a sneak peak at what’s to come:

InterContinental Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (February 2011)

The InterContinental Kuala Lumpur is a 473-room hotel located at Jalan Ampang, a prestigious upscale address in the heart of the capital’s business, shopping and entertainment district. The hotel is a short distance to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. There will be five restaurants, offering Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian and international cuisine.

InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya, Russia (July 2011)

Situated on the site of the former Minsk Hotel at Number 22 Tverskaya, InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya will be part of a brand new 64,000 square-meter development with luxury retail outlets and state-of-the-art offices. Within a short walking distance are the Kremlin, City Hall and Pushkin Square. Guest rooms with have hardwood parquet flooring, built-in TV in both the bedroom and bathroom, and bespoke furniture, including one-of-a-kind credenzas featuring etchings of Seven Sisters skyscrapers that were planned but never built. InterContinental Porto Palacios das Cardosas, Portugal (July 2011)

The hotel will occupy what was once the Palace of the Cardosas, located on the main square of Porto, Portugal‘s second largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There will be 105 guestrooms, with Penthouse suites located on the 7th floor. A main feature of the hotel will be the Cafe Astoria, once part of a bank that occupied the palace, which will have its original Belle Époque elements restored. The hotel will also have an urban spa with pool and sauna.

InterContinental Doha West Bay, Qatar (late 2011)

InterContinental Doha West Bay will be part of a 60-storey tower located in the Doha city center, close to the main shopping and business districts. The 540-room hotel will have suites and serviced residences, as well as a Club InterContinental. There will be extensive dining options, including a steak house, sushi bar and dim sum restaurant. Some of the restaurants will be located on the 55th and 56th levels, with views of the city. Another standout feature: an outdoor sky pool located on the 46th floor.

InterContinental London Westminster, England (early 2012)

InterContinental London Westminster will occupy the former Queen Anne’s Chambers, originally built in the 19th century. The 254-room hotel is InterContental’s second London property and only a short walking distance to major landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Parks and the London Eye.