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

lifestyles of the rich and famous robin leechCondé 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.

palazzo duca chania haniaI 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]

Travel magazines target the 1%

lifestyles of the rich and famous robin leachAn image of a striking, leggy blonde standing in the shadow of a seventeenth-century church in Mykonos graces the cover of the March issue of Condé Nast Traveler. She’s wearing a short, silky dress and, as we find out on page 122 in the magazine’s “where to buy” segment, it costs $6,900.

And if you like dresses that cost ten times the per capita GDP of Haiti, you’ll love Condé Nast’s suggested nine-and-a-half hour day trip in Mykonos, which will set you back $3,140, not including accommodation.

I like to indulge in the fantasy world of glossy travel magazines as much as anyone else. But I’ve always disliked how many of these publications cater to sybarites who stay in hotels that charge more for one night than most people pay in a month’s rent — the kind of people who view travel as nothing more than an excuse to go shopping. It can be fun to see how the other half lives, but it can also be depressing.

I can’t help but feel poor every time I read Afar, Travel & Leisure, Condé Nast and other magazines. Let’s face it, the pages of most glossy travel and city magazines these days are awash in conspicuous consumption – eat, shop, drink, spend, consume. For every nugget about the people the writer met, there are ten about all the expensive places they ate/drank/slept/shopped.

I’ve been a compulsive traveler for decades and the question I always get from friends is, “How can you afford to travel so much?” But in nearly 40 years of traveling around the world, I have never, ever spent more than $200 per night on a hotel. Maybe I’m missing out, but I don’t feel that way.

I understand that these magazines are trying to lure high-end advertisers and are targeted toward people who have more money than me. It’s also undeniably true that $800 per night hotel suites and $78 entrees look more appealing on a page than Motel Six and diner food. And I don’t fault anyone who likes to travel in style or treat themselves to $7,000 dresses.

If you’ve got the cash, go for it. The global economy is built around consumer spending so we need you to get out there and do your thing. But the relentless focus on luxury in the travel media contributes to the false notion that travel is for the rich.

I reviewed one recent issue of six national travel magazines and made some calculations on the cost of recommended accommodations. This is not a scientific study but I think it gives a pretty accurate snapshot of the lifestyle that’s being promoted on the pages of these magazines.

Below you’ll find the median starting price for recommended hotels along with general observations about each magazine.Afar$392- 16 hotels mentioned in March/April 2012 issue

Afar is one of the most visually appealing magazines in the world but all that beauty doesn’t come cheap. The March/April issue has a delightfully vulgar spread on luxury tents, including a place called Banyan Tree in the Maldives that runs a cool $3,165 per night, and the Oberoi Rajvilas Jaipur, where one night of luxury camping will cost you just a bit less than what the average Indian makes in a year. There’s nothing like retreating to an $898 per night tent after a day spent experiencing India’s grinding poverty, right?

Even most of the volunteer opportunities Afar recommends are beyond my budget. One offers guests with $1,190 to spare the opportunity to spend three nights in a boutique hotel in Cambodia that helps feed and educate children, and another, Liz Caskey Culinary and Wine Experiences, charges guests $550 per day for the chance to take a food and wine tour and help build shelters for earthquake victims in Chile. Hopefully they build the shelters first and drink the wine afterwards.

Condé Nast Traveler$310- 29 hotels recommended in the March 2012 issue

noma restaurant in copenhagenThe pages of CNT are filled with great writing and compelling photography but are also saturated with hotels, restaurants, and products I can’t afford. There is one recommended hotel where rates start at less than $100 and 11 with rates starting at more than $400. They also endorse: a navy Louis Vuitton jacket that goes for $3,050; an ugly, ostentatious, $1,850 Proenza Schouler camera case; and a $256 tasting menu at Noma, a swanky restaurant in Copenhagen.

Zimbabwe is supposed to be a more affordable safari destination compared to South Africa or Namibia, but CNT contributor Joshua Hammer admits that his 10-day trip costs $6,708, or just about 10 times what a Zimbabwean makes in a year. Good for Hammer, though. He may have singlehandedly provided a jolt to Zimbabwe’s faltering economy.

Travel & Leisure$210- 46 hotels recommended in April 2012 issue

T + L is always jam-packed with good travel tips and they slum it with more moderate hotel recommendations than some of the other magazines. But it’s still a showplace for wildly expensive hotels, restaurants and products. The April issue offers some T + L “reader exclusives,” like a $500 per night hotel in Dublin (K Club Hotel & Spa) and a $329 per night hotel on Lake Como, (Grand Hotel Tremezzo) that aren’t exactly a steal.

Grand Hotel TremezzoT + L also recommends Noma, along with a $3,200 snakeskin leather purse, an $845 nylon jacket by S’ Max Mara, and the Il Pellicano Hotel in Porto Ercole, Italy, where room rates start at $819 per night, not including breakfast.

National Geographic Traveler$227- 10 hotels recommended in March/April 2012 issue

This is my favorite travel magazine and not just because they once flew me to Oaxaca, Mexico (from Macedonia, no less). You won’t find many examples of mindless consumerism in NGT but their hotel recommendations are still usually of the high-end variety.

Lonely Planet Magazine$151- 48 hotels recommended in March 2012 issue

This U.K.-based magazine manages to look pretty while featuring plenty of moderately priced accommodation and dining options. The Lonely Planet guidebook series has tried to go more upmarket in recent years but you won’t find $3,000 purses and the like here. Still, only 10% of their recommended lodging options start at $100 or less.

Budget Travel$122- 6 hotels recommended in March/April 2012 issue

I love this magazine, which is geared towards skinflints like me, but where are all the advertisers? At 76 pages, its most recent issue is considerably skinnier than the others mentioned above, which suggests that advertisers don’t give a damn about reaching people like me.

Perhaps all the high-end recommendations the glossy travel magazines make are just good business sense. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like these magazines. They’re all worth reading, especially in light of the fact that they’re all pretty much giving away subscriptions these days. Still, it’d be nice to see a bit more on places and things I can actually afford. What about you, would you like to see travel publications focus a bit more on moderately priced travel options?

Note: The rooms at the hotels surveyed could cost a bit more or less depending on when you book, how many are in your party, etc. A few of the recommended hotels include half or full board or other amenities but the vast majority does not.

Images via Nelson Theroux, Carendt242, and John Picken on Flickr.

New travel inspiration: AFAR magazine

Greg Sullivan and Joseph Diaz, the founders of AFAR magazine, saw a need for a magazine that focused on “experiential travel that helps people experience every destination as local residents do.” So they started their new travel magazine to fill that niche.

When major glossies are closing down at an alarming rate, starting up a new magazine – with an online community, tv partnerships, and books in the works – is a bold move. But, if the first issue of AFAR is any indication of what’s to come, it’s one that will enrich the travel community as the company grows.

The goal of AFAR is to encourage authentic travel that avoids superficial, mass-consumed, beaten path tourism and digs deeper into a local cuture in all aspects of the trip, from where you stay to what you eat to how you can make a difference in a local community. AFAR hits that middle ground between offering details that you can use (a calendar section lists events around the world and each feature has the typical “if you go” logistical info), facts that educate (a piece on the culture of maid cafes in Japan was fascinating) and stories that inspire (a feature on Berber culture in Morocco only fueled my desire to go there).

The premier issue also contained an interview with a long-term traveler, information on ocean-cleanup vacations, a profile of the rock music scene in China, and a closing essay by Tim Cahill. The editors also promise to continue this issue’s “Spin the Globe” section, in which they send one writer on a spontaneous journey. This issue’s destination was Caracas, and while the article didn’t offer much in the way of “where to stay, what to do” information, it did offer a very intriguing, honest portrait of the city. For foodies, there was also a feature detailing how one writer learned to make bread from a French master baker.

The writing is solid, the photos are beautiful, and in keeping with the editors’ statement that “life is about more than how much we consume”, the magazine isn’t cluttered with ads (though, ironically, many of the ads are for luxury products). At $19.95 for 6 issues (the magazine will be published bi-monthly), I recommend subscribing. You can get a taste of what you’re in for if you do, or just satiate your thirst for travel inspiration in between issues, on the AFAR blog.

Reservations: The Ultimate African American Travel Guide

ReservationsThis past weekend I had the opportunity to meet with up with Kirstin N. Fuller, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reservations, a new travel magazine geared towards igniting the imagination of African-Americans on every financial level to get up and go some place. By providing practical tips and dreamy pieces on destinations far and wide that are not only luxurious, but more importantly affordable, Reservations calls itself the “Ultimate African-American Travel Guide.”

The premiere issue features Vivica A. Fox and inside you can learn more about her favorite spots to rest and relax when she is not on the silver-screen in the Talking Vacation section. With every issue a you’ll get to learn about more about your favorite celebrities travel picks as well as the best gadgets to stay wired and in touch while you’re away (if you really want to be in touch), how to keep up your hair care, or how to start saving for the perfect escape to fly solo or with your loved ones. Getting married anytime soon? Be sure you peep the Destination Wedding article. Although I’m no where near tying a knot I found this piece very informative so I guess when the time comes I’ll be well prepared. Any takers? (Wink)

You can subscribe to Reservations by visiting the website here.

Verge Magazine Hiring!

VergeOnly few hours remain to make the deadline for this one. Canadian publication Verge Mag is looking for a Contributing Editor with strong written and verbal communication skills. (You know, the standard skill set.) The position lasts for 9-mos, but could go longer and their ideal candidate should have a huge demonstrated interest in world issues, travel and youth engagement. You can see their full job description and requirements here and for all who know as little about Verge magazine as I do surf through the home page before jumping in to apply.

In short – Verge is Canada’s magazine for people who travel with a purpose. Deadline to apply for the gig is today, July 31.