The distance between very good and very good is really very far and it requires motivated teams, attention to detail, and above all creativity to come out in the delivery of the service of the goods. Here are some brands, ideas, and services that deserve a hat tip.
The speed of the resurgence of travel means that the recurring feature of this column is right to do twice a year, as I have done in the past. There is so much to accept, and the crisis has been the reason for interesting ideas born from coercion. There’s also a bit of bad behavior in the market, with price increases and former iconic names still trading in badge value even if their service isn’t up to snuff. However, we chose a more vibrant perspective, providing airtime in areas and spaces that stand out.
After all, the distance between very good, and very good is actually quite far. And it requires motivated teams, attention to detail, and above all creativity to eliminate commodity service delivery.
Here are some brands, ideas, and services that deserve a hat tip:
Best Short-Haul Airline Concept
I’ve heard a lot of rumors about JSX, but I just tried it. And I am a convert. It takes the best part of private travel, the ability to turn 20 minutes before your flight, and makes it the superpower of its brand. They fly retrofitted Embraers that are stunning, but the real appeal of the product is to completely skip the hustle and bustle of summer airports. Plus, the company is run by someone who knows the brand and operations: Alex Wilcox, who logs time with Virgin and Jetblue. He was pragmatic, sharp, and had delivered the product.
Hotel Brand to Watch
I patiently watched Alila, born in Asia, and now part of the Hyatt. The brand integration starts nicely: it focuses on nature-centered experiences (think Big Sur and Oman). It takes a brand to find its footing, but my experiences with Alila Marea in San Diego as well as Alila in Southern Oman have shown me a brand that will compete with big players for expensive spending, set on new interest. . places around the world. They were well built from the hospitality and design of the brand’s Asian origins, and they started to integrate all the elements.
Best Super Luxury Brand
If we’re honest, there are really very few chains operating in a hyper luxury space in terms of service, insight, consistency and the “wow” effect. Sharing airspace with Oetker, Aman, Nihi, and Soneva is Airelles, who has been on my radar recently thanks to some interesting openings and loud word-of-mouth from connected travelers. They are rapidly expanding their portfolio in France with two properties in Saint-Tropez, following their launch of their Château de Versailles property last year. The brand’s previous properties, particularly Courchevel, have a cult-like following and it will be interesting to see if they can measure engagement and service as the brand grows. This is the real challenge at the highest level.
Best First Lounge
It gets a lot of airtime in the long haul range, but Qatar’s Al Safwa lounge is getting better and better. It’s like a museum in its silence, and the service is polished and professional. The sleeping rooms got me into many long layovers in Doha.
Best Brand Culture
It says a lot about a brand to see who they want to take on as GMs. I was really inspired by the design and execution of Proper. Their opening in downtown LA was overseen by Stephane Lacroix, a luxury veteran with a new property running briskly. Santa Monica is led by the superb Julien Laracine, a Nihi veteran, who is co-running the hotel with his wife Carla Stoffel. Friends I mentioned her way back who cared about her attention to detail, warmth and overall vibe. The duo was also able to manage the property through Covid’s grief back to his thriving self.
Most Exciting Opening
Two openings caught my eye for their sheer ambition: Raffles London at OWO and Passalacqua at Lake Como. The former, like the original in Singapore is epic in size and will be a restaurant and bar destination as well as a hotel, transforming Whitehall in the same way that Ned did London’s financial district. It is run by a very good hotelier, Philippe le Boeuf. Passalacqua, from the owners of Grand Hotel Tremezzo, has a anytime, anywhere approach to service and one of the most beautiful lake views, with a pool designed by JJ Martin.
The Rooster in Antiparos is labor of love, built within a 30-acre site of hills, ruins, rocks and sand in Greece. The founder, Athanasia Comninos, has created a small, perfectly built property that feels private, indestructible, and too beautiful to be true. The fact that this is a personal project is very clear, even with the architectures that nod to Aman with some of the room layouts, it is also completely unique. And because of the friction required to get to Antiparos, it is unlikely to be overun by hedonistic hordes. The design of the room is quiet, and fits nicely into its surroundings. The roosters crowing near in the morning give you a clue about the origin of the name.
I was in Amman, Jordan at the end of the year, and I was really impressed with the recent re-fit of F&B at Four Seasons Amman. The hotel has long been a place of diplomatic intrique and quiet conversations, which they played with Sirr, a secret bar with dark wood paneling and some of the best bartenders in the city. They were able to recreate one of my favorites from Employees Only, the Billionare, perfectly. Also, La Capitale is an absolute standout brasserie led by people who really love their jobs. I found myself lured back because things were run so well.
Best Hotel Experience This Year
I thought Auberge’s reorganization of Mauna Lani on the big island of Hawaii was inspiring. They do an incredible job in design, F&B, and remarkable experiences: where as I detail in the longer column, they are able to thread the depth of Hawaiian culture through their experiences, which makes something more passionate and meaningful than stock-standard island hedonism. Everything is considered, including retail (with Goop), as well as NYC-style deli items with locally roasted Kona coffees. It was hard to put all the elements together, and they did.
Leading the way are Sanjiv Hulugalle, Pete Alles and Danny Akaka from Auberge with vibes, energy, and optimism. Stephanie Pournaras and Yasmin Natheer Al-Sati of Four Seasons are strict on details and craft of hospitality at every level. Rubina Gurung from Al Maha in Doha continues. And finally, I send my best congratulations to the ever elegant Petar Krstic of Aman as he prepares to open this new property in New York.
For the longest time, I noticed an elegant signature on the welcome when I checked in at Park Hyatt Tokyo: Philippe Roux-Dessarps. He is a legendary hotelier I know only by this signature, and by reputation. We had to spend some time on his new post, The Four Seasons Astir Palace on the Athenian Riviera and followed by an extensive conversation on Japan, detail, hospitality, and brand. It’s a pleasure to spend time and see how he takes an international career to one of the brand’s priority attributes. And it’s nice to put a signature on someone, finally.