Here’s a question for you to dwell over during your morning coffee/cocaine/intake of new baseless election conspiracy theories: which publications do you read and trust (or just read) when looking up your next trip?
There are two different types of reviews: those that inspire and offer a glimpse of what’s to come, and then those that give details that allow you to make an informed decision. The latter is what I struggle to find. And it’s not surprising.
Hold up, what about Influencers?
I’m not sure if covid was sent to kill influencers, but we shouldn’t prejudge and assume it wasn’t. My desire to visit a property is directly proportional to how few influencers are there. My beloved Park Hotel Vitznau, the hotel we chose to get married in, seems to have decided that this year they would kidnap anyone with long legs, a camera and a proclivity for getting pissed on champagne in the bath. I find no value in any so-called influencer, we all know they’re getting paid for posing for a picture and reflecting their honest feelings – it’s like watching porn and assuming that they’re all genuinely having a great time. I don’t think I’ve ever read a review by porn thespians where they described it as “not great”, but maybe my intense Googling still needs a few more hours of effort.
Now where was I? Ah yes. Critiquing hotels is tough. I like to think of my style of writing to being tickled by someone in a ball pit; we’re all having a great time, but it’s incredibly awkward. If you want to review a film, all you need is £10 for a ticket and an additional £10 for a slab of butter covered in corn. These days you don’t/can’t even leave your house. If you piss off the director, you may not get invited to the next press junket, but you’re still going to be able to see their movie. If you want to write reviews about hotels and you’re working for Conde Nast, the last thing you want to be doing in a Four Seasons is finishing your comprehensive review by comparing it to Satan’s butthole.
It’s much harder to review than most sectors. Write a review that the airline hates? Get some more miles and fly again. With millions of customers per year they’re unlikely to seek revenge. Luxury hotels are different. If I’m offending someone, there’s times where I’m not exactly welcome back. My wife then has to face these suppliers at luxury travel trade shows. Sometimes I’m not the most popular man. What I’m saying is, I sacrifice my entire marriage just for YOU, dear reader. You’re welcome.
So it’s not surprising that to find most reviews focusing on either pure positives, or babble on about absolutely irrelevant history of the property – like knowing who Frank Sinatra previously gang banged in this resort will enhance my stay. I’m pleased for the man, I really am, but I don’t think it’s a current amenity so it’s not that relevant. A lot of the reviews read like a history piece, which makes me wonder if the author ever visited or just looked it up on Google Earth and Wikipedia. There’s endless cliches thrown around, with my current favourite being how every sea facing property happens to offer the freshest fish I’ll ever eat – soon I’ll be stuffing embryo’s into my mouth.
So here’s where I look to try and block out the noise. Here’s where I start the journey into my next journey.
The best forum for luxury travel on these fine Internets. Might also be the only one. A great resource, but be careful to take note of who is saying what. You may start to believe you’re discovering a trend on a property, but chances are you’re just reading the same opinions by the same people over and over again. And if it’s negative it was probably me.
I cannot bring myself to subscribe since they started supporting Brexit like it were the smallpox vaccine. Having said that, the wonderful John O’Ceallaigh still freelances and can be found offering honest insights on Instagram and Twitter. I’m not just saying this as next time lunch is on him, but he is easily one of the most experienced luxury authors today.
The most bat shit mental shit that bats have ever created….since covid-19? Maybe. I truly love this magazine, if nothing else their commitment to every issue showing a selection of watches that cost more than a Porsche Taycan. However, in between showing things that I hope to never buy, it has a rather good selection of hotels. Yes, they seem to think only the penthouse exists in hotels and the cheapest room starts normally no less than $20,000/n, but you can’t knock’em for sticking to the actual definition of elite.
Financial Times Travel and How To Spend It
I sometimes think the FT editor suffers multiple personalities. One week it’s a trip to Angkor Wat and for your quadzillion dollars they’ll desecrate it for you by chiseling your face into any statue you want, the next they’re suggesting camping out at Four Seasons Total Landscaping and catching your own dinner in the bins. How To Spend It is more in tune with Telegraph Luxury and sits just to the side of snobbery that I like.
Conde Nast UK/International
A lot of people hate them, but I do enjoy “top XX hotels in the world” lists. I cannot be bothered with reading a massive editorial on every property and these lists are great for a skim through to then do more research into those that stand out.
Travel + Leisure
Like Conde Nast, I’ll mostly be here for the lists, even if it’s just to act completely shocked that they’re not neutral and the winners are garbage.
American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts is a commendable list. It’s rare they have a real turd on there, so understandably their own magazine rarely goes off course either.
More miss than hit lately, but there are some gems in there.
You may think I would include not Trip Advisor here, but I think it’s a good source – not for their rankings, but reading some of the more negative reviews and their issues. I rarely find it wrong, even with properties like North Island I can see genuine reviews where they share my complaints.
RIP. This was one of the last neutral publications. I didn’t always agree with the editor, which was not surprising as our only commonality is that we’re British (and no, that doesn’t mean we all know each other and live 5 minutes away), but her insights always led to a better decision making process. It’s a shame it doesn’t exist anymore.
She attends some of the major luxury travel exhibitions around the world and gets to meet the sales reps and general managers of the latest and greatest. I then pretend six months later I discovered it first.
I’ve probably missed some, so apologies if your work is the finest in the world and I didn’t mention you.
So that’s my list; I’m interested to know yours.
Definitely elite traveler! Their restaurant recommendations are great too. Though we do have to hide all our copies whenever friends come over!
We also find the Forbes four and five star winners (mostly five star) to be very reliable – they don’t tell you why they’re rating a property the way they are, but we almost always agree with the ratings. The main issue is they only cover a limited number of places.
Funny you say Forbes, as Lucie suggested it before I published this. I find that, like Virtuoso, they’re a bit too keen to hand out ratings. I think it would be better if they only showed their 5 star selections, but then you’d have The Beaumont in London missing out as they only gave it 4 star, but The Savoy would sneak in with 5. That is always the issue with giving something a ranking.
I am based in the US. I follow the Luxury Forum on Flyer Talk daily. I stopped my subscription to Condé Nast Traveler, as I thought their top lists were based too much on ballot stuffing. I read Garden & Gun, and Departures. I have found interesting places from Town & Country Magazine also. I rip out articles and stuff them in a folder, hoping that the places don’t go out of business before I can travel again. On line interesting places are bookmarked. As most of the places we travel too have to offer fishing, I locate the area that husband wishes to fish, and then research really nice places to stay In the area. This can be very challenging at times! I also chat up other guests when we travel to get new places to consider.
It will be interesting to see how your travel choices change once the baby arrives and then becomes more mobile!
I keep telling myself it’s going to be fine, but I think the hotel hopping might end up becoming a thing of the past.
We are based in the US and most of our trips are in Europe and centered around special locations and/or routes we want to drive follow delivery of a car. Once we select those items I use Google Maps to search for hotels with the desired star rating. Then between Trip Advisor and the hotel’s website I narrow down the choices. While not full proof this does allow us to find smaller hotels that don’t make various “top hotel lists”, but are nevertheless luxury stays. Hotels like Villa Lario (Lake Como), Hotel Schloss Monchstein (Salzburg) and LeCrans Hotel (Crans-Montana) have been found like this and are among our favorites.
General rule is the more Influencers (which I find it difficult to capitalize that word like its a real profession) involved with the hotel the less likely I’ll like it. I’m looking at you Hotel Villa Honeeg. Worse… Stay… Ever…
We are also members of the Leading Hotels of the World club which also provide a consistent quality throughout Europe.
I agree with Linda L on the ballot stuffing from magazines like Conde Nast Traveler. So many hotels send me emails reminding me to vote
Leading Hotels is a really good one – I do often use that too. You’ve just got to be mindful of the country – for Switzerland it’s brilliant, whereas the UK it’s worth using just to know what to avoid.
I should also have clarified that I completely agree that the Conde Nast rankings are absolute horseshit, but it’s rare that the hotels aren’t at least luxury. For every top 100 lists, there’s normally a few hotels in there worth looking at.
I also read the FlyerTalk Luxury Travel forums quite frequently – I find it to be pretty consistent. I struggle outside of that as most publications you have to take with a grain of salt, especially any of the “10 Best”, “50 Best”, etc type things.
Recently, I’ve started looking for YouTube videos of hotels/resorts I’m interested in. They aren’t helpful for service, but you can do a pretty good job weeding out hotels that don’t have a nice hard product. It’s easy to spot promotional videos too, which is nice.
Outside of those two, my Travel Advisor is great at giving his experience and that of his clients as well.
When it comes to luxury travel, my definition has changed over the years. I used to read the hideaway report, departures, a bunch of other travel magazines and websites, read reviews (still do) in the search of the ‘best’ service, location and hard product. It took me a while but I have finally given up on the search for the ‘perfect spot’ or ‘best resort’. I have grown to enjoy small lodges with exceptional and genuine service for unique destinations (ex. African Safaris) and private villas with a private pool/chef and top notch service for water based vacations where possible
(ex. Inspirato/Exclusive Resorts villas), and for city based hotels where we don’t spend much time or use much of the facilities something along the lines of Four Seasons that is relatively safe. When I came across this blog several years ago I felt that someone (Tom) had finally ‘got it’ and was totally transparent and unbiased, quiet refreshing. I still believe that the best source of information aside from personal research and reviews is a strong travel agent to fall back on, and that a luxury traveler should select a travel agent that shares their vision of luxury travel and that has spent time at these accommodations and developed relationships with them so that the traveler can have a flawless experience and be well taken care of throughout the trip!
FT Luxury Travel, Trip Advisor mainly for negatives (and to see how GMs respond) and I find this blog useful too (aside from entertainment of course) , especially for England luxury properties. (In line with your review and my better judgement, Clivedon was a waste of a weekend. About a month ago)
I can’t stand most blogs or print media as the reviews tend to be written by people whos stay is comped comped and their luxury travel experience is Pontins circa 2001. It’s a shame to hear PHV is playing the ‘influencer’ game. Such a turn off for an otherwise stunning place.
One Mile at a Time has some pretty good reviews with a good balance of critical/not.