Meet the expert travellers we’ve asked to select this year’s Best Urban Hotels, and see our 39 shortlisted sleepovers
Our Best Urban Hotels judges and shortlist
By any yardstick, these are the best and worst times to be a city hotelier. Worst, because the competition is brutal. From Paris to Sydney, and from Singapore to New York, you can’t flick a credit card without it landing on the boho-chic desk of a newbie hotel, or the hoarding of one that’s about to open.
Realising that the globalisation of hotel brands has meant, perhaps, a standardisation of comfort, style and fun, each new hotel promises an out-of-the-box, paradigmshifting experience or service.
One year, it is in-room check-in and yoga mats. Once it was fridges stocked with gourmet snacks and artisanal booze. Now, it’s DIY electronic kiosks and ‘experiential journeys’. Today, some hotels have completely eliminated the fridge, along with room service and the Les Clefs d’or concierge; while others have hybridised co-working spaces and group rooms.
All this supposedly in response to the fickle whims of the millennial guest, whose tastes and demands – forever changed post-airbnb – seem to morph faster than the turn-down service.
But since we’re glass half-full types here at Wallpaper*, we prefer to take the view that these fluid times are providing hoteliers with the opportunity to redefine their business model in a meaningful way. As Dean Winter, group director of operations at Swire Hotels (the group includes The Opposite House, The Upper House and, new this year, The Middle House in Shanghai), puts it: ‘Travellers today look for ease, authenticity, comfort, space and sincere, measured service delivery.’
Which is not to say we’re after oddly conceived gimmicks like bedside podcasts of a gurgling radiator pipe to help guests sleep (true story). Rather, as Juliet Kinsman, the hotel consultant and founder of Bouteco, explains: ‘We still want hotel environments to unplug us from our ordinary lives, but just as we’re blurring the lines between work and play, we want “home-tels” that offer all the perks of being in a luxury hotel.’ In other words, we value a hotel that cultivates a sense of belonging and community. One with an open kitchen and an open bar; an in-house laundromat and mini mart stocked with juices and instant noodles; and a front desk manned by what Winter calls ‘unscripted staff ’ who can speed-dial the best tailor and the best tattooist in town.
It’s all about the vibe without the starchy formality and fussy five-star frills, with Kinsman adding that the current brief is for hotels to ‘drop any attitude, loosen their collars, and invite the most charismatic people from the local neighbourhood to hang out in their lounge’.
In fact, ‘attitude’ is a word that crops up again and again during our conversations with hoteliers. ‘Times have changed, as has the mindset of the modern traveller,’ says Mitchell Hochberg, president of Lightstone, the developer of New York’s Moxy Chelsea, which is due to open in November. ‘We’re seeing a new generation of fun-hunting travellers with a self-service mentality, who value experiences and community over material possessions, attitude over opulence.’
These were the parameters that informed us when we scoured the globe for this year’s survey of the Best Urban Hotels (see the shortlist on page 207). What these finalists all share, we hope, is a common strand of DNA. Every hotel on our shortlist has real soul, tells a story with a distinctive opinion, and delivers fresh experiences. And to select a worthy winner from this deserving bunch, we’ve enlisted the help of an expert panel of design-obsessed judges hailing from all corners of the world. Here, we introduce you to these six accomplished globetrotters, while the winners will be announced in our January issue (on sale 13 December).
above, jasmi Bonnén, founder of skincare Brand nuori, shot at the HQ of danish Biotech start-up aquaporin, designed By norm architects