We have asked Andrew Forbes, editor of The Luxury Editor to share his thoughts with us about his love for travel and hotels, and Amberlair, of course. And before you ask, a #BohoLover is a Boutique Hotel lover… just like us!
How do you choose a hotel when you travel?
I value the recommendations of my friends, but increasingly I look at comments on social media. And I must admit to being influenced by fabulous pictures on Instagram! It’s great to discover new hotels; and now we have the #BoHoLover hashtag it is getting even easier to be inspired by like-minded travellers!
I look for unique hotels, that reflect their locations; places that feel magical…
If you had to choose 3, which were the most special (boutique) hotels you have ever stayed at and what made them so special?
It’s hard to choose just three, but my criteria are hotels that are unique, have a keen sense of provenance, and where I had a great night’s sleep!
Babylonstoren Farm Hotel
For me, this South African historic Cape Dutch wine farm estate has it all. It really captures the quintessential Western Cape winelands experience, with its stunning old-world architecture; an extraordinary market garden serving its farm-to-fork ‘Babel’ restaurant; a boutique spa; and super-stylish hotel accommodation in private cottages that combine rustic charm with the very latest in creature comforts. Attention to detail and style are everywhere.
Hotel Sant Francesc
This 42-room city boutique hotel in Palma de Mallorca’s old town is a favourite. A 19th century mansion has been converted into a contemporary hotel for the style-conscious. Its avoided the mistakes of some ‘design’ hotels, and has instead created a place of timeless elegance, with sophisticated guest rooms and a wonderful restaurant.
This is one of my favourite hotels in Spain. It may seem more of a resort, with its world-class golf course, and expansive, manicured gardens. Yet the 67-room hotel, built in a traditional Spanish Hacienda, Andalusian cortijo style has a genuine boutique style. The guest suites are exquisite, and the service is flawless. They really understand how to delivery great hospitality with a personal flair.
If you had your own boutique hotel, what 3 things would you make sure existed?
- Genuine, warm welcome
I recall once hearing the phrase ‘it’s hospitality, not hostility!’ It made me laugh so much; and I think sometimes hotels need to be reminded of this. The initial welcome at reception can set the tone of the whole stay – it should always be warm and friendly
- Make check-in an experience, not a chore
Some boutique hotels really stand out for the way they offer a personalised check-in. I’m not one to stand waiting at front desk. I like it when the reception staff welcomes you, offers you a drink and check in can be completed in the room or in a lounge. For example, La Sultana Marrakech offered me delicious mint tea, and Moroccan cakes in the drawing room, whilst my cases were taken to the room, and my passport was copied the paperwork done – that’s how to do it!
- Make me feel I’m immersed in the destination
It’s good to see hotels capture the essence of their location. The advantage of a boutique property over an international resort is that they can be quirky, individual and non-conformist, and reflect the personality of their local community.
Name 3 things you loved in hotels you stayed in before…
- Privacy is the ultimate luxury
I love the feeling of having the welcoming atmosphere of a boutique hotel, but also the chance to hideaway, and disconnect. For example, at Hacienda San Rafael, near Seville, they offer private villas, each with a secluded terrace and cabana where the team would serve breakfast and other meals upon request. You’d wake up and stroll out into the sunshine in your robe, and there waiting for you was coffee and pastries, even before you had to think about looking at the breakfast menu!
- Personalised, intuitive service
In a smaller property, it’s important that a hotel can remember guests, and fine-tune their experience appropriately. As a first-time guest it’s great when a hotel reaches out to me before arrival by email to help personalise my stay. I’m also really impressed when hotels make thoughtful gestures. For example, at Hotel Sant Francesc in Palma de Mallorca, they discovered it was my birthday and prepared an amazing lunch with a personalised birthday cake!
- Stylish bathroom amenities & imaginative turndown gifts
I’m easily seduced by these small gestures! I love it when hotels offer creative welcome and turndown gifts that reflect the local community or location of the hotel. For example, at La Residencia in Deiá, they celebrate local art, culture and gastronomy – with gifts of Mallorca gourmet sea salt, olive oil, a handmade star fish from a local ceramicist, and the book ‘Bread & Oil’ by local resident Tomas Graves (the son of the late English poet and novelist Robert Graves who lived in Mallorca).
Name 3 things you wouldn’t want to experience in a hotel ever again.
- Over attentive waiting staff
It’s great to be made to feel special, but sometimes hotels can get the balance wrong and overdo it. I’ve eaten in some hotel restaurants where it’s almost hard to finish a sentence with my fellow companion before a waiter has approached the table to top up a glass, ask about the food or take away a dish. It’s uncomfortable when service oversteps and ruins the experience.
- Mean amenities and towels
When I go away I want to feel it was worth leaving home for; I want to be pampered. I’m not a fan at all of the ‘one bath towel, one hand towel per person’ rule. I don’t have that at home, so why should towels be rationed in a luxe hotel? I love properties that leave extra towels and plenty of amenities in the bathroom. Even without using them it just makes you feel special, a sense of abundant luxury.
- Charging for extras – as the Americans say, to ‘nickel-and-dime’ the client
As a guest, I want to have all the amenities included. There is nothing more off-putting than a mean-spirited host. Seeing a bottle of mineral water for sale in a room drives me crazy! Bottles of water should be provided as a courtesy – filtered water is fine. I also think charging for internet is a no-no. In the developed world it’s a basic utility these days, like electricity. It should always be included.
I also think that providing a mini bar full of chargeable extras is a mistake. I think it is better to offer a more limited in-room bar and include the items in the room rate. A great idea is when hotels invite you before your stay to choose what you want in the mini bar, personalising it.
How do you feel about the Amberlair concept?
It’s truly fascinating, and of course original. I guess it’s a natural extension of the notion of the social economy to have a crowd-sourced boutique hotel; but I imagine the challenges must be significant. You are brave to pursue this dream! Having many stakeholders and contributors is wonderful on one hand, to help fine-tune the hotel and make it truly special. Yet of course I imagine it is quite a juggling act on the other, as at some point you must make concrete decisions about overall look & feel, the exact location, architecture, interior design, rooms, food and beverage etc. and some BoHoLovers will be over the moon, but other ambassadors may be disappointed – so just remember, you can’t please all the people all the time! I wish you all the very best of luck. I look forward to booking my stay!
Where are you off to next?
I’m heading to the States. It’s one of my favourite destinations. I have relatives and so many friends there and I find it a very easy travel destination where I feel at home. I will be checking out some interesting properties in California…
I’m Andrew Forbes, a marketing communications consultant specialising in the luxury and travel sectors. I also write frequently on travel as a freelancer, as well as for my regular monthly newspaper feature in Spain, where I have been living for more than a decade. I am one of the editors of the online luxury travel magazine The Luxury Editor.