The Wonderful World of Hotels
Hotels are often one of the most important elements of travel, and Bryan recently interviewed me to get my thoughts on the things that matter and the things that inspire in the hotel industry.
Bryan: What do you search for when finding the best hotel? Is this different if it is just for you, versus one of our Zoom Vacations tours?
Joel: My hotel preference is the same as I would recommend to Zoom guests on Zoom group or private trips. The first thing I look for is the soul of the hotel. It’s ineffable, but you know it when you feel it. Usually a combination of the aesthetics, location, and the people/management that work there, and how all these things working together make you feel. I also develop relationships with the management to make sure that all of our guests are treated as VIPs, even if they are getting the best deals. My go-to brand for great hotels and resorts is Belmond. I serve on the Belmond LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and I we have been working hard to help Belmond achieve a level of LGBTQ+ awareness and initiatives that other brands can only dream of.
Bryan: What country or countries do you think would surprise people with how great the hotels are?
Joel: It would provably not come as a great surprise that places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Italy, and India have great hotels. But there are hidden gems like Laos and Peru that offer exceptional hotels at a great value.
Bryan: What is one of your favorite hotel experiences that stands out?
Joel: There is nothing like arriving at the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India. The pomp and drama of the arrival is simply jaw dropping! The beautiful horses, the musical drums, the whiling dancers! The Maharaja of Jodhpur still calls the Umaid Bhawan his family residence so it is a fully operational palace with the Maharaja at its very core. You are made to feel like the personal guest of the Maharaja himself. Because you are!
One of my other hotel experiences is not a hotel at all but a private yacht on the Nile on Zoom Egypt. The minute I step on our private dehabiya (typical Egyptian yacht), and we are welcomed by a staff of 28, settle into our luxurious individually themed and decorated en-suite suites, all my worries just melt away. Then as we sail down the Nile, and you realize the scenery before you is identical to what Cleopatra and Marc Anthony would have enjoyed on their honeymoon cruise over 2,000 years ago, you feel as if there is not a care in the world. It’s very relaxing as you sail from one Egyptian temple to the other and are pampered with great service and delicious food.
Bryan: What is your favorite city hotel in the world and why?
Joel: The Monasterio in Cusco, Peru for sure! This is a 500 year old monastery that was turned into a five star luxury hotel some years ago, but still holds a genuine historical feel without sacrificing any of the modern facilities and amenities you would expect from one of the most iconic hotels in the world.
Bryan: What is your favorite resort?
Joel: I will say that I have a favorite type of resort as opposed to a specific resort. That is because when I think of a resort I think of a place that has to keep your attention while at the same time spoiling you silly with spacious accommodations, gourmet food and tasty drinks! With that in mind some of my favorite hotels are in the Maldives and we actually have developed quite the Maldives collection. All resorts in the Maldives are unique and different in feel and amenities. But all share one thing in common – you feel you are in the middle of nowhere and disconnected from the real world. Also, some of my favorite resorts I visited while on safari in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda. It is incredible what these properties create in the middle of nowhere.
Bryan: Have you ever thought of opening your own hotel? Where would you do this?
Joel: I have a lot of respect for those in hospitality and I know how hard hospitality can be. So, I am not sure if I would get into the hotel business. But if I did, a few places that come to mind where I would have a hotel are South Beach, Viequez island, and mainland Puerto Rico.
Bryan: What changes have you noticed in general with the hotel industry or general offerings in the past 10 years?
Joel: My experience is that the hotel industry has overall become more LGBTQ+ friendly. Even in countries where technically it’s illegal to be openly gay, because let’s face it there are LGBTQ+ everywhere, the international luxury hotel industry is generally very accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Basically it’s “you do you”.
Bryan: What do you think that hotels need to do in order to attract repeat business from past guests?
Joel: Brand consistency is big for me. When I book a brand I want to make sure that I am getting what I expect in terms of experience on a consistent basis.