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, paradigm shifting 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. 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, 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, the current brief is for hotels to ‘drop any attitude’.
These were the parameters that informed us when we scoured the globe for this year’s survey of the Best Urban Hotels. 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 2018). §