Intimacy over Excess – Why Small Is Travel’s Next Big Thing
On the last day of 2022 – a year that started with a new strain of COVID wreaking travel havoc the world over – I woke up at Casa Rosa, a family-owned estate in the Andalucian countryside. As my first real overseas holiday since the pandemic (other than to visit family at home), this would no doubt be a trip that came with realisations about what travel means to me. The message was loud and clear: the experiences we cherish are formed by the people we meet.
This isn’t a new revelation, and I’m not claiming it as a novel breakthrough – the importance of human connection for positive travel experiences is undisputed and has become an important hotel trends. Global hotel brand Accor trains all of its staff members in a social skills programme known as “Peopleology”, and the concept of “Shiny Happy People” forms the backbone of Hong Kong brand Ovolo’s mission statement. While it’s great that large-scale conglomerates acknowledge the importance of the person in the hospitality experience, the genuine connection can’t be bought or taught. Regardless of how well-conceived a training programme or code of conduct may be, authentic connection builds from familiarity and is fostered in spaces that have humans at their heart. With only so much time that can be spent on holiday every year, many travellers are increasingly choosing intimate, boutique hotels where they can connect with real, passionate people, rather than the overwhelming palaces that once dominated our travel bucket lists.
“They’re seeking to get off-the-beaten-track, not only for environmental and social reasons but also in their quest for good, quality travel experiences that enrich them personally.” Mark Wong, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Evidence of the growing appetite for small-scale hotels is the growth of the global boutique hotel portfolio Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), which welcomes an average of 40 new member hotels every year. The hand-picked high-end hotels in the SLH portfolio average just 50 rooms, with many featuring as few as three or four.
“Because of their intimate size, our properties enable bespoke experiences that place their guests at the heart of the environment. Every interaction is personal and authentic, forging intimate connections with a place and its people,” explains Mark Wong, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Based on the results of a recent survey with their members, the SLH team found that luxury travellers are increasingly visiting “small and soulful destinations”.
“They’re seeking to get off-the-beaten-track, not only for environmental and social reasons but also in their quest for good, quality travel experiences that enrich them personally.” Wong explains.
The growing interest in intimate, boutique accommodation can be put down in part to the pandemic, but not entirely. The desire for authenticity – a response to an increasingly disconnected society – is seen through everything from our media consumption (reality shows that provide revealing, if often highly edited, insights into people’s lives) to our social media presence (the rise of BeReal a glaringly obvious example). The unattainable, homogenous glamour of high-end luxury hotels is less appealing than the rustic charm of a family-owned farmhouse. And in a post-COVID world, where so much of our life can be carried out without genuine human connection – everything from office meetings to gym classes having found themselves a digital destination – holidays are a chance for us to reconnect with the essence of being human. Long lunches shared over busy, playing-card-cluttered tables, warmly lit rooms filled with eccentric, mismatched furniture, slow days unfolding with the ease that builds from familiarity and fondness.
From personal experience, the destinations that have best embodied this have been the passion projects of people who share a common love – for each other, and for a place. One such example is The Kip: a boutique guest house/ cafe/ creative space in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. Housed in a meticulously redesigned colonial home, the aesthetic of The Kip mirrors its energy: humbly elegant, thoughtfully uncomplicated. Every piece of art and furniture is not the choice of a design agency or stylist, but the treasured possession of the owners who built The Kip as a home for their dreams, as well as their family.
Similarly, Rosalita’s Rest and Paddock Hall – handbuilt cabins in the hinterland surrounding Byron Bay – are special not just because of their beauty, but because of the intention behind them. The same goes for Casa Rosa: the Andalucian villa whose walls are lined with paintings created and collected by one family over generations. These are places that reflect the people who have created them, and the physical manifestation of personal taste – of craft and art and collected treasures – invites intimacy.
Of course, travel trends are transient in their very nature, but after years that have made connecting with new people nigh-on impossible, the trend towards small, people-centric destinations is one that’s easy to get behind.