It all started with a song and dance, well sort of. Back in 1993, Claus Sendlinger, CEO of Design Hotels, had his own travel and event agency and was traveling the world organizing events with musicians, DJs, artists and other creative minds. “They had very specific requirements,” Sendlinger says, “and wanted to meet like-minded people everywhere they went. To find hotels that really offered a creative surrounding attracting a cool crowd was a major challenge back then. In the early-90s, there wasn’t a big focus on design in hotels, so those that offered this really stood out. It was therefore a good point to bring hotels like this together under one umbrella which we called Design Hotels.”
And now, almost two decades later, what began as a modest portfolio of only 10 members, has grown into a full-service hospitality marketing consultant—a true global lifestyle brand. It caters to a collection of more than 200 inimitable hotels with customized services including hotel development, global sales representation, revenue management, strategic marketing, public relations and branding.
To say that these hotels are unique is to downplay what this organization is really about. Each hotel that makes the “cut” has a soul. In fact, says Sendlinger, “We look at the people who are behind the hotel—e.g. the owner, the architect and the designer—and their vision for creating the hotel. These people are often very interesting personalities.” To become a member of Design Hotels, he continues, “a hotel has to have a holistic concept. Each hotel and the guest experience is one-of-a-kind, with factors like personalization, recognition, self-education, neighborhood integration and sustainability at the forefront.”
Beyond the thought-provoking design of these hotels—and Sendlinger is happy, as he says, that the “industry woke up to the fact that guests don’t want to stay at an ugly hotel”—the concept behind Design Hotels is more than just picking a hotel that has pretty packaging. What’s at the heart is the guest experience. “Because of a shift in societal values and our increasingly connected, yet nomadic world…hotels are no longer just places to sleep or to be impressed by a designer chair in the lobby. They have to create experiences for the guests and a sense of familiarity and connection.”
For example, at one of the member hotels in the south of France, Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez, guests have access to polo games and training lessons at the Polo Club of Saint Tropez/Gassin because its owner is a passionate polo player. It’s not just a boutique concept, Sendlinger stresses. “Whether it’s a 5-room riad or a 200-room business hotel, it must excel in all aspects of its particular guest experience.”
Design Hotels just keeps inviting more fabulous retreats to its exclusive soiree with additions such as Casa de la Flora in Khao Lak, Thailand—a modernist beauty right along the shoreline with 36 contemporary grey cube villas. Or, the 39-room Eccleston Square Hotel, opening this summer in London. It’s a historic late-Georgian city residence with a modern lobby featuring a black crystal chandelier and herring-bone-pattern floor tiles, as well as high-tech everything. Others to watch for are New York’s Hotel Americanoand The Great Getaway Marrakech Hotel & Spa, among a list of notable properties offering, as Sendlinger says, “a one-off authentic, emotional experience.”
For authentic experiences that, as the company says, can “educate and inspire,” recommend the Alila Diwa Goa in India, which offers a Culinary Journey, in which guests can learn from the chef how to prepare and cook local dishes, or discover the origin and use of different spices. At yet another Alila property, the Alila Manggis in Bali, visitors can immerse themselves in the Food for Your Skin program where they can make their own facial treatment using herbs, roots, and fruits from the hotel’s garden and nearby vegetation, including the mangosteen plant. For a cultural connection, the Avalon Hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden, offers design tours and workshops with hotel guests, while all the areas of the Gallery Hotel Art in Florence feature regularly changing exhibitions from international artists, including Hans van der Meer.”
book it “Travel agents have played a key role in helping Design Hotels to become what it is today,” says Sendlinger, and to make things easier for this vital partner, the company designed a booking and information platform especially for them. Through this portal (designhotel.com/travel_agents), you’re able to track and store bookings, propose special offers and promotions to clients, offer a best rate guarantee, be invited to Design Hotels events, experience the hotels and benefit from exclusive rates for travel professionals, and stay in the loop about new members and trends. And to start you off booking, Design Hotels is offering a Summer Specials promotion through Sept. 4. Your clients can enjoy a free upgrade, a complimentary room night or save a minimum of 10 percent off the best available rate. For participating hotels, visit designhotels.com/summerspecials.