Culture Connection: The Art of Local Travel & Hospitality

“Domestic travel is completely ignored by all (in the travel industry), much to the loss of the plethora of small businesses that power the ecosystem of local travel.” ~ From Skift founder Rafat Ali in “The 21 Uncomfortable Truths That I Have Learned About the Travel Industry

After working with large hospitality brands around the world, I have spent the last few years traveling extensively around America — mainly to emerging markets — to speak with local business owners, to see what the next generation of hospitality & hotel entrepreneurs are doing and how they are getting everything right in terms of collaboration, experiences and connecting to local culture. Needless to say, I have been extremely impressed by their creativity, branding, design aesthetic, and how they engage with their local community & fellow entrepreneurs. Big chains take note, you’ll need it as you rush to build big glass towers in the markets that actually require the most individuality, personality and authenticity.

The thoughtful details and business collaborations I witnessed in places like Palm Springs, Portland, Denver, Austin, Nashville, and New Orleans, were exciting and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For years I have witnessed my fellow big city dwellers seek quiet countryside, desert & mountain life or unique cultural as their emerging destinations of choice. Travelers today are increasingly uninterested in generic, cookie-cutter hotels. They crave lodging options with unique characteristics that communicate something about the locales they’re visiting, that go beyond offering just a place to sleep, and they’re willing to forgo brand loyalty and rewards to get that authentic vibe. You can see it reflected in the growing instagram accounts of photographers in remote areas, the demand for dude ranch experiences, the growth in the American south tourism and millennials rescuing old historic houses in secondary markets (see this B&B in Alabama and this historic hotel in Nevada, CA). It is of little wonder then that companies like Airbnb have seen such massive growth — so people can feel part of a neighborhood- along with their added local experience packages as a major focus. The hoteliers — owners of boutique hotels, B&Bs, branded vacation homes — were integrated everything local by working with architects and designers who reflected the feeling of the space they were rooted in, served local cuisine and wine/coffee by local makers, sold local artisan goods, created fun personal touches in their rooms (& correspondence), and went above & beyond to connect visitors with the real deal local activities and characters. It has been illuminating.

Now I like a big fancy hotel with the kind of excellent service only a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton can provide as much as the next person, however… as an avid traveler and culture seeker, I started switching to house stays with One Fine Stay, Home Away, VRBO, and Airbnb, years ago so I could feel dug in to smaller cities I was exploring. And now with all of my road trips, I make it a priority to research every new market and the local B&Bs of note, connecting the dots between owners, buildings, and other businesses (because I know from my career experience, many large scale corporate hotel executives do not know their domestic markets aside from some general statistics on a page. They may travel, but they do not experience). It’s been a deeply rewarding undertaking that has yielded invaluable insight and endless learning opportunities — about both the industry and the country. Now with giant hotel chains — some I know well — expanding into new local markets, they continue to ignore local culture, design and what makes the cities so unique. Do you want celery or spice? Because the cool hotels in places like Nashville, Austin, & New Orleans are already doing everything right and their design game is 100%. While the cities are in tourism demand, and certainly need additional rooms, do yourself a favor and seek out the local cool hotels (heritage, boutique), B&Bs, or special vacation homes, as I guarantee you will have a much more fun stay (this includes local day trips, small towns can be the most unexpected fun). I have certainly talked about this before, but after seeing two development announcements recently for the fantastic city of Nashville, I knew this was the time to share some of the wonderful finds I stumbled upon along the way.

Nashville - Booming “Nash-Vegas” continues to draw in the music industry and new travelers

1. Urban Cowboy B&B: In Nashville, Brooklyn and soon, the Catskills in upstate NY

2. Germantown Inn: Owned by a real estate group who owns historic buildings and has plans for expansion

3. The 404 hotel : Only 5 rooms and busting with charm

4. Noelle Nashville: Owned by Tribute, a division of Marriott, but they kept the feel very local

Palm Springs - Famous hotbed of hospitality gains new perspectives

1. PRG Hospitality Group owns: has: Sparrows Lodge, Holiday House, Sands Hotel Spa 
2. PS Boutique Hotels owns: La serena villas, Del Marcos Hotel, Three Fifty Hotel
3. Arrive Hotels: owner is now expanding to NC, TN, TX, AZ, and also owns Bootlegger Tiki, Ernest Coffee, Sandfish sushi whiskey )
4. The Desert Collective: While The Amado has recently changed hands, they restored house & expanded to vacation homes in Canada
5. The Joshua Tree House: perfect example of a well branded vacation home, with a book too boot, currently restoring a property in Tucson, AZ

6. Alcazar Hotel — gorgeous space brought by realtors who know

7. Korakia Pensione — I attended a wedding here years ago and loved it ever since. Less tech amenities, more relaxation

Austin - A longtime favorite continues to grow

  1. Hotel Saint Cecilia

  2. Hotel San Jose

  3. Heywood Hotel

  4. Kimber Modern

  5. Lonestar Court

  6. Hotel Ella

  7. Archer Hotel Austin

DENVER — the Mile High City keeps growing by the minute, bringing a young entrepreneurial spirit with it

  1. Halcyon

  2. The Maven

  3. The Ramble Hotel

*Watch for more boutique hotels to spring up in Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Montana and South Carolina soon

**If you fancy your own hospitality brand, like I do with my Wild West Home, then start your addiction to Circa Houses and Cheap Old Houses to find the perfect B&B or home to rescue and make your own

wild west home