Monday, April 8, 2013

Sky High Standards

One of my editors at Condé Nast Traveler is coordinating a photo shoot this week on the island of Dominica. The photographer will be shooting select hotels and restaurants that an incognito writer previously visited and reviewed. I was researching the locations the other day (finding images online of the buildings and grounds) to help give my editor a head's up on what was going to be shot. When I showed her some of the pictures I pulled, I was quite surprised at her reaction. "Are you serious?" she exclaimed, bewildered. "These are the hotels we have to work with? [Pointing at the computer screen] Why would the writer stay here? It looks like a dump."

While I wouldn't necessarily compare these hotels to the Taj Mahal, one would have thought she was looking at pictures of a Motel 6 in the Bronx, rather than a quaint resort in the Caribbean. I do not think my editor is stuck up by any means; the problem is that the majority of hotels we feature do resemble the Taj Mahal. When you're photographing something for a glossy mag, you want the shot to look absolutely perfect, regardless of what it's of; in this case, the design of the interior and exterior of the hotel. Likewise, I believe most readers would prefer to see a high resolution shot of the crystal chandeliers at The Plaza Hotel than the continental breakfast spread at the Holiday Inn Express.

qualia in Hamilton Island, Australia;
CN Traveler's pick for the world's best hotel
One of the reasons I love reading and working at Traveler is because of the magazine's intelligence. The articles are much heavier than your average magazine, in regards to both the topics discussed and the language used. The pictures are stunning and sophisticated. Even little things, like the fonts chosen, exude a certain class. It is a breath of fresh air to read a beautifully written exposé on Arabian horses after you've been informed, for the dozenth time, who Justin Bieber is now dating by other publications.

When I look at the magnificent hotels, restaurants, and activities featured in Traveler, I enjoy it through the "living vicariously" point of view. Sure, I may not be able to afford a $500/night hotel room (more like 10% of that price), but my empty wallet can't stop me from ooo-ing and ahh-ing at the pictures and descriptions.

Our standard demographic of readers are well-off, educated, and middle aged, so it makes sense to feature nicer locations. However, I think sometimes the grade A locations listed can be slightly detrimental. Though I intend to eventually be successful enough to graduate from the Best Western to the Westin, I don't think I'd ever stay somewhere nicer than that. I'm not the type of person to shell out insane amounts of money on anything, let alone a hotel room. Once you reach a certain point of luxury, it seems (to me, at least) that extra money is being spent simply because it can be.

My extremely inexpensive "Room with a View"
at the Palm Grove Hotel in Virginia Beach, VA
Dominica is a teeny, tiny, little island in the Caribbean I hadn't heard of, until I chatted with a bartender on a cruise ship last year who had grown up there. While it seems absolutely beautiful, I wouldn't call it the Caribbean's #1 destination for the rich and famous. What then, is the harm in having some middle-level hotels as a center spread? They might not be as gorgeous as readers are accustomed to, but they're still pretty darn nice.

One of the sections included in every issue of Traveler is called "Room with a View," that highlights--you guessed it!--a hotel room (they even give you the specific room number) that has an extraordinary view. The hotels are located in the Swiss Alps, along the Indian Ocean, and other exotic, beautiful places. 

I traveled to Virginia Beach with a friend when I was 18, and after being turned away at the front desk by the hotel I had made reservations at (turns out they had an under-21 policy that conveniently was not listed on their website at the time), I found a cheap, but relatively decent looking hotel that accepted not only walk-ins, but 18 year olds. When I finally got to my room, completely exhausted from both the ride down and the unexpected hassle, I was shocked and overjoyed that I somehow had a balcony and ocean view. Virginia Beach was certainly not the loveliest destination I had ever been to (I doubt I will go back), but as a teenager paying under $100/night; this was my Taj Mahal.

I am excited to one day be able to select a hotel by its amenities, location, etc. and not solely its price. Until then, it's fine to dream... and it's nice when the dreams are realistic. Today I am dreaming of the 4-star hotels in Dominica.

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