Husband-and-wife co-founders of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Tamara and James Lohan, spend half their time on the road, scouting out the best new hotels for their collection and bouncing between home in London and offices in Los Angeles and Singapore. The Lohans founded their company on romantic travel and have been arbiters of sexy hotels for more than 16 years. Just last month, they published a new report on Modern Love: Exploring the Future of Romantic Travel in partnership with The Future Laboratory. In the penthouse suite of The Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, we chatted about the findings:
Amber: There’s a lot in this report! You’re really redefining romance in so many contexts with new vocabulary like situationships, buddymoons and self-care secondments.
James: There are a few scary things like the polyamorous stuff.
Tamara: Is that scary? I’m rather excited about that. Our friend is building a retreat in California, and she has the option of creating 15 cabins with two double beds, or 20 cabins with one king bed. And I said go for more beds, you can have two couples, and just more configurations.
J: Romance is a funny word because it has different connotations to different people. It’s not just chocolates and flowers and champagne. That’s just old-fashioned. If we have a dinner party for friends, we want it to be romantic. I spend as much time on the tablescape and ambiance and the romance of that evening as I would on a dinner for Tam. How humans think about traveling and our relationships to ourselves, our planet, friends, family and lovers is changing.
We came up with the initial idea for the report, to look at the lens of travel through romance and The Future Laboratory asked us to pick some of our most forward-thinking hoteliers to interview.
A: Some of the items in the report – the idea of having a Chief Romantic Officer instead of a concierge, or bio-metrically responsive mood lighting instead of candlelit dinners don’t really exist yet. What’s the biggest trend you’re seeing playing out right now?
J: I think the biggest trend that we like is how rooms are starting to be immersive within their surroundings. It’s become an important design decision. Floor-to-ceiling panoramas of glass so you’re part of nature and even getting you outside. How do you connect with the world rather than just being a hotel? Even smaller rooms at Casa de Uco in Argentina have their own balconies and Soneva Jani has a retractable roof so you can stargaze from the bed. We’re seeing less TVs in rooms so we have to converse more or read.
T: Libraries are coming back and becoming a big thing. Whether in the lobby or personal libraries in rooms, like at The Greenwich. Hotels are trying to help you with dis-connectivity.
J: The private house small hotel is a new concept too. It’s fully-staffed and there’s a great cook but no menu so you can just tell them what you want. There are a few of them cropping up. It’s the flexibility that I love. Breakfast doesn’t finish at 10:30 am and people are cleaning up, it’s about whatever you want. Breakfast is whenever you wake up.
T: It’s the bits of the hotel experience that you want with the character and personality of a B&B.
J: Kitchens were always behind closed doors, then they put a window in then the open counter, then a chef’s table and now they’re hanging all the meat out and carving fish right in front of you. I think there’s an incredible urge for us as urbanites to get behind the skin of the hotel. The sommelier inviting you to come down to the cellar to choose a bottle instead of just picking one from the wine list.
T: All those things make for a more romantic, engaging and tailored stay. In England, hotels are all focused on using only seasonal, local produce. The Newt in Somerset is a great example that just opened a few months ago. They have their own cider press and are making their own cider since they have 65 acres of apple orchards. They aren’t doing it for true commercial use, it’s just for their own guests. Every batch is unique since the apples are different depending on when they were harvested. They have built a museum for gardening, with VR [virtual reality] of some of the most famous gardens around the world.
A: Let’s talk situationships. I’d never seen this word before but I love it – it perfectly describes so much of what I’ve experienced in my travels as a digital nomad.
T: It’s actually in Urban Dictionary now. It’s this no-commitment relationship. It’s freeing up of relationships. You can find romance with a place as well. It fits so well with a younger generation’s nomadic lifestyle.
J: It’s celebrating that moment with someone. It could be with friends or with a potential lover. It could be a situation on your own. Having a traditional relationship may not work for some people but instead you find connections with humans in all different places. The Standard has their Lobby app to help people meet each other. It could be about hooking up…
A: Or just I want to go get a bottle of champagne at The Riddler and who wants to split it with me?
T: Right. It could be about sex or just about dancing the night away. It’s a lovely way to talk about living in the moment. The trend is coming because of our more nomadic lifestyles and the rise of co-working spaces and we’re meeting people who are transient and traveling for work, extending their holidays. We’re creating the situations anyway so the opportunity to have a -ship in there just makes sense.
J: I think for solo travelers – and the 25% of adults who are single by choice –we have to work out these situationships. Hotels have to acknowledge and cater to this and look after them a bit better. My sister’s on her own and she does lots of solo travel now and is having a great time doing it.
T: There are some hotels that really cater to couples and she has to be quite careful about where she goes so she can feel like she’s not just among loads of couples.
A: Oh my goodness – I know exactly how that is. When I was writing a story about how St. Lucia is the honeymoon capital of the Caribbean, I felt so out of place at all of the resorts.
T: You’re living the report! Places like the Maldives suffer from that as well. The hotels that don’t catch up to this, they will feel outdated. It’s everything down to architecture and spaces.
J: I love a great hotel bar.
T: Some hotels have talks and other activities to incorporate solo travelers in communal areas.
A: Yes, The Ace Hotels and FieldHouse Jones in Chicago do a great job of that.
J: City hotels by their nature are more embracing of everyone and everything. Most city hotels are well-placed to look after these sorts of trends. It’s the far flung desert island ones that will need to wise up. The traditional stereotype of a heterosexual couple going away to the Maldives for a week on a romantic getaway and laying on the beach just won’t hold true anymore.
People are more nomadic and adventurous in their travel. We want to explore the local surroundings and personally, we usually don’t stay more than three days somewhere. Old-fashioned luxurious hotels have this perimeter and here’s what you can do within it. And the more modern hotels are like – there is no perimeter. Rather than the hotel being the trip, it’s the place. And they’ll even recommend where we go afterwards. It’s not just a fly and flop as we used to call it.
T: That’s a terrible travel industry term! Although some of it might come back because we’re so hectic anyway. Everyone’s talking about experimental travel. And there’s an element of me that says sometimes it’s quite nice just to sit on a sun lounger and do nothing. Maybe read a book. There might be a bit of a return to that. Another trend I love is going away on holiday and spending some time apart.
J: Tamara can go off and trek up a mountain which I don’t want to do, and I can go fly-fishing and then we reconnect and have so much to tell each other. That’s what we did at Taylor River Lodge – near Crested Butte. I love that idea that we can separate but be together. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
A: So do you have any personal romantic travels coming up that you’re looking forward to?
J: We have two kids – 10 and 12 – and we try to think about what the kids will like when it’s a proper family vacation. We’re taking the kids barging for the first time in May around Oxford and Stratford. It’s life at 4 miles per hour.
There are no hoteliers to talk to at all. There’s no feedback. There’s nothing. I just love parking up at night next to a field and the next morning you wake up with all these cows staring at you. We love boats – we used to live on an old Dutch barge on the Thames. Boats are something that we’re very passionate about already. We’re thinking about doing a Mr. and Mrs. Smith boat collection. Boats give you accessibility, privacy, disconnection and connection to get you to places. I think the boat thing will be ever increasing as a trend.
T: They just haven’t quite worked out the style side of boats. It’s so far away from boutique hotels. It’s a bit old-fashioned but it’ll get there.
J: We see our family as romance within the family. Mum and dad are working more and more now. There are hardly any stay-at-home dads or mums in the UK it seems. You used to put the kids in the kids club and we’d go off to the spa, because for one of the parents it would be a holiday from the kids. The hotels that are winning now are the hotels that can think of the family as a unit and think about what they can do together that they can all enjoy.
T: I thought the Constance Prince Maurice in Mauritius was really clever because somebody would come by at dinner and take all the kids off to go find tree frogs at dusk. It was like the Pied Piper and we could sit there enjoying a nice glass of wine together even if it’s just 15 minutes. It was just what we needed.
When you spend quality time with your partner then you kind of remember why you got together in the first place. And you can forget that in the maelstrom of having kids and as you get older and have more responsibilities. You do get to a place where you go – I’m no longer me, I’m mother and wife and worker and that kind of thing. So reconnecting with your spouse or partner or best friend is going to enhance that relationship going forward.
J: And I think that’s why the rise of experiential and transformational travel is here. As we get older we tend to get more nostalgic. Our greatest memories tend to be based around an occasion. So we’re trying to have more occasions. I went on a trip with my mum and sister last year just to have three quality days with my mum and I’m doing the same trip with my dad this year. I’m conscious as I get older that they won’t be here forever. It wasn’t about spending lots of money, it was just walking on the beach.
You take advantage of your partner and people you love the most because you know they’re always there. It’s the same reason I never visit Buckingham Palace. It’s just there. You have to take the time and make the effort to put things in the diary and remind yourselves why you are in a relationship. I think romance is hugely important and it’s cheapened by things like Valentine’s Day. Romance is so much more than that and I think the report gives us ideas about what the new romance can look like.