Travel: Unbound by Hyatt

Image Credit -  Courtesy The Driskill

Image Credit - Courtesy The Driskill

Hyatt’s newest brand is seeking Instagram-pretty and Snapchat-worthy hotels.

Instagramming, Snapchatting, and Facebooking a hotel stay is practically a must-do for today’s social media–savvy travelers, whether it's because of a killer view or just the unspoken desire to brag about being on #vacation. So it was only a matter of time before a major hotel brand began to think about construction with social media at front of mind. The Unbound Collection from Hyatt Hotels, which launched this week, is a carefully curated group of independent hotels—each with its own identity, history, and design, all of which can easily be shown off on social media...or so Hyatt hopes.

"Your travel is a shareable nugget," Maryam Banikarim, chief marketing officer of Hyatt Hotels, told Condé Nast Traveler. "And we want our properties to have something you want to share, not just pictures of the room, but the experiences you have there too.”

Currently, Unbound has four hotels in its collection—The Driskill in Austin; the Hotel du Louvre in Paris; the Carmelo Resort & Spa in Montevideo, Uruguay; and the Coco Palms Resort in Kauai, Hawaii (which is undergoing a renovation and will reopen in 2018). All Unbound hotels will be upper-upscale and luxury properties, meaning four- to five-star hotels with full service (like late-night room service). The hotel will also be a mix of historic gems, cool contemporary spots, and new builds.

While Unbound is indeed looking for hotels with "rich social currency," Banikarim reports that Hyatt won’t be obsessively tracking a hotel’s number of followers or likes during the inclusion process, especially since Unbound’s future pipeline includes hotels that haven’t been built yet. "What we’re really looking for are hotels that are story-worthy," she said, and that goes beyond the amenities in the guest room. A shareable story about The Driskill, Banikarim said, could involve the ghost that's been known to roam the property turning on and off the lights. At the Hotel Du Louvre, its story will be centered around its history as one of the oldest hotels in Paris, while the Carmelo Resort is in the middle of an eucalyptus forest, putting guests up close to nature.

Because the Unbound Collection is what’s referred to in the hotel industry as a "soft" brand, the hotels will keep their own names and identities, and Hyatt branding is kept to a minimum. Guests may only learn an Unbound property is a Hyatt at check-in, when they see that their stay can earn full points for the Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program. There is some concern that Hyatt’s presence in an highly individualistic hotel like The Driskill may forever change the appeal of the hotel, but Banikarim insists that hotels will have the freedom to do things the way they’ve always done them, with Hyatt helping out behind the scenes.

Unlike other hotel collections out there—Tribute Portfolio from Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the Curio Collection from Hilton Worldwide, and the Autograph Collection from Marriott International—Unbound plans to include travel experiences outside of hotels, possibly river cruises and other types of adventures. "More and more people value experiences, rather than possessions," Banikarim said. "And people want different kinds of experiences." So get ready to share your experiences on social media.

Interview: Insider Look at CURIO

curio collection - amin and co - the luxe passport

Hyatt has Andaz, Marriott has EDITION, Starwood has the W, and Hilton now has Curio.

The circle seems complete. 

I was able to chat with Dianna Vaughan, Global Head at Curio – A Collection by Hilton, and she was kind enough to give me an insider look into what's on the horizon for this exciting new brand that has us curious.

Competing at the top end of upper upscale, Curio – A Collection by Hilton is a hand-picked global collection of unique hotels embodying the distinct culture and spirit of their local communities, while giving independent minded travelers the peace of mind that comes from the Hilton name and award-winning HHonors program.

Read below for the exclusive Q&A...

IMAGE CREDIT -   SLS LAS VEGAS  ,   Curio   – A Collection by Hilton 

IMAGE CREDIT - SLS LAS VEGASCurio – A Collection by Hilton 

What are some trends and shifts you’re excited about for 2015? Any changes you're seeing in guest requirements?

In 2015, couples, families and friends are looking for the most authentic, local experiences they can find.  They’re looking for far-away destinations to check off their bucket lists, and curiously seeking those domestic locales they haven’t yet had the chance to discover. In a sense, the behavior of these travelers has a direct effect on us -- they are shaping our individual Curio hotels, and these hotels are defining the Curio collection.

How is your brand catering to millennial travelers?

The Millennial traveler’s greatest desire right now is to feel like a local[1]. Each Curio hotel is hand-picked for its distinct character and personality, appealing to passionate travelers seeking local discovery.  These hotels have a special character that can’t be duplicated. They’re part of the fabric of their cities: true locals, each embodying the spirit of their home. From a historic hotel with complimentary bicycles and a restaurant run by a two-time James Beard award-winning chef, to a casino hotel with a multi-level dance club and opulent penthouses created by design visionaries, it’s the diversity of the Curio hotels that makes the brand so unique, and also appealing to the Millennial generation.

IMAGE CREDIT -  SLS LAS VEGAS ,  Curio   – A Collection by Hilton 

IMAGE CREDIT - SLS LAS VEGASCurio – A Collection by Hilton 

In your opinion, what does it take to have to a powerful LUXE brand?

Our Curio hotels are individuals but they are unified in their ability to deliver an upper upscale, authentic and seamless experience for each of our guests. They have the fascinating ability to make travelers feel, by the time they leave, that a Curio hotel is their second home. To me, a powerful brand gives guests the ability to have an experience that stays with you – wherever you go.

How involved is the Curio brand in terms of social media engagement, any exciting campaigns for 2015?

While we are still a young brand, our focus points within social media are to grow our audiences across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, share our excitement around new hotel openings and activities, and to continue sharing the unique aspects of our existing hotels, their locations and our guests’ stories from their stays and experiences. We plan to showcase the individuality of each property with contests and in-depth storytelling throughout the year.

IMAGE CREDIT:  The Highland Dallas , A Curio Collection by Hilton

IMAGE CREDIT: The Highland Dallas, A Curio Collection by Hilton

For example, we recently held a spotlight on The Highland Dallas,  A Curio Collection by Hilton, and hosted a contest to win New Year’s Eve dinner at the property’s top-rated Knife restaurant. Additionally, we are considering a Valentine's Day contest which encompasses all the unique features of a specific Curio hotel (spa, dining, etc.).

IMAGE CREDIT:  Knife Dallas

IMAGE CREDIT: Knife Dallas

We believe that unique moments are fundamental to Curio hotels and we want to encourage conversation around those moments from past and future guests.

Are the hotel employees or "experience stylists", as I like to call them, involved heavily in creating the Curio brand experience?

Hotel team members at Curio properties embody the stories and personalities of the hotels themselves. Many of them are true locals who know the hotel inside and out and have worked at a property for many years.  At Diplomat Resort & Spa Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton, the hotel has more than 200 team members in what they call the “founders club.” These team members are ambassadors that helped open the hotel in 2002 and are the heart and soul of the resort. At The Franklin Hotel Chapel Hill, Curio Collection by Hilton, the hotel employees know the great area restaurants that should not be missed, and are in touch with the art and culture of downtown Chapel Hill.

If you could name one public figure who embodies the Curio brand style, who would it be, and why?

The great Frank Sinatra because of his unique style, commitment to exceptional performance and his ties to Curio hotels such as Rat Pack appearances at SLS Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton and Diplomat Resort & Spa Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton.

frank sinatra - curio collection

Can you share some hotel essentials and elements that are not to miss when staying at Curio?

The best part about a Curio hotel is that guests will experience something different at each one.

A renowned boutique hotel in Dallas, The Highland Dallas, Curio Collection by Hilton offers relaxed style surrounded by some of the best of the city’s shops, restaurants and nightlife. In addition to a great outdoor heated pool and a tempting spa, The Highland offers the curious traveler its own inside-track suggestions on getting the very best out of Dallas.

Valentine's Day Offer:

The first option includes a lavish dinner for two in Chef John Tesar’s award-winning restaurant Knife, complete with personally selected wine for the occasion by our sommelier.  Following dinner, settle into a luxury king room for the evening where an extraordinary pink and black package from Agent Provocateur will be waiting for you. To make the night complete, draw a bath for a final surprise from Lafco. In the morning, enjoy late check out before calling down to valet to end the perfect evening. 

The second package offers guests the ability to settle into a luxury king room with the extraordinary pink and black package from Agent Provocateur will be waiting. From there, indulge in a lavish dinner in the privacy of your room from Chef John Tesar’s award-winning restaurant Knife, complete with personally selected wine for the occasion by our sommelier. To make the night complete, draw a bath for a final surprise from Lafco. In the morning, enjoy late check out before calling down to valet to end the perfect evening.

IMAGE CREDIT:  Chef John Tesar  of  Knife Dallas

SLS Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton is the new incarnation of the Sahara Hotel & Casino, the Vegas landmark that played host to everyone from Judy Garland and Tony Bennett to the Rat Pack. Today, SLS Las Vegas still offers a uniquely glamorous experience. We love the immense variety of cuisine and nightlife offerings in every corner of the property. Food and beverage partners include: Bazaar Meat by José Andrés; Katsuya by Starck; Cleo; Ku Noodle; Umami Burger, Beer Garden & Sports Book; 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria; The Northside Café ; The SLS Buffet and The Perq. Nightlife, bars and lounges include: LiFE, a multi-level dance club with high ceilings for aerialists and performers to integrate throughout the space; Beach LiFE, an open air rooftop pool by day and a trendy club by night; The Sayers Club; Foxtail; the Foxtail Pool Club; Monkey Bar and Center Bar.  The hotel is perfect for our curious-minded travelers.

What's on the horizon for Curio?

We are excited for the growth of the brand and expect the addition of several more hand-picked individual hotels around the globe.  We’re working on launching hotels in cities such as Houston, Texas, Portland, Ore., Sarasota, Fla., and Doha, Qatar.

We look forward to sharing the opening announcements of these properties in the near future, plus more exciting additions to Curio – A Collection by Hilton throughout the year ahead.

Every day, Curio team members have the opportunity to live out Conrad Hilton’s vision “to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality,” to enrich the lives of others.
— Dianna Vaughan, Global Head at Curio – A Collection by Hilton

Hotel: Hotel Cacao

The LUXE Passport - Kobra Working on Mura.jpg

Hotel Cacao’s guests are being immersed in a kicked-back, relaxed “Hippie Chic” lifestyle of sophisticated accommodations and cutting-edge dining and mixology experiences. Located on Playa del Carmen’s famous 5th Avenue, the 60-room property is located in the heart of the destination’s chic scene of restaurants, clubs and boutiques.

The LUXE Passport - Hotel Cacao -Infinity Pool.jpg

The team that created the internationally heralded ‘Matilda lifestyle’ guest experience at Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende founded Cornerstone in 2013. The hotel management and development company is building a ‘Hotel Matilda Lifestyle Collection’ of boutique properties in strategic locations throughout Mexico. The second hotel will open in 2015 in the San Angel district of Mexico City.

The LUXE Passport - Hotel Cacao

The spacious, modern rooms and suites offer every contemporary amenity, including bathroom amenities by Italian fashion designer Missoni. 

Architect Rodrigo de la Peña has imbued the property with dramatic architectural elements such as huge canvas accents in geometric shapes and a central court with a hyacinth lily pond. The interior design is clean and contemporary with bold color accents. The roof-top bar features innovative “coctelería” (mixology) experiences blended with spectacular views of the Caribbean and Cozumel Island.

Hotel Cacao’s restaurant, Nibs, is a serene, mouthwatering escape from the bustling dining scene on 5th Avenue. Nibs has a strong connection with Hotel Matilda:  At the helm is Chef Alejandro Cuatepotzo, a protégé of Enrique Olvera who was chef de cuisine at Hotel Matilda’s Moxi restaurant. Olvera, who is Mexico’s most famous chef, operates Moxi.

Nibs’ exciting and innovative menu taps the fresh, indigenous ingredients of the region and reinvents favorite Mexican seafood and meat dishes, such as ceviches with coconut and lime, scallops with lime pearls, lobster with green mango, shrimp burritos, tuna and beef tartare, salt-baked red snapper, conch fritters, and prime flat-iron carne asada. The area’s tropical ambience is re-imagined indoors with guests dining amid an original jungle mural by international street artist Eduardo Kobra, a flowing water wall, and banana and passion fruit plants. In stark contrast to the colorful tropical atmosphere, Namuh-designed walnut tables and chairs with Italian carrera marbletops are accented by simple white linens and china. The restaurant’s name reinforces the chocolate theme of Hotel Cacao: Nibs are unsweetened chocolate chips, created when cacao beans are crushed in the chocolate-making process.

The LUXE Passport - Hotel Cacao

Quirky, fun art in strategic interior locations, including brightly painted VW Bugs, are by Tommy Hilfiger. An after-hours-style bar downstairs has a sexy bordello look. The shops and restaurants on the street level of the building include Maíz de Mar, a marisquería (seafood restaurant) by Chef Olvera.

Rates range from $208 to $500, including Continental breakfast. Taxes are additional.

Travel: 2015 Trends

Want to know what's on the horizon in travel for 2015? Below are some of my personal favorite picks. 

Your Rental Will Look More Like a Hotel

If you're interested in staying at the new Drift San Jose, a stylish eight-room property in Los Cabos, Mexico, that appeals to independent millennials, you won’t be able to book through its website, or any hotel website, for that matter. Rooms are available only through Airbnb. That’s a sign of things to come: since the apartment-rental behemoth enlisted boutique-hotel guru Chip Conley in 2013 to advise hosts on how to improve the guest experience (scented candles, fresh fruit, ambient music), the line between hotels and rentals has become blurred. Airbnb has introduced a range of initiatives to this effect, including a Super Host program that highlights some of the site’s most professional-style listings and a three-day conference that offers tips for aspiring hosts. Other rental services, such as the high-end One Fine Stayand the affordable-minded BeMate, are also stepping into this nebulous middle ground, offering guests cleaning and concierge services. BeMate will even store luggage for you and, in lieu of room service, deliver food from nearby partner hotels.

You'll Sleep Better on the Road

Las Vegas may be the best place to rest up right now, thanks to an array of sleep-centric tech enhancements—in lighting and furniture design—in 171 rooms (and counting) at theMGM Grand. And that hotel isn’t alone in prioritizing your REM sleep. Fifteen years after introducing the Heavenly Bed, Westin is piloting wearable monitors with a companion sleep-coach app, which it hopes to roll out to hotels in the near future. Crowne Plaza, meanwhile, has unveiled anew headboard that helps cut ambient noise by 30 percent. Here’s a closer look at how hotels are rethinking your bedtime routine.

Stay Well Dawn Simulator: The bedside fixture at the MGM Grand gradually wakes you up with cortisolproducing shades of blue light.

Noise-Reducing Headboards: The next-generation Crowne Plaza room features angled, padded headboards placed slightly away from the wall to minimize ambient sounds.

Healthy Mattress: MGM’s organic-cotton mattress builds in extra posture support to eliminate tossing and turning.

Sleep Monitors: Lark Technologies’ wrist sensors at Westin hotels will track your movements at night and analyze the causes of any restlessness.

All About Spa & Wellness

Spa and Wellness Tourism predicted to grow at nearly twice the rate of general tourism. 

Your Phone Will Become Your Wallet

Championed by Google and cemented by Apple Pay, mobile transactions are about to become the new normal. Sync your credit and debit cards with Google Wallet (for Android) or Apple’s Passbook (iOS), and you’ll be able to buy things simply by placing your phone in front of a sensor at checkout. Taking a page from Uber, an increasing number of travel apps, such as Airbnb and OpenTable, now offer digital transactions that link to your card.

You'll Take Your Networking to New Heights

Applicants to Delta’s Innovation Class can earn an airplane seat beside business leaders, such as Gilt cofounder Alexandra Wilson and chef Sean Brock, as they fly to industry events. KLM passengers can use the airline’s Meet & Seat program to choose their seatmates based on social-network profiles.

You'll Discover That Million-Dollar Idea

First there were the C-suite summits of Bohemian Grove and Davos. Then came the intelligentsiafests of TED and South by Southwest. Now these sorts of niche gatherings— which once drew mostly industry insiders with cultlike devotion—are gaining mainstream appeal. Just count the number of times someone drops “South by” into a conversation, and witness the proliferation of big-name, big-ticket conferences and meetings like Tina Brown’s Women in the World. Hotels are also getting in on the action. Properties like the Quin, in New York City, and Andaz hotels offer cultural programming and on-site salons. At the new Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, in Colorado, owner John Hendricks is leveraging his connections as the Discovery Channel founder to produce Curiosity Retreats, which feature time with physicists, technologists, and foreign-policy experts. And if you can’t get to TED, the TEDx franchise has given rise to mini events in resorts from Santa Barbara to Tulum, Mexico. Look for them at

BIG Brands - Boutique Hotels

Global hotel brands are continuing to establish “boutique” / “lifestyle” brands aimed at discerning affluent travelers. Example: Marriot Edition Hotels, / Hilton Curio / Radisson Red and Millennials e.g. Marriot’s Moxy brand.

curio hotel

Travel: TOP Hotel Picks for 2015

Baccarat Hotels & Residences New York
New York, New York

This luxe 114-room stay, opening in Midtown Manhattan in February, across the street from the Museum of Modern Art, represents a rebirth for the 250-year-old brand that bears its name.

Starwood founder Barry Sternlicht acquired the French crystal company a few years back, and with this hotel turns it from luxury product into luxury lifestyle brand, one largely created in sumptuous New-meets-Old World style by Parisian interiors darlings Gilles & Boissier.

Beyond the rooms, there’s also a contemporary French restaurant designed by Stephen Sills and helmed by Michelin-starred chef Shea Gallante and host Charles Masson, who long ran the show at La Grenouille. If you like your stay, Baccarat is selling equally posh — and pricey — condos. (From $899)

virgin hotels 2015

Virgin Hotels Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Another beloved brand making its first foray into the hotel space, Virgin enters the hospitality world on January 15. It will launch in Chicago’s Central Loop district, with a four-star spot in a converted 1928 bank building that brings the contemporary cool of the airline’s upper-class airport clubhouses to 250 rooms and suites plus a glammed-up American diner, Italian coffee and wine bar and the Commons Club, a lounge, bar, restaurant and public gathering space with a member-only feel. A rooftop izakaya and cocktail joint will open in the spring. (From $209)

ritz paris 2015

The Ritz Paris
Paris, France

Many of Paris’s palace hotels have recently shuttered for major renovations and restoration, not least of all this Place Vendôme grand dame, which will debut its much-anticipated facelift in the fall, after a three-plus-year closure — its first since Cesar Ritz first opened it in 1898. When the curtain comes off, guests will find the public spaces and 143 wood-paneled rooms and suites sensitively reimagined by French designer Thierry W. Despont, who’s reinstalling the Ritz’s priceless collection of furniture and art in a newly pastel-hued mise en scene. The hotel has also added an informal restaurant and a clear retractable roof over a formerly open-air courtyard, as well as a third kitchen at its cooking school, a new ballroom and a completely rethought spa. (Rates not yet available)

the lanesborough


The Beaumont, London

This is the first hotel from the well-known London restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King. The property is a restored Art Deco building with 73 rooms and suites inspired by 1920s Manhattan. 

The hotel is also home to a towering, one-bedroom "inhabitable sculpture." Made from stainless steel by Antony Gormley, guests are able to spend the night in the sculpture, which protrudes from the building's facade. Designed to be a quiet, uninterrupted retreat, the Gormley-designed room is furnished by a single white-linen bed. The walls are made of fumed oak planks that come together at exposed joints to create built-in ledges and nooks for seating.

All rooms have large, walk-in showers, heated bathroom floors and bath amenities from D.R. Harris — chemists to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.

nuo beijing

NUO Beijing

With its dedication to being a low-carbon intelligent hotel, as well as promising to use only ingredients from its own organic farms and a commitment to energy conservation, this hotel is among those leading the eco-conscious trend.

NUO, the first Chinese international luxury brand, will open its flagship hotel in Beijing in January.

Travel: Virgin Hotels

Virgin Hotels won't launch its first property until January, in Chicago. But that isn't stopping the Richard Branson company from getting its membership program up and running, giving us a sneak peek at how the highly-anticipated property aims to run things differently.

"The Know," announced this week, is clearly a Virgin-branded approach to customer service. The sign-up process for the "preference program" — with its questions about minibar preferences, favorite music and cocktails — is less about the hotel room and more about providing an experience.

"We called it 'The Know' for two reasons," Doug Carrillo, vice president of sales and marketing at Virgin Hotels, told Mashable. "Because we want to know who you are as a traveler. And because we want members to be 'in the know' of what's going on with other Virgin companies."

The questions Virgin Hotels focus on personal preference and tastes more than room upgrades. Carrillo emphasized that the company really wants to offer "surprise and delight" to guests.

Considering the rise in boutique hotels and the astronomical growth of the "sharing economy", hotel chains have their work cut out for them in proving their value matches their price.

Room rates at the Chicago property start at $245 a night.

Virgin Hotels cannot offer perks similar to those at large chains like Marriott and Hilton. There will be just the one hotel, for at least the first year. But by anticipating what snacks you want in the minibar, or what activities you like to partake in, Virgin is hoping to create an experience and a reputation that differentiates itself.

"Virgin Hotels wants to be 'your place' in the city, whatever city you're in," he added.

Though differentiation is what the company is after, the pursuit of providing a personalized experience is happening across the industry.

You may not see your favorite cocktail as “Big Data,” but the hospitality industry sees tracking personal preferences as the ultimate marketing opportunity.

To get an edge, Virgin Hotels will also be turning to its network of travel companies — Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic — to reward loyal customers.

Richard Branson announced Virgin Cruises this month, and that too could eventually integrate with hotels' program, according to Carrillo.

"We're talking to a lot of other Virgin companies in the U.S. and abroad about some of the different things we may be able to offer to our 'Know' members (ahead of the public)," said Carrillo.

Carrillo said that hotel rewards will follow as more properties open.

While many hotels partner with other companies to coordinate guest perks, Virgin Group is setting up offerings that cross nearly every sector of the travel industry.

The Chicago hotel will open Jan. 15 in the Loop district. The next Virgin Hotels are planned for Nashville and New York by 2016, and eventually in London.

"Our point of view was we’re going to have 50 hotels one day, so let’s do it right," Allie Hope, the company’s head of development and acquisitions, said in February of this year. "Let’s make sure the product is really taken care of and not skimp on that just for the sake of getting hotels."