One of my best mates is a total pro when it comes to finding memorable, well-priced accommodation anywhere in the world, from New York to Invercargill.
One of our favourite places to stay is any Ace Hotel in the US (with branches in London and Panama) - super-hipster, but the epitome of cool, each with a fun aesthetic designed to reflect its location. The buildings the hotels are housed in are mostly repurposed - its latest outpost is in the East Liberty neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a century-old former YMCA building - and each has interesting decor, amazing merchandise and amenities, and great features such as photo booths and live music in the lobbies.
Of course, the words "boutique" and "chain" are somewhat at odds, but think unique, quirky, well-designed accommodation for the traveller who's after more than a bog-standard hotel room.
"These small boutique hotel chains are generally found in cosmopolitan areas, particularly in art or cultural hubs of a city. They are pioneers in art and design, supporters of local produce and history," says Bianca Delbao of online accommodation website Trivago.
"The travellers these hotels attract are savvy, stylish and very conscious of 'going local'. These hotels are also becoming rather attractive to the business traveller, with most properties situated in a good, central location and with the working spaces in the hotels being a lot quieter than larger hotels."
The big hotel chains are hitching their wagons to the growing appetite for boutique hotels, forming new brands with unique personalities. TFE has its Vibe hotels in Australia, which feature mini-bars stocked with local food and "Vibe Hosts" to help you discover the surrounding neighbourhood, while Hilton is poised to launch its Tru hotels in the US and Canada by the end of the year, aimed at a "youthful mindset demographic". Some of its points of difference include The Hive, an open space with four zones for lounging, working, eating or playing, a Play Zone filled with table games and tiered, stadium-inspired seating, and a central "Command Center" front desk featuring a social media wall with real-time content.
Accor Hotels' M Gallery Collection offers its guests "locally inspired and immersive travel experiences filled with rich stories", says Michelle Bradshaw, general manager of Hotel Lindrum in Melbourne.
In its former life, Bradshaw's hotel was Lindrum's Billiard Centre, named for Walter Lindrum and the family that produced four generations of billiard champions. Today, the billiards room contains memorabilia from Walter's championship era, including his former table, which Bradshaw says is regularly used by one guest in his late 30s who flies down from Brisbane just to play on it.
Known for its clever branding and its green and purple vehicle fleet, Jucy is about to start making its mark in the accommodation sector.
There's already a Jucy Snooze hotel and hostel in Auckland, and the New Zealand company is working on a 282-bed, pod-style budget hotel for Christchurch, due to open in October.
Located at the airport, the hotel will feature bed capsules stacked bunk style, as well as compact standard rooms. Kitchen and bathrooms will be communal, and guests will be able to book the pods either for the night ($30) or in two-hour blocks ($20).
The company plans to make the pod hotels, which will give guests access to room controls and booking systems via a smartphone app or capsule tablet, into a national chain.
Saving Galle Face
One of Sri Lanka's most famous hotels, the historic Galle Face, is in the best shape of her life following an epic, 30-month-long restoration.
The landmark Colombo hotel is more than 150 years old, and its handwritten guest book features an impressive line-up of visitors, from royalty and heads of state, to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Harrison Ford, Mark Twain and Vivian Leigh. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, spent a year living in the hotel while writing the final chapters of 3001: The Final Odyssey.
Nods to the hotel's past can be found throughout and explored during 30-minute free guided tours for hotel guests. An on-site museum displays Prince Philip's first personal car, a 1935 model Standard Nine that he bought for -12 while a navy officer stationed on the island (then known as Ceylon), and a cannonball from 1845 that misfired during artillery practice and crashed into the hotel (then a boarding house).
Beluga caviar and house-smoked salmon on the Traveller's Bar menu are inspired by Anton Chekhov, while three Pimm's cocktails reference the first case of the British spirit to arrive on the island.
Top dollar in Big Apple
Exclusive figures obtained by Herald Travel from Hotels.com show Kiwis are paying more for hotels in the US. The hotel booking site found the average price of hotel accommodation increased for those who travelled to the States in 2015.
New York was found to be the most expensive place for New Zealanders to stay, with a night in the Big Apple costing an average of $341 in in 2015. This was followed closely by Honolulu, where prices increased 10 per cent to $327. In San Francisco, prices jumped 19 per cent to $321 and Los Angeles by 11 per cent to $266.
More of Hotels.com's statistics are being released tomorrow in their 2015 NZ Reputation Ranking report.
OUR TOP BOUTIQUE HOTEL CHAINS
• Ace Hotel (US, England, Panama)
• Ovolo Hotels (Hong Kong, Australia)
• The Standard (US)
• Tryp Hotels (Worldwide)
• QT Hotels (Australia and New Zealand)
• Vibe Hotels (Australia)
• MGallery (Worldwide)
• Art Series Hotels (Australia)
• Nhow Hotels (Europe)
• Kimpton Hotels (US)
• Firmdale hotels (US and England)
• Morgan's Hotels (US and England)
• Six Senses (Worldwide)