S3, E12: Behind the Scenes: How We Make Our Best New Hotels List

On this week’s episode of Unpacked by AFAR, hotel expert Jennifer Flowers reveals the 31 hotels we should all be staying in this year.

The best hotels are a destination unto themselves. This week on Unpacked, AFAR senior deputy editor Jennifer Flowers reveals the 31 properties that made our 2024 Best New Hotels list and why booking a hotel is the most important choice you’ll make for your trip.


I’m Aislyn Greene, and this is Unpacked, the podcast that unpacks one tricky topic in travel each week. And today, we are checking in to the world of hotels. Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. But that’s it, the hotel puns are done. For today’s episode, I talked with Jennifer Flowers. She’s AFAR’s senior deputy editor and our resident hotel obsessive. She oversees all our hotel coverage, and as you’ll hear shortly, Jenn has a very special, very surprising history with hotels. It’s such a good story. Every year, she creates our Best New Hotels list. It’s this collection of hotels that we vet in person. And this year, there are 31 hotels on the list that have incredible design or sustainability stories, powerful histories—and are destinations unto themselves.

Aislyn: Hi, Jenn! How are you?

Jennifer Flowers, senior deputy editor: Hey, Aislyn, I’m good. How are you doing?

Aislyn: Good! Welcome back to Unpacked! Are you back home in the Pacific Northwest? Like, where in the world are you right now?

Jenn: I am. So I am back in the Pacific Northwest, in my base on Orcas Island, Washington, in the San Juan Islands Archipelago, which I—it’s just my favorite place in the world. And I’m very lucky to be able to spend a lot of time here when I’m not in New York.

Aislyn: You are living the dream. Well, you are our resident hotel expert, and I love that you have a very special relationship with hotels. Would you mind sharing this journey of how you grew up and how you entered this hotel space?

Jenn: Yeah, you know, hotels are a really special thing for me. You know, I entered the travel publishing world kind of just with a wanderlust like we all have, right. But I kind of, like, look back and think maybe it was meant to be and I was meant to kind of have this role.

My father was a hotelier. I was actually born and raised in the hotel world. My first home was a hotel, the Manila in the Philippines. Um, my dad was GM of a hotel there. He was also the GM of the Plaza Hotel, which is a very famous hotel in New York City. So my—I spent my childhood with kind of a foot in Asia and a foot in the United States, following my dad’s career basically, and living in hotels most of the time and kind of experiencing luxury hospitality firsthand, but also from this sort of insider back-of-the-house point of view.

Like, a lot of people joke that I was kind of a little Eloise from the [Eloise at the] Plaza [book], just because I actually did live in the Plaza Hotel, which was in hindsight, amazing. I mean, you know, I was eight years old and I had a sauna in my bathroom and couldn’t care less.

And I look back and I’m like, why was it wasted on this eight year old? Like I would have been in there all the time had I been living there today.

Aislyn: Maybe someday you can go back to living in the Plaza, and then you’ll really use that sauna in your bathroom. Several years ago, you wrote a story about what it was like growing up in hotels. And I believe you talked about your mom having a rice cooker in your hotel room.

Jenn: Yeah, I did write a lot about how to create a sense of home in all of these places that are not home, right? Or like what home means when you’re moving every, you know, two to three years. And my mom’s rice cooker was that item, right. Like she never let us order room service, we were never allowed to do any of the fancy hotel things whenever we lived in. But the rice cooker, for me, was sort of that symbol of, “We’re gonna make dinner like a normal family even though you can order, like, beef tartare downstairs or whatever it is.”

Aislyn: I mean, very impressive on her part that she managed to kind of create this consistency for you, you kids as you’re growing up.

Jenn: Yeah, it was pretty amazing.

Aislyn: Well, you are uniquely positioned as, as AFAR’s hotels expert. What do you love about hotels and this industry? What’s your passion?

Jenn: Well, if you think about—whenever you travel, just think about, like, the amount of money that you spend on a trip, right? Of course there’s the, the air ticket, which can be expensive depending on the time you book and everything. But one of the biggest things we’re going to spend on is our hotel.

And if you think about the impact of that on the place you’re visiting, the people you’re going to see in that destination, there’s so much of a, like, a broader impact. So, like, the place you choose to stay is going to impact how you experience that destination, and it’s also going to have an impact on the people in the places that you’re visiting. So think about all the staff, the local suppliers, the way they operate, whether it’s sustainably or not, what kind of vibe they create for locals and restaurants.

So if you, for instance, care about local ownership and if you care about sustainability, however the hotel acts is what you’re buying into. So I think it’s a very important part of the A) financial decision, B) experiential part of your trip, and C) the impact that you’ll have on your destination.

Aislyn: I do love that AFAR puts so much emphasis on that aspect of, like, “How does this hotel and your experience there impact the local community and how are they pulled in?”

Jenn: It’s certainly one of the key things we think about when we’re looking at hotels for our, especially our best new hotels list.

Aislyn: Yes, which we are here to talk about today. So how did you approach that list? And how did things like that local impact kind of factor into your decision making?

Jenn: So these days, I think, you know, there’s more choice than ever when it comes to hotels. A new luxury hotel opens every day, it seems. And I think for the traveler, especially for the AFAR traveler, we want those enriching experiences, but again, we want experiences that are also benefiting our destinations and bringing kind of positive impact to it.

So we kind of—I mean, it’s kind of crazy. We canvas the entire world for hotels that we feel are real game changers in the places where they are. So in London, where there’s lots of hotels, we think about what’s already there and what this new hotel is bringing and how they’re maybe, like, elevating what, what you can find, how they are creating new, more sustainable operations, how they are hiring better. So we look at everything.

I mean, we also want the most incredible experiences of destinations around the world. So if you’re going to Nepal, we want that hotel to unlock a new side of Nepal for you. If you’re going to be in New York, we want that New York hotel to reveal something else that you didn’t already know about the city.

So we kind of look for that special, like experiential quality. Like, all of those things kind of factor into this list that we, we cull. And we’re very careful about culling the list—a very kind of small, well-curated, uh, selection of places that we ultimately hope will inspire people to travel to those places. We see them as—these hotels as reasons enough to travel to those, those places.

Aislyn: I love that idea that then the hotel is one of the keys to unlocking that destination. I mean, it just magnifies the impact that they can have. So there are 31 hotels on this list, which is, I believe, twice as many as there were last year. What was behind that kind of change and that increase?

Jenn: So actually this is not that big of a list. A lot of publications do these lists of maybe 100 hotels. We chose 31 hotels, which is double the size of the list that we had last year, but it’s still, still pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

And the reason we keep them small is because we want to really, really kind of nail like, which hotels were true game changers in their destinations and which ones are really setting a new standard. Thirty-one hotels allows us to, to reach a broader scope of luxury experiences. So that can range from a tented camp in Africa to a, a beautiful old war office building that was restored in London where Winston Churchill once made wartime decisions.

Aislyn: That is incredible. One of the things I appreciate about the work that we do in general at AFAR is that we vet these places in person, right. We have people on the ground that can help us understand why something’s important. And I believe that you’ve visited several of these hotels. Could you share the ones that you, you met?

Jenn: Absolutely. So yeah, I mean, a few of them—one of the things I’m, I mean, you know how much I love Africa, Aislyn. I talk about it all the time. And last year, last year, I actually got to do a hard-hat tour of Loapi [Tented Camp] in South Africa. It’s in the Kalahari Desert.

Aislyn: Oh my gosh.

Jenn: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s this beautiful landscape that was rewilded. It was former farming land that was turned into a private reserve. And you have rhinos, you have lions, you have like all of the—like pangolins. It’s like actually a really great place to see pangolins, and they on—

Aislyn: That’s so cool.

Jenn: Oh, it’s amazing. And they only had two types of accommodations there, and they’re adding this third, very exclusive private accommodation where you get your own car. You can kind of do a more family-centric vacation if you want to, or a group-centric one. And the footprint is so low. When you’re there, you’re still not going to run into any vehicles outside of maybe, like, one other vehicle from another lodge. Like you have the place to yourself.

And the conservation story there is incredible. So just for me to be able to see, and I love a hard-hat tour, like I’m always in these hotels before—

Aislyn: Really?

Jenn: Yeah, it’s one of those things where when I get in before they, the hotels open, I feel this sense of ownership when the hotel does well. I’m like, “Oh, yes, I remember. I remember seeing when you didn’t even have bathtubs in the rooms” or whatever. I mean, it’s like that backstory thing that kind of helps me get jazzed about a place. And it really helps me understand how much effort goes into these places. And I mean, hotels are multi-year expensive projects that don’t have a quick ROI. You have to have an owner that has the buy-in on all of the values that that hotel brings. So it’s a really interesting kind of back-of-the-house process.

I also stayed at the, the Carlton Cannes in, in France and that’s like the Cannes-Film-Festival Cannes. The Carlton was one of those icons. I mean, still, it’s got this beautiful kind of really ornate exterior. A lot of celebrities have stayed there, and it’s had this reinvention that you would not believe. It’s so incredible. It’s got all the trappings of kind of modern luxury. Like, you feel like you’re part of history, but you also feel like you’re getting taken care of in a contemporary way.

And I just remember, like, one small tweak in a room configuration can change everything. So the, the Carlton Cannes has these beautiful views out to the sea, like from the windows with these wrought iron balconies. And they now have this, this chaise lounge that sits right in front of that view. There’s, like, no mistake that that is the most important part of your guest room experience is to take all of that in. So I just loved being able to experience that firsthand and say, “Yeah, I can’t think of a better way to experience Cannes.”

Aislyn: Well, I have not stayed at any of these hotels, but there are several that I’m kind of currently obsessed with. So, for example, the Kona Village on the Island of Hawai‘i. And they have such a cool sustainability story, which I also know is very important to you. It’s important to me. And it’s both a kind of a cultural and an environmental story.

Jenn: I’m actually checking into the Kona Village, uh, it’s a Rosewood resort in early April, so I will get firsthand knowledge. So, so we had a reviewer go, she fell in love with it. This is one I’ve been following for a long time. This is a hotel that my, so my mother is from Hawai‘i, and she, so she knows, I mean, this is a hotel that was an icon since the ’60s. Like, everyone knows Kona Village.

It’s this beautiful—it’s on the island of Hawai‘i, it’s all about swaying palms and it’s like right by these blue waters of the bay. I mean, the setting could not be more magical. Um, there are even, like, ancient petroglyph fields nearby and everything. It’s pretty incredible. So sadly, a tsunami destroyed the resort in 2011. It was really, really tragic. And Rosewood hotels came in to do a reimagination and a renovation of the property.

The thing that they did, which I love, is they brought in a cultural community composed of Hawai‘i Island residents and honored elders who could really take ownership in terms of what that hotel hospitality experience would be like and how that hotel would interact with the destination. So it was really incredible to see Rosewood step up and say like, “We’re not just going to reimagine this and put new bells and whistles on it. We really want to create an experience that feels good to locals as much as it does to people who are coming to visit.”

And there’s—a lot of that are going to be reflected in the guest experiences. So there’s a lot of, like, preservation-focused organizations that are going to allow visitors to come in and see monk seal rehab centers and understand, like, the landscape and the history and the culture better and everything. And so all of that is sort of a co-authorship and I think co-authorship is so important when you’re looking at places with a lot of Indigenous roots and a lot of Indigenous storytelling. It’s like, who’s telling those stories? And it’s very clear that Kona Village wants that to be in the hands of Native Hawaiians. So that’s incredible. I’m really looking forward to seeing it myself.

Aislyn: I also was curious if you are seeing more and more hotels that are having these conversations that are really bringing local communities in, especially, you know, perhaps marginalized or Indigenous communities. Is that more of a trend that you’ve been seeing?

Jenn: Absolutely. I think that if you want to be a hotel that speaks to an AFAR audience, when that audience member pulls back the curtain, they must be able to see some sort of engagement with any sort of local communities or cultures where they’re located. So I mean, Kona Village is a great example. I just think so many of our readers care about where their dollars are going and what their dollars are supporting. And that local engagement is, I think, essential now.

Aislyn: And it’s cool to see that hotels are no longer so much imposing their vision and really carrying forward that conversation. Well, you mentioned Nepal earlier, and I also am obsessed with the new Shinta Mani Mustang there. Why is it so unique?

Jenn: Uh, so there’s so many things about this hotel. So the person behind it is Bill Bensley. He’s a designer and architect. He’s based in Bangkok. I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s a really awesome, like out there guy. Um, he is a very prolific hotel designer and he has designed some of my favorite hotels around the world.

I mean, there’s the, the Siam in Bangkok. There was a hotel called Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia, where—get this crazy story. He and a business partner pretended that they were loggers at a logging auction for forest land in Cambodia, and then they transformed this little, like, 500-acre plot of land that was supposed to go to loggers into a conservation area where there is a tented camp.

And so there’s a tented camp in Cambodia. There’s wildlife that goes through it. There’s all these conservation projects. They actually brought someone in from, from South Africa to run the place as a GM because they want to have that sort of conservation mindset. He also has a place opening in Republic of Congo in the next year or so. So, Bill Bensley, he’s, he’s, so sensitive to conservation, to cultures, to the kind of preservation of lands and biodiversity. So I just love everything he does. He’s very sustainable and his designs are so dreamy and fun and out there. So when I heard that he was opening in Mustang, Nepal, which is in this very, like, kind of less-visited area of Nepal—there isn’t a lot of luxury there—I stopped in my tracks and absolutely could not wait to hear what this would be like. A few writers have been through and we sent a reviewer and, uh, I mean, it sounds incredible. It’s sitting at 9,200 square feet on this, like, rocky mountainside. There are these suites that are furnished with all this beautiful kind of Himalayan-inspired interiors and architecture.

It’s just, it’s just all Bill Bensley, it’s very responsible and sustainable, they have a lot of connections to local communities, which I, I really love. And it brings a new level of luxury to a place that doesn’t, doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic yet. So, it’ll bring a new audience, I think, to that area.

Aislyn: Oh, cool. Is this on your horizon as a personal visit?

Jenn: Oh my goodness, as soon as I can get to Nepal, this will be my first stop. I just can’t wait to experience the region through the lens of Bill Bensley and all of the local stakeholders he brought in.

Aislyn: I mean, I have mad respect for anyone who would go in pretending to be a logger and then flip it around and make a conservation project. Like you gotta follow somebody like that.

Jenn: I know. As soon as—yeah, when I heard that, I was like, “You’ve got my vote, Bill Bensley, anytime you open a hotel . . .” And watch for that, that Republic of Congo one, keep an eye out for that because it’s to be another big game changer for that region.

Aislyn: I was really impressed by the restoration of the Raffles London at the OWO. Is this one of the most historical places on the list? Because it kind of read that way to me.

Jenn: Oh my absolutely. I’m so excited about it. Last year, I visited the hotel, as I like to on a hard-hat tour before it opened. The hard-hat tour took three hours.

Aislyn: And that’s unusual?

Jenn: It is unusual. Usually a hard-hat tour, you kind of like pop through a couple of rooms, you see the dining spaces, you see the spa and everything, but there is so much history in this building so much to say that it took—and it’s so huge, I mean. So the OWO stands for Old War Office. It’s where Winston Churchill presided. Lawrence of Arabia worked here. Um, MI15 and 16 were both kind of born here. The building cameos in five James Bond pics, which is crazy. There’s 120 guest rooms and there is, there are residences too. The owners are the Hinduja family. They’re one the most affluent families in the U.K. And one of the ideas behind this hotel was to leave a legacy behind in London. And I mean, I can’t think of a better legacy. This is like incredible location, near the Horse Guards and Buckingham Palace.

The building itself was done with so much care and love. I mean you have these, like, ornate banisters that are made with stone and you have these like beautiful carved wooden interiors. I mean I remember walking into, like, a closet of a suite, thinking it was a suite. And the person giving me the tour said, “No, no, no, we are in a closet.” And it was the size of two of my New York apartments. It was gigantic. So this place, this place is very special, just from the opulence of it, but also the history of it.

I mean, you’d see why it’s like a movie setting kind of place. And Winston Churchill made these huge wartime decisions there. You feel kind of like you’re part of the Buckingham Palace story as well because its so nearby. So yeah, it’s pretty incredible and it was a multi-year restoration project with a lot of love and care. Raffles is the luxury hotel group that’s running it and they’re doing a very fine job.

Um, our own Anya von Bremzen went and reviewed it and she fell in love. She loved the hotel and she loved everything that they, they did it. And, uh, they have a Mauro Colagreco restaurant, which is a big, big marquee for them. So yeah, no, I think it’ll really turn Whitehall—that kind of sleepy-at-night Whitehall is how Anya likes to describe it—into a dining and drinking hub.

Aislyn: I mean, can I just go and, like, book the closet? It sounds like you don’t even need the room. Can I just stay in the closet?

Jenn: That sounds good. Yeah, exactly. “Yeah, the closet’s fine.”

Aislyn: “Yeah, whatever. I’ll take whatever.” Have they set aside parts of the hotel as specifically kind of preservation, that are almost museum-like?

Jenn: The idea is to live in the historic parts of the hotel. So there isn’t anything that feels—I think that’s the great part about hotels, by the way. The ones that are really historic, is that you are a living piece of history. So they—like hotel companies that restore these, these hotels in a way that is exciting, they’re usually giving people access to those rooms and letting them live in them. I mean, you’re like, kind of living next to the fireplace that was there originally, right? So there’s less of the sort of cordoned-off museum feel and more of the like, “I get to have this all to myself,” uh, which is what I think the OWO did so well.

Aislyn: Well, kind of broadening out to some, you know, categories that people might travel for. So what would you recommend from the list for people who really love design or architecture? Aside from the OWO.

Jenn: Oh this is a fun one. This is such a fun one. One that immediately comes to mind, so there’s a designer named Martin Brudnizki, who—he’s a Swedish interiors maven. He is very prolific in the hotel world right now, but he’s done some really amazing projects that have stood out on our list. So a couple of them are the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York, which is all about sort of like the Gilded Age glamour of New York history. And then the Le Grand Mazarin in Paris.

So now both of these hotels, if you look at them, they’re all about like bright colors and maximalism, that’s a huge trend that I’m seeing right now in the hotel world. Gone are the quiet kind of beige-on-beige spaces. I mean, they’re still around, but there’s definitely more of a move toward, like, this kind of sophisticated maximalism where you’re getting colors on colors and patterns on patterns. I mean, you’re seeing this also at a new hotel that just opened in New York called the Warren Street Hotel, which it’s definitely another one to watch for the next year. But, the maximalism trend is kind of in full force and Martin Brudnizki is a perfect example of that. And Le Grand Mazarin in Paris and the Fifth Avenue Hotel are two musts to check out on our list.

Another one that I feel has a different flavor and a kind of different take on design is Violino d’Oro in Venice. Now this is a family-owned Italian company that opened a hotel in Venice with the idea of showcasing local artisans. So everything you touch from the Rubelli fabrics to the hand-placed Venetian seminato terrazzo flooring to the Venini chandeliers are all sourced locally or regionally. I mean everything you experience in the hotel will have a story and you’re probably going to want to buy the tiles and the Murano glass chandeliers. And the great thing is that the owners know exactly how to source them, so if you are looking to renovate your home, go to Violino d’Oro and just take your pick and go visit the ateliers. It’s pretty amazing.

Aislyn: You know, bring a couple of extra suitcases or get ready to ship things back. Have a wonderful stay and redecorate your house. So those sound like fantastic places for people who travel specifically for design or art. What about people who want to be immersed in the outdoors or, you know, have a nature experience?

Jenn: So we were just talking about Shinta Mani Mustang, and I think that is actually an amazing way to get into the, the Himalayas, the Nepalese Himalayas. I mean, so Mustang is a Himalayan kingdom that was only fully open to Western tourists in 1992. So day trips or drives to ancient mud villages, tours around Buddhist pilgrimage sites, hikes to glacier lakes that end with these picnic lunches that are soundtracked by the rumble of a distant avalanche, as one of our writers describes. So you’re right there next to nature while also having this very kind of cushy luxury experience.

In the States there’s Ulum Moab, which is a spinoff of Under Canvas. If you’ve heard of Under Canvas, they’re all about kind of glamping, tented camp experience. Now Ulum in Moab, Utah, is the next-level luxury of that, but you’re still fully connected to nature in that beautiful sort of rust-colored landscape, but you have a king-size bed, and you have a bathroom with a rain shower, and you have seating areas with West Elm slingback chairs. You know, it’s a very luxury experience, but all very thoughtfully and sustainably, uh, created, but also you’re fully kind of immersed in nature.

And of course, Loapi in South Africa. Again, this conservation project is so special and you’re seeing endangered rhinos, you’re seeing lions, you’re seeing pangolins at night, and you get access to all these researchers who can unlock the stories in nature that you might not already see. I mean, when I was at Loapi, I met a PhD candidate who is working on puff adders, which is a type of snake, a very poisonous type of snake. And she, she is so passionate about it. And she actually, she tags snakes. She puts like little tracking devices in snakes and can find one for you. And it’s so funny. Usually, usually when I’m in the African bush, I am looking to avoid snakes, but she’s like, “No, no, no, no. I will take you to one.” And I’m like, “OK.”

Aislyn: Do I want that?

Jenn: So yeah. So is that too close to nature for you, Aislyn? It was for me, but I don’t know. Um, but I love the idea of having access to all of those people who can do that storytelling.

Aislyn: How cool. I think I might be swayed by that person’s passion and be like, “I do think I should see a puff adder because I’m here and maybe I’ll never see one again and you can protect me from it if it goes crazy.”

Jenn: Right? Yeah, and you get a little more empathy for our serpent—you know, our our danger noodle friends, as it were.

Aislyn: [laughs] Danger noodle friends. That takes all the sting out of the danger noodles. Oh, wonderful. Well, OK. What about, say, something like the category of wellness, which does seem to have become bigger and just, you know, people seem to be seeking that out more. So if I were to seek it out, I would want to go to the Six Senses in India because wow, that just sounds incredible. Is that one of the places that you would recommend?

Jenn: Your are spot on on the wellness trends. And Six Senses Vana is like the perfect example of this. So it’s what’s interesting right now, in the hospitality world, you have destination spas, which are spas first and then hospitality experiences second, right? So you’re not there for the hotel room and then a spa treatment. You’re there for the well-being experience and I’m seeing the line kind of blurring between the two a lot. And Six Senses Vana is a good example of that.

So, it was actually the kind of passion project of an owner who spent many years creating a wellness experience that was not just Ayurveda, but it was rooted in, like, global well-being practices, uh, Chinese medicine, etc. And so he was running it for a couple of years, and then he partnered with Six Senses, which, it’s kind of globally synonymous with, like, luxury and well-being and kind of deeper dives into well-being if you’re going to a resort, but not in the way where you have to sacrifice everything. So you can still have a glass of wine with your detox experience. You can kind of dial it up and dial it back. So Six Senses and Vana partnered up and now Six Senses is managing the property and bringing a little bit more of its Six Senses ethos to it while also maintaining all of the amazing principles that the, the original owner or the, the owner, the current owner, created.

So it kind of encourages someone who’s, like, a little bit more inquisitive about what it means to have a well-being experience. I mean, there are a couple of things that are a little bit more kind of destination spa than hotels. So for example, cell phones are banned in public spaces. Everyone wears white pajamas that the property provides. So there’s, yeah, there’s definitely that feeling, you know, you’re there with intention for sure. But it’s also got that Six Senses ethos where you’re also there to enjoy the region in the scenic foothills of the Himalayas. So I think that’s brilliant and we’re going to see more of that.

Aislyn: You talk about how hotels are destinations unto themselves sometimes, and I was just curious to know why that is true, why you think that’s true for you?

Jenn: I think sometimes we think that hotels are for outsiders, but the best hotels are actually the ultimate insiders. They often help tell stories of the people and places where they’re located. So when you’re sleeping in the Violino d’Oro in Venice, you’re surrounded by the work of local artisans. When you’re staying at the Riad Rosemary in Marrakech, you are, you are immersed in that beautiful riad culture, uh, in the middle of the Medina.

So I definitely think that when you check into a hotel, it can actually be the destination. There’s also just, you know, where is that hotel? Like, is it in a place that you couldn’t otherwise visit if there wasn’t a hotel? I mean, one special one on our list is Southern Ocean Lodge that was actually a victim of the wildfires in Australia a few years ago.

And they’ve just reopened after a painstaking renovation with more sustainability and more just kind of incredible ways for people to experience their landscapes. But, like, it is one of the only places of that kind of level to, to stay on Kangaroo Island in Australia. And it’s a really special place with, I mean, wild kangaroos and like all the—I mean, sounds so incredible. That is one of the ones I cannot wait to get to, actually.

Aislyn: So I guess my question is: Like, you must be on the road all the time, because how could you not want to check out every single one of these?

Jenn: Yeah, I am on the road a lot and it’s definitely one of those challenges of balance, but I mean, luckily we can work from anywhere. And my favorite thing to do is to sometimes just check into a hotel and experience all the hospitality there. Like so many of us, spend a couple of hours to work, uh, from a hotel. WFH.

Aislyn: I want to work from hotel more.

Jenn: We all should.

Aislyn: We all should, yeah. Looking ahead, what can we expect in 2024 in terms of hotel openings? You mentioned a couple, are there any that you’re, like, really excited about at this moment in time?

Jenn: Oh my goodness. Well, I just came out with an article with my springtime picks, although that list was so long that I had to whittle it down to 10 and it was very difficult. Um, a few of the highlights, I mean, there’s a really cool Mandarin Oriental coming out in Mayfair in London, which I’m really excited for. It’s a more intimate kind of small hotel, which I love.

And then also in London, there’s the Emory hotel, which comes from the Maybourne Group, which is one of London’s most exciting—I mean they have Claridges, they have the Berkeley, they have the Connaught. I mean, their hotel collection in London is already really respected and historic and admired and everything, and I cannot wait to see the Emory. It’s supposed to be attached through, like, a skybridge to the Berkeley Hotel, which a lot of people know if they know London, and it’s gonna be really special. It’s gonna be very much for the person who doesn’t want to be seen, who wants to be more off the beaten path. It’s, it’s going to be incredible. I’m really excited about those.

There’s also a Soneva Secret opening up in the Maldives. So Soneva was created by a really visionary guy named Sonu Shivdasani, and he’s all about well-being and sustainability. He has hotels in the Maldives already, and this hotel is meant to be a little bit farther off the beaten path, family friendly, but just a little bit farther off if you want to get out, kind of really immerse yourself in nature.

Aislyn: It sounds like 2025 will be just as challenging in terms of whittling down this list and trying to pick the best new hotels.

Jenn: Aislyn, I think about hotels every single day and I, I promise you that this list, I think about all the hotel stories that I’m not telling and I lose sleep over it. So yeah, so it’s definitely a labor of love and one that, uh, we dedicate a lot of time and obsession to, for sure. We’re a bunch of hotel obsessives here at AFAR.

Aislyn: Well, thank you for sharing your passion and your obsessions with us. I really appreciate that.

Jenn: Oh, thanks, Aislyn. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Aislyn: So do you have a new hotel you’re dying to check out? Because I know I have a few. I will link to the full list on afar.com in the show notes. And if you’re a tactile person though, you can explore the full list in AFAR’s hospitality issue—the magazine is on newsstands today, April 4th. And to travel with Jenn as she investigates the hotels you just heard about, follow her on Instagram @jenniferleeflowers. I’ll link to all of her social handles in the show notes. We’ll see you next week.

Ready for more unpacking? Visit afar.com and be sure to follow us on Instagram and X. We are @AFARmedia. If you enjoyed today’s exploration, I hope you’ll come back for more great stories. Subscribing always makes that easy. And be sure to rate and review the show on your favorite podcast platforms. It helps other travelers find it. And if you ever want to ask a question or suggest a topic for coverage, you can reach out to us at afar.com/feedback or email us at unpacked@afar.com.

This has been Unpacked, a production of AFAR Media. The podcast is produced by Aislyn Greene and Nikki Galteland. Music composition by Chris Colin. And remember: The world is complicated. We’re here to help you unpack it.