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Travel & Wellness

In luxury tourism, stars are falling and lodges are on the rise

The five-star establishments of the big hotel chains are losing their appeal with wealthy travellers, who are now seeking out lodges in spectacular settings. A total change of scenery – but with all the bells and whistles of stellar service, of course.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita22 juillet 2020

In New Zealand, Annandale is a historic farmhouse on the shimmering waters of the Pacific. (DR)

For Quentin Desurmont, the time of the star wars is over. “Stars are no longer the priority, what matters now is the style of decor and the noble materials used,” the founder of the Franco-Swiss agency Peplum and the Traveller Made brand explains. “And of course, first-class service is one of the basic requirements for our clients. Our network is made up of over 930 exceptional hotels, 70% of which are independently run. But while the stars of an establishment may reassure customers in big cities, that only gets you so far. To attract tourists with high purchasing power, we have to innovate.” It’s a view shared by Emmanuelle Thébaud, director at Mon Plus Beau Voyage. “The number of hotel stars is totally irrelevant to discerning globetrotters,” she says. “They simply want to be in paradise and are looking for the best. Places that are unique in the world and difficult to get to.” Take, for example, Deplar Farm in northern Iceland: the main attractor for this former sheep farm dating back to the 18th century lies in its isolation – hard to get to, and completely cut off from the world. This luxurious abode offers 13 rooms and suites in light, subdued hues, totally in keeping with the Scandinavian spirit.

The Arctic Bath is a hybrid spa-hotel concept. (DR)

A striking sight

The number of hotel stars is totally irrelevant to discerning globetrotters

Emmanuelle Thébaud, director of Mon Plus Beau Voyage

As for tourist activities, guests can spend a day at Eyjafjörour. One of the longest fjords in the country, Eyjafjörour offers a striking sight: humpback whales frolicking along the fjord daily. Other activities include a walk on the shores of the volcanic lake of Myvatn, a birdwatching paradise known only to those in the know. And then, there’s the helicopter flight over Europe's second largest glacier, the Langjökull, with its magnificent ice tunnels. Thébaud says that it is living such experiences that gives luxury tourism its full meaning. “Traditional hotel chains all look alike, with very few surprises. By and large, our clients prefer unique lodges because they can meet the owners, who invariably have exciting stories to share - not only about their establishment, but also about the surroundings and the local culture. The Arctic Bath is another fantastic address that was recently added to the map.” This new floating hotel, with a high-end spa, opened in January of this year. Nestled in the middle of Hedavan Lake, it boasts six cabins on the water and six more on land, all with stunning views of the ice. Guests can enjoy the midnight sun in summer and the Northern Lights in winter. This hybrid concept balancing contemplation and spa treatments will set you back 900 euros per night – once you get there.

The ecological domes of Kachi Lodge on the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. (DR)

Luxury cocoons

Meanwhile, on the African continent, innovative lodges are also on the rise. Roman Mehrow is booking them on a daily basis from his Zurich agency RSelection. “What comes to mind is Sandibe Okavango Lodge in Botswana: twelve bungalows, more like cocoons looking out over a clearing, surrounded by incredible wildlife. This lodge looks like it’s floating above the trees. The service is very warm and the gastronomy worthy of a star restaurant. That’s also the case at Chinzombo Camp in Zambia, another favorite. It was designed by architects Silvio Reich and Lesley Carsten. The six villas are hidden in the shade of giant trees that border a river. This harmony with nature makes for an unforgettable safari.” And he echoes Desurmont’s perspective, adding, “Today, the experience clearly outweighs the number of stars... It's a genuine revolution, because twenty or thirty years ago, wealthy tourists knew nothing else. The lodges on the African continent don't have stars, they're just unique places with luxurious facilities and a staff trained to the highest standards of service.” All of which contribute to expanding the offer for what is already a growing demand. Desurmont agrees. “Ten years from now, there will be 50% more luxury rooms,” he says, with complete confidence.

The Tintswalo Atlantic Luxury Boutique Hotel is located on the oceanfront in Hout Bay, near Cape Town. (Travel Wings)

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