For years, many upscale American travelers were happy to stick to a handful of well-known and predictable luxury chains or brands as they made their way around the world, names like Four Seasons, Peninsula or Ritz-Carlton. More “adventurous” travels might have opted for a vetted boutique association such as Relais & Chateaux, but for the most part, luxury travelers were fairly predictable when making room reservations. Notable exceptions to this rule always included famous grand hotels synonymous with the cities they were located in, like the Ritz in Paris, the Hassler in Rome or several in London, including the Savoy, Claridge’s or the Lanesborough.
But this trend has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks to the two forces. First, American travelers have greatly increased the breadth of the destinations they seek out on both business and leisure, looking way beyond the classic cities of Western Europe and a few other few longtime tourism hotspots such as Tokyo and Hong Kong, and have delved much deeper into Africa, Southeast Asia, Mainland China, Eastern Europe and once overlooked island destinations such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
At the same time, the global growth of wealth and population has driven a commensurate increase in demand and the sheer number of luxury hotels and resorts. According to IHG, the giant lodging company whose brands range from Regent and InterContinental to Kimpton to all the Holiday Inn labels, there are currently 18 million rooms worldwide, of which 6% are classified Luxury and another 16% Upper Upscale, putting nearly a quarter of the world’s bed base in within the target range of affluent travelers. This number in turn is growing, and fast: a recent report by Zion Market Research valued the global luxury hotel market at approximately $153.82 billion in 2015 and predicts it to be $194.63 billion by 2021. Just the Middle East currently has a construction pipeline of 625 hotels and more than 175,000 rooms (according to Lodging Econometrics) and this is far from the biggest market for luxury hotel growth, which is China, where revenue from luxury hotels jumped eight percent in just 2017. In all these markets, many of the key new players are brands you probably know nothing about.
Yet despite the vast expansion of the luxury lodging market, the top five companies, all household names (Marriott International, Hilton, Hyatt, Four Seasons and Shangri-La International), control just over a quarter of the market. That means nearly three-quarters of it is run by other players, many of which most American travelers have never heard or are unfamiliar with.
Consider Aman Resorts. While now well-known by everyone who enjoys luxury travel, this acclaimed luxury boutique chain is barely 30 years old and didn’t leave its birthplace of Indonesia until the early Nineties. It has grown from specializing in tropical villa resorts in Bali to ski properties in the Alps and Japan, Caribbean golf resorts and urban hotels in places like Tokyo and later this year, New York. From its humble Indonesian roots, Aman has grown to operate hotels and residences in more than 20 nations.
The good news for luxury travelers is that there are a lot more Aman stories out there, brands launched in other countries and regions that have expanded and are growing into other corners of the globe. Sometimes this matters because your travels takes you a destination where there is no Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton, while other times it matters because these new hotels are simply the best choice wherever they are. Here’s a look at 5 Luxury Hotel brands that are growing and that you may want to know about if you enjoy great lodging, food and service.
The flagship Anantara hotel in the heart of Bangkok actually was a Four Seasons, but its owner, pizza-mogul and inveterate entrepreneur William Heinecke thought he could do a better job. Today his Minor Hotel company has nearly 600 properties in several tiers of brands, with Anantara being the top. It has existed for less than two decades but has about 40 hotels, mostly across Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Middle East, but Anantara just notably expanded into Africa and Europe, with important new resorts in Spain and Portugal, its first Western beachheads. The brand is growing fast, and just opened a Tunisia resort near the dramatic landscapes where many “Tatooine” scenes in Star Wars were filmed, and is about to open in Malaysia.
Anantara is an eclectic mix of beach resorts, jungle lodges, and city hotels, and I have stayed at several including the luxurious Bangkok property, on par with any grand city hotel, as well as resorts in Bali, Zambia, and Siem Reap Cambodia. Its niche is promoting the Thai culture of a warm welcome in partnership with a pronounced local flair, and in this vein, Anantara was the first major brand to launch a chain-wide culinary school program, Spice Spoons, which helps guests immerse into the local cuisine wherever they are in the world. They are particularly adept at entering up and coming tourist destinations in advance of competitors, including nature hotspot Sri Lanka and trending Zambia, where they operate the Royal Livingstone, by far the premier hotel at Victoria Falls, one of the world’s great natural attractions.
Oberoi is a name well known in the luxury travel industry, mainly because it wins so many awards and annually has so many of its hotels named to various World’s Best Lists. But because the Indian-born chain has existed largely in a vacuum in its home county and the Middle East, travelers who do not go to these destinations have not had the opportunity. As I have written about here at Forbes before, India is flush with luxury hotels and home to several of the world’s finest hospitality brands, including Leela and Taj, but Oberoi is next level, famous in the business for its training, practices and operating its own culinary school to train staff, rather than relying on the traditional model of Swiss or American hotel and culinary schools. It is a truly exceptional, very tip of the top tier luxury chain, more on par with Peninsula than Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton, and based on my experiences in India, where they operate everything from ultra-luxury city hotels to tiger viewing safari camps to Himalayan mountain lodges, island palaces and even a luxury cruise line, you simply cannot go wrong.
Until now, its thirty-plus properties have been limited to a handful of countries, but these include some big tourism spots such as Bali and Mauritius. All this changed las month when Oberoi opened its first new property outside its core region, in Morocco’s Marrakesh, another tourism hotspot, where it immediately became the must-stay spot – and one of the biggest hotel openings of the year, worldwide. If you go to India, and you should, the brand is a no-brainer, but look for them to keep expanding elsewhere.
One of the biggest challenges in the hotel world is to market a group of seemingly independent properties that are owned and managed by a company that does not use its name. That is the reason why you may not have heard of Red Carnation, since the words are not found on its canopies, but the family owned company has some great hotels in really interesting places. I have found throughout my 25-plus years of covering the travel industry, that some of the most impressive things happen when well-traveled people who are passionate about travel put their money where their mouths are and develop products based on their own experiences, and that is the story of Red Carnation. Its founders, the Tollmans, are a South African couple who have very discerning taste, an obsession with food, and passions for design and dogs. After a life very well-traveled, they began assembling hotels, and participating very hands-on in personalizing them.
So, while you may never have heard of Red Carnation or the Tollmans, chances are good you have heard of some of their 20-plus hotels and resorts. The most famous globally is probably the superlative Ashford Castle in Ireland, where I have stayed, an indisputably world class property. Three of their hotels in South Africa are among the nation’s best, including the Oyster Box in Durban, which I have visited (wonderful!), the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town, and Bushman’s Kloof in the Kalahari. Many of their properties are in the British Isles, including the Milestone and Rubens in London, 100 Princes Street in Scotland’s Edinburgh, and the Old Government House, easily the top choice on the Channel Island of Guernsey, and a perfect example of how these secret hotel brands serve places you may wish to visit but wouldn’t find any recognizable names.
Langham Hotels: This is another one you have likely heard of, but probably don’t really know much about. Its certainly time tested – the original Langham in London opened in 1865 and many consider it Europe’s very first grand hotel. It has been near the top of the city’s highly competitive luxury lodging pack ever since, and currently is one of the three Langham hotels, along with Hong Kong and Chicago, to earn Forbes 5-Star ratings. Langham also operates Forbes 4-Star hotels in New York, Boston and Pasadena as well as international properties in key cities such as Munich, Sydney and Melbourne. But where this hotel brand has eclipsed just about every other luxury operator and is especially of interest to business travelers is in China. Like its top tier competitors, it has great hotels in Hong Kong and Shanghai, but if you want predictable reliability elsewhere in China, there’s no better option, as Langham has hotels in Hefei, Haikou, Shenzen, Guangzhou, Haining, Ningbo, Xiamen, and is getting ready to open in Chengdu, Changsha, and Nanjing, and is also expanding shortly into Tokyo, Bangkok and Jakarta.
Oetker Collection: Another family-owned company and another venerable travel brand, this one is 150 years old. It’s very first property was the conversion of a private mansion into a legendary property in the French Riviera, the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc. To this day, the collection is focused on one of kind showpiece properties like this, several of them in France, including L’Apogee Courchevel, one of the top luxury ski-on/ski-out hotels on earth, in the most famous town at the world’s largest ski resort, and the iconic Le Bristol in Paris. They also have a sister grand hotel in London, the Lanesborough which was just extensively renovated, and the Oetker Collection also includes two of the most vaunted properties in the Caribbean, St. Bart’s Eden Rock and Antigua’s Jumby Bay. There are only nine hotels and resorts, across England, France, Germany, Brazil and the Caribbean, but every one of them is a luxury standout, with no weak links.