Meet Mr and Mrs Smith

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Fed up of Fawlty Tower-esque hotels, the now married British couple James Lohan and Tamara Heber Percy decided to compile their own guide to boutique hotels full of the sort of inside information you would pass onto a close friend.
The Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection UK and Ireland hit the shelves in October 2003 and became an instant success selling 20,000 copies by Christmas. Fast forward to 2009 and Mr & Mrs Smith have grown from guidebooks to become one of the top boutique travel providers.
CD Traveller
spoke to co-founder and managing director, James Lohan, about hotels, holidays and his aims for the future…


What do you look for in a hotel?

It’s hard to summarise what makes a hotel ‘Smith’. I guess it’s a combination of style, quality, first-class service, individuality and value. Our approach is to personally visit each hotel and then send tastemaker couples to experience a two-night stay over a weekend and review it anonymously. I think we are the only guide that sends couples to review – the last thing we wanted was to have loads of clipboard Charlies ticking off sterile forms.
Overall, I would say that a hotel in our collection not only has to have an unmatched ambience and hit the right style notes, but it has to tick our ‘certain something’ box: the welcome should be warm, without fuss or formality, rooms should be seductive and supplied with thoughtful extras, drinks must be perfectly mixed, dinners delicious – and, crucially, the stay must be memorable for all the right reasons.

How often do you go away for a weekend?
Not as much as we’d like! We’ve got a two-year-old son and another baby on the way soon – so after a few long-haul experiments, we’ve been staying much closer to home this year. It’s been a good opportunity to sample our UK rentals collection, and visit some of the new openings nearby.

Today in addition to the guides, Mr & Mrs Smith offer a hotel booking and concierge service – why do you think there is a demand for this service?
We introduced an online hotel-booking service in 2005 in response to feedback from our members indicating that they wanted to make reservations on the site. Once the collection was online, everyone could access Mr & Mrs Smith recommendations, wherever they are, in real time, and we can add about 10–15 hotels a month onto the site. The Travel Team, who make hotel bookings, and a special travel-consultant service for higher tiers of membership, were introduced in 2007. We realised that although people were very happy researching and booking online, some still needed to talk to a human being when they booked a hotel, and that they appreciated expert help in choosing the best place for them – especially as all our hotels are so different. You don’t have to be a Smith member to book with us, but if you are, you get lots of benefits. Our Silver and Goldsmith members can arrange all their travel plans and get extras such as automatic room upgrades at our hotels and higher-value benefits from our brand partners like Eurostar. It’s been incredibly successful for us as a business and our customers seem delighted with the expertise they can tap into. We specialise in boutique travel so our remit is very specific – and people like that.

You launched Smith & Friends last year. Tell us about this…
Smith & Friends is a portfolio of the most special self-catering properties we could find. As a lifestyle brand, we saw that a lot of our customers were having children, travelling with friends and using holiday time to catch up with their families, so it was the perfect extension to our collection. Also, boutique-hotel styling has begun to filter down to rentals and we noticed that there were some super stylish cottages, townhouses, villas and stately homes becoming available. We’ve now got more than 100 rental properties that offer the same exemplary style, character and level of luxury that you would expect from a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel.

What’s next for Mr & Mrs Smith?
2010 is a going to be a busy year. We’ve just published our first long-haul guide, Australia/New Zealand, which comes out just before Christmas. We have a linen range launching in the spring, so you can bring a bit of boutique-hotel style home to the bedroom. Our France book will be published in the summer and we’re set to open offices in NYC.

The latest guidebook from the world’s boutique travel experts featuring 33 extra-special properties in Australia and New Zealand, hits shelves on 25 November

The latest guidebook from the world’s boutique travel experts featuring 33 extra-special properties in Australia and New Zealand, hits shelves on 25 November

Can you recommend five hotels for our readers that aren’t too wallet wounding?
This year people have been much more value-conscious and there are some great deals out there, despite the strong Euro. There are lots of luxe-for-less options and we even have a special search function on our site to make it easier to find them. My top tips for value would be Marrakech where you can easily stay in a stylish riad for less than £100 a night. From our budget boutique collection, I’d recommend:

1. Fronlas in the Brecon Beacons: an eco-friendly Edwardian townhouse (from £80)
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/brecon-beacons/fronlas

2. St Moritz Hotel in Cornwall: an enchanting seaside surf escape with an on-site Cowshed spa (from £95)
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/cornwall/st-moritz-hotel

3. Higher Westcott Farm in Devon: a fabulous foodie retreat in the wilds of Dartmoor (from £90)
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/devon/higher-westcott-farm

4. The Bull Hotel in Bridport, a converted coaching inn with great food and real style (from £70)
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/dorset/the-bull-hotel

5. Millers64 in Edinburgh, which, with just two rooms, is probably the most ‘boutique’ hotel in our collection (from £110)
www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/edinburgh/millers64

Signing up to Mr & Mrs Smith membership entitles you to lots of offers and preferential rates.

Finally, what are your top three hotels of all time?
That’s a very difficult question as inspiring places are opening all the time. I’m looking forward to visiting the new Firmdale-designed Crosby Street in New York when we open offices over there in 2010. If I were booking a trip away, my choice would depend on what style of escape we’re after.  For a city break, I’d pick JK Place (www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/italy/florence/jk-place) in Florence, which feels like a private house and has been impeccably designed by Michel Bonan. I really enjoy The Bowery (www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-states/new-york/the-bowery) in New York: the decor is old-school rather than overly modern. It still attracts a hip young crowd; and has just the right tone of service (efficient but not too stuffy or formal), so I’d definitely go back. In the UK countryside, Barnsley House, with its beautiful gardens, takes some beating and we both loved Alex Polizzi’s Hotel Endsleigh (www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/devon/hotel-endsleigh) in Devon. The bedrooms are super-comfy with lovely details such as hand-painted wallpaper. Alex has achieved a perfect balance of comfort and style.

Thanks James! To find out more about Mr & Mrs Smith, order a guidebook or book any of the hotels in the collection visit www.mrandmrssmith.com

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