After more than two years of up and down cycles during the pandemic, more than half of Americans are planning to make up for lost time and travel this summer—and where to stay is no longer a half-hearted effort of just finding a place to sleep.
A new survey from vacation platform rental provider Vacasa found 63% of Americans are planning to travel this summer, and 85% of those summer travelers say they are planning to vacation more than they did last year.
But even as many people were cooped up indoors amid rolling lockdowns and cyclical COVID spikes, where to stay is just as important as where to go. For many travelers, the hotel can be the destination itself. That applies especially for so-called “bleisure” travelers, a relatively new moniker for people traveling for both work and pleasure as remote workers continue to take advantage of the opportunity to work from anywhere—at least while they can.
“Search demand for summer travel isn’t slowing despite the price hikes we’re seeing across boutique hotels, big brands, and alternative accommodations—home rentals, house boats, etc.,” says Rachel Hafner, vice president of global hotels at Kayak. According to data from the online travel agency, hotel searches for summer travel conducted over the last two weeks is up 24% compared to the same time frames in 2019.
Boutique hotels have been seeing a surge in development over the last few years—even before the pandemic—catering especially to younger business travelers looking for a more energizing place to stay. Just go visit the lobby of any Ace, Arlo, or Hoxton hotel and you’ll see a crush of laptop-toting millennials, younger Gen-Xers, or the oldest members of Generation Z—all talking over each other while drinking oat milk lattes or glasses of rosé from the all-day café. Kimpton, the largest boutique hotel chain in the United States with more than 64 properties across the Americas, has long been at the front of this movement with unique (sometimes quirky) designs and chill vibes at each hotel as well as a community atmosphere thanks to free daily happy hours.
In response, many of the older hotel operators are taking notice—and lately, taking action.
Hyatt, which was recently ranked 70 on Fortune‘s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, began expanding its portfolio with more boutique and luxury accommodations through its acquisition of Two Roads Hospitality in 2018. Two Roads came with a collection of lifestyle hotels, resorts, and vacation residences among several hotel groups, including Joie de Vivre, Destination, and Thompson.
“Each of its current 18 locations across the U.S. and Mexico offer a curated experience designed to spark thought-provoking conversation, connect guests to world-class culinary offerings, and showcase an exceptionally layered design reflective of the surrounding locale,” says Crystal Vinisse Thomas, vice president and global brand leader of Hyatt’s lifestyle and luxury brands, about Thompson, in particular. “We’re finding guests are looking for and expecting these elements during their stay. Ever since we debuted on the New York City cobblestone streets of SoHo, our mission has been to connect those seeking good conversations with authentic experiences that actually say something.”
Founded in 2001, Thompson’s particular brand is centered around modern, sophisticated travelers while still reflecting surrounding neighborhoods. Among the most prominent properties in the Thompson portfolio include the The Beekman and Gild Hall in New York City and the Thompson Washington D.C. as well as The Cape in Los Cabos and Thompson Playa del Carmen in Mexico.
“What makes the Thompson brand special is this idea that fun is at the forefront of what we do, but ultimately the experience is what you make of it,” says Amanda Parsons, previously the general manager of Thompson Seattle, even before the Hyatt-Two Hands deal, and now the area vice president and general manager at Thompson Denver. Parsons highlights Hyatt’s vast distribution resources as a global hotelier as one of the benefits to come out of the merger.
The time lost to travel during pandemic lockdowns aside, Hyatt has been busy expanding Thompson’s footprint considerably, most recently with the announcement of a new 148-room hotel in Vienna, Austria. Thompson has also been expanding rapidly across the United States, with new hotels in Austin, Atlanta, San Antonio, Savannah, Ga., and Los Angeles (Hollywood). Thompson plans to open a new location in Madrid this fall, with openings slated for Houston, South Beach (Miami), Shanghai, and Monterrey, Mexico by the end of 2023.
Overall, Hyatt expects to open more than 35 new properties across all of its brands by the end of 2022.
“Leisure travel continues to drive demand and experts project a strong summer season across the travel and hospitality industry,” Vinisse Thomas says. “We are committed to growing our brand presence in markets that matter the most to our guests, members, and customers, allowing us to care for more people and elevate our positive impact on communities in which Hyatt hotels operate.”
The Thompson Denver is the brand’s newest location, and its first in Colorado. Just opened this winter in the Lower Downtown district of Denver (locally known as “LoDo”), the Thompson Denver is described by the hotel group as “urban chalet,” tailored for locals looking to spend more on food and dining (and perhaps a staycation) as well as and sophisticated globetrotters in town for conferences, business meetings, or those looking for a relaxing home base while hiking or skiing nearby.
“Coming out of [the pandemic] has been such a gift,” Parsons adds. “So many of my colleagues had an opportunity to build something, and to be able to build something from the ground up and be part of the recovery of our industry has been really such a wonderful opportunity.”
“Now we’re having fun again,” says Matt Ojinaga, director of sales and marketing for Thompson Denver, as the hotel prepares for what everyone hopes to be a busy spring and summer, especially now that it has been suggested that the U.S. is out of the pandemic phase. “There’s a lot going on here for sports, music, and distilleries.”
With more than two decades of experience in hotels, including at other Hyatt-owned properties as well as Andaz and Rosewood hotels, Ojinaga was the first employee at Thompson Denver. The hotel now has more than 100 employees, and while Ojinaga describes the hiring and onboarding processes for the brand new property as exciting, he acknowledges it has been difficult to hire enough people amid the current labor shortage. And the on-site café, Duel Coffee (named in honor of the first recorded duel between two women in the U.S., which took place in Denver in 1877), is still only open in the mornings while the hotel looks to hire more baristas. The idea is for Duel to be open all day, well into the evening, possibly turning into a wine and champagne bar after dark once fully staffed.
And like most other businesses, the hotel has been hit by supply chain issues. The permanent lighting fixtures selected for the lobby and other communal areas were stuck at port for months, and did not arrive until after the hotel opened. For the grand opening in February, the hotel made do by purchasing temporary lighting, which was later sold on eBay once the permanent fixtures arrived.
What could make the Thompson Denver stand out from other boutique hotels in the area is the food and beverage program, spearheaded by Michelin-star French chef Ludo Lefebvre. Known for his Los Angeles properties Petit Trois and Ludo Bird as much for his appearances on popular shows like Bravo’s Top Chef and TBS’s new Rat in the Kitchen, Lefebvre is overseeing the menu for the 90-seat ground-floor flagship restaurant, Chez Maggy, as well as in-room dining service. Chez Maggy marks a number of firsts for the chef: it’s first hospitality venture outside of Southern California, it’s the first time he’s had a restaurant in a hotel, and it’s the first time he’s overseen banquet menu items.
But Lefebvre and his family have many connections to the area: Lefebvre’s wife Krissy is from Colorado, and the restaurant itself is named for her late step-mother, Margaret.
“It’s his gift to French food and the Denver community,” Ojinaga says. “It’s something completely different from what he was doing before.”
Promising a mixture of French and American flare, menu items include Bison Bourguignon, “Burger à la Française,” and a Denver Omelette, which is traditionally made with ham and green onions. Lefebvre’s version is far more decadent; his twist includes Parisian ham, gruyere cheese sauce mixed with cream, poured on top of the omelette, with a hint of salad on top to make you feel better about getting your greens in for the day. Menu items are also available at the all-day cocktail bar, Bar M, just outside the restaurant.
Locals and guests can also visit Reynard Social, a sixth-floor sunroom bar and lounge (including a billiards table in the library) with a seasonally-driven cocktail program, curated wine list, local beer selection, and alpine-inspired bites. And hoping to cater to the return of business travelers in the area for meetings and conferences, the hotel also has ample meeting spaces available for reservation, including a private dining space and bar for up to 60 guests on the mezzanine level.
Designed by New York City-based interior design firm Parts + Labor, the space blends mid-century modern with an elevated chalet aesthetic featuring natural materials such as wood, stone, and copper. The grand centerpiece is the two-story hearth fireplace, which extends from the lobby down to the entertainment spaces on the lower level. Keeping true to the promise to blend into the community, lounge areas are decorated with artwork from exclusively local Colorado artists.
With 216 guest rooms as well as a 1,032-square-foot master suite (which includes a private terrace), rates currently start at $399 per night.
As many forecasts predict a busy summer for travel—even with a grain of salt given similar predictions last summer before the emergence of the delta variant—would-be travelers should book now while taking note of cancellation policies, especially in regards to COVID as many hotels no longer have special exceptions for last-minute cancellations that they might have instituted in 2020 or 2021.
According to Hotels.com, travelers can expect to pay more for their hotel rooms this summer than in 2019. Current average rates are above $200 a night in many urban destinations. Kayak data also finds hotel prices are up at a similar rate (up 23% vs. 2019), so if you see a rate within your budget, start booking now.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com