You and the Gourmet Traveller hotel-reviewing team have stayed anonymously at a lot of hotels in the past couple of months. What did you love?
So much to love! There are nine new entrants on our list of the nation's top 50 hotels, which is exciting for travellers, but I often reflect on the energy and investment needed by long-established hotels to keep delivering memorable stays, year after year. Lake House in Daylesford, for example, has been operating for 30 years and yet it's continually evolving, and it still sets a benchmark for dining and country-house hospitality. Among life's important pleasures are a peaceful sleep followed by a great breakfast – so we applaud those hotels that take both seriously (congratulations to Halcyon House in northern New South Wales for our Best Breakfast award and Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide for our Best Bed award). We also love a nice pool, a deep bath, blockout blinds, and staff who care. Oh, and a good morning coffee. The long-overdue news is that more hotels are serving properly made espresso at breakfast.
What did you NOT love?
Indifferent service. Minibars stocked with stuff so ordinary you wonder why they bother at all. Benches littered with hotel marketing brochures and signs. Chocolate fountains. Overly complicated panels of light switches. Dated docking stations – like boring minibars, just get rid of them. Inconveniently placed plugs and/or no USB ports. And paid Wi-Fi – really, it's hard to imagine it still exists.
The rise of the chia pudding – it's popping up on hotel buffets every morning. A text-message alert if the room is ready earlier than expected is a good idea. And check-in at the new Paramount House Hotel – named our 2018 Hotel of the Year – was a delight. Staff pour a glass of something good from a trio of taps installed at the reception desk. It's immediately relaxing, gets guests chatting to each other, and sets the dial to play. It's a gesture so hospitable you wonder why it's not done more often.
What are the big changes you've noticed in the five years you've been editing the Gourmet Traveller Australian Hotel Guide?
The sense of place is more pronounced – Australia's better hotels are increasingly seeing themselves as part of their neighbourhoods, rather than standalone outposts, and their role as the means to connect travellers with local people and places. You can see and feel a sense of place from check-in to check-out at the Paramount House Hotel in Sydney's Surry Hills. And in the storytelling focus at Macq01 in Hobart, which we named as the Large Hotel of the Year.
Is there change afoot, then, in what defines a luxury hotel?
Among visionary hoteliers, the focus is less on taps and thread count – we should assume that a good hotel will be beautiful and comfortable – and much more on how hotels deliver unique travel experiences. It could be complimentary yoga classes with a view, a neighbourhood walking tour with a difference, a morning jogging club, ultra-local snacks and drinks in the minibar, distinctive food and wine. Experiences that can't be replicated anywhere else.
As a hotel reviewer, how do you pick the best from the rest?
A hotel is only as good as your last stay. We're not seeking to trip up hotels, just experience them as any traveller would. Our small team of expert reviewers stay at a lot of hotels around the country, anonymously and paying our way. Not all of these hotels make our guide's top 50. When you've checked in as often as we have, the best properties really stand out.
The 2018 Gourmet Traveller Australian Hotel Guide is out now with the June issue.