Mary Gostelow, the luxury travel guru who believes hotels have a soul
You are one of the authorities in luxury travel media. How did you discover your passion for travel and what motivated you to make turn it into a business?
After marrying my super-man, I followed him to the next stage in his career, which was teaching in Beirut. The GM of The Phoenicia InterContinental heard I had been on my school newspaper back in New York and asked me to set up a magazine for the InterCons in Amman, Beirut, Kabul, Persepolis, Shiraz and Tehran.
How many hotels have you reviewed in your career? How do you choose your hotels? Are you reviewing only luxury properties?
I do not ‘review’ hotels. I never say I am going to review or even write about a hotel. I only write about things that are useful to my readers, be they trade or consumer. How many hotels have I stayed in? Well, I am away from home at least 300 nights a year and 90% of my stays are one night stands so that certainly adds up over a year. I am top-level (luxury, if you want) but, for my trade readers who need to know what is going on industry-wide at all sectors, I monitor what is going on at budget level.
What do you think about the growing influence of major international travel review websites such as Tripadvisor?
Every communication channel is vital. An article about one suite in Corinthia Hotel London in a recent issue of Elite Traveler – for whom I am International Advisor – resulted in a £200,000-total reservation.
With the tremendous development of the internet, which are the biggest opportunities luxury hotels should take advantage of, in terms of marketing? – and which threats they should avoid.
Keep ahead, keep abreast, and look outside the blinkers. The threat is being left behind.
What are the three most important factors which are critical for the success of a luxury hotel on a long term?
Service and communication (to guests and potential guests, to the staff and to the owners)
An increasing number of luxury hotels worldwide have resorted to celebrity Michelin starred Chefs to run their restaurants. What do you think about this trend? Are there possible traps in the long term?
Sorry, I hate ‘Michelin’, and the words ‘Michelin-starred’ as as repelling to me ‘I am your personal butler’ (when I travel i do not NEED anyone to unpack for me and stand and watch my every turn – what I need is a ‘wife’ to do errands). Back to food. I have just had lunch at Bar Boulud in Mandarin Oriental London. I had a rocket salad with a side order of hazelnut spatzle and another of heirloom green, red and yellow tomatoes, perfect. (My other three favourite dishes this last week were the plain-plain caprese and a whole T-bone bifsteak fiorentina, both at Castel Monastero, near Sienna, and spaghetti Elizabeth Taylor at Hotel Splendido, Portofino. Tomorrow’s dinner is by martial artist Thierry Marx in Paris, the night after I will be dining at Mazagan, south of Casablanca).
If you were the most senior development executive in a major international luxury chain (management agreements), which would be your criteria for selecting a new hotel project? (city hotel).
Location, money supply and financial partners, airlift.
Can service compensate for a tired facility in a luxury hotel?
Yes, I have lots of examples, probably the best is the fabulous Meikles in Harare. Because of Zimbabwe’s unique ‘economic situation’ over the past couple of decade, it has not been renovated since 1993 (sic). The average lifetime of most hotel interiors and their bedrooms is a mere seven years. Love and constant tender attention, which has involved hand carpet repairs, makes this hotel now look, well perfect, in a retro way.
How did you come up with your new project, GIRLAHEAD.COM? What is the readership you are targeting and what do you hope to achieve?
Many people have more than one child. My market-intelligence monthly, Gostelow Report, was started 1992: it has a subscription limit on 500, to keep it to ‘private club’ status, and I have a retention rate of over 95%, which is phenomenal in the media world. I am also Editor-at-Large of KIWI COLLECTION, the world’s trusted source for what staying in luxury hotels is really like (Kiwi manages such private labels as the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection). Inter alia I have regular columns in Elite Traveler, Elite Traveler Asia and HOTELS magazine, all out of New York; Best In Travel, London; Destinations of the World News, Dubai; Coffee Table, Mumbai. At the two pinnacle annual International Luxury Travel Markets, in Cannes and Shanghai, I do daily live ‘Gostelow Reports’, and in between I do a column in ILTM’s monthly magazine. I work closely with hotel industry investment conferences, in Berlin, Casablanca, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Moscow. But there was room for one more ‘child’. Girlahead.com is a Brazilian-English concept, produced by my business partner in Sao Paulo. We still have not launched officially but it is attracting amazing attention – the Owner and Chairman of The Regent brand, Steven Pan, has just emailed to say ‘what a hit girlahead.com is – very juicy, congratulations’. It is for any age, anywhere, for those who want a global, luxury-level edge.
So what is left? I already have an Honorary Doctorate, given at the same time to such recipients as Kwek Leng Beng, Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Wolfgang Puck). I want to take all the above ‘writing children’ forward, continue to exercise hard twice a day, get to Antarctica and Samarkand (husband has been to both, I am jealous) and perhaps, like my neighbour, be appointed a Dame (though she is a professional actor – I merely act my way through this wonderful life).
Service and communication, to guests, potential guests, to the staff and to owners.