Ever visit a new city and have no idea where to start exploring? Do you head straight for the main attractions or follow local friends’ recommendations? The former are sure to be swamped with tourists and those looking to take advantage of them, while the latter can always present more questions than answers: Why are all your friends’ lists different? Are you missing out on must-do activities? And that’s not even broaching the stress that’s bound to arise from sitting down to research on the Internet and in various guidebooks. Let’s face it: Our society suffers from information overload.
Then there are hotel concierges, whose roles have always been to order you a car, make a restaurant reservation or secure a hard-to-score ticket. Concierges are effective and often helpful at easing the difficulties involved in planning, but their services are also limited to being largely transactional. Looking for aid with city logistics? They’ll take out a large map and circle nearby points of interest or connect you with a third-party company for further assistance. That’s what Conrad Hotels & Resorts is looking to change.
Conrad’s Stay Inspired 1-3-5 Program (available online and as an app) asks travelers the simple question, “If you had one, three or five hours to explore, what would you do?” Currently implemented in 12 of the chain’s 21 worldwide locations — with plans to soon expand to all of them (and eventually to 25 additional properties) — the initiative aims to provide all visitors with intimate local experiences that are both authentic and enriching. These experiences center around culture, food, adventure, arts, design, shopping and music.
An international brand of luxury hotels owned and operated by Hilton Worldwide, Conrad has tapped Nilou Motamed to head up this ambitious program. A former editor in chief of Epicurious and features director of Travel + Leisure, Motamed has more than 15 years of editorial experience in food and travel. 1-3-5 is intended as “a cheat sheet for each destination. It’s a best-of, a greatest hits. It’s like having a local in your pocket,” she tells me over morning tea in London, where around 30 journalists from all over the world have assembled to learn firsthand about the newly launched program. Over the course of three days, we’ll spend time at the Tate Modern, take part in a candle-making class, visit a local chocolatier and attend a Shakespeare play at the National Theatre, as well as eat meals at a quaint farm-to-table establishment, a dim sum parlor and a lively Moroccan restaurant.
Motamed stresses that the experiences have “no commercial aspect to them. It’s entirely editorial because no one’s selling anyone anything.” While all city visitors have access to these expeditions through both the website and the app, staying at Conrad ensures that staff can organize the logistics, impart personal advice and offer recommendations from the many selections.
While plenty of hotels have created content for their guests (most commonly in the form of printed restaurant lists, activity ideas and vicinity attractions), Conrad has differentiated its newly minted initiative by the breadth of information available and the amount of expert research that has gone into the recommendations. Every staff member at participating Conrad destinations— from housekeeping to engineering — is engaged as a storyteller, having gone through an intensive training program. “It’s never really been part of [employees’] purview to be tastemakers, to be ambassadors through this notion,” explains Motamed. “We have lots of intake, and the loop is constant.”
So just what type of person is this service targeted toward? “I think it’s for sophisticated luxury travelers who understand the appeal of high-low — who get that you don’t just have to go to Michelin-starred restaurants,” says Motamed. It is less suited for the first-time traveler who craves waiting in line to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. “I think cities like Paris and New York get blurry when you go high up,” she continues. “If you wanted to do that kind of thing, get a Time Out guide.”
Motamed sums up the ultimate tourist-trap conundrum that her aggregated cheat sheets of sorts hopes to cure: “There’s nothing that bums me out more than being in a restaurant when right around the corner there’s a place with gorgeous people with great food and I’m stuck with somewhere with zero vibe and I’m having something that looks like it was made yesterday.” That’s not to say that Conrad won’t point you in the direction of a venue considered touristy. It’ll tell you to check out La Boqueria in Barcelona, for example, but it will also tell you the one stall you need to go to at La Boqueria. Now that (and some jamón ibérico) is something all travelers can get behind.