SPOTLIGHT ON Kenan Simmons, Senior VP Americas, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)

Image: Barracuda Hotel and Villas

Independent hotels are thriving as travelers seek unique experiences that resonate with the local community where they can connect with nature. Kenan talks about SLH’s unique offering and their Considerate Collection.

What are some of the challenges facing independent hotels right now?

The biggest challenge facing not just independent hotels but all hotels is the ability to find and hire labor. Like many service sectors, we are having difficulty filling positions from culinary staff to housekeepers. Guests have come back in droves for leisure travel post-pandemic, while staff has dispersed and 1000s of positions still need to be filled.

Kenan Simmons, Senior VP Americas, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)

What small things can hoteliers do that make a difference?

Customers want authentic experiences representative of the local culture they’re visiting. They want something unique to the destination where they are traveling. At Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica, views of the nearby Arenal Volcano are expansive, and everything here is designed to make the most of this inspiring setting. A small thing that the hotel was able to do to provide an authentic experience was to simply partner with a local guide who can take guests on waterfall walks and provide handicraft days spent with the Maleku tribe, the smallest indigenous community of Costa Rica. These types of offerings that give travelers a taste of the local culture shouldn’t be too difficult for hotels to bring to life. Cookie-cutter hotels that only go as far as showcasing art that reflects the local culture do not cut it anymore – partnering with local guides is an easy way to offer a more authentic experience.

GAÏA Riverlodge

How important is sustainability in a post-pandemic reality? Can you tell us about your Considerate Collection?

We surveyed over 1,500 members of our loyalty program – INVITED, before launching the Considerate Collection. The results showed that nearly two-thirds believe sustainability is more important now than pre-Covid (an increase from 16%). 58% intend to make more sustainably-minded choices when they travel, yet 57% pointed out how hard it can be to find the information they need to make an informed choice. More than half are suspicious of hotels making claims that simply aren’t true.

As an answer to what forward-thinking travelers have been seeking out, SLH launched the Considerate Collection.

Tedious research and the rampant greenwashing in the industry can be eliminated by choosing a more sustainable stay via the Considerate Collection. Third-party verification and certification are a very important part of our vetting process; therefore, Considerate Collection hotels have to demonstrate their property is walking the walk. Planning a stay at a sustainable luxury hotel is now more seamless than ever for eco-minded travelers.

Considerate Collection hotels must demonstrate high alignment across 3 core sustainability pillars – environment, culture, and community.

We are seeking hotels that maximize their positive impact to the environment. GAÏA Riverlodge in Belize is a great example. The hotel has harnessed the natural flow of Privasson Creek to generate hydroelectric power to sustain the resort’s energy needs, while the cool rainforest microclimate means there’s no need for heaters or air conditioning.

We also require the properties to be Cultural Custodians, working tirelessly to protect and preserve their cultural heritage. For example, Costa Rica-based Hotel Nantipa is located in one of only five UNESCO-recognized Blue Zones globally. Blue Zones are areas occupied by and strongly reflect the world’s longest-lived cultures, implementing community wellbeing programs to create sustainable solutions that improve economic vitality.

Lastly, our hoteliers must be Community Minded. Staffing local people in management matters, and hotels must invest in the education, healthcare, and training of their staff. This Community Minded concept is reflected well at Barracuda Hotel and Villas, where 87% of the staff are from Itacaré, Brazil – the destination in which the hotel is located. The team personally knows their local suppliers – from cocoa farmers and chocolate makers to fishermen – and regularly purchases produce directly from the source.

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa

How do you select hotels to join Small Luxury Hotels of the World?

In my role, I’m responsible for the development of SLH, which includes researching, identifying, personally experiencing and vetting design-driven and independently spirited hotels in the Americas region (including South America, Latin America, North America, the Caribbean, and Canada) to join SLH, in addition to looking after sales, marketing and owner relations strategy in the region.

Properties I look for should pay homage to their location, and each one needs to be “anti-chain and anti-same” as we say at SLH. We look for hotels with a unique story to tell, for example, rustic fishermen’s huts, a Robinson Crusoe-esque island escape, a woodland treehouse, a rainforest retreat, an alpine chalet, a desert-style ‘dude’ ranch, we don’t want any stay to be the same at SLH. With just 50 rooms on average, the SLH properties I seek out must offer secluded, discrete options with exceptional service, the highest standards of luxury, and guest wellbeing.

Hotel Nantipa

What initiatives are you focusing on for 2023?

The Considerate Collection will play an important role for SLH in 2023, customers are seeking to see their traveling dollars go back into the local community they visit, as well as creating a better world globally.

SLH will also be focusing on adding new inventory in new and unique destinations along with finding new hotels in key destinations like New York, Chicago, and LA.