During her nine years as a professional hotel hunter for travel club Mr & Mrs Smith, based in both London and New York, Carla Melmoth spent a lot of time on the road. Her day job? Unearthing the world’s most unique and inspiring places to stay—be it a treehouse in the jungle or a bolthole in the city. Now running her own travel booking service, Propella Travel, we asked for her predictions for travel in 2021 and beyond, and what she's excited about in a post-Covid world. Follow @PropellaTravel.
Tell us about Propella Travel. What's the benefit of booking through you?
The idea of Propella is that we do all the legwork and make sure you’re not missing any tricks, and you get to concentrate on all the fun stuff, safe in the knowledge that we’ve found you the best of… well anything you want, really. There’s no catch either—you save time by outsourcing the research to us, and there's no extra cost for booking with Propella. We always get the best available rates (plus any perks we can swing through our industry contacts).
I’ve always loved travel. The thrill of visiting a new place and all the sights and sounds and smells I’ve never experienced, but also all the planning and research beforehand, and the debrief and reminiscing afterwards! The biggest thing for me though, is where I’m staying.
I found I was often asked by friends and family (and their friends and family) for advice on their next adventure… so it felt very natural to turn it into my full-time job. Also, I wanted to find a way to give back, to help local communities around the world and to protect this incredible planet—they’re two of the main reasons people love travelling, after all!
It goes without saying—2020 has been tough for the travel industry. What are your hopes for the industry in 2021?
I hope things will get much better soon! What most people don’t realise is that many hotels play a crucial role in supporting local communities and conservation projects, so it’s really important that they in particular survive this period and prosper in the future. And as for travellers themselves—with life on ice we’ve been living off memories of trips abroad, so my hope is that in 2021 we can start making new ones again.
Do you think there are any positives that will come out of the pandemic?
Definitely. It seems as though there’s been a real change of mind-set, and greater focus on what is really important. For many people, that’s health, friends and family, and the environment.
With fewer flights and less human activity, the planet has had a pretty good year, with cleaner air, lower carbon emissions and less pollution of all kinds. Our partner charity in the UK, Surfers Against Sewage, has noticed less plastic on the beaches and even dolphins returning to areas where they haven’t been seen for years. This could all be undone quickly, but I think and hope that a lot of people will see what’s happened in this strange period, and keep the good bits going.
How do you think our travel habits will change in future?
I think we’ll be even more determined to make sure that our travel experiences in future are individual, meaningful and mindful. We’ve had a lot of time to think, dream, and make endless bucket lists—it’s now about getting there in a way that is considerate to other people and the environment. That’s why Propella wants to focus on smarter, kinder, private travel.
With so many companies embracing remote working, we may find that there’s much more of a blurred line between travelling for leisure and hot-desking your way around the world. There are too many places to visit, not enough annual leave, and anyone can set a fake Zoom background, right?!
What about for families in particular?
For parents grappling with home-schooling, a new trend is the “schoolcation” that helps kids travel and learn at the same time. The Francis Ford Coppola hotels in Belize and Guatemala have launched a new activity programme which takes kids out to plant trees, try their hand at wood carving, and even visit nearby schools to read stories to local children.
Then in Spain there’s Puente Romano (one of my favourite family resorts, by the way), which has started offering private one-to-one tutoring – and if you really get on with your teacher, there’s the option to continue lessons on Zoom when you get back home. Of course, just seeing the world and learning life lessons is an education in itself. Maybe the parents (and schools) of the future will think of learning and travelling in a more flexible way. One thing’s for sure – travel habits will change once we come out of this, and I hope we’ll all be more open-minded too, which can only be a good thing.
Which destination are you most excited about for 2021 and beyond?
I’m excited for the USA. I love designing trips there for clients, and I really hope some of the feel-good factor will come back to the US in 2021. I know lots of people have embraced their outdoorsy side recently, and it’s really great for that kind of trip, with all the amazing scenery and national parks. There is some great glamping out in wild (the Under Canvas sites are incredible), and cool reinvented motels for a road trip too (Tourists in Massachusetts is a favourite).
New for 2021 is the Empire State Trail, a hiking and biking route running 750 miles from the border with Canada, through some fantastic forests and the beautiful Catskills region (kind of like the American Cotswolds), all the way to NYC. By the way, on Manhattan itself there’s a new Six Senses and an Aman hotel set to open—two wellness oases bang in the middle of the hectic city.
Where do you think will be most popular as things open up?
It depends where we can go! If we can get through Covid and restrictions loosen up, I think people will be dying to get away, maybe to favourite destinations they’ve been missing, or on dream trips they’ve had to put on hold. There may be some people who continue to seek space away from the crowds, but I think others will crave the buzz of city breaks, the great restaurants, and bars, and enjoying the social side of travel—often it’s the people you meet on a trip that make the biggest impression of all.
Once we’re reunited with friends and families I think there will be a demand for group holidays too, possibly with an eco-angle or some adventure thrown in too. Safari in Africa ticks a lot of boxes with wide open spaces, incredible wildlife and feeling as though you’re a million miles from home. It can be either super private or quite sociable, depending on what you’re after.
Booking it can be a bit of a minefield for people, but I work with an amazing partner who helps me put together the most thoughtful and detailed itineraries for clients—dawn hot air ballooning over the Serengeti, authentic animal encounters alongside expert local guides, stunning lodges under the stars. The right kind of tourism of course supports wildlife conservation and local communities too, so it’s a win-win.
Where does a hotel expert go on holiday?
I love unique places with real imagination and a dose of wild nature— Awasi Patagonia is an all-time favourite, and I’d love to get to Arctic Bath in Sweden at some point. For a staycation this year, maybe with friends or family, I’m eyeing up the brand new Three Mile Beach in Cornwall.
The houses (self-catering, but with chefs available on request) are right next to an incredible stretch of sea, which is great for surfing and kitesurfing. I took a hard hat tour a few months ago so I’m excited to see how it’s turned out.
I’ve also made a (unrealistically long!) hit list of places to visit abroad. For low-maintenance family-friendly indulgence, I’m tempted by the new Ikos resort in Andalusia, and I’m sure my little one-year-old is too! Further afield, I’ve been drooling over Zannier’s brand new Bãi San Hô hotel in Vietnam, which is steps from an untouched white powder beach and has its own coral reef.
Can you tell us about any new hotels we should get excited about?
Firstly, the NoMad London. It’ll be designed by the Roman and Williams studio, and if the NoMads in NYC, LA and Vegas are anything to go by, it’s going to be incredible! The building itself is fascinating too—it’s the old Bow Street magistrates court, where Oscar Wilde, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Kray twins all stood trial.
Then there’s Bretton Hall (a stately home in Yorkshire), which is getting a makeover by the art duo, Hauser & Wirth. Their project in Scotland (The Fife Arms) is spectacular, so I can’t wait to see how this one turns out—especially as it’s set within the brilliant Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Then outside of the UK, everyone should get excited about Castello di Reschio in Umbria. In short, it’s a 1,500-hectare estate of olive groves, cypress trees and the odd roaming wild boar, with a thousand-year-old castle as its super stylish centrepiece hotel. Guests can cross the wildflower meadows on horseback, hunt for truffles and go wild swimming in the lake or have some long-awaited spa-time in the converted wine cellars.