"When a hotel has a relaxed, welcoming attitude towards their guests, I think we all feel more on holiday"
If you want to know something about hotels, there are few people more qualified to respond than photographer, writer (and Essentialist Globalite), Rhiannon Taylor. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Taylor traveled the world as a professional photographer, working with such publications as Condé Nast, Gourmet Traveller, and TIME, before launching IN BED WITH, a lifestyle site that curates unique hotels and stays from all around the world. Pairing her stunning images, that are at once intimate and lush, with honest, personal approach to looking at the hotel and the experience of staying there, she has set new standards in the travel industry. Here, Taylor talks about her passion for photography, what defines ‘luxury’ in a hotel, and what qualities are critical for great hotel service.
Essentialist: What was your first camera and when did you know photography was something that you wanted to do? When did the travel writing begin for you?
Rhiannon Taylor: My first camera was actually a Pentax 35mm given to me by my father for my birthday in high school. He knew I was obsessed with photography class and I was so excited that I finally had my own camera! Over the past 18 years or so, the camera gear has evolved but I still have the same instinct, photographically. Writing however came a lot later. My mother is an English teacher and she has a beautiful way with words. I unfortunately did not inherit this skill but when I created IN BED WITH I needed to accompany my images with words. It took a lot of practice. I find even now, if I don’t write for a month I’m back to square one. I often look at a photograph I’ve taken before writing to inspire me. I’m very much a visual person.
E: What was the first transformative trip for you and why was it so?
RT: My first ever trip to New York back when I was 21 was hugely transformative. Australian girl in a big city—talk about a huge change of pace. The creativity, the noise, the lights—it opened my eyes to the world. It was definitely the genesis of my journey to where I am today.
E: What defines a luxury hotel for you?
RT: For me luxury is all about the hotel truly understanding it’s surroundings. I love a hotel that pays respect to the destination it’s in—privilege of place is a big thing for me. So if a hotel has considered its design, its menu, its staff and its activities authentically, with it’s destination in mind, then guests feel like they have an immersive experience. Which is what travel is all about.
E: What is the first thing you like to do when you check into a hotel?
RT: I know this sounds odd but the light switches in the room! Sometimes this is an absolute nightmare so I figure it out as soon as I check in to avoid frustration when I want to go to sleep.
E: Hotel bars and restaurants have become destinations in themselves for locals as well as tourists. Good food and great cocktails are important, but what, in your mind, makes a hotel bar or restaurant welcoming? Are there one or two that stand out?
RT: I love that hotels are focusing more attention on their bars and restaurants. Complicated menus can often be poorly executed when in a fast paced environment such as a hotel so simplicity is key. I love restaurants that focus on local produce and local flavors for both their food and drink menu. Hotel Esencia in Yucatan, Mexico is a great example of having a restaurant that reflects what’s local—amazing cocktails (mezcal seems to flow freely here, ha!) and unbelievably good Mexican cuisine.
E: With regards to service, what are two or three qualities that are critical for a hotel to convey?
RT: I love service that is flexible. Whenever I get a response that begins with “it’s our policy” I instantly feel tense, particularly with tiny details. When a hotel has a relaxed, welcoming attitude towards their guests, I think we all feel more on holiday. Life doesn’t have to be difficult. I also love when a hotel makes service feel personalized. When staff know your name, or remember your favorite drink it makes a guest’s experience so much more memorable.
Essentialist: What are a few signature things that can make a good hotel, great?
RT: Besides exquisite service, a great bed is essential. When a hotel invests in its mattress and linen, it shows and really elevates the experience. I’m also really impressed by top tier hotels that are shifting their practices to become more eco friendly by using sustainable products, eliminating plastic and being more aware of their processes from food and beverage right down to housekeeping.
E: What are some travel essentials that you are never without?
RT: International power adaptors—I’m paranoid about running out of power on my laptop and phone. I also have a pretty strict beauty regime, which keeps me in check throughout different climates and time zones.
E: Can you let us in a little on the process of how you review a hotel? Does it start with photography first?
RT: Being a photographer, I was always drawn to design first in the initial stages of IN BED WITH. But now, hundreds of hotels and many years later, I approach a hotel completely differently. A hotel has to be unique in some way. It could be the food, the linens, the staff, the location—something has to be different. I don’t think there is much space in the market to be “just ok”. I also always look for functionality. Sometimes when a room is over-designed, it becomes uncomfortable to stay in. Powerpoints, USB, TV, light switches, curtains etc., all become an irritation if they’re not easy to use and accessible.
E: Is there a hotel you love that you could go back to a thousand times?
RT: Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como, Italy. It is pure heaven. The food is outstanding, the service is impeccable, the views are to die for and the grounds are palatial.
E: Finally, we have to ask—Where are you staying tonight?
RT: Right now I’m home in Australia, soaking up the summer holidays and sunshine with my family. But I’m off to Africa on Safari very shortly to find some of the best game viewing lodges!
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