We want memory-making vacation experiences that are immersive and personal, in groups small enough to get behind the scenes and up close. We want to eat with a local, cook with a chef, volunteer to make a difference, tackle once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
EatWith.com matches intrepid diners with foodies in 130-some countries. Itineraries at UKCountrysideTours.com cover a mix of national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in England. Nearly 30 countries are arranging activities for the 2018 Year of Cultural Heritage, so designated by the European Union. europa.eu/cultural-heritage
Although we want to dive deep, we also expect privacy and convenience, especially in lodging. Airbnb.com house-apartment-room sharing has made a huge impact on lodging, but it isn’t the first choice for everybody.
Interaction with a human is optional, for example, at Yotel near Times Square in New York City. It’s kind of like checking in at an airport: Step up to a computer screen and insert a credit card for incidentals. The room reservation pops up, and out pops your choice of one key or two, plus the room number.
Also on ground level is the luggage-stowing Yobot, for early arrivals and those in need of stashing a bag after checkout. Fill a bin, choose a pin number, add your last name and watch (from behind glass) as a one-armed crane stores your stuff until a receipt barcode starts the retrieval process.
It’s all sleek, minimalist and efficient, just like accommodations. Although compact, everything in a Yotel room has its own little nook: hairdryer and bottle opener to heated towel rack, tiny desk and many power outlets for recharging gadgets.
Internet access is free and fast. The smart TV doubles as a way to order food. A sheet of thick glass and curtain separate bedroom from toilet and “monsoon rain” shower. The push of a button adjusts a comfy memory foam mattress from couch-like seating to roomy recliner to queen or king bed.
For more elbow room, head to the fourth floor, home to a whimsically decorated lounge, fitness room, computer stations, restaurant, bar and – during warm weather – 7,000-square-foot, rooftop terrace. Also available is a concierge and other staff to answer questions and troubleshoot.
First-class airline cabins were the inspiration for Yotel, and the first opened at Gatwick Airport in London in 2007. Rates at Yotel, 570 10th Ave., New York, start at $107 during this time of year. The other U.S. location is South Boston, and a San Francisco Yotel opens this year. yotel.com, 646-449-7700
Much closer to home and more spacious is Kinn Guesthouse MKE in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee, known for its fun mix of independently owned boutiques, bars and bistros.
Instead of Yotel’s 170 square feet per room, Kinn Guesthouse’s eight units of lodging are each at least 500 square feet. The guesthouse, which opened almost one year ago, converts an 1895 cream city brick building, which was a longtime Masonic lodge.
Guests have access to an equipped kitchen and lounging area with big-screen TV and fireplace, just down the hall. Internet access, parking, coffee and a glass or two of wine are complimentary. Don’t get greedy or careless: A chalkboard message with a smiley face says the area is subject to camera surveillance.
A day or two before check-in, a guest’s individualized building and guestroom access code arrives via email. The code works for a specified time frame, check in to check out.
Don’t expect a registration desk, room keys, turndown service or housekeeping visit if staying more than one night. That’s by design: Owner Charles Bailey, whose grandfather and father managed The Drake hotels in Chicagoland, believes modern travelers want less intrusion.
“What we’re doing is antithetic to what they had at The Drake,” he acknowledges, but times change. “I don’t think guests want other people in their room. Many hang out a ‘do not disturb’ sign” in traditional hotels. And they seek good value, not “nickel and dime-ing” with add-on costs.
Bailey prefers to not corners with furnishings, which include high-definition Apple TVs, plush bedding, dual-shower fixtures, bed frames made with repurposed timbers and a generous supply of original art in decor.
“People want to feel more like they’re living in a home instead of a hotel,” he says, noting that the lodging concept is particularly attractive to extended-stay business travelers and families on the go.
When a guest has a question or concern, Bailey takes the call and responds or refers accordingly.
Beneath his lodging is the quietly refined Kindred on KK restaurant, open for happy hour and dinner. kindredonkk.com, 414-446-3640
Rates at Kinn Guesthouse MKE, 2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, start at $155. kinnmke.com, 888-546-6021
A recent TravelMarketReport.com article about trends among independently owned hotels mentions the desire for high-quality lodging that’s affordable. That could mean more “micro-rooms and big public spaces,” plus “limited services – no room service or concierge.”
Deanna Ting at Skift.com predicts “smart rooms” are the next big thing. That means voice-activated technology or using a smartphone to change room temperature, lighting and TV channels.
Approaches like this are a way to compete with Airbnb.com lodging options. Hotel chains have a harder time changing cookie-cutter room design and décor but are introducing lodging packages that include destination-specific activities, to experience a local culture authentically.
Example: Marriott in 2017 invested in PlacePass, an online and searchable hub of 100,000-plus global tours and activities. Experiences by Marriott vacation packages include lodging and culinary to family-friendly activities. What is offered depends on the destination. placepass.com, marriott.com