The Palm Beach-area hair stylist Chase Thomas is a regular visitor to Paris, where he typically stays at The Ritz—the Coco Chanel suite, s’il vous plait. He awakens to the finest French roast coffee served in a hand-painted, gold-trimmed Limoges cup and saucer, accompanied by a single croissant au beurre, delivered on an elegant tray with a local iris in a bud vase. “I go to Paris to be in Paris,” he says. “You won’t catch me in a homogenous chain hotel that looks and feels the same in any city in the world. The whole idea of travel is to take your life and drop it head-first into the local context, right? When I’m here, I want my days to ooze Paris, and wrap me in its history, culture, and flavor of daily life.”
As travelers become increasingly sophisticated and educated about their destinations, they arrive with a thirst for experiences that define the location. Smart hoteliers are now searching for more ways to “tell the local story” and enhance the guest experience with regional specialties and local secrets.
Even among the larger hotels that typically are slower to innovate, there is a widespread realization that the cookie-cutter approach to hotel brands just doesn’t cut it anymore.
“People want to know where they are in the most profound sense,” said Chris Steele, general manager of the 150-room Canopy by Hilton West Palm Beach that opens soon in Downtown. “They want to see, taste, touch, and experience their new surroundings. That includes local food, fashion, architecture, interiors, style, art, and culture.”
Jorge Pesquera, CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, the county’s tourism board, points to key indicators such as the heightened interest by visitors in local history tours. Worth Avenue walking tours and architectural history strolls around downtown West Palm are surging in popularity.
“Our visitors want immersion into the area,” says Raphael Clemente, who heads the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority.
Visitor data and online ratings show that more than ever, guests notice the unique and the unusual. Handcrafted, locally-sourced décor and often, as with The Breakers, the hotel’s own architectural heritage contributes to a kind of “design soul” for a hotel—a distinct vibe, personality, and sense of place.
Palm Beach’s iconic The Colony near Worth Avenue subscribes to that thinking in bold ways. This month it debuts a newly renovated 1,200-square-foot suite designed by local style mavens Danielle Norcross and Beth Achenbach. They are the sisters behind Palm Beach Lately, the blog and social media style source that thrives on all things Palm Beach. The new villa sports fabrics and furnishings designed to celebrate Palm Beach’s relaxed, coastal lifestyle, designed by Serena & Lily, which is opening a store on the island this season. The designer’s signature awning stripes, rattans, raffias, hand-painted blue linen, and cheery pineapple and palm tree prints on the walls and upholstery unite in a wild celebration of Palm Beach life.
“This is as Palm Beach as it gets,” said Sarah Wetenhall, president and CEO of The Colony. “The confluence of next-gen Palm Beach stylists, a nationally-known brand that understands our lifestyle and our unique design ‘patois,’ plus the history of The Colony itself, delivers a pinnacle of a Palm Beach experience.”
Design and décor aren’t the only ways to achieve an immersive local experience. The elegant Brazilian Court Hotel has anchored midtown Palm Beach since the 1920s with its signature lushly landscaped, open-air courtyards that create an inimitable kind of Palm Beach magic.
“But we don’t stop there,” says Ashley Berry, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “People come to the Brazilian Court knowing that it is wrapped, geographically and metaphorically, in the culture of the island with all of the wonderful idiosyncrasies that define Palm Beach. No socks. Blue blazers. Lilly prints. Tropical nights. The scent of gardenia, and charismatic characters drawn from pockets of affluence around the globe.”
Three years ago, the hotel found an imaginative way to deepen the local experience for guests by presenting a carefully curated one-of-a-kind art gallery managed under the expert eye of gallerist Paul Fisher, well-known on the local art scene.
“It was important that at least half of the artists shown at the hotel were locally based, even while they are nationally and internationally acclaimed,” said Berry. Exhibiting this season are Gail Leavitt, Serge Strosberg, and Kimberly duRoss of Palm Beach. Artists who live just across the bridge include Vicki Siegel, James Rabidoux, Stacey Mandell, Charles Bane, Ron Burkhardt, and Bruce Helander, whose work is part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan, LACMA, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim.
The farm-to-table movement has also propelled consumers into a heightened awareness about locally sourced produce, meats, beverages, even toiletries. These now play starring roles in hotel bars, restaurants, lobbies, and guest rooms, prompting curiosity and delight as they contribute to the portrait of the area. The Breakers goes the extra mile when it comes to locally sourced produce, which comes from a handful of Palm Beach County farms so each piece can be picked at peak ripeness for freshness and flavor. A decade ago, the resort’s executive purchasing team founded Localcopia, an independent non-profit that pairs local farmers and organic food producers with area chefs and restaurants to encourage local food-sourcing throughout the Palm Beaches. The hotel grows its own microgreens, herbs, and other harvested ingredients in its 2,000-square-foot garden.
Hotels in Palm Beach are fully aware they’re selling a unique experience as well as a place to eat, swim, and sleep, but the secret ingredient has now become authentic local intelligence.