A Very Good Year for New Hotels

When we embarked on this year’s Hot Hotels issue, I wasn’t sure what we’d come up with, to be honest. Our criteria to be featured in this issue is that the hotel must have opened between January and December of 2009 and as we all know, last year wasn’t the happiest time frame for the hotel industry. I thought we might have some drab results spurred by the lousy economic climate.

Was I wrong. It was a fabulous year for the debut of some very amazing properties with amazing personalities. Gordan Campbell Gray’s Le Gray finally opened in Beirut, and Morocco got even hotter when La Mamounia debuted in Marrakech. New life was breathed into this posh hotel by designer Jacques Garcia, who always brings a chic new image to any icon he recreates. In my book, Morocco is the new “it” destination; a number of luxury hotels are slated to open there in the next year or so. Besides that, it’s exotic and mysterious to the U.S. traveler. Las Vegas got new buzz in 2009 when it opened three hotels in CityCenter. I was there for the grand opening of Vdara and I got an amazing sneak preview of the Mandarin Oriental, but I still haven’t seen Aria. I’m dying to go back to visit this mega-luxury hotel to see how it complements the other luxury hotels in the MGM Grand Mirage portfolio.

New York had a nice rush of new hotels open in 2009: The Crosby Street and Cooper Square hotels ventured into downtown and created a buzz, and two luxury hotels—The Mark and The Surrey—reopened and repositioned after extensive renovations. Just the other day I did a hard-hat tour of The Chatwal, which opens this spring on West 44th Street. That property is being lovingly sculpted under the direction of Joel Freyberg and I have no doubt you’ll see it on next year’s Hot Hotels list.

It’s always excruciating to trim our roster of our Hot Hotels and I wanted to give an honorable mention to the following properties, which should definitely be on your radar:

Laucala Island on Fiji opened with 25 villas (plus a Hilltop Residence); here, guests have access to “Tao,” a resort butler who caters to guests’ every whim. The Cullen in Melbourne, Australia, is the first of six new Art Series Hotels. It honors Australian artist Adam Cullen with more than 450 of his works on display throughout the property. Cute touch: Two of Cullen’s custom-designed cows are in the hotel’s foyer. At Soneva Kiri on the Thai island of Koh Kood, food is served by ziplining waiters to dining pods that are set 16 feet above the ground. The16th-century seaside village of Trancoso, Brazil, got its first luxury hotel in the form of UXUA Casa Hotel (pronounced “ooh-shoo-ah”). Comprising nine houses, the resort has already hosted 11 supermodels and photographer Terry Richardson during the 2010 Pirelli Calendar shoot, as well as well-known Brazilian socialites and celebs.

Honorable mention for a great repositioning: Seven Stars in Providenciales on Turks and Caicos actually opened in 2008, but new management took over in 2009 with an intense new focus on partnering with travel agents. The product itself was also enhanced; they added a new Kids Club and even a Kids Scuba program.