James and Tamara Lohan started out as serial travellers who launched an offbeat guide to hotels that met their stringent criteria of bed sheet thread count, bath tubs big enough for two and the ability to make a romantic weekend getaway more imaginative than a butler-drawn bath filled with rose petals. Since founding Mr & Mrs Smith in 2003, the duo have since turned the guide into a prolific and profitable hotel booking site for travellers looking for cool, unique getaways.
As a married couple who spent most of their careers seeking out romantic travel experiences, they know a thing about modern love and recently, they collaborated with The Future Laboratory – a strategic foresight consultancy – to produce a report about the next 10 years of romantic travel.
As the world changes – with changing perceptions of sexuality, social norms, climate change, and political upheaval – so too has the notion of romance evolved. Instead of the conventional champagne, chocolates and candlelight dinners or couple’s massages, the report sees a distinct shift towards more innovative, sensual and meaningful experiences. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we ask the original Mr & Mrs Smith: What’s love all about?
What prompted you to commission this Modern Love report?
As we know, travel trends are constantly evolving, and people are always on the lookout for the latest undiscovered destination and hottest hotel opening. Travel is naturally about looking into the future, planning that next break, the next adventure. So we saw the turn of the decade as the ideal time to really push the boundaries of romantic travel and explore new ways to approach this. The Modern Love report, which we worked on with the brilliant minds at the Future Laboratory, can now be used as a toolkit for the hoteliers in our collection; we hope it will evoke meaningful, creative conversations and ultimately result in a new wave of romantic travel.
Can you shed some light on why champagne, roses and candlelight dinners have fallen out of favour? Whatever happened to good old fashioned romance the way we used to define it?
Of course there’s nothing wrong with champagne and a candlelit dinner but it’s very predictable and hardly creative – and we have to acknowledge that cliched romantic notions are really not for everyone. Romance changes with the times, just like everything else. What we’re really excited about is the innovation in this area. Whether it’s making more inventive room choices – like at Soneva Jani in the Maldives, where some have a retractable roof so you can stargaze from your bed together, or the Retreat at Blue Lagoon in Iceland where certain rooms have private access to the thermal lagoon – that’s going to remain in the memory way longer than a bottle of champagne. It’s all about finding romance in more inventive – and more meaningful – situations.
What are some of the biggest takeaways from this report? What will romance be like in the 2020s and beyond? From a travel perspective, what would be the new definition of a romantic holiday?
There will always be those who seek the traditional. But in reality, romantic travel is constantly evolving. In recent years we’ve already seen the rise of experiential travel, how honeymoons have spawned minimoons, buddymoons etc, a more hyper-local approach to holidaying (seeking out specific neighbourhoods) and the prominence of the gourmet getaway to name just a few. Now we’re seeing how the idea of romance itself is widening to encompass the bonds we have with friends, with ourselves and even with places themselves. Fixed notions of romantic travel will start to fade. We’re particularly taken with the idea of shared purpose sejours (where romantic encounters take a conscious and positive-impact stance), co-romantic breaks (where breaks are undertaken to suit the multiromance requirements of all parties involved in the relationship) and the rise of ‘untethered living’ and its fuelling of so-called situationships.
How do you think hotels and travel operators should respond to these new definitions and demands of romantic travel and lifestyle?
We’re certainly not expecting a sea change, but subtle shifts can make a difference. For example, the Greenwich Hotel in New York recently swapped the single day beds in their spa pool area for doubles and draped material to create more intimate spaces. For us, we’ll continue to showcase the hotels that embody the principles of this report and the people in the industry making them happen in exciting ways.
Part of the report mentions that a lot of these new ideas stem from the fact that more people are choosing to be single. Given a rapidly aging population and plummeting fertility rates, what do you attribute these changing value systems to?
Over 25 per cent of the adult world is currently single out of choice, which does not fit with our ‘traditional’ societal expectations that life was about finding a partner. In a wider sense, as property ownership becomes less attainable (or even less desirable), younger people are cohabiting for longer, thus closely sharing significant life moments with friends and strengthening those bonds. The rise of co-working and more nomadic working, too, has meant a conflation of work and social lives and ever-widening friend circles and support networks – reinforcing that societal importance of friendship. So it makes it much easier and less stigmatised for people to choose to be single. Not that this heralds the ‘death’ of relationships, but it shows this idea of the ‘situationship’ will become more appealing – finding bonds with those in similar situations without the necessary need for traditional ‘commitment’. Even for more traditional couples, we expect a more varied holiday calendar – together, apart, with friends – in order to enhance those moments of shared intimacy when they do arise.
Do you see yourself adopting some of the new definitions of romance in your own life?
In some ways, it’s been about realising that certain moments were romantic – just not in a ‘typical’ way. We went to Puglia as a family last year and spent an afternoon learning how to make some really amazing local pasta. We all got together and made those same recipes on New Year’s Eve and it took us right back there – it’s that sort of enhanced connection that the report discusses. As for the two of us, we’re really keen to visit the first eco resort in Mauritius, Salt of Palmar, which really fosters connection with the local community by arranging skills swaps – a really romantic way of making a positive impact. The idea of romantic trips that incorporate solo days to indulge our own passions before coming back together to discuss our adventures is also a nice way of reframing those couples’ trips.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day each year?
We just use it as an excuse to visit one of our favourite hotels in the English country so we can spend some time together without the kids – enjoy the spa, eat well and have long country walks. The Newt in Somerset is one of our new favourites as are the treehouses at Chewton Glen.
As a couple who are also business partners, how do you separate work from marriage? And how do you keep the romance alive?
We don’t separate it that often but we’re incredibly lucky as we genuinely love what we do so we don’t see it as work. As far as ensuring that the romantic flames are stoked, we always say that spontaneity is all in the planning, so get booking those breaks away for birthdays and anniversaries at the very least and come up with a reason why your parents need to be on babysitting duty!
This article was originally published in The Business Times.