“It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind” —these were the words of the late Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef was referring to the flavour of travel and the aspects of it that stay with you and leave an impact on your consciousness.
Beyond the places we go to and beautiful photos that we capture, it is the people you meet and the connections you make that become immortalised in your memory, even if you will not meet them again. The time that you had an engaging conversation with a stranger; when you experienced a cuisine with people from another culture; or were told stories and adventures that stay as a reminder that there are other worlds—all these strengthen our connection with a destination.
IHG Hotels & Resorts’ boutique luxury brand, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, understands this. But what does it actually mean to centre human connection in hospitality? At Kimpton, the key lies in subtle but intensely personal touches every member of staff endeavours to provide. There’s Kimpton’s signature service initiative, “Forgot it? We’ve got it” to put a guest instantly at ease with complimentary travel amenities that one might have forgotten to bring on their trip. Or the time when the perceptive head bartender at Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok gifted a guest—Thai silk jewellery designer Supatchana—with a book of her favourite fairy tales following their conversation at the hotel bar, or the thoughtfulness behind a room-service menu tailored perfectly to your dietary needs. We can all agree, in a world full of technological disruption, there is nothing quite as comforting as when you know that another human being is looking out for you.
It is for this reason that the Kimpton brand puts the focus on the people at the forefront and behind-the-scenes of its operations—everyone from the general manager to housekeeping staff plays a part—and through signature Kimpton perks such as the daily Social Hour so guests can gather and connect. As an extension of the Kimpton DNA of personal connections, the brand launched its ‘’Kimpton Digital Guestbook’’ campaign, where it partnered with several key influencers across Australia, Singapore and South Korea to share their #KimptonStories.
Rosalyn Lee (or Rozz as she is affectionately known) is the quintessential urban nomad, having quit her radio career in 2017 to travel the world and documenting it on her Instagram account.
Travelling solo most of the time means that aside from security and safe yet accessible locations, she craves the warmth of human engagement in choosing hotels. “The hotel staff are literally my first local ‘friends’,” she says. “Connecting with people outside of my bubble is one of the key reasons I travel, whether it’s swapping adventure tales with strangers at the bar, getting support such as tips, translation or physical help from fellow solo travellers, or that warm ‘welcome back Miss Lee’ from the hotel doorman or hostel owner, I live for that.”
Travel experiences also leave deep memories, such as the time she was in Bhutan for a shoot and had to pretend to meditate—much to her discomfort as someone who didn’t have the patience for meditation. “Then, the lady leading the meditation started singing a Bhutanese prayer song of love… ,” she recalls. “I found myself fighting to hold back my tears. After a couple of minutes of tears streaming down my face I broke down in violent sobs.” The surrounding positive vibration and nature had given vent to accumulated stress—thanks to the rigours of city life. “I was mind blown. The following year I went back to Bhutan with my best friend to celebrate my 40th birthday with lots of nature immersion and hiking. I think I found my happy place. Can’t wait to be back.”
For photographer Lee Yik Keat, the human element is the essence of travelling. He recalls a time in Hong Kong when he was photographing a building and a lady from a stall nearby struck up a conversation with him, not knowing what a tripod was. Later she invited him to her shop and gifted him a keychain in the form of a toy camera. “It’s these little things that make me remember a certain country, a certain place,” he reflects.
In choosing a hotel, good design and warm service are paramount—the former to inspire his creative work and the latter to make the experience more memorable. While the pandemic has made travel—usually a source of escape and relaxation—stressful with all its protocols, as well as less human-centric faceless technologies, he hopes that the human touch to services will return when travel fully opens up.
Having a smart home herself, creative and artist Willabelle Ong may embrace the smart hotel room for its convenience, but she also agrees that the human touch is important.
Travel is a constant in Ong’s life—beginning from when she lived in Australia to complete high school and university, and road trips with her family down under was de rigueur. Her nomadic adventures now continue with her husband, be it a safari experience in Namibia, snowmobiling and ice fishing in Finland or simply driving through Japan’s traditional villages.
Hospitality, location and comfort are her top criteria in choosing a hotel. “I find that hotels that make you feel ‘at home’ will always tailor service that is sincere, bespoke and genuine,” she says. “The human element of travel is all about meaningful interactions and retaining a personal touch. Sometimes, an emotional connection can start even before the trip. For example, if a hotel or tour reaches out to prepare in advance for your visit, and follows up with a welcoming check in upon arrival, and so on. I personally find that these little gestures strengthen our connection with the destination.”
Being stranded in Singapore during the pandemic, MYRNE –Singaporean DJ and producer signed to Grammy award-winning producer Diplo’s record label—remarks how the people he meets during his travels impacts his music. “[Making music alone is] a far slower process than being in a room full of people. As a musician who travels frequently to perform and collaborate, seeing a new city for the first time is nice, but making new friends and learning from their experiences is mind-blowing! That aspect of travel has subconsciously moulded my music for years, and I’m starting to miss it. It reminded me that human connections are so valuable, especially when we travel,” he says.
André Wee is an experimental illustrator, artist and visual designer whose craft straddles the virtual and analogue worlds. The Singaporean is currently based in New York City. Sketching people from real life is one of his favourite ways to spend time during his travels. He recalls a particular time at an Izakaya that he had chanced upon in Kyoto when time stood still for him despite the flurry of activity. “Sketching the busy people come and go from across the room while being somewhat shrouded behind the hot but aromatic smoke emanating from the yakitori grill… time slows to a stop for me,” he says eloquently. “Amidst the tapping sound of the rain, I listen to the hum of the chatter, I watch the diners eat, laugh, order more skewers, clink their glasses, finish their sakes and smoke. I try to capture it all with my pen on paper, drawing the diners as they reminisce, but find that the more I grasp at, the faster it all fleets away.”
“It has been a while since I’ve last travelled for a vacation and am so excited to have recently flown back to NYC where I will be exploring a new neighbourhood we recently moved to and connect with friends both old and new.”
To celebrate the togetherness of travel, Kimpton is giving away four unforgettable 10-night-stays at one of its newest Kimpton hotels in Sydney, Bali, Bangkok, Koh Samui or Paris. The stay includes a tailored itinerary and all of the Kimpton perks. To enter:
- Join the Kimpton Digital Guestbook by sharing a post of your most cherished heartfelt human connection on your Instagram page (the more creative, the better!)
- Use the hashtag #Kimptonstories
- Tag a friend
- Ensure your page is public
The competition is open from now until 13 March 2022. It is open to residents of Australia, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea, with one winner awarded per country. Winners will be able to choose their 10-night adventures at any of the five participating hotels. Full competition T&Cs can be found here.