Tiny hotels are hospitality’s new sweet spot

One of only four rooms at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Hotel in Philadelphia.
One of only four rooms at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Hotel in Philadelphia.
Image: Wm. Mulherin’s Sons/Matthew Williams
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In the decade since Airbnb was founded, travelers have seemed to fall into two categories: those who want to live like a local in an apartment, and those who want full-service amenities in a traditional hotel. For the former, rediscovering the finer elements of a hotel stay—like a chic hotel bar or room service coffee—is now possible thanks to a new trend: small, design-led hotels of about 10 rooms or fewer, placed in neighborhoods where you typically don’t find hotels or big hospitality brands.

That trend is on display (or some such) in Condé Nast Traveler’s annual “hot list,” which highlights more than 100 of the world’s best new hotels. “The Airbnbs of the world allow you to live like a local, and in cities that means they allow you to penetrate smaller neighborhoods that are otherwise atypical hospitality centers,” says Condé Nast Traveler editor in chief Pilar Guzmán. ”But the pendulum may in some case be swinging back for people who want to feel a local experience but also want all the amenities, the concierge, the lounge—people who no longer want to deal with the lack of the hotel bar.”

Of course, inns and bed-and-breakfasts have blended traditional hospitality with a homey feel for years. But this new crop of gems is doing so with an eye toward design, cuisine, and amenities that will leave aesthetes and high-brow travelers as happy as they’d be at a luxury property.

Some of the properties highlighted by the Condé Nast Traveler report include Ottantotto Firenze in Florence, which has just seven rooms; Santa Clara 1728 in Lisbon, which has converted an 18th century villa into six rooms; and Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Hotel in Philadelphia, whose four rooms “may be the coolest spot to sleep on the East Coast right now.”

These independent hotels are also giving less obvious destinations a chance to shine—and providing hoteliers with a new kind of traveler to impress.

“The cities themselves that are central to the travel conversation are not the usual suspects,” Guzmán says. “Lisbon is the new Barcelona, for example. And in some cases, those cities don’t have this long tradition of grand hotels, so hoteliers are filling that need of people who want that immersive experience but want the bells and whistles of a full service hotel.”