Founders of MR & MRS Smith
It is not often that romance is associated with a successful business, even one that involves curating a niche list of stays the world over, handpicked by James and Tamara Lohan and a team of anonymous reviewers that includes designers Henry Holland and Stella McCartney. The very name of the business, Mr & Mrs Smith, is itself an irreverent nod to the pseudonym often adopted by weekending couples.
Tamara: I’m always looking for a new experience. This doesn’t have to be dramatic – it can be a little something that makes me realise that there is someone who really cares. I live to travel and I always knew I was going to do something in travel, I just didn’t know what. I learnt to fly a plane in my early 20s and nearly joined the Royal Air Force. James and I actually met on holiday – and it was a holiday romance that lasted!
James: Spontaneity is all in the planning and you can always change your plans if they don’t fi t when you get there. Throw yourself in wholeheartedly, take every opportunity that comes your way and get out of your comfort zone.
Tamara: When we were in Singapore last year, our friends took us out for dinner to a roadside cafe. This was essentially a restaurant in an industrial estate. You could get your car serviced across the road while you ate. The view was terrible, but it was packed and served the best chilli crab I’ve ever eaten. We ended up hanging out with the owner in his tiny, air-conditioned whisky room, tasting our way through his staggeringly good collection.
James: I once had a massage in Morocco that I still can’t talk about – not at a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel, I must add! It was so ‘authentic’ that I was silent for at least two hours afterwards with the shock of being pushed, pulled and probed by a man who looked like he could have been my cellmate if we were in prison. I’ve been a little less adventurous with my spa treatments since then.
Tamara: ‘Perfection’ is a much-abused word in travel, but Soneva Fushi in the Maldives comes pretty close. You get your own Man Friday when you arrive and he will suggest all kinds of day and night activities. Our tour of the eco centre was a highlight: they make wealth out of waste. You can also go snorkelling with a marine biologist to get a sense of your undersea surroundings. It was a truly inspiring place.
James: I can tell from the entrance signage if the hotel is going to be right for us. And if that’s a bit soon, then I’m 90 per cent sure after seeing the lobby design and getting the welcome. If they clear the first fence, it’s straight down to details: the thread count of the sheets, the bathroom products. Then it’s to the bar to hear the music, taste the drinks and check the ambience. If that’s still going well, we go into food and service – and of course trying out the spa if they have one.
Tamara: For me it’s about the welcome – from the moment you walk in the door you are either made to feel special or made to feel uncomfortable. That can be done via a thousand different touch points – from the music they are playing in the lobby to the lighting.