Maybe it’s that glittering chandelier hanging in the lobby, or the cool claw-foot tub in your hotel bathroom. “Aesthetics, and thoughtful details, have a lot to do with drawing guests back to a hotel,” says Heather Richardson, the marketing and editorial director at Jacada, a London-based safari and tour operator.
Thanks to social media, though, such details can also be irresistible in terms of another kind of instant gratification. “Travel has also become quite competitive,” Richardson admits. “People want to post photos that inspire their friends and family.”
Whatever their motivations, Travel+Leisure readers clearly love hotels that tastefully stand out, either through tiny details or dramatic settings. In this year’s World’s Best Awards, magazine readers ranked hotels around the globe for such qualities as their excellent locations, onsite spas, good value and compelling designs. Some of the top 20 design winners are located in former castles (and one is even a former prison), meaning that years of history have shaped their aesthetics. Other winners use contemporary design to literally connect travelers to their environments, whether it’s a tree house in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or a bungalow’s glass coffee table that acts a lens into the South Pacific below.
But all of them share a magical quality that dazzles travelers—even if those travelers never feel the need to share that experience on Instagram. Dena Roché felt the effects of one top 10-winner, South Carolina’s Inn at Palmetto Bluff, “the second I turned onto the property, and drove the weeping-willow-lined stretch to get to the hotel.”
“I drive like Danica Patrick normally,” says the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based travel blogger, “but it was so beautiful I found myself inching along. The whitewash and neutral colors are soothing, and the outdoor rocking chairs will have you ‘porching,’ an inn tradition, after just one day. The design lulls you into tranquility.”