Interview With Jarvis Marcos – The Luxury Traveller
Jarvis Marcos is a travel blogger who’s been reviewing luxury hotels and first class flights since 2013. Over the years he has amassed a large following on social media, his blog The Luxury Traveller attracts thousands of readers monthly. We had the chance to chat with Jarvis about luxury travel, and how the travel industry will progress beyond the pandemic.
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Tell us about yourself. Your background, current profession, and how you got into luxury travel?
I was born in Spain and half of my family lives there but I've spent most of my life living in the UK. As a child my family always prioritised travel over material possessions, any time there was a school holiday we would load up the car and drive somewhere in Europe. I was also fortunate to be sent away to summer schools to learn French and German, although my level of fluency these days is largely contingent on how many drinks I've had!
My paternal grandfather was an engineer for Concorde so aviation was always something that was talked about in my family too. We tended to only fly once a year back in the 80s and 90s though since flights were so expensive compared to today.
Some of my clearest childhood memories are of being sent to the flight deck to talk to the pilots, when my mum wanted to head to the smoking section of the plane for a cigarette. I remember thinking that it was absolutely incredible that these people were responsible for controlling the movements of the aircraft that we were all sitting in. Fast forward to today and I'm a financial professional working in asset management in London.
I actually wanted to become a pilot as I was younger but over time I drifted into this career path and have been working in finance for 15 years. It was during the final semester of my MBA, an overseas placement at Bangkok University, that I had my first taste of miles and points.
A few of my classmates got friendly with one of the administrative staff who was around our age and we got chatting about our travel plans. This guy told us he could get us flights to Tokyo for something like $50 ... IN FIRST CLASS! None of us really believed it until we were actually safely on board the United 747 and offered our first glass of champagne.
From that point on I was hooked. I had to understand how he had managed to get these flights for only $50 in taxes and I had to be sure to never fly economy ever again!
We have been following your trip reports on FlyerTalk for many years, and your reviews have evolved quite a bit since. At what point did you take the step to become a professional reviewer?
It has been something of a slow evolution. My first trip report on FlyerTalk was back in 2013. Initially I was only ever interested in giving back to the FlyerTalk community. I'd read so many amazing and inspirational trip reports that I just wanted to pay back the effort that others had made. After a couple of years of writing only on FlyerTalk I got involved in Instagram. It seemed initially like this would be a better way to write about travel, since the platform was user friendly and had potential reach well beyond a frequent flyer forum.
The account started to grow quickly and connected me to people all over the world who had a similar passion for travel. I kept up the trip reports on FlyerTalk for a while but was starting to really get sick of how long it took to edit using a bulletin board interface. I figured that I'd just launch my own website and make it look the way I wanted. The flip side is that I've had to learn how to code the entire thing by myself, in addition to leveling up my photography and editing skills and venturing into video content with TikTok. Of course FlyerTalk has a massive captive audience too, something I had to build for myself from scratch...
There came a tipping point a couple of years ago where properties started approaching me and offering me free stays. Initially I was reticent but figured I'd give it a go and see how it went. If it was a dumb idea I could write it off but at least I could say I'd given it a go. Five years into writing reviews and instagram posts it was also the first time that I received any kind of financial recompense for my efforts (albeit it 'payment in kind')
What I've personally found is that very few hotels actually have the bandwidth to fawn over you and give you special treatment outside what others guests receive. More often than not staff are completely clueless as to the fact that you're there to review a property. A single reviewer just isn't that important to most hotels.
You'll have a marketing person to speak to who you'll meet for a drink or dinner at some point during your stay but for the most part you're getting the same experience as others. This combined with the fact that I'm always transparent in declaring the cost of my stays means that I'm able to retain objectivity and integrity without bankrupting myself going to ever more expensive hotels!
I have had properties request specifically positive stays and immediately shoot them down. Having that black mark against my name just isn't worth it for a free stay (which still involved 100+ hours of dedicated work on reviews, photos etc).
The pandemic has changed our outlook on travel, where leisure travel is set to account for the bulk of airline and hotel revenue in the years to come. Do you believe that this will result in more service cutbacks or higher fares/rates at airlines and hotels?
We're seeing inflation pick up throughout the global economy as supply chains struggle to cope with a rebound in demand. The airline industry won't reach 2019 for some time but redeploying parked aircraft and rehiring staff is expensive, somehow the cost has to be accounted for.
We've certainly seen a lot of service cutbacks, many of which are masquerading as COVID related. The cynic in me does think that this will lead to a continuation of the service degradation that the industry has encountered over the last decade.
Hotels are different in that the capacity is a lot more fixed. Look at Miami any time since February of this year as an example: Standard rooms at average hotels are selling for north of $700 a night. Staff are in high demand and short supply too. I'm hearing anecdotally that hotels are now only offering housekeeping on request and even then not on a daily basis.
Will this continue post-pandemic?
I think demand will normalize once everyone has gotten all their pent up demand for holidays out of the way, so prices should come back down. However, I'd be very surprised if the service cutbacks don't stick around, particularly in less luxurious properties.
On the subject of service cutbacks. Has the pandemic brought forward any positive service changes?
The clearest example for me is the removal of breakfast buffets. Something which I'm very happy about.
We went to Italy last July just as the first wave of COVID had subsided in Europe.
The Waldorf Cavalieri in Rome tried to deliver table service instead of a breakfast buffet but totally failed, staff were overwhelmed.
Lupaia in Tuscany is a much smaller and more luxurious property though and the breakfast experience was superb, much more relaxed than having people walking around with plates of food piled high.
NH Convento di Amalfi is a relatively large property but managed to deliver a hybrid buffet and a la carte experience which worked very well indeed without staff suffering.
I'd much rather sit in a relaxed room with staff bringing me freshly cooked food, rather than huddling around a trough with countless other people.
As a professional reviewer you have a different frame of reference than the average guest at a luxury hotel. How would you say that your expectations differ, and is that reflected fairly in your reviews?
I'm not sure that my expectations are particularly different to those of my audience.
True my frame of reference is more expansive than somebody who only visits one or two hotels a year but the underlying concept is the same. I want to feel welcome, sleep well and eat well. I don't want complications or problems and if any arise I want staff who are more than capable of rectifying them.
The basics checklist that I refer to on every review is something which I think resonates with the vast majority of people. Of course I have my own personal nuances and expectations but I don't think they're in any way impacted by the fact that I'm writing reviews.
It's safe to say that in-room coffee machines and high quality gyms are more important to me than to a lot of people. The level of detail which I give in my reviews is what gives them universal appeal though. I always try to conceive of every possible facet of a stay that could be important to anybody, not just me.
A lot of reviews on well known websites are extremely brief and often ghost written by PR teams who haven't even visited properties. I like to think that mine are the antithesis to that (although I readily admit that heavily detail focused reviews aren't everybody's' cup of tea)
Could you tell us about an experience where a luxury hotel really fell short in terms of living up to the expectations?
The Edge in Bali was a pretty disastrous stay. It seemed like the kids had been left in charge and nobody had a clue about anything that was going on. The hard product was absolutely incredible but the stay was just a comedy of errors.
Amanbagh in India was a real letdown too. Our room featured some high end materials but wasn't particularly well designed. We had a broken power socket with exposed wiring and the air-conditioning blew directly onto our faces at night, they also didn't provide tea or coffee facilities of any kind.
Worse was the constant sales pitch from staff, it was like we were attending a timeshare presentation. Certain staff members were worse than others with some really acting like pushy call centre salespeople, desperate for us to spend more on extras at every possible occasion.
You’ve stayed at some of the most aspirational properties in the world. Is there any luxury hotel that you haven’t stayed at yet, but that’s high on your bucket list?
Of course there are plenty!
Trekking with gorillas in the wild is definitely at the top of my bucket list, One & Only Nyungwe looks like an exceptional place to do this from. I remember once speaking to an older gentleman, who had lived near Kruger national park for his whole life; he said that nothing compared to seeing gorillas in the wild. He also said that he'd seen enough change in a quick enough time to convince him that the opportunity wouldn't be around for long...
There are a few private island resorts around the world which look incredible too, unbelievable levels of luxury where every single whim is catered to: Laucala and North Island being the most obvious examples.
Finally, Awasi Atacama and Amangiri. There's something truly alluring about the concept of experiencing high end luxury whilst nestled in the solitude of the desert.
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