Today, the boutique and luxury travel publisher and hotel booking service, that has become simpatico with stylish and unique accommodation for the discerning traveller, boasts almost a million members worldwide. Not to be confused with the action film starring Brad and Angelina, the name Mr & Mrs Smith eludes to travelling incognito.
“In Britain, it means you’ve checked in anonymously under ‘Smith’ so you could be on a risqué romantic weekend – possibly with someone you shouldn’t be with – but in the best possible stylish taste,” explains Mr & Mrs Smith cofounder James Lohan.
“It’s slightly naughty, but not in a cheesy chocolates-and-flowers way.”
Like all good stories, the Mr & Mrs Smith one was forged on romance a decade ago. “I was trying to impress my now wife Tamara and take her away somewhere for the weekend and failing miserably courtesy of some nameless guidebooks,” tells James. “All I could find were very luxury but quite old school hotels, and we were 30-something then. We were looking for somewhere cool to stay.”
Instead of the luxurious pampering getaway sold on the brochure, James and Tamara arrived to a somber health retreat.
“We turned up and they weighed us both in front of each other and then took our blood pressure,” recalls Tamara.
A calorie-controlled meal with a no-alcohol policy were the last straw for the couple, who opted for a boozy dinner at the local pub and an early check-out before sitting down to brainstorm what their ideal guide would look like.
“We wanted to use offset paper rather than shiny paper. We wanted it to be more organic and classy and use more colours rather than black and white. And we wanted it to be a coffee table book. Then we wanted to put a membership card in every book so that every hotel could include an offer – a bottle of champagne on arrival or a free upgrade – that sort of thing. That way, there was something for the reader, and the hotels could check that we were bringing them business.”
“The publishers were saying ‘you can’t do this. That’s a silly idea, no one’s done that before.’ We ignored them and did it anyway,” recalls James. “We remortgaged the house – we put all our life savings into it. We borrowed money from friends and family and we self published it, making a rule that no one would work with us who had worked in publishing before. Except the writers.
“People who had never designed a book before designed it. PR people who had never promoted a book before did PR for it. We broke all the publishing rules.
Against all odds and rejection from the major publishers, Mr & Mrs Smith’s first travel book went on to sell 100,000 copies.
“Everyone got Mr and Mrs Smith fever. They loved that there was nothing like it out there,” says James.
“All these tiny boutique independent hotels who never had a voice before, now had a voice,” tells Tamara. “And we won’t put a hotel in just because,” she explains of their winning niche formula. “We don’t have a hotel in Moscow – that’s not because we don’t think Moscow isn’t great, but there’s no boutique hotel there.”
“And we’re not going to put the Hilton in just because,” chimes in James. “What’s important to us is everything from lighting to the music – are there nice cosy areas in the lounge? Does the restaurant have a romantic feel about it? And obviously, the bedroom is hugely important if you’re on a Mr and Mrs Smith weekend: How comfy is it? Does it have Egyptian cotton sheets? Can you fit two people in the bath? Is the shower going to get you wet? That’s what we’re going to judge the hotel on.”
“A lot of our real hidden gems were found while we’re out on the road,” says Tamara. “We do a lot of research – but we get a lot of suggestions coming to us now.”
Sending in anonymous “tastemakers” to review their pre-selected hotels, including a sprinkling of celebrities such as Stella McCartney, Dita Von Teese and more locally, celebrity chefs Stefano Manfredi and Bill Granger, guests can rest-assured that if they’re checking into a Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel, pleasure – and hopefully romance – will ensue.
Tamara and James’ expert tips on booking the perfect accommodation
– When you’re booking online, be aware of all charges, taxes and additional costs
– Compare the rooms – they all may sound very similar but you may find that one will speak to you more than another, so ask to have a look. A corner room is usually bigger as a rule of thumb.
– Look at how well they back up their service: can you get through to someone on the phone if you need to?
– When you’re booking, say it’s special occasion . Don’t say ‘birthday’ or they may bring out a cake and sing “Happy Birthday”. That’s happened to us before. A good hotel will look for reasons to make your stay special – they should be delighted to bend over backwards for you.