LONDON • James and Tamara Lohan once stayed in a hotel in northern England's Lake District that they would rather forget. The bad experience prompted them to start Mr & Mrs Smith, a hotel recommendation service where all properties are reviewed anonymously by a panel member.
"We were fed up of chintzy, old-fashioned hotels and wanted people to experience a new breed of style-savvy, personality-led boutique hotels," Mr Lohan said.
Now, 15 years later, they are about to raise money to push further into overseas markets. They will add more hotels to their collection of recommendations and offer more cultural experiences, such as a two-hour tour of Chelsea in London for £175 (S$310).
When Mr & Mrs Smith started out, it quickly found a niche. It helped travellers find independent hotels that, without allegiance to a large player like Marriott or Hilton, had very little marketing muscle of their own. And it came at a perfect time, when travellers started shifting away from cookie-cutter, big-box hotels towards accommodation with more personality.
They were not alone. Competitors include consortia like Small Luxury Hotels or Leading Hotels of the World, which help high-end, independent properties band together and gain visibility among independent-minded luxury travellers.
The world's biggest hotel brands have fought back, acquiring collections of unique and individual properties not confined to uniform brand standards. Take Marriott's Luxury Collection, for example, or Hilton's Tapestry. They promise original properties that are anything but generic, with a sense of place and singular personality-plus, they let you earn or use points on a loyalty programme.
Mr & Mrs Smith offers a similar carrot: paid memberships that provide discounts, airport lounge access and more. Its revenue - from fees or commissions on bookings, as well as book publishing and memberships - has risen to £10.6 million in the year ended June, up 35 per cent from last year.
The company has also jumped into another rapidly expanding area for travel agents and hoteliers: experiences. It recently purchased a company called Sidestory that curates activities in London and Paris. The goal is to expand to New York and Barcelona.
Mr & Mrs Smith will take investments through Crowdcube, a British crowdfunding platform. It hopes to raise at least £1 million and as much as £8 million.