Travel That’s Much More Than a Place to Sleep: Introducing Collective Retreats

I started in the hospitality industry when I was 15 years old. I was a dishwashing intern at a hotel restaurant helmed by a talented chef with a drinking problem (he called it “Chef’s Fuel”–most would recognize it as Jack Daniels). That year, despite spending much of my time being yelled at and dodging plates thrown my way, I fell in love with hospitality. Something about the magic of creating amazing experiences for people — the combination of creativity, empathy, and service — just felt right.

After graduating from Cornell’s hospitality school, I went to work at Starwood Hotels and Resorts where I spent 10 years in a wide variety of roles and countless nights in hotels all over the world. During that time, I learned the art of hospitality from some of the most amazing, renowned hoteliers in the world, but I also began to realize something was wrong. Whether I was in Japan, Brazil, or New York, the hotels inevitably looked and felt the same. Comfortable beds, reliable service, decent morning omelettes, but completely cookie cutter. I didn’t know what country I was in until I stepped outside.

I love hotels, but they’re broken

The truth is, traditional hotels are broken. While the last decade has brought tremendous advances to the travel industry, the vast majority of the innovation has been in booking and travel search platforms. This has made it easier than ever to find the best possible flight or string together an itinerary, but it doesn’t help once you’ve landed in a place and realize the accommodations you chose are little more than a convenient home base. Sure, there’s been a rise in cool boutique hotels — properties with strong, differentiated design — but they aren’t innovating on the basic hotel premise. They’re still just nice places to sleep.

What the hotel industry has ignored is the fact that consumers aren’t just looking to go to a place; they’re looking to experience it. We’re all after authentic experiences — getting to the heart of a place, understanding what it’s about, and leaving enriched and changed for the better. There’s a new focus on experiential programming — just look at Airbnb’s latest venture — but it unfortunately hasn’t made its way to the hotel industry.

I started Collective Retreats because I love hotels and I know they can be better. They can be a part of the overall travel experience — the place, the people, the exploration — not just a clean bed and a shower. Our approach completely upends the traditional brick-and-mortar model: we create luxury retreats in stunning destinations without investing in massive buildings. That way we can invest more dollars and more hours into what we think really matters: the experience.

Bringing out the best of a destination

Traditional hotels spend the vast majority of customer revenue on big buildings, taxes, maintenance, and other expenses that don’t improve the guest experience. We skip that part completely. We’ve created an asset-light model where we work with property owners to create temporary luxury accommodations that are connected to their surroundings but still have all the creature comforts you expect, from high-thread count sheets to exceptional dining. This lets us put retreats in places where traditional hotels simply couldn’t exist; we look across the country at mountain tops, farms, valleys and vineyards for the most inspiring places, while being mindful that we want these destinations to be accessible for weekend as well as week-long vacations and special events.

Beyond our physical accommodations, we make it easy for guests to take advantage of the best of the destination. Unlike the usual method of travel planning, where you cobble together dining and activity recommendations from friends, websites, and guidebooks, when you come to Collective Retreats we bring it all to you. Our chefs create one-of-a-kind dining under the stars with ingredients sourced from our retreat gardens, and our local staff has already done the pre-work to assemble the best area activities and providers — and can book them for you before you arrive.

We call our service culture “Aspen Hospitality” inspired by the Old World tradition of personal service that exists in places like the French Alps and our home turf of Aspen, Colorado. Of course, we’re delivering that idea in a fresh, connected way: from the minute you book, you have one-on-one attention from a concierge dedicated to personalizing your trip to your tastes and style. Onsite, our team members are there to give you local intel and tips, from the best spot to watch the sunset to the secret hike that leads to a pristine waterfall. Over delivering on service is their passion, and it’s in our company DNA. Because we aren’t tied down by the nuts and bolts of a traditional hotel, we can invest in every aspect of the guest experience.

Five places to come visit us…and growing

We’ve been quietly operating in Vail and Yellowstone over the last 2 years, hosting thousands of guests from all over the world. We’re now excited to share that we’ve secured $2.5 million in seed funding from First Round Capital, Slow Ventures, BoxGroup, and BBG Ventures, as well as visionary entrepreneurs in the tech and travel space like Sam Shank (founder and CEO of HotelTonight) and Evan Frank (founder and CEO of One Fine Stay) to continue to expand our portfolio. And in just a couple months, we’ll be welcoming guests back to Collective Vail and Collective Yellowstone, and are thrilled to announce our next three retreats: Collective Hudson Valley, Collective Sonoma, and Collective Hill Country.

While each retreat will have its own flavor and style, the mission is the same: to connect people and places, and help us all connect to ourselves in a more meaningful way. When you remove the confines of a traditional hotel, the possibilities are endless: I dream of bringing a retreat to Central Park in the spring, or opening up in one of the world’s finest museums.

I hope you’ll come visit us soon so we can show you around in person.