When 25 year old Brandon Berkson was furloughed from his dream job in travel PR, he was certain of one thing: he needed to support hotels at a time when they needed love most. To do that, he had to capture an audience consumed by wanderlust, while stuck under travel restrictions.
Brandon has always been one of those passionate globe trotters. Fond memories of exploring hotels with his grandparents as a child led him to eventually pursue a job in hospitality. He started out working front desk operations at a San Francisco hotel and eventually took on roles in travel & hospitality with companies in Paris, London and New York City. Today, he is the the founder of Hotels Above Par, an expert curated, online guide of under-two-minute articles written for the hip traveler who is short on time with an emphasis on high-end, design-forward boutique & independent hotels.
The sites concise yet compelling narratives written by travel journalists as well as its eye-catching photography has clearly resonated with an audience. Since its April 2020 launch, Hotels Above Par has earned over 50,000 followers on Instagram.
We had the unique opportunity to talk to Brandon and live out our travel fantasies as we anxiously await our next adventure.
Q&A with Brandon Berkson, Founder of Hotels Above Par
Q: Like many others, you were furloughed from your job when Covid hit and had to reinvent yourself. Tell us about that experience.
A: I love hotels and have worked in different facets of the industry, from the front desk at boutique hotel in San Francisco, to travel & hospitality communication positions in Paris and London, and most recently, at a Travel PR firm in New York. When the pandemic struck, I was furloughed for several months from my Travel PR firm in New York. Needless to say, I was crushed and in shock. Not just about my 9-6, but also witnessing the tragic decimation of my beloved hospitality and travel industry. That said, I knew I wanted to support hotels during a time when they needed our love most. Optimism and resourcefulness are two of my strengths — I don’t stay “stuck in the mud” and sulk for long. I always try to be proactive and find a way out, that’s something my mom always taught me. So, with this, I created Hotels Above Par, which has evolved from a fun hotel-touting Instagram page to a multi-faceted website and newsletter. Today, with a treasure trove of well-versed travel journalists and readership that exceeds 74,000, I define Hotels Above Par as ‘an expert-curated guide with under-two-minute articles for hip travelers.
Q: Hotels Above Par launched in April 2020 and you already have 52,800 on Instagram (as of print time). What is it about the site that has resonated with so many?
A: I think it’s a couple of things: First and foremost, I believe the pandemic — from quarantines to heavy restrictions — made people appreciate travel more than ever. We couldn’t go anywhere, so seeing aesthetically pleasing images of hotels and destinations really gave people that dose of travel they were so craving. Secondly, I believe our around-300-word article format, which has the ability to fit in its entirety as an Instagram caption and website article, really makes our pieces digestible in a world where an overabundance of content is constantly compromising our attention and provoking us to quickly scroll to the next post or head to another website page in a matter of seconds. Hotels Above Par gives you that travel content you’re looking for in the length of an Instagram post. On top of that, the fact that we have had a wealth of different travel journalists write for us has proven our guide is expert-curated and multi-dimensional.
Q: You launched a travel site at a time when people aren’t really traveling. Explain how that works.
A: I created the guide when all of us couldn’t travel. They say knowing you can’t have something makes you want it more. It was clear my fellow travel lovers and I were thinking about travel more than ever before. As the industry became increasingly decimated each day, more and more people missed the simple pleasures of travel such as the smell of a hotel lobby, moseying around small towns that pulsate with culture, trying new dishes in a foreign country, or even peering over the hotel balcony at a city they are excited to explore. We needed some source of inspiration to remind us how many beautiful hotels there are out in the world and that this dark time will end; we will travel again. Hotels Above Par was that. As cases went up and the news became more and more negative, our guide provided a bevy of people with that mental escape — even if it was for a few minutes each day — that they needed. I’m hoping when travel does come back, those who discovered us during the pandemic will use our guide as an ultimate resource for their trips.
Q: How do you choose the locations that are showcased?
In the beginning, I highlighted hotels I had been to, or was really hoping to get to one day, all around the world. As our US audience grew, I noticed there was more of a demand for us to showcase amazing hotels within the continent. Now, we largely focus on dream hotels and destinations in North America — that will change as the world opens back up.
Q: Covid has been devastating on the hospitality and tourism industry. Do you think travel will look a lot different in our post pandemic world?
A: The pandemic was an unprecedented shock; it will be on our minds for a while. There’s no doubt that people can’t wait for their next trip. That said, people are going to need to regain that former confidence to travel far away again; that doesn’t just happen in a day. If the vaccine roll-out is a success (crossing my fingers it will be), I believe the majority of Americans will first travel domestically — it will start with road trips, like we’re seeing now, and will evolve to more-frequent flights across the country. A lot of people are apprehensive about flying. International travel will take a bit longer. It won’t just be when restrictions lax and quarantines become optional. It will be when the general public is fully assured there is a lessened risk of contracting the virus, both here and abroad.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit and where are you dreaming of going once all of this is over?
A: There are so many places! As far as destinations I’ve never visited, Singapore and Malta are at the top of that list. I can’t wait to go back to San Miguel de Allende — Mexico is one of my favorite places in the world — as well as head to my favorite hotel in the world, located on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Casa Angelina.
Founder, Hotels Above Par
What started as an Instagram account in April 2020 has quickly evolved into a newsletter and an expert-curated, photo-driven online guide of under-two-minute articles written for the hip traveler who is short on time. The twenty-five-year-old San Diego born and raised Berkson now lives in New York City and splits his time as both the founder of Hotels Above Par and a travel publicist. He has a deep-rooted passion for hotels and has worked in the hospitality industry in San Francisco, New York City, Paris, and London.