Hotels Above Par's Brandon Berkson on How to Plan the Perfect Vacation

by Merryn Johns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday September 18, 2021
Originally published on September 17, 2021

Hotels Above Par founder Brandon Berkson
Hotels Above Par founder Brandon Berkson  (Source:Hotels Above Par)

This fall, EDGE partners with Hotels Above Par to present a series of expert-curated guides to some of the world's best LGBTQ+-friendly hotels and destinations. To kick things off, EDGE contributor Merryn Johns interviews its founder Brandon Berkson.

Most of us are feeling more confident about travel again, and some of us are looking forward to the idea of checking into a luxurious hotel as a change from the same four walls many of us have been confined to through various grades of lockdown for the past two years.

But if I'm going to check into a strange room, and sleep in a strange bed, and mix with, well, strangers, I want something unique and worth the expense.

Hotels Above Par takes a lot of the hassle out of searching for quality accommodation.

I caught up with Founder Brandon Berkson to find out why he started a media platform of hand-picked hotels and rentals.

Berkson says he has always been a little obsessed with hospitality from an early age.

"Some kids wanted to trade baseball cards or spend hours on Xbox; I was more interested in playing 'imaginary hotel' and planning fake trips for my parents."

Berkson was passionate about pursuing a career in the travel sector and started as a bellboy and front desk associate at a boutique hotel in San Francisco. From there, he upgraded to Paris and London, where he obtained a degree in hospitality public relations, then moved to New York City and worked for a travel public relations firm doing marketing and communications for premier hotels around the world.

But COVID-19 stopped his career in its tracks as Berkson, like many others in his field, was furloughed. Unemployed and witness to the devastation of the industry he loved, he decided to do something about it.

"Before I knew it, Hotels Above Par was born. What started as an Instagram page that kept hotels relevant during the pandemic—and served as a personal outlet that allowed me to connect to my beloved industry during the woes of quarantine—propelled past a social media platform also to include a website and newsletter."

Today, Hotels Above Par has over 128,000 readers and has expanded beyond writing about accommodation to dining, drinking, and destinations.

Not quite an accommodation search engine or a blog, Hotels Above Par straddles the two, offering readers a taste of properties around the world through potted 300-word mini-articles short enough to fit in an Instagram caption.

The strategy is designed to appeal to the Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z customer who doesn't have time to read screeds of description but wants to know the essence of a property. This is not your grandfather's hotel loyalty program. It is an adventure in aesthetics, carefully vetted.

"Our guide is expert-curated as we have a bevy of top-line travel journalists who write for us," says Berkson. "We've taken the tour, studied the story behind the design, inspected every corner of the room and lobby, and recognized exceptional vs. poor service. We are lucky to have a network of well-traveled journalists who have spent the night in 'above par' hotels worldwide."

Berkson's Quick Picks

Riggs Washington DC
Riggs Washington DC  

Berkson cites Riggs Washington DC, a historic bank transformed into an upscale hotel; and Casa Angelina on the Amalfi Coast, a stunning contemporary boutique hotel built on the cliffs of Italy's famed coastline.

Or The Newbury Boston, a city staple since 1927 across from the Public Garden that oozes history and significance at every corner. It was formerly the Ritz-Carlton, before being The Taj Boston in 2006. It closed in 2019 for a complete renovation, including relocating the entrance to its original Newbury Street location. If you're looking for a deal at a big box chain hotel or a mega-resort, Hotels Above Par is probably not for you.

The Newbury Boston
The Newbury Boston  

"Separate from a desire to help revive these heavily affected businesses, people want authentic experiences that enhance immersion into the heart of a destination," says Berkson.

And Berkson is confident that diverse travelers are welcome at showcased properties.

"As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, this modality is essential to me," he says and tries to ascertain that each property is employing a diverse staff and including diversity within upper-level positions, as well as advocating year-round for the LGBTQ community.

"That said, while we would never feature a flat-out racist, transphobic, or homophobic place, there are some countries with hotels we write about that are less advanced in inclusion efforts. Until progress happens there, I encourage thorough research: The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), Travel Advocacy Group (TAG), and Travel Noire are just three, among many other valuable sources, that members of LBGTQ+, BIPOC, and GNC can reference."

The evolution of our community and the new realities of socially distanced travel have made the travel consumer more discerning, perhaps, bringing Berkson's passion for hospitality into sharper focus.

"We all have different priorities when traveling: Mine is making sure the hotel I stay at is individualistic and captures the heart of a destination. Our ever-growing community of discerning travelers and boutique hotel enthusiasts want that too, especially in a post-pandemic world where supporting locally-owned hotels and tourism is top-of-mind. Consumers are craving authenticity—they can trust us to help them book a trip that encompasses this."

Merryn Johns is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is also a public speaker on ethical travel and a consultant on marketing to the LGBT community.