When Renaissance Hotels launched their Navigator program back in January, the concept was simple: give hotel guests inside access to the destination's local haunts, as seen and frequented by the locals of that destination.
The upscale twist on the traditional concierge was Renaissance's way of making the traditional travel guide book come to life, complete with personalization services and individual recommendations. In the past six months, the program has morphed from beyond the concierge desk to iPads, iPhones and PDAs, allowing guests to track their paths and get further information on-the-go as they chart their navigation through new cities.
The on-site, online and mobile program partners with W Cities to to give hotel guests insider access to local hot-spots including food, bars, shopping, entertainment and cultural sites. But Renaissance took it one step further, assigning real-life "Navigators" to each of their 145 hotels, allowing guests to work directly with the people are most familiar with the city. The Navigators work one-on-one with hotel guests to plan an itinerary based on a guest's interest and personality. Intrigued by the concept, I took the Navigator concept for a spin on a recent trip to Phuket, Thailand, and the result was a combination of social experimentation and local flare.
Before I could worry that the Renaissance Navigator was a typical spit-out-the-same-tourist-information program you'll find from many concierge desks, I learned that each Navigator first identifies the guest's travel profile - family travel, girlfriend getaways, solo travel, couples, etc. - and then creates an itinerary that accommodates the travelers. Having never been to Phuket, I wanted to do as the locals do: eat the food, drink the drinks and visit the spots that make Phuket locals proud. The Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa Navigator was ready to plan my day, and served as my personal guide (an option for all travelers).
My journey took me through the various beaches of Phuket, where our Navigator pointed out the different "types" of cultures that adorn each area - the party people, the families, the romantics, and the tourists. We made our way to the Big Buddha, one of Phuket's most important and revered landmarks.
Once we climbed to the top of the hill where Buddha sat, my Navigator took the personalization one step forward and introduced me to "my" Buddha. There are Buddha representations for each day of the week in Thailand, and your specific Buddha is assigned by the day of the week you were born. We found Friday (the day of the week I was born), and I paid homage to my Friday Buddha - a truly unique aspect to a typical tourist activity that guests might not otherwise know about unless told by a local.
The rest of the day took place in Old Town Phuket, where food stalls, retailers and silk and tapestry manufacturers line the streets. I took to Twitter to let others know where I was and started posting pictures of fried tofu and pork rolls, pork and chicken satay, and bagged coconut water we gathered from food stalls, only to discover others in Phuket wanted to make their way to my local spot to take part in the fun.
We ended the day with a bowl of O-Eaw, a famous Phuket dessert made with shaved ice and banana jelly, and a cup of freshly made iced coffee from a local woman who operates a coffee stand off a side street in town. The entire day took around five hours, and was a completely personalized on-the-go adventure based on how we were feeling and what we wanted to see. The night ended with traditional Phad Thai, green curry chicken, and local Thai wine at the Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa's Thai restaurant, Takieng.
"We know that the Renaissance guest is looking to discover the best of their travel destination, which the Navigator program helps us to provide," said Tina Edmundson, senior vice president of lifestyle brands at Marriott International. "The program adds a unique dimension to the Renaissance hotel experience whether for a registered guest or local looking for something fun to do in their neighborhood. We continue to receive positive feedback from guests around the world, and are currently looking for new and exciting ways to enhance the program on property, online and via mobile."
This concept of personalized itinerary planning isn't new - most hotels will be happy to craft itineraries for your group - but Renaissance's Navigator program stands out for one reason: its Navigators. These men and women are not only the face of the program, but take pride in their cities. E
ach Navigator, as part of the program, is required to continuously seek out new places that would not only interest guests, but that they themselves have interest in. None of the recommendations are based off arranged partnerships with local businesses for financial advantage, so every trip is constructed from scratch and based on a guests individual requirements. My one tip: take extra currency with you on your tour. You never know what you'll want to buy when you're out and about, and since the places you'll visit are more local than touristy, the prices will be in your favor.
The Navigator program is more than just a personal guide into the best local spots. The Renaissance Navigator database and information is also available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users for $4.99, and Renaissance Hotel guests will always have access to the application when they check into hotels.
You can access recommended information from local Navigators, then take to Twitter and Facebook to document your journey and stay in touch with Renaissance on-the-go (via @RenHotels on Twitter).
Melanie Nayer is a hotel reviewer and expert on luxury travel around the world. She has covered all aspects of hotels including corporate restructures, re-branding initiatives, historical aspects and the best of the best in luxury hotels around the world.
Melanie writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com