Photography by Eliot VanOtteren Sea Island
By Valli Herman
December 23, 2015

In a globalized world, it can be hard to find a restaurant, coffee shop or even a hotel room that doesn’t remind you of back home. For a growing number of travelers, though, the sameness is a bit of a turn off. They crave “authentic” experiences and want a taste of local culture.

Now luxury hotels around the world are doing what would be once-unthinkable: They’re offering their pampered guests grittier excursions. In five-star palaces in cities from San Diego to Istanbul, hotel staffers are helping guests venture to dive bars, down-home restaurants and funky, residential neighborhoods that the affluent might never dream of visiting at home.

Mix with the hoi polloi

Especially popular are hands-on opportunities to shoot, spear or shuck your own meal, escorted by area experts. Hunting and fishing are making a luxury comeback, capitalizing on the fascination with local ingredients. The hoi polloi are definitely part of the appeal now. At the St. Regis Aspen Resort, a $2,900 program includes a beer and Thug yoga, a class outside the resort with local snowboarders and skiers.

The trend’s roots extend to hotel architecture and design. When the W Hollywood was built five years ago, designers didn’t shield al fresco diners from the colorful denizens streaming from the adjacent Hollywood and Vine subway stop. Elsewhere, hotels are abandoning the cookie-cutter looks that distinguish a worldwide brand in favor of reflecting the locale, warts and all.

“Luxury isn’t what it used to be, said Sandra Micek, Hyatt’s senior vice president, global brands. “We think of contemporary luxury as being defined by personal experiences. It can be eating at a taco shack on the beach and seeing an exhibit at a museum. That combination is interesting.”

Of course, at some point, it may become difficult to determine if these itineraries are real attempts at cultural understanding or voyeuristic voyages. Is there really anywhere “authentic” anymore? Travelers and hotels seem willing to find out.

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