Tom Calahan started blogging about luxury travel in 2106 after starting a successful software company. After his blog became a cult hit, he and his wife Lucie went on to found Dorsia Travel

Let’s start with the blog. Why did you set it up? I’d founded a software company in my teens and started earning good money pretty quickly so I could afford to stay in nice places. I set the blog up back in 2016. The Good, The Bad And The Luxurious was just a hobby at first and nobody knew anything about me so I enjoyed being brutally honest.Then I started to gain a following perhaps because there were so few platforms back then where the reviewer was remaining totally anonymous and paying their own way.

You always paid for your stays.

I’m glad I’m not beholden to anyone. I don’t want to write mean things for no good reason, but people pay lots of money to stay in these hotels so sharing honest feedback with readers and Dorsia Travel’s clients are always my priority. It isn’t always the done thing in Britain, where Dorsia Travel is based, to be so upfront with negative feedback. But people’s holidays are major investments and they need to be properly informed. I wrote about a number of my main hotel bugbears recently, and things guaranteed to annoy me include a charge for water or overly fussy staff who check up on you every three to four minutes.

Your reviews became cult reading for their trenchant opinions. How did hotels react?

I’ve only been banned from one hotel – a few years back I stayed at Sirai Beach in Kenya and loved it but I highlighted a few things I felt could be improved. When I wanted to stay in its sister property Sirai House I learned the owners didn’t want me to stay as they didn’t want to see anything critical about that property – one of their homes – on the internet. Given they had decided to commercialize these residences I thought their inability to accept criticism from paying customers was a bit pathetic, but ultimately I don’t mind if people are unhappy with my reviews as they’re always fair and honest. I thought Italy’s Il Pellicano was hideous even though lots of people revere it. And I hated every single thing about Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor but it is completely booked out so I can’t imagine they’re concerned about my review.

Now you have a wife and young family, how has that affected your travel?

Since Lucie and I had our two daughters, aged one and three, holidays are a lot louder but it has really broadened our focus at Dorsia Travel. We always dealt with families, but now we’re even more attuned to parents’ needs because we know firsthand just how cautious you need to be when you’ve got little accident-magnets roaming around a property. We’re also much more likely to travel to beach resorts and exclusive-use properties – handily, alongside family travel and safaris these are two of our other specialisms at Dorsia Travel. We’re also really appreciative of hotels that show they genuinely care about children and their parents. I love places where under-5s eat free, for example, because it seems so wasteful to pay inflated prices for dishes they’re going to spill on the floor rather than eat – we were so unimpressed at Bulgari Paris when we were charged €102 for a portion of fish for our eldest when she was only a year old.

And you now have a travel agency, Dorsia Travel? How did that start?

My wife Lucie previously took care of VIP clients at The Connaught hotel in London. As my blog attracted increasing numbers of readers, more and more people asked for advice and then increasingly asked me to book their holidays so we realized we could combine her industry expertise and my hotel knowledge to give hands-on assistance to the community of people that grew around the blog. It’s been an enjoyable process because we traveled at the same level as them before we started working as travel agents, and we still do now. And we’re hands-on for every part of the process – we oversee every aspect of every booking personally. What’s sometimes challenging now is explaining to clients how ridiculously expensive a lot of hotels – particularly in Europe and the US – have become. We don’t charge fees, but our clients spend a minimum of $5,000 a night – you’d think it goes far but then at the highest end of the market you have places like Italy’s Villa Treville Positano charging €9,800 for a 61 sqm suite this summer.

How has your travel changed now?

I’m off to One&Only Kea Island in Greece soon and I expect it’ll be nice but I doubt it’ll be exciting. I’m also planning a trip to the new Soneva Secret. I feel it’s unlikely to be too different from the other two Sonevas in the Maldives but I want to have first-hand knowledge of all the major properties in the country so I can advise our clients. These days I prefer to stay at exclusive-use properties that are less known – I’m going to Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy and seeing the work they’re doing to help protect wildlife is much more enjoyable to me than going to another generic luxury resort.

How do you cope with honest feedback from your guests

Regarding feedback, of course we’re fine with it! Usually it’s great, but of course there are times when a hotel doesn’t deliver as expected – and for the amount of money people pay to stay at the world’s top hotels it’s unacceptable if things go seriously wrong. If that happens, we want to know about it as soon as possible so we can immediately intervene to make things right while they just focus on enjoying their holiday.

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