Super Sonic: Soundscaping, the Next Big Travel Trend

Super Sonic: Soundscaping, the Next Big Travel Trend

From soundbaths and curated playlists to AI-powered lobby music, audio experiences are sweeping the travel industry, with hotels and spas exploring innovative new ways to soothe and seduce. We’re all ears.

you describe the sound of your last trip? Perhaps it was the
repetitive kiss of Caribbean waves on a beach, or the early-morning
chatter of a Roman market. Ours was the quiet, low whistle of wind
curling through a Sicilian town square. If you stayed at New York’s
Sister City hotel prior to the pandemic, the esoteric lobby music
might have caught your ear.

In 2020, Sister City – the edgy younger sibling of New York’s
Ace Hotel – announced a collaboration with Icelandic singer Björk,
whose choral arrangements would play 24/7 in the hotel lobby.
Remixed using an AI program developed by Microsoft that used data
taken from sky activity (the movement of birds, clouds and planes
flying over New York City), the symbiosis created a unique,
ever-changing soundtrack. It was a playlist moulded by the city –
and a distinctive effort to move the ambience of a hotel beyond its

The lobby of the now-closed Sister City Hotel
The Lobby at Sister City, Ace Hotel, New York

The lobby at the now-closed Sister City Hotel, NY
Image credit: Adrian Gaut

Where, once, complete silence was the holy grail of hotel living
– all double glazing, heavily insulated walls and an obsession for
tranquillity that tiptoed towards the oppressive – hotels and spas
are now looking to the audio cues of their surroundings to entice
us. The volume is creeping up. And, while the way in which we
experience sound is nothing new, the soundtracks that reach us are
striking a more immersive note – especially when it comes to

The vibrations hit new frequencies during the pandemic. Perhaps
fearful of former guests forgetting the joys of a stay, hotels
began sending out playlists. Soho House offered morning, noon and
night iterations to take you through the day; Qantas
airlines released its aircraft soundtracks (yes, really) onto music
streaming services, hoping to inspire land-locked travellers
dreaming of cloud-chasing journeys. Even beyond the world of
travel, audio experiences consolidated: podcasts
exploded, magazines switched to sound and, in a momentary
craze for everything audio-based, the short-lived social media
platform Clubhouse boomed – then burst. Two years on, however, the
use of sound as a tool has stuck, and we’re all still seeking audio
to cure our Insta-fuelled visual overload. In travel, guarantees of
a good night’s sleep at our favourite stays are now being joined by
a rapidly expanding selection of curated soundscapes whose aim is
to soothe and seduce.

The noise makers

Sister City NYC closed down operations during the pandemic, but
there are plenty of new tracks ringing in our ears, as similar
projects across the globe look to sound as the next innovation in
experiential travel. At London’s Page8, a QR
code beside a Mashall soundsystem will take you on a sonic journey
to the hotel’s playlist offering, ready to fill your suite with
ambient tunes. Aussie hotel brand QT has taken it
further, employing Andrew Lewis, a DJ turned music curator, to
develop unique soundtracks for its Australian hotels. As a result,
a stay at the company’s Gold Coast outpost sounds very different to
a stopover in its Perth property.

Music stations at the ready, Page8 hotel
A room at Page8 Hotel, London

Curated playlists on standby at London’s Page8

Australia is leading the way when it comes to turning up the
volume, as well as with making a track change from simple playlists
to in-house experimentation. Adrift in the outback, Unyoked’s off-grid
cabins offer a tree-cocooned refuge in nature, away from the
artificial buzz of modern life. Last year, when the country’s
borders were sealed shut and the cabins sat empty, the group
invited musicians to stay. The premise was simple: try making some
music in the woods, weaving the sounds of the wilderness into new
compositions. “The Australian bush is a treasure trove of sounds,”
Unyoked’s creative lead, Jonathan Seidler, tells me. “We simply
sent artists out with a Zoom recorder to capture the sounds of the

Unyoked has released an EP
of the results – you can listen to its Field Recordings on Bandcamp. The first track, Ninajirachi’s Hate 2 Know,
starts with the crunch of footsteps on dry leaves and a
neck-tingling cicada chorus interwoven with electric twangs. The
tracks have been cut to tape and guests are able to use a lo-fi
cassette player during cabin stays to listen.

We’re in a technological climate of algorithmic playlisting that encourages passive over active listening

Jonathan Seidler, Unyoked

The idea wasn’t just to create an Unyoked audio experience, but
to permanently sharpen guests’ ears to the world outside. “Sound,
like smell, is one of those senses I think we accept rather than
nurture,” says Seidler, who previously worked as a music journalist
for 10 years. “We’re in a technological climate of algorithmic
playlisting that encourages passive over active listening and
that’s a real shame. I’d never want to experience Marrakech or
Berlin by blocking the city out with noise-cancelling

Wilderness sounds from the cassette player, Unyoked cabins
An Unyoked cabin in the Australian wilderness

An Unyoked cabin offers immersion in Australia’s

Unyoked is currently working on a partnership with Apple Music
to use its Spatial technology to bring the immersive nature sounds
to life, and Seidler has greater goals in mind. “Our dream would be
to put these new tracks onto every inbound Australian flight, so
that people could experience the unique sonic imprint of our
country before they even get here.”

Beats to soothe – and get guests in the groove

Just as the repetition of waves washing over shingle soothes
some, the heart-thudding beats and repetitive synth strums of EDM
can have a hypnotic effect. Ask any shuffler on the dancefloor of a
London club hidden beneath a railway arch and they’ll tell you
there’s something meditative about the nocturnal noise. With such
an ability to alter our mood and our outlook, it’s less a case of
why we’re recognising its importance now and, more, why it’s taken
so long.

Where sound elicits such an emotional response, it’s a quick
jump to finding ways to use music to shape our emotions, feelings
and sense of wellbeing. At London-based Wavepaths, efforts are
underway to use music theory in psychedelic mental health
treatment. In the simplest sense, music is being used as medicine,
in an exploration of the ways in which beats can facilitate
transformative experiences.

It’s less woo-woo than it sounds. The team is currently
supporting clinical research into psychedelic therapy at Imperial
College London and Melbourne’s Monash University, among others.
Head to the website and you can plug into an ethereal,
brain-tingling soundtrack yourself and see how it makes you feel.
In future, Wavepaths is hoping to offer personalised music
experiences to promote mental health and wellbeing – a spa
experience via MP3.

While clinical research and evidence-led treatment is in its
infancy, the wellness market has roared ahead, with soundscaping
having infiltrated spa spaces and sound-bathing opportunities and
sound therapy popping up globally. The Maldives’ first dedicated
wellness retreat, the ultra-lux new Joali
, opened this year with a resident sound therapist in situ
at it’s sound “oasis”, while on Cornwall’s rugged northern coast,
nature-fuelled escapes on offer at Kudhva have previously included a sound-healing
retreat run in collaboration with a vibroacoustic therapist from
Silence + Noise.

And it’s not just music. Slip into the sauna at South Tyrol’s
mountainside Silena hotel at 5pm, and a hearty Bolzanese
German-accented voice will take you on an adventure into an alpine
pass as you sweat, narrating an intriguing tale about the death of
a horse. It’s a surreal sauna experience – the voice belongs to the
bestselling author Lenz Koppelstätter, who is reading from one of
his murder mysteries set in the local area, his books being
available in the hotel library. Staff say that the audio is one of
the most mentioned details by guests during check-out. Whether
positive or negative, it’s certainly provoked a response.

Whatever the output of the aux cord, it seems certain that our
aural expectations are increasingly going to rival our aesthetic
ones. Who knows what sound-focused sensations may play next – but
we’re certainly listening.

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