A hotel-world veteran, Willem Smit is the design-mind responsible for El Fenn’s treasure-filled interiors. Beginning at the Marrakech hotel as general manager – moving from his native Amsterdam, where he developed an eye for design working at a theatre – he is now managing partner and responsible for the design of each entirely unique room in the sanctuary-like property. Here, as El Fenn prepares to open again after a renovation this December, Willem tells SMR Days how he’s spent his lockdown, where is next on his travel bucket list, and what he does in his downtime (hint: there’s not much of it).

Travel has mostly been on pause for the past six months – but if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?

I am very happy where I am currently – Morocco. Autumn, winter and spring are the most beautiful over here. Clear skies, 20 degrees during the day, cold nights when fireplaces are lit. The most stunning views on the Atlas Mountains. Also, because Morocco has dealt very well [with the pandemic] I feel safe and cared for here. Being an expat there’s always the duality – being here, I miss Amsterdam, being there, I miss Morocco.

What have you been up to during lockdown?

Extending and upgrading El Fenn. The work was already planned and we were supposed to close for the summer months. We have been using these months to evaluate our product and bring it to an even more conscious experience – we’re all really excited to reopen our doors by the beginning of December.

What have you missed about travelling?

The excitement of the journey and the inspiration new places often bring.

Where is next on your bucket list?

On my list for 2021 is Japan and sailing between Greek islands in the summer.

Otherwise, what is your favourite summer destination? Summer is year-round for SMR Days, so if it’s warm it counts...

Winter sun – Marrakech and Essaouira, Morocco. Summer sun – drinking rosé on the Amsterdam canals, great festivals and beautiful people. And then in autumn, cruising the Amalfi Coast when most of the tourists have left and the locals come back.

What is the hotel you keep returning to, and what makes it special?

El Fenn. It’s so much more than my day-to-day work. For my four business partners and I, it’s been an incredible journey, created with love and passion; a place where we became close friends and made many others.

What’s your go-to flying outfit?

Cotton drop-crotch trousers, white T-shirt and a cashmere sweater.

Where is your favourite beach in the world?

The beach of Sidi Kaouki just south of Essaouira, and the long beaches around Tangier.

Who is your favourite travel companion?

Myself, my partner and loads of friends.

What’s the drink that makes you think of summer – and where can you get the best version of it?

Moscow mule, and Soho House.

What do you always carry in your beach bag?

A book, sunscreen and a two-by-two hammam towel.

Give us your sunscreen recommendation…

Anything in factor 50.

Do you ever take a digital detox when you’re travelling?

I use the excuse that I hold the responsibility for a 24/7, 365-day-a-year business so I tend to ignore my screentime report! But yes, I should detox but I’m obviously not…

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