While at ALIS in January, I attended the luxury segment session. We often feature luxury properties and are gearing up, in fact, for our March/April luxury issue, so the timing couldn’t have been better, especially as the idea of luxury is being redefined. Instead of invoking images of gilded doorways and butlers, it’s now more about comfort and authenticity.
The panel included some top hotel thought leaders: Bernie Siegel, principal, KSL Capital Partners; Matt Sparks, senior vice president of luxury and corporate development, Hilton Worldwide; Erin Green, vice president of development, Americas , Rosewood Hotels & Resorts; and Russell Urban, executive vice president of business development and acquisitions, Destination Hotels. From their mouths to this blog, here is how the luxury hotel and luxury guest are changing.
- Personalized service doesn’t mean a butler for each guestroom. Now it’s more about experiential travel and experience. “The combination of personalized service and experiential aspect are the pillars of luxury travel,” Green explains. And it’s not one size fits all anymore, adds Urban.
- The (dreaded?) Millennial may dominate thinking in the travel industry but in the luxury segment, it’s all about the baby boomers. Urban says by 2017, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be aged 50 or older and control 70 percent of the disposable income.
- Design is changing, too. At Siegel’s properties, there is an effort being made to transform more formalized luxury spaces into something more comfortable. “The boutique and lifestyle sector has led in taking a contemporary product that you couldn’t sit on and making it more comfortable to lounge and relax,” he says.
- Big data is changing how hoteliers are customizing experiences. Green says the trick is learning how to take the information and use it to create customizable, personalized experiences. But the question remains: “Where do we strike a balance of serving the guest and not being intrusive?” he says.
- Authenticity should be branded in the minds of hoteliers, in big, bold letters. It’s the most important thing to luxury customers. Sure, there are expectations about room size and finishes and available amenities, but it’s more about the “feeling in the place,” says Urban.
- Adding in a mixed-use component is the best way to get a luxury development off the ground. “There are few markets in North American where you can develop a free-standing luxury hotel,” says Sparks. What is driving luxury development is blending the hotel with the returns from a residential component and other uses. “Having an ancillary use for luxury . . . helps get a project over the hump,” Green says.
- Some quick hits: Wellness is now on the forefront of luxury travelers’ minds; social media is changing the way people do business; and having an F&B offering that is truly local and fresh is more important than offering caviar.
- And a bonus: Get used to the term HENRY (high earner, not rich yet)