What Defines a Luxury Hotel?

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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The Plaza Hotel in New York or the Mayfair Hotel in London have traditionally been the epitome of five star accommodation.

Large hotels like these initially set the standard for luxury, and were defined by large rooms, beds, marble bathrooms and of course an exclusive location.

Luxury in 2015, however, is being redefined and five star hotels are being reworked. This trend is being directed by changing demographics that are pushing for more consumer choice, a strong millennial market and a need to compete with the rise of boutique hotels.

Today’s five star hotel guests often aren’t concerned over whether a bathroom is made of marble; they’d prefer a vitamin C shower head instead. Similarly, decorative lighting or hanging pendants are not appreciated unless guests can control the lighting scheme.

This new trend toward considered design is being coupled with high-end service initiatives in a bid to customise and offer luxury experiences during a guest’s stay.

While some traditional luxury hotels have enough experience and branding strength to hold their market share in locations such as Paris, New York or Tokyo, others are feeling a competitive pinch.

Guy Dutheil recently penned an article for The Guardian revealing that Paris’ luxury hotels have been struggling of late, due in no small part to increasing competition from boutique hotels.

Clement Kwok, CEO of Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels – which owns the Peninsula group – said the first quarter of the year was weak while Didier Le Calvez, general manager of Le Bristol described it as “catastrophic.”

In 2017, up to 12 luxury hotels are planned to be competing for business in Paris, with predictions that only half will remain stable.

“The remaining four or five will need to be repositioned,” said Gwenola Donet, head of the hotels and hospitality department, for France, at Jones Long Lasalle, a specialist in luxury property.

HotelNews Now reported on some comments from last year’s Luxury Hotels World gathering where conference chair and managing director and principal of Horwath HTL Australia John Smith said, “Luxury is not just about the wealthy – there’s a middle-class affluence in countries such as Australia, China and Indonesia that make luxury lifestyle components more attainable.”

He pointed to the HENRY consumer – high earners, not rich yet – as prime targets for luxury hotels.

“Service is one of the fundamental touchstones of luxury going forward,” added Jeffery Copolov, interior design director for Bates Smart Architects, adding that understated elegance is now a sign of luxury.

Andrew Williams, CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, agreed.

“People don’t travel to destinations like this to sit in their room,” he said. “The physical product is an important investment, but it’s about the experience.”

Here are four ways hotels are rethinking luxury:

A Desire for Digital

Digital connectivity is at the core of these growing luxury trends. At a minimum, guests are expecting free (and fast) WiFi throughout the hotel, along with charging stations for their devices.

Some hotels are replacing the hierarchy of the hotel check-in desk with roving service agents armed with iPads to check guests in as they arrive.

USB points in rooms along with smart technology (including the television) that can help guests connect for business and pleasure while also communicating with staff are becoming de rigeur, and there are bonus points for hotels that integrate social media into their stay.

The Plaza Hotel in New York says it was the first hotel in the world to offer in-room iPads for all guest to control their entire hotel experience, from ordering in-room meals to making restaurant reservations and communicating with staff.

In this case, the hotel is opting to merge the old and new by keeping décor opulent but with modern amenities.

More than a Bed

Zoku hotel in Amsterdam is exploring multi-functional lofts in lieu of traditional rooms. While the hotel considers itself boutique accommodation, it sets a new standard for something luxury hotel guests are also craving – customisation and functional furniture.

Described by the company as a living/working hybrid, the space helps guests feel like they have their own apartment.

While in regular hotels, the bed always dominates, Zoku’s rooms have a big kitchen table as a focal point. The larger lofts range from 24 to 41 square metres and offer offer an elevated sleeping area (with king bed in tow) and screen doors to hide the bed, shower and fully equipped kitchen.

Some rooms even allow guests to swap the art on the walls, allowing for further personalisation.

According to Hotel Chatter, the company is also planning to roll out 750 lofts across Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg, London and Paris.

Aromatic Air

Smell is the new frontier in building design and hotels are lapping it up. Luxury hotels are creating customised scents and rolling them out in a bid to please more than just the eyes of guests.

Nose Knows Design curator and scent designer Tracey Pepe has been offering Olfactive Branding since 1994 and collaborated on the scent for the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto entitled “Champagne and Caviar.”

According to Luxury Hoteliers Magazine, “The fragrance is strategically located in the lobby of the hotel’s front entrance. As the revolving doors embrace travellers after their long journey, the subtle aroma welcomes them to a home away from home, filled with champagne and caviar dreams.”

Pepe is also working with the InterContinental New York Barclay on a custom scent.

Pepe’s custom scents run from about $10,000 to $50,000, while those from Air Aroma – another popular scent supplier for luxury hotels – fall in the $5,000 to $30,000 range.

Greening Guests

Forget towel or sheet washing habits; modern guests want to see greenery during the experience and are keen to know what the hotel is doing for the environment behind the scenes.

Zoko hotels have cacti in the guest lofts while many hotels are bringing vegetation to their lobbies and hotel room balconies in the form of pot plants, hanging plants and indoor vertical gardens.

Natural light is also becoming more common, particularly in hotel rooms. Guests also enjoy seeing furniture in natural building materials and a recycling bin in the room shows initiative.

Hotels should communicate their green efforts, whether it be the carbon sequestering of their plants, grey-water recycling, materials used for the building or its furniture or LED lighting. Millennial guests in particular prefer supporting organisations with social and environment initiatives.

Luxury has never been diverse and securing five stars for a hotel property could look very different in the near future.

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