When it comes to describing hotels and resorts, the definition of a luxury property lies in the eye of the beholder. As a child traveling around America by car with the family, my idea of luxury was pulling into any motel with a Howard Johnson’s. I felt like Eloise at The Plaza.
After 25 years of working in public relations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, my expectations of luxury rose more than a few notches. I was blasé and an unabashed hotel snob. Checking into suites was expected. Daily amenities of favorite wines and tuxedo strawberries were routine. Frette linens, personal butlers, club floor pampering were all awaiting me at the end of a tedious flight.
Then the recession hit, and the perception of luxury took a sudden turn. Hoteliers looked for every way possible to distance their properties from being thought of as politically incorrect luxury. They slashed staff, cut spa and restaurant hours, closed gift shops, switched the club floor buffet from cooked-to-order breakfasts to a selection of cold cereal and bagels.
While some changes were necessary as guest numbers dropped, these cuts are turning out to be permanent in many hotels that prided themselves on authentic luxury status. New hotels are opening their doors, and from airport properties to soaring high rises, the word luxury is making a comeback—once again raising the question of what the guest experience in a hotel needs to be to earn the luxury designation.
Although beautiful surroundings exemplifying that true “sense of place” can be luxurious, the setting alone is not enough to justify prices easing upwards. If guests can’t find a bellman to bring their luggage down; if spa services aren’t available at 2 a.m. for jet-lagged passengers; club floor offerings are lacking; rooms aren’t serviced until late afternoon; if guests have to play musical chairs to find a seat at the infinity pool; and if staff provides service with an attitude, then hotels are putting profitability ahead of true luxury. As the economy shows signs of improvement, and the stock market is hitting new record levels, the luxury customer is ready to come back. It’s time for hotels who aspire to luxury to stop pinching pennies and start pampering their customers.
Travel professionals who cater to the discerning and sophisticated traveler have an important voice in this discussion of what luxury is, and should be. Their repeat and loyal clients will not hesitate to express their opinion. Chances are a hotel that disappoints will not get a second chance from a luxury travel advisor whose word is viewed as the trusted voice of experience. Advisors who cater to the carriage trade are few and far between, but those who have made their reputation on their expertise are not interested in excuses. Anything less than true luxury amenities and service is simply not acceptable. Hoteliers who do not understand this do so at the risk of losing that business until real changes are made. There is much new competition in the marketplace, many independent hotels that understand return on investment is not solely based on financial results but by real customer satisfaction.
Vivian A. Deuschl formed Deuschl Hospitality Public Relations Consultancy in November 2011, after serving 25 years as Global Vice President, Public Relations, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. She is a former Director of Public Relations for ASTA and has an extensive career in hospitality public relations and journalism . She was recognized in 2010 by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International with the Lifetime Achievement Award and was named one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Travel by Forbes Life Executive Women. She is a three-time winner of Travel Agent Magazine's selection of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Travel. She can be reached at [email protected]. (0) 703-941-6225; cell 571-419-0060.