|What do they want? Our Berlin roundtable said personalization, time and space are what luxury travelers seek.|
Luxury Travel Advisor gathered top luxury hotel executives together in Berlin, Germany, just prior to ITB to discuss luxury travel trends. Our main focus was on what the luxury traveler wants from a hotel, which led to understanding how a hotel can deliver seamless service to a client without being intrusive.
|Assessing the guest are Claudia Kozma-Kaplan, LHW; Renu Basu, Taj Hotels; and Helen McCabe-Young from Kerzner/One&Only.|
On hand for our dynamic discussion were: Diana Banks, senior vice president, sales & marketing, Raffles Hotels and Resorts; Renu Basu, global vice president, sales, The Indian Hotels Company Limited/Taj Hotels; Claudia Kozma-Kaplan, chief marketing officer, The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW); Helen McCabe-Young, executive vice president, sales & marketing, Kerzner/One&Only Resorts; John McMahon, vice president/group publisher of Luxury Travel Advisor; Seema Pande, group director of sales & marketing, Armani Hotels/Address Hotels; Derek Picot, regional vice president, EMEA, Jumeirah, and John Ueberroth, CEO, the Preferred Hotel Group. The discussion was moderated by Ruthanne Terrero, vice president and editorial director of Luxury Travel Advisor.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What trends are you seeing from the luxury traveler?
|Diana Banks of Raffles: “Clients want a sense of belonging.”|
Claudia Kozma-Kaplan, LHW: For us, it’s really about personalization. The guest is accustomed to being wowed by fabulous properties and by the room and the product. Now they really want very, very personal experiences that are tailor-made with personal guides, either city or adventure guides. We’re also seeing that people want to maximize their time so they’ll do several different types of experiences in one shot, say, town and country with a little bit of adventure. A typical thing is combining Johannesburg and Cape Town with a safari, so it’s city, wine and safari. It’s what I call “safari light.”
Renu Basu, Taj Hotels: I have the same sentiments as Claudia. Because of what the world has been through over the last five years, people are looking for very attentive and genuine experiences. They want to satisfy the emotional and financial aspect so they want great value for what they do. We’ve seen that especially in India, where I come from, because it’s a long-haul destination. People want to maximize their time there because they have to fly such a long way from Europe or the U.S. and the emerging markets like Brazil and Russia. People want to make the most of it so they’ll do, within a two-week span, four or five kinds of experiences. They’ll do our palaces and safaris. They’re trying to pack in a lot and they depend a lot on travel advisors to set that up for them because India is not a destination that one could just come to directly.
People also want to have their own time and space. They feel they are entitled to because of who they are but they definitely want the emotional and financial experience to be extremely satisfying. And so they’re looking for a lot of attentive experiences.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: And so they want to do the entire country.
Renu Basu, Taj Hotels: Yes, the entire country and most importantly, they want attentive experiences that really make it unique for them.
Helen McCabe-Young, Kerzner/One&Only: Personalization and service never go out of style. There’s a connectivity that people are looking for, and intuitiveness from the people that are around them. On the hotel side, people aren’t just choosing somewhere to stay when they travel, they’re really opting for the place they want to be in while they experience other things.
|...And Bragging rights, says John Ueberroth of Preferred, with Seema Pande, Armani Hotels.|
I’m noticing that people are willing to pay for the value of the experience as long as they have the confidence that it’s going to be delivered. The issue is how do you provide that level of confidence? It begins with the first touch points.
In terms of forward trends, we’re hopefully back on that track where, as luxury brands, pricing could be quite high but if the value of the experience is delivered, people will happily pay for it as long as they don’t feel like they’re being ripped off. The wealthiest people in the world may check out with a half-a-million-dollar bill but they’re looking at that bill because they are smart business people. They may be on holiday but they’re still going to check their bill.
Seema Pande, Address Hotels/Armani Hotels: It’s also defining what value is, because what is value for me might not be for you. One of the lessons we learned when we went into the Indian market was when a client told us that “you cannot understand the value for me of somebody picking up my bag and taking it to my room and getting my clothes done. This is not value. This happens in daily life in my house.” She is saying that this is normal stuff for me; I want to be wowed beyond that and charge me what you want.
|“You need to be a psychologist,” said Derek Picot of Jumeirah, with Ueberroth of Preferred and Banks of Raffles.|
We tend to put people in a box. We talk a lot about individualization but then we put everyone in a box and fix our idea of what value is.
John Ueberroth, Preferred: If you’re going to do something for the very affluent, give them bragging rights. Do something somebody else didn’t so they can tell their friends about it back home. Some people want to say, “I stayed at the Ritz,” because it’s the Ritz.
Your story is good because I just experienced it in India and actually joked about it. I had a butler who was trying to do everything for me. He turned out to be a great guy and he became almost a friend, but he had to plead with me and said, “You’ve got to let me do something for you because otherwise why am I here? Let me start by tying your tie because you don’t tie your tie very well.”
|“We need another word for ‘butler,’” was an issue that McCabe-Young of Kerzner/One&Only posed.|
I finally decided, I will use him for everything and I’m not embarrassed. A lot of people with a butler feel they’re a bother almost and a lot of young people still feel that way. If there were no bellmen they would be happier.
No one has brought this up yet, but some of the best hotels aren’t so good at technology; they can’t even get the Wi-Fi to work. If a family is traveling together, they want a set-up such that everything works wonderfully for everyone from a 90-year-old to a seven-year-old.
Diana Banks, Raffles: Taking personalization one step further, it’s about relationships. Clients want a sense of belonging and it’s not just during that one stay. They want a relationship with the brand beyond the stay. Over the past two years, we conducted research with our customers to reevaluate where we are. We are a 125-year-old heritage brand, but that is for [our Raffles Singapore] hotel so there are challenges. How do we stretch that? So we’ve just been through this whole process and all the points you’ve mentioned has come out in our research.
|John McMahon of Luxury Travel Advisor: “How about the $300 jean crowd?”|
I would add that discretion and seamlessness are important. It’s all got to work; it’s got to come together for personalization, the relationships, the authenticity, but also the confidence factor. We find that there is a confidence factor that a heritage brand feels safe, [the customer] knows it’s going to be good. From that, we came up with our positioning, which is that we deliver emotional luxury. We are currently going through all our touch points of service to say how we actually connect that to an emotional experience. In terms of marketing, it makes it all the more difficult because to sell an emotion, to sell a feeling, the best way is obviously to have somebody there and experience it, but when it comes to marketing and messaging that experience, how do you effectively do that?
The only thing that I find disconcerting is that “luxury” is a rather overused word in our space. For me, that’s the debate.
Helen McCabe-Young, Kerzner/One&Only: Because there’s mass luxury and then there’s ultra-luxury.
Diana Banks, Raffles: Luxury is an overused word. We are a tiny, tiny brand and we have tiny hotels so what we deliver is very different than a bigger hotel that calls itself luxury.
Helen McCabe-Young, Kerzner/One&Only: I often tell people on my team to take that word out. I don’t want to see it or if you have to, use it only once in a while.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Luxury used to mean you had to accept luxury hotels on their level. Has that changed?
Helen McCabe-Young, Kerzner/One&Only: We’ve always had this philosophy that it’s not about creating spaces in places that you enter and have to fit yourself into, but rather about creating places that envelop you. There might be beauty and design and lots of things that the eye can appreciate, but can you really enjoy them? Are you going to go mess with those cushions on the sofa? Do you feel like you can and do you? That’s the difference between a place where you are just staying and a place where you’re really comfortable and living in for a while and feeling quite good about it.
John McMahon, Luxury Travel Advisor: I think the challenge is—as luxury brands, how are you dealing with the $300 jean crowd that comes walking into your lobby?
Derek Picot, Jumeirah: There’s a bigger question there, it’s about the value equation. What are people in that age group looking for in luxury in terms of value? I think it’s now almost 60 percent design and lifestyle and 40 percent service. That’s what the traditional tenures in Europe are struggling with. It’s about staying somewhere that reflects their lifestyle that they can afford and enjoy and feel comfortable with.
|Ruthanne Terrero of Luxury Travel Advisor: “Some of the things that wow the guest the most are free.”|
Helen McCabe-Young, Kerzner/One&Only: John [Ueberroth], the butler issue that you brought up, I find that a fascinating topic. First of all, I hate the word “butler”. I am fixated on what else we could call them because when you say the word “butler” everyone gets an image, right? Then a lot of people are wondering, what are we going to do with a butler?
Diana Banks, Raffles: Our whole brand is built on butlers, and we’re just going through this process of reinventing what they are. It’s what they do that’s more important and how they do it. I had surgery on my back in November and on my shoulder two weeks later. I was traveling and checked into our hotel in Dubai and a young woman was my butler. That she was a woman first of all was great. I said to her, you know, I do need help unpacking. I’ve never used that service before so I never understood it, and I have to say it was a fabulous experience. But again it’s the person; it’s the way she dealt with it. And it was fabulous.
Renu Basu, Taj Hotels: We have butlers in all our palaces. The Pierre in New York just introduced the Royal Attache program. The way the butlers are trained, they are very discreet, they’re not in your face. I personally don’t like butlers. I find them invading my space, but people actually quite enjoy the experience. It’s not just about packing and unpacking or getting your food on time. It’s about the little touches.
Seema Pande, Address Hotels/Armani Hotels: Armani has lifestyle managers. We checked into one of our hotels we had just opened and the lifestyle manager said, “We’ve got some DVDs, can I bring some up for you?” My husband was blown away and said, “Yeah, go for it.” The lifestyle manager came back in about an hour and said, “I’m really sorry, I think the shipment has arrived but we haven’t been able to find the DVDs, but I brought you two tickets for the movie hall next door.” I still get goose pimples when I think about it because my husband was astounded and I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh my God, where did we find him?”
When you said, it’s the hiring process, I agree with you. We can get everything else right. We get the building right, we get the service right, we just don’t always end up getting the right people for the job.
Claudia Kozma-Kaplan, LHW: I think training only goes so far. You can teach people to smile and all that but they have to feel it.
Derek Picot, Jumeirah: I think you’ve all touched on it, in terms of getting people who really understand. That it’s about being thoughtful and generous and about people who are not simply reacting but who are actually aware. My wife finds it enormously irritating to be asked three times a day, “Are you having a good stay?” instead the question could be, “What are you doing today?” It’s very, very difficult for our colleagues who have to deal with our guests to understand where they are and their well-being and their psychology and what is actually required at the time. They have to be real psychologists. I think the key is being thoughtful in general. It’s very prudent to think about what these people really want to do when they come and stay. And I think you’ve got to hire those whom you are sure are the right people.