Curating the “Authentic” Experience

Hôtel Barrière Le Fouquet’s Paris
Hôtel Barrière Le Fouquet’s Paris, a member of Leading Hotels of the World

Have you noticed that we increasingly make every effort to not communicate directly with other people in our daily lives but that when we go on vacation we yearn to connect with others, and, in some cases, are willing to pay extra to do it?

Apps and e-mail help us avoid direct interaction. Many of us rarely answer our phones; we’ll even stare at it as it rings, wondering who has the gall to bother us without asking first. Some of us dread the idea of straightening out a customer service issue by speaking to another person. Live chat is preferable and I think it’s because you don’t have to hear that other person hesitate or speak in a doubtful tone that might indicate you’re not going to get your own way, immediately.

Ruthanne Terrero
But if you ask an affluent consumer what they want to do on a vacation, they may say they are craving interaction with like-minded individuals and that they want to live like a local and enjoy an “authentic” experience. They want a dose of edgy real life but in a semi-controlled environment so there is no fear of something totally uncomfortable happening.

That’s where the luxury travel advisor comes in. You understand your clients and, even better, you know what they don’t like. How much authenticity can your clients stand? You know how far they can be pushed before they text you to rescue them from too much real life.

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Virtuoso’s senior vice president of global product partnerships, Albert Herrera, moderated an intriguing panel discussion at Virtuoso Travel Week last month that focused on “The Evolving Hotel Experience.” One participant, Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, said his clients are asking to visit those hotels that are less predictable in their offerings. That’s not a knock against the branded, luxury chains, it’s that his clients are looking for places that have a personality attached to it. “People want to feel where they are; they want that heart and soul, because at the end of the day, they’re connecting with a person and not the hotel,” he said.

Make no mistake, however. That same customer is still looking for a hotel that is best-in-class; they’re not looking to take a step down in service or accommodations. The property still needs to have been vetted by a luxury organization, or visited by the travel advisor personally. Then it’s up to the advisor to determine if the personality of that hotel — or, ultimately, that general manager or hotel owner — is suitable for their clients.

Ezon argues as well that independent hoteliers don’t always have to work too hard to provide that “live like a local” experience because they are already local. “They’ve lived three generations in this town and it’s their family’s hotel, or everyone who comes from there is not a transplant from somewhere else. This is where they live,” he said.

Which brings us to Ted Teng, president and CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, who is featured on our cover this month. Teng was also on the Virtuoso panel, and his message was the same as when I visited with him in his Manhattan office recently. His firm belief is that the hoteliers that run Leading’s hotels are the soul of their properties and able to, with the help of their teams, craft the unique experiences that guests are looking for. “They’re like an artist or a musician,” said Teng. “When they express themselves, they’re creating, and that’s what I see in our hotels.”

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