Consumers want it Customized: Elie El Hayek, Hotel de la Tremoille, Paris; Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa; Laetitia Elmaleh, Hotel Pont Royal, Paris; Sebastian Finkbeiner, Hotel Traube Tonbach, Germany; Sheelagh King, JW North Travel and Marnie de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France
Luxury Travel Advisor in November held a roundtable discussion in Las Vegas during the Signature Annual Sales Conference. On hand were the general managers of several international hotels in the Signature network, as well as some top Signature travel advisors, including Maureen Conlin, Los Gatos Travel; Sheelagh King, JW North Travel; Rosemarie McGuire, Travel 100 Group and Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel & Tours. From the hotel side were Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York; Gareth Banner, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London; Claudio Catani, Hotel Brunelleschi, Florence; Marco Filippi, La Posta Vecchia and Il Pellicano; Elie El Hayek, Hotel de la Tremoille, Paris; Laetitia Elmaleh, Hotel Pont Royal, Paris; Sebastian Finkbeiner, Hotel Traube Tonbach, Germany; Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa; Bruno Papaleo, Palazzo Manfredi, Rome and Guy and Marnie de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France.
Following is a condensed version of the discussion, which focused on how affluent travelers are using luxury hotels.
It was moderated by Ruthanne Terrero, VP/Editorial Director of Luxury Travel Advisor.
Ruthanne Terrero: My question is, are guests generally spending more now, and what are they asking you for, or maybe a better way of phrasing it, what are their demands of you? How do they want to use your hotel? What is it that they want to get from you?
Pictured: Guy de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France
Marnie de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France: The demands they have are more for extras. It’s easier for us to rent the most expensive room than it is to rent the middle of the range. On top of that, they tend to ask, “What else can we do?” and, “Oh, we’re going to Burgundy, and we didn’t think ahead, do you know of any special wine tour we could do?” or, “We’d like to do something fantastic on our last night in Paris.” That enables me to extend our services, and if it’s booked in advance with the travel agent, to create more of a package where they have everything together, and I can pay commission. There is more demand to be able to add on extra services, once they have booked. The more I can interact with the travel agents in building the tour up front, the better the commission for me, but also for the travel agents, and the better the experience for the client.
Pictured: Marnie de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France
Ruthanne Terrero: Sheelagh, what are you seeing in terms of your clientele?
Sheelagh King, JW North Travel: They’re definitely looking for customization. We get a lot more requests for private guides in the destination. Wine tasting is always desirable. They’re staying longer at the property, looking for more of a destination experience.
Ruthanne Terrero: Experience has become the new buzzword.
Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa: It’s really the new currency.
Sebastian Finkbeiner, Hotel Traube Tonbach, Germany: We’re used to Germans, and French clients. Now we have Americans, and they’re looking for authentic experiences. Whenever we can, we get somebody authentic, from the village, knowing that they’re actually involved in the fairytales that are written about the village. They don’t need somebody speaking perfect English.
They’re looking for something really authentic, something they can take home, and can be sure that their neighbors haven’t had the same experience. For families, it’s a much more bonding trip when they experience something unique and authentic, and nobody else has gotten that. They want more personal service; they don’t want a set program.
Laetitia Elmaleh, Hotel Pont Royal, Paris; Sebastian Finkbeiner, Hotel Traube Tonbach, Germany and Sheelagh King, JW North Travel
Laetitia Elmaleh, Hotel Pont Royal, Paris: Clients really want to have a personal experience so they spend money for restaurants and for entertainment. They are spending more money but they also want more complimentary amenities, such as breakfast.
Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa: I believe we compete with not only other resorts and hotels, but with the clients’ own lifestyle; you compete with their own homes, you compete with Whole Foods, you compete with the American Express Centurion members. You really have to pay attention to what’s going on around us. [Considering] the Millennial traveler, like when you go to these college campuses, you’ll be amazed by the food that the 18-year-old or the 22-year-old is exposed to. I was exposed to dorm food so it really [is] a new playing field.
Elie El Hayek, Hotel de la Tremoille, Paris: For us the trend in Paris is very different. I would say we have two kinds of clientele, one that needs really to keep to the rate and have a very specific room in their room category, that and experience. On the other hand, other clientele, who are willing to pay more for the experience.
Ruthanne Terrero: Let’s shift to Millennials. For our audience who is not aware, Millennials in the U.S. are a huge part of the population, it’s a huge generation, larger than the Baby Boomers. Right now, they range from 18 to 35 and are having a tremendous impact on the market and it’s going to become even more tremendous, because within a few years they’ll be the main spenders in our economy, and so we have to be ready for the way they’ve grown up and their expectations, and the way that they want to experience a hotel, and the way they want to experience travel.
Maureen, can you tell the group about your clientele because you’re in such an interesting part of the U.S., representing such an interesting dynamic of the economy.
Maureen Conlin, Los Gatos Travel: We’re in Los Gatos, Calif., which is dead center in the middle of Silicon Valley. The difficulty with Millennials, I have found, is that they have been taken care of by their parents or at their schools by their teachers. They helicopter them to college. They finish college, they helicopter when they get jobs. No one has ever said, ‘no,’ to these kids and they don’t like the word, ‘no.’ There’s always an alternative or there’s always another way. But sometimes, there isn’t another way.
You also have to really listen to them because it is always about one-upping someone else. That’s the new thing. How can I do something better than someone else did? If you really let them get through their whole spiel and then present them with something that really does work, I think they do listen, but you have to know what they’re looking for.
As you say, there are two types of customers. There are some who have so much money, they don’t care what anything costs. They just want what they want. Then there are others who have money but they don’t like to spend it. They’re very fussy about it and they want everything for free.
It’s a very interesting time, with houses going in our area for cash in five days for $7 million or $8 million. They live in this beautiful neighborhood and have an $8 million house but they’ll put a skateboard park in their backyard. This is the 35-year-old gamer. That’s what he wants to do. He just wants to make sure he had a yard big enough that he could put in a skateboard park. He really, doesn’t care how much he paid for the house, he could care less if he has furniture, but the skateboard park is important.
You have to listen to them. I think they’re unique, very good people and I think they’ll grow into themselves, but they’re not there yet.
Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York; Gareth Banner, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London; Claudio Catani, Hotel Brunelleschi, Florence; Maureen Conlin, Los Gatos Travel and Guy de Vanssay, Chateau de la Barre, France
Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York: When we’re looking into developing a hotel, there are other very simple ways of keeping Millennial travelers happy. It isn’t simple as having a USB charging station next to the bedside table.
Claudio Catani, Hotel Brunelleschi, Florence and Maureen Conlin, Los Gatos Travel
Maureen Conlin, Los Gatos Travel: It’s also all about technology. They have to be connected constantly.
Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York: They want free Wi-Fi. You have one guest who comes in with their iPhone, with their iPad. You said it, it’s all about technology. Being able to pair your phone to your television, being able to watch your own content, directly on your television. Those are the types of things that maybe not a 35-year-old, but the 18- to 27-year-olds are looking for because, as someone said before, it’s what they have at home. You have to equal or better what they have at home. I want a USB charging station next to my bed in the hotel room I pay $800 a night for. It can be quite costly for existing hotels that retrofit those types of things. When we were developing The Beekman, that’s something that we really thought about.
Rosemarie McGuire, Travel 100 Group: In my experience, Millennials tend to think they are experts in everything, whether they’re foodies, or wine enthusiasts. One of the words Maureen used was “listen” and the other word is to research. They’ve done their research. They are connected 24/7. They know more than you in some areas, and I think we really have to do our homework, which is challenging, to create a seamless trip, which is what they’re expecting. At the end of the day, you really spend a long time on the trips you do for Millennials, but, of course, they’re worth it. They’re the future of our industry, but it’s challenging.
Ruthanne Terrero: Do you find they will take advice?
Defining Their Habits: Rosemarie McGuire, Travel 100 Group; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor and Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York
Rosemarie McGuire, Travel 100 Group: They do listen, they know you’re the expert. They’re looking a little bit for the wow factor. They’re looking for the better honeymoon than the other person had, or the better trip than the other had. They do look a little bit. They find the Signature amenities of value, so they’ll come back after they’ve done some research.
Gareth Banner, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London: We have a big responsibility to them in terms of making sure that we engage them, not just through products and services but through research. For years, hotels in London recommended going to Harrods and Buckingham Palace. No longer is that acceptable. These guys are social discoverers. They want to know where the residents go. They want to understand what the latest pop-up restaurant might be. They want to know about that little art gallery around the corner. We have a responsibility to introduce them to the hotel and to the city as citizens rather than tourists. They don’t want to be tourists. We’ve put a lot of effort into that.
Pictured: Gareth Banner, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London
Ruthanne Terrero: They want more of a host rather than somebody who gives them a historical review of the city and show them all the churches and cathedrals and what not. They want to be taken around by someone who lives there and can actually tell them, “Here’s where I shop,” or, “Here’s where I grew up.”
My question is, how do you handle the personnel? Do you hire them or is this done on a volunteer basis? How do you vet them?
Robert Andrews, The Beekman Hotel, New York: Typically, it starts with the concierge. In New York, there seems to have been a bit of a decline of the traditional concierge, we’re seeing that this role is sometimes combined with other positions, which is very sad. The very traditional packages that you throw online, for example, “the romance package,” — I’m sure we’ve all done them at a hotel at some point — they just never get booked anymore. As Gareth said, they want an experience as if you were a resident of New York or London or Paris. They can find the Empire State Building on their own. They want to know the insider places, but for me, that starts at the concierge’s desk, and it’s such an important position. I think just as important as the general manager of the hotel.
Ruthanne Terrero: Kendra, what are you seeing from the Gen X perspective?
Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel & Tours: We have clients with young children and they are taking them to Europe, but they want their kids to have these local experiences at their age level. “I want my five-year-old to make patisseries with an authentic chef.” It’s how can you create these authentic experiences for the little ones, too?
Ruthanne Terrero: What’s your take on Millennials?
Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel & Tours: Millennials are very research-oriented, they come armed with information and they really want to feel like they are telling you all they know, they want you to validate what they’ve done the research on. You have to be extremely prepared when you are talking to Millennials. Gen X, my generation, is willing to take my advice. But with Millennials, with all this access to information, people want to feel they’re the expert and maybe we can help them figure out which to choose among these three options.
Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa: With all that information, they don’t want to wait. During our peak season, when they say, “let me help myself,” it’s not because they’re cheap, it’s because they don’t want to wait. If they see the concierge and there’s even one person there in front of them, they don’t want to wait, they’ll book it themselves. They don’t want to wait for someone to call back, they want to keep moving.
Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel & Tours: We have the Signature amenities, so if we say, “Wait, if you give me one hour to get this booking done vs. doing it yourself,” there is a lot of added value we can bring.
Bruno Papaleo, Palazzo Manfredi, Rome and Rosemarie McGuire, Travel 100 Group
Bruno Papaleo, Palazzo Manfredi, Rome: My hotel is probably a little different from the other except for Marco’s. We are a 14-room hotel so people know they are going into a private residence, not a huge hotel, so they expect the personalized service. They are looking for the experience, they want the nice room, the nice TV, they expect Wi-Fi and complimentary water. They want the gym, the concierge, the housekeeping; they want the chef to come out and explain how they made the plates and the sommelier to explain the wine, to give them the experience. We are small and family owned so they want to feel they are in a family. They come to us because they want the wow factor. Everyone has a nice house, they want something different when they come to us.
Elie El Hayek, Hotel de la Tremoille, Paris: The difference between one hotel and another hotel is the experience. There are so many hotels opening but we should never forget it’s the experience and the service that makes the difference.
Pictured: Elie El Hayek, Hotel de la Tremoille, Paris and Bruce Grosbety, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo Spa
Marco Filippi, La Posta Vecchia and Kendra Thornton, Royal Travel & Tours
Marco Filippi, La Posta Vecchia and Il Pellicano: Our revenue has been growing over the past five years and 2015 was excellent, but there is a higher demand in expectations so you have to make anything possible to customize the guest experience, starting with the small things. Even the Michelin-star chefs know that they cannot impose their cuisine on anyone anymore; they need to adapt any dish to any guest.
For Millennials, we’ve been investing in broadband for Internet access. A good half of the young people coming to La Posta Vecchia is on their honeymoon, so they’ll feel like kings and queens for a day or two. Il Pellicano is a different property with a higher percentage of younger people who might not be spending a huge amount on accommodations but they can surprise you and spend quite a lot in boutique. Maybe they’ll eat a casual meal at The Pelligrill restaurant, perhaps just a simple steak, but they’ll pair that with a bottle of wine that costs 2,000 euros. They’ll book a basic room but then they’ll book the yacht for an entire day.