Europe Weighs in on the Affluent

Luxury Travel Advisor brought its Affluent Traveler Trends Roundtable Series to Las Vegas at the Signature Travel Network Annual Sales Conference where we drew together European hoteliers and several of Signature’s top travel advisor executives. Participants included Alain Bullo, general manager, Hotel Londra Palace in Venice, Italy; Federico Archiati, director of sales & marketing, Hotel Majestic Roma; Markos Chaidemenos, managing director, Canaves Oia Hotel & Suites, Santorini, Greece; Kate Levin, general manager, The Capital, London; Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, chief sales and marketing officer, Sacher Hotels, Vienna; Darren Gearing, executive vice president, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, representing The Shard London; Valentina De Santis, owner, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como, Italy and Patricia Iinuma, director of sales, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.

Advisor representatives included Peter Carideo, president, CRC Travel; Julia Douglas, owner, Jet Set Travel; Olga Placeres, manager, Preferred Travel of Naples and Katie Cadar, general manager, TravelStore.

On Personal Service: Federico Archiati, Hotel Majestic Roma; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor and Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels.

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On Personal Service: Federico Archiati, Hotel Majestic Roma; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor and Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels. 


Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: What are the challenges and opportunities in dealing with the luxury client these days?

Federico Archiati, Hotel Majestic Roma: What I see is, “it’s all about the client,” that every single moment in the hotel has to be personalized. When they travel, they have less and less time so they want to make the most of it; they are not buying an accommodation as a commodity, they are buying an experience. From an operational point of view, that means we need to develop and to suit that experience for every single one of them. Luxury means “I need that experience to be exactly the way I expect it to be.” It’s not all about the product. The real difference in terms of luxury is the interaction during the stay. 

Analyzing the Guest: Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard and Patricia Iinuma, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.Pictured: Analyzing the Guest: Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard and Patricia Iinuma, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome.

Kate Levin, The Capital: London has such a huge choice of hotels now. I don’t know how travel advisors pick where to put people in London. Our high-end travelers and all levels of travelers for London are getting very wise. Trip Advisor is a reality, so whether a travel agent or anyone advises someone to stay at The Capital or wherever it is, the client will do their own research and is not necessarily just going to accept the first suggestion. They are also very sophisticated in their search for price and they want to understand exactly what they’re getting for their money. They are happy to pay if they know that they’re getting what they’ve asked for. 

Katie Cadar, TravelStore: To build on that, we on the retail side have to be psychologists. The trick is to get as much information from the client as possible to be able to match them to the appropriate hotel. Then we need to depend on our hotel partners because the clients expect such value for what they pay. They need a reason to come to us. We’re here at Signature. We’re all partners, and that carries a great deal of importance. 

For authentic experiences, they don’t mind spending the money, but they want to see the value. They’ve got to be sold on their emotion and feel that the authenticity is really important. Transparency is more important than ever. They want to see what each thing costs; they don’t mind paying it, but they like to understand it. 

Knowing the client: Markos Chaidemenos, Canaves Oia Hotel & Suites, Santorini, Greece and Julia Douglas, Jet Set Travel.Pictured: Knowing the client: Markos Chaidemenos, Canaves Oia Hotel & Suites, Santorini, Greece and Julia Douglas, Jet Set Travel.

I’m seeing a lot of multigenerational travel, but also couples traveling together and groups of friends traveling together. With multi-gen, the younger family with the kids and grandkids might branch off on an additional trip. I’ve got one right now where they’re going to do a whole volunteer trip after the vacation with the grandparents, who are paying for a luxury safari. 

Olga Placeres, Preferred Travel of Naples: As Katie says, we need the partners because we can think of all kinds of things, but we need you to deliver it. We’re not going to be right there with the client, so we need that relationship and that trust that yes, they’ll check in on time and they’ll be picked up and they’ll be delivered and they’ll have a good experience. Otherwise, we hear about it. Once you deliver something, our clients expect it every single time, so then we have to be really picky about where we put them the next time, too.

Alain Bullo, Hotel Londra Palace: We don’t like the “luxury” term too much. For us, it’s emotion, experiences, simple things. They want to be recognized. They want to be a member. They want to really experience what we can do. They want to experience Venice. It’s an emotion. They open the windows at the Londra Palace and they can see all of the lagoon and San Giorgio Island. They want to feel different when they leave. 

Olga Placeres, Preferred Travel of Naples: The luxury traveler is expecting more and more amenities, and different amenities. If they had something before, now they want something different and they want a little bit more. Wi-Fi is big. Three years ago, that was a wow. Today that is not a wow, it’s expected.

Basic Service Standards Matter: Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels and Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard.Pictured: Basic Service Standards Matter: Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels and Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard.

Julia Douglas, Jet Set Travel: We’ve noticed much more spontaneity to travel; there’s an impulsiveness that exists. Trip Advisor and all the other information sources out there create so many more temptations, so our clients come to us with ideas. The consumer has now wisened up to how sexy and fun travel can be. From a hotelier’s standpoint, too, the accommodation is as important as the experience that you design on the ground. What influences their hotel selection has become more important. They’re spending more time at the property than just using it as a place to sleep. 

We’re seeing a huge demand for South America, North America, and villa products. As more and more families are traveling, they want the privacy of a villa but the services of a hotel. The resort destinations are building to accommodate this trend, but for city center hotels, how do you accommodate these families when they don’t just want interconnecting rooms? They really want to have a hotel within a hotel.

Being a psychiatrist: Katie Cadar of TravelStore and Kate Levin, The Capital, London.Pictured: Being a psychiatrist: Katie Cadar of TravelStore and Kate Levin, The Capital, London.

Markos Chaidemenos, Canaves Oia Hotel: Added value is number-one priority for the luxury traveler. Since a luxury traveler has chosen to give you his time while he’s on vacation, he’s very, very important, and I believe that this is why we need, especially with a travel agent, a two-way communication to harvest as much information about the traveler in order to maximize their time and maximize their experience. 

I also see that villas are a really strong new trend and we have built a new villa right next to the hotel; it has 100 percent privacy but access to the facilities and services from the hotel. 

Since I’m on-site all the time, I get to speak a lot with the clients. I get to discuss with them what are their needs and wants. I ask them directly, “What do you need? What do you want?” It’s really important to get in touch with them and to find out what they want. 

Valentina De Santis, Grand Hotel Tremezzo: Twenty years ago, it was mainly about the quality and the intrinsic value of the product. Ten years ago, it was a lot about the brand and the status of being in a five-star hotel. Now, the focus has completely changed; it’s about “myself” and what the guest wants, whether from the experience or the destination. The importance of being customer-centric is growing so much, and it’s difficult for a hotel to answer to every guest because each is looking for a different experience in his holiday. You have to personalize, as Federico was saying. 

Building the Relationship: Peter Carideo of CRC Travel and Valentina De Santis, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como.Pictured: Building the Relationship: Peter Carideo of CRC Travel and Valentina De Santis, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como.

Following the financial crisis of 2009, travelers are allowed to spend again as before but with a more conscientious approach. They really need to know what they are getting and to know that what they are paying for is different. 

Peter Carideo, CRC Travel: I look at myself as a therapist and I’m a good one, despite my age. 

Over the years, it’s really just getting into the clients’ head and figuring out what luxury is for them this year and what are the bells and the whistles they’re looking for. For the past three years, we’ve not sold a hotel that doesn’t come with some value add. Fifteen years ago, I never asked for breakfast and I never asked for Internet. Now it’s the norm and it’s totally expected. 

Patricia Iinuma, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome: In a world that is a lot more connected than what it used to be, I feel that our guests want to feel like they are where their peers are. Be it an American guest, they want to see that whoever their counterpart is from China, from Russia, from Brazil, they’re all in the lobby. They’re all interacting. They’re having breakfast and they see the family that could be the version of them in China. I think that they like the feeling of belonging, but at the same time having the feeling of exclusivity.

In Paris and London we are starting to see the new wave of luxury travelers. You have travelers from Brazil whose families have been traveling for the past 500 years and you have travelers who have just had access to money for the past five to 10 years. These two types travelers are both Brazilian but they don’t necessarily want to see each other in the lobby because old money can spot new money straight away. 

It’s About the Emotion: Olga Placeres, Preferred Travel of Naples and Alain Bullo, Hotel Londra Palace, Venice.Pictured: It’s About the Emotion: Olga Placeres, Preferred Travel of Naples and Alain Bullo, Hotel Londra Palace, Venice.

It’s the same thing with a Chinese client. They travel in groups because they’re still not traveling by themselves. We’ll have a group of Chinese clients having breakfast, and it’s how they were educated. They’ll go to the buffet, and they put big quantities of food on their table so that they can share. At the same time, you have a family from the U.S. at the table next to them. Then you have two tables of Brazilians. One is old money, one is new money.

Controlling that interaction is becoming more and more important; it’s our responsibility, but how can we do that without offending and being sensitive to their cultural needs?

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard: For us, we’re always going to have our more traditional-based luxury client who knows what they want. They know where to go and they know what questions to ask. The big difference that we’ve seen, particularly in our European hotels and some hotels in Asia, is more last-minute travel. You have more younger travelers of varying nationalities, and that’s very interesting because they will bring their children and they will expect to take their children in your so-called fine dining restaurants, too. If you don’t let them, you’ll know about it. 

Because of the likes of Trip Advisor and social media, things are much more immediate now, and people just want to grab that opportunity to go before their friends have gone before them. 

There is still a place for reliability and getting the basics right. Having breakfast in London in June can become sometimes quite an interesting experience even in the best hotels because that’s when they’re really busy and sometimes just getting your coffee is not what it should be. The need for the basics will never go away. 

As for connectivity, we made a big decision about four years ago not to charge for Wi-Fi in our hotels anymore. But now, it’s gone one step further. In some of our hotels, we found that at certain times, it’s not unusual for people to have two to three devices that are hooked up to our Internet. At Shangri-La Paris, it got to the point where we’ve actually put an access point in the desk in every room now because it’s an expectation.

Talking about service, people want it and they want it now. A great example is in-room dining. As hoteliers, we print these lovely menus and put them on the desk. But we’ve got certain hotels today, especially that I oversee, where 55 percent of our orders are not from the menu. People call room service and say, “I would love just to have a piece of roast chicken. I just want something simple this evening.” The fact is we do it because we have to do it.

Peter Carideo, CRC Travel: I’ve never thought of doing that, but I’m going to do that now. 

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard: You may get some colorful answers in some places. 
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Clients are used to being wowed, they’re expecting a lot when they come to you, and they all consider themselves to be a VIP? How do you handle that?

Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels: I think everybody who pays such a lot of money to stay in our hotel has the right to expect the value add and has the full right to expect 100 percent perfection of everything. All luxury hotels have beautiful rooms. We have state-of-the-art bathrooms. We have all kinds of technical amenities. That’s taken for granted. You can’t make a lot of fuss about it. We really try to go more into the service aspect and just give the extra time and the extra attention to detail for each individual guest. 

For example, we had one guest who loved these little sausages, and we usually don’t have them on the breakfast buffet because it’s a very special item. But he kept coming back, and so the F&B manager got notice of that, and so the next time, when he saw on the arrival list that this person was coming, he purchased these little sausages in advance. At breakfast, they made a special plate for him and said, “Look, this is especially for you.” I think these are the little gestures that make the person feel even more recognized and more special because they think, “They thought about what they can do to make my stay even more pleasant or just easier for me.”

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Sometimes it’s those things that don’t cost a lot of money but it’s the thought that matters.

Brigitta Hartl-Wagner, Sacher Hotels: It’s not about the cost. It’s really about the attention. You need somebody to communicate this because if the staff didn’t tell the F&B manager, the knowledge is gone. That’s why staff training becomes so important, you have to tell them, “Whatever happens, please communicate and forward this information.”

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard: Now that authenticity is in demand, people want to have a sense of where they are. We encourage our hotels to come up with a list of experiences, which are always changing. At our hotel in Paris the chef takes people to the market around the corner. They buy white asparagus when it’s in season, and they go back and they cook it, and everybody is very touched by that. We encourage them to have these experiences that are available which are facilitated by the hotel.

In Asia, it could be watching the turtles hatch at night and watching them go down the beach out to the marine preserve that we control. In Borneo we have a nursery for orangutans which is really very special. 

The reality though is it’s never going to stop. It’s going to be an ongoing story, which is great because then we have to work harder to achieve it. 

Katie Cadar, TravelStore: Can I ask, Darren, how do you communicate these special experiences to the guests?

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard: Some of them we package and we actively go out and sell, but it’s not always that way. The “less is more” approach in some of our hotels is quite good. In our European hotels, some of the travelers tend to have been there, done that, seen it all. This is their fourth time in London or their seventh time in Paris. For the guest relations guys it’s important to have something up their sleeves, such as exclusive access to a famous person’s house or something like that. We are fortunate enough in those cities to have that. It’s a mixture of packaging; the more obvious ones that we know have more general appeal, but having a little bit up your sleeve as well for those really discerning guests who have been many times. 

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: When affluent people really want to have that access into somebody’s home, that’s got to be amazingly difficult. Is that done through relationships?

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La at The Shard: Correct, and specialists on the ground, which actually are normally a one-man band. They’re normally people who have a penchant for a certain interest in life, and they could get you that exclusive access.

Peter Carideo, CRC Travel: Someone like Susie Worthy in London; in Italy, it’s Andrea Grisdale at IC Bellagio. You go to that person, you build a relationship with them, and that’s how I wow clients because I can’t know of everything, every time, although my clients think I do; so we go to the specialist there. In every city, we have someone that we can go to and say, “OK, what is it this time? This is his fifth time in Paris.” 

I have a client who’s been to Paris numerous times. We did the simple thing of biking. They landed, and we did a three-hour bike ride around Paris just to get their juices flowing. It was not expensive, not luxurious, but he said, “I want to do this every time now wherever I go.” It’s just thinking outside the box and being creative. 

Patricia Iinuma, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome: I think it gets easier; my hotel, for instance, has been open for 10 years now, and 60 percent of our guests are repeat guests. It does get a lot easier the more we establish a relationship with them; we know them and they know us. I think the hardest is when we don’t know the guest. When it’s someone that we know, we can say, “I have one ticket to see the apartment of Mademoiselle Chanel. Would you like to go?” We don’t have time to package it; it’s an opportunity. Among the sales and guest relations managers and the concierge, we have to keep in mind a list of clients all the time, and note, “If ever I have an opportunity to see the backstage of a Chanel fashion show, these are the people I’m going to call.” It just happened where we called a client from Russia and we said, “We just got three tickets for a Chanel fashion show front line and then a cocktail with Karl Lagerfeld. Would you like to come in two days?” They flew over. And obviously, they stayed in our hotel. 

It’s that expectation of the hotel having, as Julia was saying, the services of a resort. They ask us to book a trip to a wine tasting in Champagne. It’s not only the concierge anymore; we all have to be connected. Our sales people, plus the staff, need to be out once or twice week networking because it all comes down to personal favors. You call and say, “I need this to happen.” 

Julia Douglas, Jet Set Travel: And if you promote it, then it seems less personal. They love the element of surprise when they’re there and the feeling of having been the only one to have this experience. 

Valentina De Santis, Grand Hotel Tremezzo: We’ve created the new role of “lifestyle manager.” That’s a person who takes care only of the happiness of the clients, starting with requests from the travel advisor to guarantee that every part of the experience is going smoothly. He is very, very relationship-based so it’s similar to guest relations but he’s a more proactive and a much more creative figure.

Markos Chaidemenos, Canaves Oia Hotel: For boutique hotels like ours, it’s easier to treat everyone like VIPs because you have a more intimate personalized service. We have only 41 suites, so all the staff can address the guests by their last name. A normal check-in for us is to have a manager show them around, offer them a welcome drink, and see how they want to experience Santorini. If they book a catamaran experience, we can surprise them with a nice box of food in their room. At breakfast, staff can ask them, “Do you want cappuccino again like yesterday?” Remembering them makes them feel like they’re really special.

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