The definition of luxury in the midst of a major transition

The definition of luxury in the midst of a major transition

The definition of luxury in hospitality is in the midst of a major transition. Industry professional Chirine Salha examines what the term means for the modern-day traveler and how hotels are responding.

While the concept of luxury is still synonymous with opulence and exclusivity, the pursuit of such wealth and its scarcity will inevitably only take hotels so far. Operators are therefore realizing that the time has come to refresh their outlook on what is involved in delivering genuine luxury and what it truly means to the guest.

Seventy years ago, luxury meant admiring crystal chandeliers when you walked into a hotel lobby, alongside Italian marble pillars and elevators with attendants and plush seating. Fast forward a few decades and luxury was expressed through bespoke services and amenities, such as branded toiletries, a spa or an HD TV. This gave many hotels a sought-after status. But today, these attractions have all become standard and are no longer seen as leading indicators of luxury.

Luxury now means immersive experiences
The new breed of traveler, encompassing the millennial generation, is looking for authenticity and memorable experiences during their hotel stays. They are expecting much more than planned itineraries and nice restaurants. Substance has gained priority over style. The modern-day traveler is less concerned about luxurious rooms and more focused on being offered extraordinary, exclusive and stress-free access to unique experiences that add value to their lives and to their community. In this new luxury, we find that experience has a much higher value than material consumption. We are talking about visitors who have already witnessed the best that this world has to offer; there is nothing you can show them on a yacht or helicopter ride that they haven’t seen before. These travelers are searching for something that will simply blow their mind.

The role of the concierge
Gone are the days of travel agencies and hotel concierges being the gatekeepers of bookings and information about hip and happening places; that is so 2000. It doesn’t so much mean that the role of the concierge has become less valuable, but rather it has evolved into a new function, namely that of a “destination manager.” With such an abundance of information available online, it is still routine for travelers to question the credibility of a source and complain about how cumbersome the task of trawling through the Internet is. For this reason, and for many others, today’s concierges are ideally suited to act as expert filters, and their services will continue to expand in terms of delivering exclusivity and authenticity.

Instagram luxury
Sustainability and wellness are among the most important segments in the tourism industry. Guests are increasingly making their hotel choices based on the social and environmental impact of a property or brand. This socially conscious aim of wanting to do good is closely linked to the social media trend, with the spotlight firmly on social platforms like Instagram. Luxury now lives through social media, with these platforms having shifted the balance of power. Today, anyone with a smartphone can exert influence and has the power to impact the way in which a brand is perceived. The travel industry is responding and adapting to this trend, with packages reimagined and rebranded as experiential escapes, and itineraries shifting away from traditional sightseeing toward experiences: live like a local, digital detoxing or off-the beaten- path adventures. Since Instagram inspires these concepts more than any other social media channel, hotels are capitalizing on this trend by showcasing what travelers can look forward to during their stay.
Laid-back luxury Today’s guests are not looking for a rich type of luxury. If anything, they are advocates of the sharing economy. They will most probably take an Uber instead of renting a car, for example. Ownership of things is no longer part of the luxury experience. This wave of traveler will make use of public transport and dress in a GAP t-shirt, but still wear a Rolex watch and spend money on good food and wine.
These visitors are keen to avoid the barriers that traditional services and small talk, delivered by hotel staff, produce. They are instead increasingly seeking personal interaction. Whereas red nail polish, tattoos and piercings were frowned upon a few year ago in the hotel recruitment process of staff, today they are regarded as cool and a welcomed display of individuality. However, some five-star hotels are still lagging behind in this respect, finding it hard to marry the services expected from a luxury property with the informality and instantaneous approach sought out by some guests.
The future of service lies in this real-life, relaxed and informal style of contact. Moreover, while the level of service remains a determining factor of luxury, it should be both delivered and received with a generous amount of humility.

Tailored services
As guests are increasingly looking for a personalized, exclusive service, more hotels are expected to use guest profiling technology to help meet this growing demand. Likewise, technology is playing a bigger role behind the scenes, with staff using software as a communication tool between departments. Technology enables modern-day luxury to be put into practice, allowing guests to get what they want when they want, before they even have to ask for it.

A new landscape of offerings
To stay ahead of the game, luxury travel entities need to promote their offerings to new markets. Think Richard Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic, launching its first commercial flight into space, or the introduction of new airline routes between destinations that were previously unconnected In this new landscape, hotels are also repositioning their interpretation of luxury. For example, Marriott International has two kinds of luxury brands. With Classic Luxury, the focus is on opulence, as seen at the St Regis properties, whereas the Distinctive Luxury concept places value on experiences and lifestyle, like the W brand which caters to the more audacious trendsetter guest.

Experiential luxury has no price tag
Luxury is multifaceted; it can be a sensation or feeling associated with beauty, elegance or manners, in which case the focus should be on the senses, such as through touch with linen thread count, for example, or taste with food. But luxury can also be an identity, in which case the emphasis should then be on the origin of goods, such as offering wine from France, olive oil from Spain or marble from Italy. For some, luxury is functional, as in the case of making all kinds of hi-tech gadgetry available to a guest. When luxury is linked to exclusivity, brands become synonymous with social acceptance and distinction. And there is simply no price tag when it comes to experiential luxury, that of second-to-none, memorable interactions, unforgettable experiences and unique sensations.

Chirine Salha
Senior Consultant

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