Times change, and trends in luxury change with them. While attention to detail, refined service standards, and high-quality materials, settings, and design remain at the heart of the luxury experience, other aspects are not necessarily what they used to be. Here are some of the changes we’ve noticed – and it’s not just us. Many hotels are keeping themselves abreast of the latest customer demands, and there’s plenty of research to back up what we’re seeing.
One motivating factor for luxury consumers has always been the desire to show off what they have. Expensive cars or watches convey status, and it’s no different for hotels – except that today’s consumer will use their hotel stay to show off who they are, and that means the image of the hotel must be in tune with the consumer’s values and beliefs. There has also been a shift towards the provision of experiences, and the more exclusive the better. It is no longer enough for your restaurant to offer the finest cuisine. The modern luxury consumer wants organically-grown local produce and perhaps a cookery class with your renowned chef.
One example of this comes from One&Only Resorts, whose campaign “Discover the world like no others” takes guests where only a few people have been before, close to nature, even to the extent of allowing visits to a gorilla nest. This offers customers amazing new and unique experiences rather than simply a product.
One consequence of the luxury consumer’s desire to be seen doing the right thing is an increased demand for eco-friendly luxury. According to Jenny Rushmore who served as the Director of Responsible Travel for TripAdvisor, 80% of travelers consider environmentally-friendly practices to be important in selecting a luxury property, while the Deloitte Luxury Multi-Country Survey for Global Powers of Luxury Goods 2017 reported that 89% of all consumers avoid buying luxury products which do not respect and support ecological sustainability.
Western travelers have long been interested in healthy living, but Credit Suisse recently reported that around 80% of Chinese travelers also now claim to be eating healthily, while 40% are eager to visit the gym or take up sports to improve their fitness. As a result, those luxury Belgian chocolates don’t quite hold the appeal they once did, and hoteliers are re-thinking their F&B offerings to match this trend.
Health and wellness can also give travelers social status, when they are able to do things that others cannot. The goal is self-actualization and the improvement of the self through experiences. Accordingly, the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona responded by offering new luxury customers a package for runners who were intending to participate in the city’s marathon. The package provided runners with three nights' accommodation, personalized coaching, a running t-shirt, two spa treatments, and also offered a five-day training plan designed in collaboration with a local sports medicine clinic.
Another shift is that while luxury consumers of old would first experience a hotel on arrival, today’s luxury consumer will first interact through the digital experience. It is no longer a question of how a hotel looks, but also how the website looks. Interactions with staff remain important, but the digital interface in now critical, along with the way in which a hotel is able to incorporate technology to cater to the needs of the guests.
The increasing use of technology and connectivity today allows hoteliers to engage with new luxury consumers to move the conversation on from price and status, instead finding a deeper connection focused on experiences and the feelings that luxury products can evoke. In the past, the feedback received from guests came in the form of word of mouth, or sometimes letters. Today’s potential for real-time responses make it possible to deliver an apology, hold a conversation, and generally improve guests’ experience immediately.
Where standardization was once thought desirable, the essence of luxury now aims to achieve personalization, so while every room in the same category at The Peninsula or The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok will be exactly the same, The Siam Hotel has a different design for each room. There are no two properties that look the same in the case of brands such as the One&Only or Oberoi. Personalization recognizes the fact that no two guests are alike. Another personalization example comes from Rosewood, where they interview their regular guests, who are sometimes well-known, or find celebrities to share their journey in their work and life experiences to inspire their guests to travel in their own style.
While consumers’ tastes are changing globally, there are also more specific regional changes which hoteliers must strive to understand. Language and cultural barriers must be broken down to improve the experience offered to new luxury guests. For example, Marriott International launched a new loyalty program called ‘Li Yu’ which is customized for Chinese guests and provides personalized services that Chinese guests in particular perceive to be very valuable.
There are many examples from all around the world of luxury hotel brands responding to changes in the behavior patterns of luxury consumers, and changes in the way customers perceive luxury. This particular market sector is constantly evolving, and the way luxury is described will continue to change constantly. However, the underlying essence of luxury remains, and its requirements must be met today, just as they were in the past. The key difference lies in the style which hotels adopt when delivering the luxurious experiences which customers demand.