(Above) Deluxe guestroom headboard detail at the Vintry & Mercer luxury boutique hotel: room types are varied in their materiality and palette to reflect the colours and type of different guilds.
Redefining the luxury hotel
by. Neil Andrew
What makes a luxury hotel? Gazillion thread count bed linen, opulent bathrooms, stylish furnishings, Michelin starred restaurants: these factors can’t be ignored, but they are no longer enough on their own. A new breed of affluent traveller is redefining the meaning of luxury in the hospitality sector.
Millennials are a big driver of this shift as they enter their peak earning years. Growing up in a more secular era where previous social and economic certainties do not apply, their status is typically defined by emotional and spiritual needs as much as possessions.
Even the word luxury is losing its appeal. A browse in any supermarket will reveal numerous “luxury” products from cat food to chocolates. Likewise, many 4 and 5* hotels and resorts self-define as luxury. With overuse the word ceases to mean what it is intended to: the luxurious becomes the every day.
So how can hotels wishing to place themselves in this category differentiate themselves from the everyday? What makes a hotel truly luxurious for this new breed of affluent consumer?
Feeling vs having
There has been much comment on the growing “experience” economy. By 2022, the Boston Consulting Group predicts that personal and experiential luxury will be a €1,135 billion market—a 34% increase from 2015. By 2022 two-thirds of luxury hospitality will be experience based. This may be partly because experiences are harder to commodify, so are seen as more authentic. Travel to remote parts of the world, and memorable interactions with local people are not easily reproduced.
Recently we have seen the extension of this trend from ‘experiential’ to ‘transformative’: a holiday that will provide a life-changing experience. The luxury travel company Black Tomato encourages its customers to create a bucket list of unforgettable experiences from “conquering the iconic” to creating “moments of wonder”. Luxury hotel brands need to think creatively about how to curate these experiences for their guests in a way that offers something unique and authentic.
At your service
Human interactions are the cornerstone of an authentic experience. A knowledgeable concierge is a human filter for the plethora of online reviews and recommendations. Hotels are raising their levels of personalised service and creating unexpected moments of pleasure. Captured data can be used to create customer-centric service completely customised to each guest, from their favourite pillow type to preferred vintage of wine.
Details and discretion
When it comes to authenticity, details matter and so do stories. Hotels can make craftsmanship a feature and tell the story behind the materials and the makers. We are seeing a move toward a more intimate expression of luxury, focused on natural colour schemes, softer lines and locally-sourced design ideas and materials.
At the luxury boutique Vintry & Mercer hotel in London, our interior design team drew upon the varied nature of London’s merchant districts to engage guests with the story of the hotel’s creation, neighbourhood and history. The hotel features bespoke carpets reflecting the fine fabrics traded by mercers and art work which connects to each of the City of London guilds. Room types are varied in their materiality and palette to reflect the colours and type of different guilds. Dressing areas are a modern play on a deconstructed travel trunk, featuring scraped textured timber veneer with brass mesh panels.
The dominance of digital
Digital platforms play a large role in luxury hospitality: the online booking portal has become a prerequisite for luxury travellers who prefer to book directly with the hotel before travelling. The digital experience must be seamless with the physical.
Millennials are dependent on the internet and so connectivity is now a big part of luxury. They are not passive consumers. They are curators and creators, using digital platforms to share their voice. The ‘instagrammability’ of destinations and experiences is an important part of their appeal, encouraging guests to share online content for luxury brands.
Wellbeing is becoming a status symbol as people look to transform their lives inside and out. Spa experiences are likely to include mindfulness and meditation alongside yoga and pilates. Unplug retreats are increasing in popularity where guests give up their devices for a digital detox. Affluent consumers want healthy food and beverage options with the latest superfood ingredients from turmeric to collagen. We can expect to see more natural toiletries in large bottles which can refilled.
Sustainability is also likely to increase in importance with travellers looking to create meaningful memories in sustainable developments where they are contributing positively to the surrounding area. At a new eco-resort brand Salt in Mauritius, guests are encouraged to take part in a skill swap scheme learning the likes of basket weaving in return for sharing their expertise.
A new kind of luxury hotel?
Clearly the new breed of luxury consumer is creating challenges for the luxury hotel sector. Traditional concepts of what makes a luxury hotel just won’t cut it anymore. However, for those who are willing and able to adapt and meet the challenge there is a huge opportunity to create a more intimate, meaningful luxury model which will stand the test of time.