INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Hotel guests have more desires and expectations than ever. And while this is true across the board, regardless of chain-scale segment, pressure to surpass those expectations is especially high for luxury hotels.
“With more people traveling more at home and abroad, gaining new ideas and experiences, yesterday’s ‘wows’ are becoming tomorrow’s expectations,” said Bob van den Oord, regional VP of operations for Europe, North America and the Middle East, Langham Hospitality Group. “There is the idea that not only is anything possible, but it should be available. Guests have come to expect more from the hotels they visit, including more personalization of their experience at these hotels.”
Personalization is key, said Daniel Scott, regional VP/managing director, Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. “The perception of luxury has changed over time and has become deeply personal,” he said. “It is less about a material object and more about the experience itself, whether that is a new discovery or exclusive access, for example.”
“It’s difficult to define today’s luxury traveler into one segment, with the fast-changing demographics,” van den Oord shared. “That being said, what they do all have in common is an increasing desire for more time, more space and more meaningful experiences that are tailored to their interests. For example, recently at our flagship hotel, The Langham, London, we have introduced bespoke experiences like teaming up with our executive chef for the debut of our new cooking school, Sauce, arranging local art walks for our guests or customized gin tastings in The Wigmore, our quintessential British pub. Over the next 10 years, I see that desire for customized, personalized experiences increasing and growing even more specific. Thanks to the immediacy of social media, there is more desire to curate the travel experience among luxury travelers.”
“It’s impossible to not acknowledge the impact social media has had on the luxury experiential travel industry,” Scott said. “It has completely reshaped it and has had an impact like no other. Social media provides a platform for visual storytelling and enables brands to reach a completely new and diverse audience of potential guests.”
“Social media is helping travelers to dream bigger than ever before, elevating and increasing the items on their bucket lists, which they are now fulfilling earlier in life and more frequently,” van den Oord added. “This allows for huge opportunities in the travel industry to create new and interesting experiences for guests and to make a dream vacation easier than ever before to book.”
While luxury travelers continue to be people of means, the types of vacations that count as “dream” trips are changing, too. “Luxury travel today is much more focused on emotional value than it has ever been before,” Scott said. “Do our guests expect the very best accommodations and amenities? Absolutely. But they are also seeking an emotional journey and to create lifelong memories. Today’s luxury travelers are seeking deep connections: connections with their family, with themselves and with the destination they are visiting.”
“There’s clearly a trend—more than a trend—of families traveling together in multigenerational capacities,” said Phil Keb, EVP, development, Gencom. “You’ve got grandma and grandpa who have the financial capacity to treat the children and grandchildren to good, fun trips. It’s no longer the case where these luxury vacations are mom and dad going away. Everyone seems to be entitled to enjoy those trips.”
Because of the multigenerational travel, it’s important to have activities that appeal to everyone. “You want them to stay more than one or two days, so they have to have activities they can do, but not everyone in the group has the same interests or physical ability,” Keb said. “In Costa Rica, you can hike mountains to volcanoes, zip line, surf, parasail, and a lot of physical activities that maybe the older generations are not able to do or are not interested in. It’s critical to have lots of experiential things to do, whether it’s a nature walk surveying plant life or animal life, mountain biking, surfing, windsurfing, etc… If you’re going somewhere like New York City or Orlando, where you have the theme parks, it’s probably less critical to have that plethora of activities inside your resort. In a place like NYC or San Francisco, the city itself provides that plethora of activities.”
New types of travel are opening up new types of luxury accommodations, too. “That’s also driving physical product type,” Keb said. “We are building three-, four- and five-bedroom luxury homes in a number of our properties, selling to third parties who utilize them some parts of the year, then put them back into a rental program through the hotel; in a number of these destinations, it’s a very strong market for these larger accommodation types because you’ve got six to 10 people coming on these trips and you need a lot of space for them to sleep, eat, socialize and recreate.”
As luxury opens up to new combinations of guests, and travelers continue to look for experiential vacations, the broadening of luxury destinations is predicted to continue.
“These luxury travelers have the means to go out and consume these experiences and travel, and will continue to seek out new, authentic kinds of places,” Keb said, noting that while there will always be times when people want to lay out in the sun, luxury vacations where that is the only activity are “on the decline.” Gencom is looking at “a number of opportunities in the Caribbean and Mexico, and probably less of the tried-and-true Florida beachfront resort areas,” he said.
“Ever-increasing destinations are becoming available for people to explore,” van den Oord said. “The luxury traveler will want to see more of the world and be exposed to different cultures. As Thomas Friedman would say, ‘The world is flat,’ and this will only make exploration easier for the luxury traveler in the years to come.” HB