Interior Design Ideas, News, Trends & Inspiration Redefining the high-end hotel market for today

Redefining the high-end hotel market for today

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Deluxe guestroom at the peninsula shanghai

It should come as no surprise. The definition of luxury has changed, thanks to the economy, changing guest expectations, and new travelers. Gold leaf and crystal chandeliers have been replaced with local materials and modern touches, and grandiose gestures have been substituted for personalized service. And it’s not changing back anytime soon. For more insight, we went straight to the experts, asking four veterans from four luxury hotel companies a series of questions surrounding this changing segment. They discuss customizing guests’ experiences, expansion plans, and keeping Gen X and Y travelers entertained.

HD: In today’s market, how would you define luxury? How has it changed since you started in the business?

Redefining the high-end hotel market for todayHorst Schulze, CEO, Capella Hotels and Resorts: In the last 25 years, it has changed dramatically. Up to about 30 years ago, luxury was a huge lobby with glass elevators. Luxury has evolved into individuality. We started Capella because individuality has become more and more a demand from the top-end traveler. [Former Ritz-Carlton president Schulze launched Capella under his newly formed West Paces Hotel Group in 2005; now the brand has six properties open in Austria, Germany, Mexico, Singapore, and Colorado, with three planned in Japan, Riviera Maya, Mexico, and Ireland.] For them it’s not, ‘I will buy what you offer me,’ it’s ‘I will create what I want.’ The top customer wants a product the way they want it. ‘Don’t tell me check-in time is 1:00. I am coming at 9.’ ‘It’s not on menu, but here is what I want.’ Capella hotels have 100 rooms max, so that we can take care of each individual.

Redefining the high-end hotel market for todayRobert Boulogne, COO, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts: I have spent a lot of time wondering does luxury define what Rosewood is today? I have started taking luxury out of our vocabulary. A lot of hotel companies called themselves luxury, but they are not truly luxury. The word is completely overused and completely generic. I am thinking maybe that is not us anymore. I started defining Rosewood by proposition: sense of place, service, residential nature, intimate unique designs; the idea that we are a collection. I have not found a word that describes us.

Redefining the high-end hotel market for todayPeter Borer, COO, Peninsula Hotels: While the traditional measures of luxury are a given at our hotels—for example Rolls-Royce fleets, sumptuous fabrics, gourmet restaurants—the new luxury of today comprises a major intangible. As our lives become ever more busy and hectic with all the communication and travel that go into a day, time is becoming the ultimate luxury—time to be still, to think, to reflect, to plan, to savor the experience when one travels or just to relax and do nothing.

Redefining the high-end hotel market for todayBill Barrie, senior vice president, design, project management, and technical services, Ritz- Carlton: When I joined the company in 2002, we were at the beginning of a big period of growth for the company. We had turned into one look, which was great for us for many years, but we (and our customers) realized we expectation for what they get for the money is growing. They need to spend money wisely, and when they do splurge they want to get something for it. From an amenity standpoint, we believe they are looking for something more experiential—a great spa, something really focused on children and families. We are offering different ways of engaging our guests so they stay with us, and spend more money.

PB: I believe that our guests want that ‘sense of arrival’ as they come to every Peninsula hotel and to experience the destination in more intimate ways through our partnerships forged with the local community. The estrella suite at capella pedregal in cabo san lucas mexicoAs a company we have not laid off anyone. To provide the level of service our guests expect, we highly invest in the training of our people. Even during these difficult times guests who stay with us expect the same level of attention and service if not more.

HS: Guests want truth versus fancy. Furniture made of local hardwood, rather than something fancy from Italy; a cast iron local chandelier rather than Waterford crystal. A sense of place, something real, something that fits in; it’s first class, but locally made. Not something that’s gimmicky, but real. A customer wants to be connected to the culture.

RB: I have a story from a couple of weeks ago that sums this up. Ritz-carlton kapalua spaA reservationist came in curious; she didn’t know who all these new customers were, all asking for discounts and value adds. I went back and researched and it was the same people calling. Exact same customer [as before], but the world has educated them that everything is on sale. [Before] the rate didn’t matter, ‘Do you have any specials or packages’ never used to be a question. In terms of this idea of decadence and overspending, it seems to have found the way into people’s vocabulary a year ago, but today, it is very hushed. People may be buying and renting villas, but they aren’t telling their neighbors. The library at the rosewood sand hill in silicon valleys menlo parkAll of our clients lost money, but they still have money, that’s not the issue. The question is the mindset—it feels inappropriate or insensitive to friends that have lost jobs.

HD: Gen X and Gen Y are changing the face of travel. How are you adapting?

RB: Rosewood’s clientele is a bit older, but we are still attracting Gen X and Y. We have a number of programs that resonate [with these travelers]. We look at things like technology in our guestrooms. Guests can borrow a Flip [UltraHD] digital camera during their stay, download the videos, and walk away with memories. It’s a fun thing. We always think about what we can do for the younger generation. But people want simplicity. Ritz-carlton reserve in krabi island thailandWe don’t want to make these guestrooms complicated. Some of electronics have gotten complicated—we continually strive to make them simple. We also have a presence on the online social networks.

HS: An exciting new thing is there’s much more family-related vacation travel. Three generations are coming in. In our properties, we are including larger suites—three-bedroom, two-bedroom suites. Even though we are a super luxurious place, a large percent of family travel is Gen X and Y. In many ways, they are more adventurous. They want the sports, tours, activities. They want to connect to the world around them, otherwise they get easily bored. They don’t come like people did 30 years ago to sleep and sit on beach.

PB: We started addressing their needs and preferred manner of communication by revamping our website to make it richer in content and also more interactive. The constellation suite at capella singapore a sentosa island hotelWe have launched our online communications through various e-marketing processes and even online gifts and gift certificates purchase. Just recently we launched My Peninsula, the creation of our guests’ online profiles so we can manage their expectations and needs. As far as design is concerned, we are upgrading the technology features in our guestrooms across all our hotels to mirror the communication and entertainment needs of our discerning travelers. We like to provide a comfortable luxurious space in our guestrooms with discreet technology.

BB: Aside from having hotels in the right locations, for the new generation of traveler, that’s multi-national, cultural, and lingual, you have to figure out how to communicate. We are looking at social media. Simon Cooper [president and COO] is now on Twitter, which is a major factor for us. We try to tailor ourselves to their needs but have other guests as well—it’s the question of doing it all and making everyone happy.

HD: Even in this tough economy, each of your brands is expanding. Can you tell us how and where?

BB: [We recently launched] the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which is a brand extension. Dramatic concierge desk at the newly opened rosewood sand hillThe first one will be Phulay Bay in Thailand. The concept is how do we create another experience— one that’s a get-away destination that’s almost difficult to get to, and you can be as alone or as connected as you want to be, with a greater level of individualized service and casual luxury. We have several properties currently under construction. They tend to be in tough-to-getto places, like the Maldives where you get there by seaplane. [For Ritz-Carlton,] nowhere is off limits. Under construction are Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai [existing property expansion], and Bangalore. Internationally we are very focused on Asia, gateway cities are interesting to us. Thailand and Vietnam are showing promise, and the Middle East with new developments in Egypt and possibility Sultan. We will open two LEED properties this year. Charlotte [will be a] LEED Gold property, and Lake Tahoe will open toward the end of the year. PB: We are opening the Peninsula Shanghai in late 2009. We will open Paris in 2012. Located in a magnificent historic building, formerly the Hotel Majestic on Avenue Kleber, just off the Arc de Triomphe on the prestigious Champs Elysees, it will mark our arrival in Europe.

RB: We are looking to open San Miguel outside of Mexico City in 2010. A dressing room at the peninsula shanghai and the royal villa bedroom at phulay bayRosewood Abu Dhabi 2012. Rosewood Dubai opening in 2011. For four or five other projects, it’s a little early to talk about. We have lost three projects, and three or four are on hold that are the traditional residential/hotel model—today, no one is getting financing for that model. In this environment, there are more opportunities for conversions. We have already been getting calls for those. [In terms of our new brand Sense spa] we just opened one at Sand Hill. We will open Jumby Bay in December. What was happening in the spa world, which was not very different than the restaurant world, was that when we were speaking to developers they kept asking what our spa concept was—we are going to open a spa, hire a great spa manager. They needed more than that; needed a concept. So we decided to create our own concept that had a brand. We have 10 more in development. HS: We [just] opened Cabo—Mexico offers anything a vacationer can dream about. Japan [opening in 2011 in ski town Niseko] is a hugely important market. The architect is Tadao Ando—the most respected in the country, and the country is excited he is doing a hotel. It’s tough, we had to make adjustments like everyone else, but I’m surprised everyone is so shocked about the economy. Did we really think that the peak for eight or so years would last forever? Ninety percent of Americans are still working. We will do our best and everyone will come out of it. hd;;;

By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen

hospitalitydesign 08/2009


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