In this age of affordability, how can luxury survive without selling out? Gaurav Sinha, managing director of Insignia branding agency, discusses how five-star hotels can maintain both occupancy and credibility.
June 10, 2010 5:32 by Gaurav Sinha
Now, let us look at the cluster of hotels along the beachfront in Dubai: Most resorts have a grand presence, they all have beaches, the sun loungers are equally comfortable, rooms are well-appointed, and guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.
But service standards vary, and that’s where hotels can make a remarkable difference. There’s no positive association if a guest is paying $450 per night, sitting on the beach and waiting for more than 30 minutes to get a cold drink. It is pre-empting needs that makes for iconic service, and the bricks and mortar don’t amount to much after that. This is amplified during the downturn, as customers are smart enough to know that their dollars hold more value now and guests will push the envelope to seek an endorsement of “money well spent.”
True luxury seldom talks about money. Luxury is about etiquette and aspirations, and hotel brands need to continue investing in themselves as destinations where the extraordinary is introduced in ordinary circumstances. It’s the little touches, from remembering my favorite flowers to ensuring the lady dressed in black at dinner in the fine restaurant receives a black napkin instead of a white one, to avoid the unflattering issues of lint on her dress.
This emotional bond between the traveler and the hotel will prove to be the fabric of tomorrow’s demand, as it is the customer who owns the brand and is empowered by today’s social media platforms to echo his sentiments across borders and time zones. Experience breeds authority, and first-time visitors will continue to be influenced by other people who have stayed at a hotel. Conrad Hilton once said, “The only thing a guest will ever remember is how he felt while checking out.” Today, those feelings are easily shared with the rest of the world.
Luxury brands can become fairly isolated, as they are territorial and strive to protect their mystique (this is not a surprise, as luxury brands need to align themselves to an order of social stratification). But they soon learn that sometimes people see little difference between such brands. This leads them to align themselves to symbiotic partnership initiatives with other synergistic brands, to enrich guest experiences.
For example, longstanding partnerships have emerged between credit card companies and hotels over the years in the form of lifestyle concierge services, whereby guests’ needs are anticipated and then catered for. A complementary bottle of wine, a free upgrade, a free airport transfer, dinner for two, or breakfast for free – it all adds up, especially if you pay with American Express. To that extent, brands like Amex have introduced their own travel services divisions to add more to their customers’ lifestyles. This will continue to evolve, from Swarovski-branded washing machines to Porsche kitchens and designer hotels (Armani Hotel in Dubai marries haute couture to hospitality).