The New Thinking in Luxury Hospitality

luxuryexperience2Owners, developers and operators were bullish on the luxury hotel segment at last week’s (June 5-7) annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York. Smith Travel Research reported that occupancy in U.S. luxury hotels in 2015 came in at 73.6 percent, the highest of any industry sector. There are currently 52 luxury projects in the U.S. construction pipeline, accounting for 13,462 rooms, according to Lodging Econometrics.

Loews Hotels & Resorts chairman Jonathan Tisch reported strong group demand at his hotels, which includes properties in such popular meetings destinations as New York, San Francisco and Orlando.

For planners, this is a dual-edge sword. Strong group bookings mean a hotel has an incentive to provide a high level of guest service. On the other hand, high demand means hotels are less likely to be willing to negotiate seriously on rate.

In the run up to the NYU event, Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at NYU’s Tisch School of Hospitality & Tourism, spelled out four wide-reaching societal changes that he believes are redefining attendees’ attitude towards luxury today. Planners take heed:

  1. Technology rules. Under the prior model, the concierge was the esteemed source of up-to-date local information, directions, recommendations and so forth. “Today in the age of social media, that function is more or less irrelevant,” Hanson notes.
  2. Privacy is paramount. Turndown service was another hallmark of luxury service. Today’s guest is more likely to view the knock on the door as an imposition and have no patience for housekeeping entering the room and moving his or her possessions around.
  3. Appearances are deceptive. Today’s VIP is as likely to check in wearing shorts, a t-shirt, baseball cap and sneakers as a tailored suit,” Hanson says. Doormen and front desk agents, beware.
  4. Hands off please. Likewise, today’s CEO is more comfortable carrying his or her own laptop and briefcase, rather than handing if off to an attendant. Pampering is viewed negatively as over-service.

One of the luxury properties under construction is the 68-room Las Alcobas Napa Valley in St. Helena, Calif., overlooking a 6,500-acre working winery. Part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s Luxury Collection, the independent boutique property is scheduled to open in October with facilities geared to high-end groups, including retreats and exclusives.

Las Alcobas Hotel Group managing partner Samuel Leizorek added a fifth tenet: authenticity. “Luxury travelers today expect an experience as authentic to the destination as possible,” he said at a preview in New York following the NYU Conference. “In this case, that would entail extensive wine programming as well as spa, fine dining, and so on.”

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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