For many travelers, luxury means a limousine transfer from an airport, 1,000-thread count bed sheets and three-star Michelin restaurants. But many industry insiders say a change is afoot, with more travelers putting their own personal imprint on the meaning of the phrase “luxury travel.”
It’s all about the context and mindset of the individual traveler, said Ana Brant, director of global guest experience at Dorchester Hotels. She tells of a conversation she recently overheard In the Dorchester’s Beverly Hills Hotel, where a prominent Fortune 100 executive asked the hotel’s staff for the closest McDonald’s restaurant. “Here you are, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and we have The Polo Lounge, Bar Nineteen 12, and for him, in that moment, he was hungry for McDonald’s,” she said.
Fernando Gonzalez, CEO of First in Service Travel in New York, agrees. “It used to be that our luxury travelers would call and say, ‘Book me the Four Seasons Nevis for two weeks,’ and you had a satisfied client. That’s not the case anymore,” he said. “Now, they are expressing a very specific experience they are looking for. They may want to be at a beach, but there are things they want to do, memories they want to create. Serving the luxury market means being able to understand that client’s needs and delivering on whatever it is they are looking for.”
“If you’re going to serve the luxury market, you’re going to find yourself hand-holding the clients from the moment they express an inspiration, throughout the trip, to the point where they get home and unlock their front door,” said Sekita Ekrek, First in Service marketing and travel adviser.
In order to deliver on how consumers are redefining luxury, Dorchester is looking at its hiring and training practices. Brant said it is critically important for those who seek to serve luxury travel clients to be innately curious, to ask the right questions that will elicit the needs of these travelers.
You also need to know what the experience will be like for the luxury traveler, so you can advise them, Gonzalez said. “That’s why it is so important for our agents to spend as much time as possible traveling. We want to be able to tell someone what the transfer will be like from the airport to the resort, whether they will face traffic at certain times of the day. It shows your commitment to their whole experience when you are well informed.”
Part of the process of delivering on the luxury brand promise, Brant said, is to be sympathetic, empathetic and compassionate. “Sympathy allows you to sense the feelings of travelers as they are trying to explain what they are looking for,” she said. “Empathy means you can understand their feelings and maybe even feel them. Feeling compassion empowers and motivates you to take the action that satisfies the luxury traveler’s needs.”
Erina Pindar, a managing director at Smartflyer in New York, said the emergence of hotel brands like 1 Hotels shows that suppliers are adapting to this new luxury definition. “It’s in the experience you feel when you get to a hotel. Maybe we should call it effortless luxury. It’s the kind of luxury that doesn’t come with gilded walls or crystal chandeliers.” Luxury is in the details, like “the amazing local selections in the (1 Hotel Brooklyn’s) mini bar, a Tesla as the house car. It all makes sense, and nothing seems forced.”