The Palazzo Manfredi in Rome, Italy.
As brand loyalty diminishes in importance, and hotel chains come to look more and more the same, how can an upscale property stand out in the crowd? We asked a number of hoteliers what they thought, and came up with these six trends:
1. Off-the-beaten-path locations
High-end clients value their privacy. Resonance’s recent 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report found that wealthy travelers rate privacy as one of the most important factors when choosing a hotel—just behind free Wi-Fi.
Bruno Papaleo, general manager of Palazzo Manfredi in Rome, for example, told Travel Market Report that many couples choose the hotel for its distance from other luxury properties.
2. Unique experiences
Affluent travelers want a trip that goes above and beyond the standard concept of luxury. Nearly 70% of the wealthiest 1% of travelers participate in once-in-a-lifetime activities during their vacations, the report found.
In response, upscale hotels are offering everything from volunteer opportunities to adrenaline-spiking adventure activities. Most importantly, they work with their guests on an individual basis to customize these experiences.
Alison Taylor, senior vice president of global sales for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said guests want experiences that connect them with the community. “Travelers want to soak up and immerse themselves in the local culture,” she said. At the Sheraton Fiji, for example, guests can attend a lantern- lighting ceremony with native Fijians.
At the Four Seasons Los Cabos, dedicated adventure concierges, dubbed “Aventuras,” create individual experiences for guests based on their interests. Similarly, at Starwood, Taylor said it’s become increasingly important to offer great concierge service. “There’s an expectation to have an experienced, powerful concierge” who can work one-on-one with clients to organize excursions and activities.
“Luxury is not just having a 4,000-euro lamp; it’s also an experience, Papaleo said. “Guests expect hotels to offer this type of service.”
3. It’s not just about the adults
As multi-generational travel surges, luxury properties are thinking long-term.
“There are now three, possibly four, generations that travel together,” Taylor said. “Even at high end resorts, 55% of people come with their children. People don’t want to give up staying in a luxury or cool hotel because they have small children. We have to cater, whether you’re the concierge or spa or restaurant, to the adults and the kids.”
4. Technology at center stage
From robots to digital keys, hotels are incorporating state-of-the-art technology into guest rooms and front desks.
Earlier this year, Hilton Worldwide introduced Connie at the Hilton in McLean, VA, a first-of-its-kind IBM-powered robot concierge.WayBlazer and Watson’s cognitive technology are the brains behind Connie, which answers guests’ questions about amenities and services, and suggests local attractions.
Jonathan Wilson, vice president for product innovation and brand services at Hilton Worldwide, said “applying cognitive reasoning in the hospitality space could make trips more personalized. For example, team members could work with guests and Connie to shape the perfect day’s itinerary.”
Robots are also being used at select Starwood, InterContinental, and Marriott hotels in the United States and are being tested in Europe by SNCF, the French railway, and on cruise ships operated by Costa and Aida.
Luxury hotels are also utilizing digital room keys and mobile apps to allow guests to check in, select their own rooms, and unlock their doors.
5. Looking East
Expect hoteliers to continue expanding their footprint in Asia, where tourism continues to rise. The Asian and Asia Pacific region saw 277 million international visitors last year, up 5% from 2014, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
InterContinental Hotel Group’s CEO Richard Solomons has said the company sees an opportunity to add a luxury brand in Asia, either by acquiring a competitor or developing its own brand.
And following Marriott’s takeover of Starwood this summer, the combined group will significantly increase its luxury footprint in Asia. Starwood already has 20 Le Meridien hotels in the pipeline in the region.
6. Wellness inspired by local cultures
To give travelers the local experience they crave, hotel spas are using their surroundings as inspiration.
The St. Regis Bali, for example, blends indigenous cultures and local ingredients like coconuts and seaweed into spa services. Other Starwood properties offer similar spa treatments, as well as local products Tahiti or Fiji.