In keeping with our stubborn approach to also identify the opportunities and positives of the SARS-CoV-2 / Covid-19 pandemic, CPP-LUXURY.COM has been consulting with infectious disease doctors and some of the best luxury hoteliers in the world, in particular two CEOs of international luxury hotel groups whose innate skills and talent coupled with an immense passion to provide the ultimate service standards has led them to come up with practical solutions in their approach to Covid-19.
As many countries are timidly lifting restrictions, also known as ‘lock-downs’, patterns and general rules emerge, most importantly, that until a vaccine is found, people will learn to live with this, as they did, historically, with other viruses and diseases.
Guests all over the world are craving to ‘escape’ in the sense of ‘self-gratification’ or ‘pampering’ themselves, which are the key motivational factors which drive luxury sales. This will never change !
However, more than ever, hoteliers should be aware that guests have become much more informed and knowledgeable regardless of the luxury sector – product or service. The lock-down has provided an opportunity for people to document / read more. Guests will be even less loyal to a certain luxury hotel brand or luxury hotel chain – similarly to fashion for instance. Regardless of the travel purpose, for short or longer stays, some of the most discerning travellers will most likely chose a certain property in each destination. New or recently renovated properties will have a competitive edge.
For instance, when travelling tomorrow to Singapore, they would blind-foldedly opt for the Raffles Singapore – a ‘luxury institution’ which was closed for a few years and had operated a rather ‘tired’ product before the closure for renovation. The third party operator, giant Accor and owner Katara Hospitality not only seamlessly revived the property through a flawless renovation while drawing on the DNA of the iconic property. Returning to the ‘former glory’ of the property also meant introducing some of the finest dining at any luxury hotel in the world – in keeping with trends.
Even during closure, ahead of opening or now operational, Accor and its luxury ‘mastermind’ Chris Cahill (CEO of luxury brands) understood the importance of communications, sensibly conducting a digital communications campaign, which we, at CPP-LUXURY.COM considered as ‘the ultimate sophistication through simplicity’. There was also a humbleness in each post which is not easy to achieve. Ignoring social media and the digital is not an option for any luxury brand in any luxury sector. The campaign included historical images, but also details of the renovation as it had been progressing, with effortless photography.
Some of the other key messages would be communicated through media, including us, highlighting the excellent synergy between operator and owner, both committed to reopening the property at the highest product and service standards, ultimately regaining its reputation as one of the finest properties in the world.
Over half of guests of luxury chain or group hotels are aware whether a property is only operated or owned and also what third party management means. This is why, ‘old school’ travel media will prevail – all CPP-LUXURY.COM reviews reflect a 360 degree experience of the respective property. Luxury hotels may think twice about ‘influencer’ or ‘content creator’, most of which suffice to posting quality / artistic photography of breakfast in bed or experiencing a rose petal filled bath-tub – all predominant in imagery and almost no text.
Guests can draw their own conclusion on the different between a hotel / property / chain which the company owns and manages at the same time, and companies which are pure operators of properties which have different owners. Raffles Singapore is an ideal example of a great synergy between owners and operators, but at times, these relationships may also be challenging, most of the times being driven by profitability and feasibility – which explains what a hardship a renovation can prove to be for an operator if the owner of the respective property is reluctant or unable to make the respective investment, or because of outside factors such economical or political factors.
Before the closure for renovation, an important segment of guests, especially the more discerning ones, would only have an afternoon tea at the Raffles Singapore while they would stay at another property. The property would still maintain its iconic allure, but many would be aware of the tired product, which no longer ‘compensates’ for the high service standards (as it used to be the case decades ago).
Today, during the pandemic, guests will be less concerned about opting for the Raffles Singapore
– fresh air (AC / windows can open)
– brand new mattresses
– new piping (including sewage)
– new carpets (or wooden floors) and curtains
– new bed linen and towels
– new slippers (barefoot walking may be hazardous)
– new pillows (whether foam or feather/down, they may pass on the virus)
– new kitchen equipment – quality of foods
– world renowned Chef (Michelin starred) – quality of food and source of ingredients
As an operator, Accor has also taken a different approach than most similar conglomerates, as in implementing and certifying its hygiene standards with third party world-class specialised entities such as Bureau Veritas and AXA. Nevertheless, these certifications will also need to reflect coherent in-house protocols or else, a lack of trust and reliability could emerge. Accor owns brands from budget hotels such as Ibis to ultra-luxury such as Raffles Hotels and Orient-Express Hotels.
Another relevant but opposite example is The Peninsula Hotels, with ‘luxury institution’ standard properties in Hong Kong or Shanghai (which the company owns and manages), surprisingly, in sharp contrast with much lower ranked properties such as The Peninsula Paris, which is a historical building splendidly renovated and redesigned by The Peninsula. With the exception of The Peninsula Tokyo, which is not fully owned by The Peninsula, the The Peninsula Paris was the first project which The Peninsula has chosen to experiment as an operator, controlling only a 30% stake, while the majority stake is controlled by Katara Hospitality. Contractually, while it is only a minority shareholder, The Peninsula is the ultimate decision maker, while Katara Hospitality is the owner.
Six years after re-opening, despite its spectacular interiors, including a stunning Spa and a roof-top fine dining venue with splendid views, The Peninsula Paris has never managed to establish itself among the top 5 luxury hotels in Paris. Some of the factors may be the arrogance shown towards media – the property has been under a ‘quarantine’ when it comes to media stays (specialised media for quality reviews) for the past 3 years, the present General Manager is the third in less than 3 years but also a high staff turnover across most departments, especially – PR / Communications, with the team changing almost every 5 to 6 months. We at CPP, had the privilege to stay and review the property 3 months after opening to then receive a threatening email from the Chief Operating Officer to attempt to remove or edit our review.
Among the possible reasons for the ongoing challenge of The Peninsula in Paris could be the very strong competition from several solidly established luxury properties, the lack of ‘validation’ by locals (few local patrons frequent its dining or wellness venues) and the inconsistency in service when compared to the The Peninsula Hong Kong for instance. Contrary to the Raffles Singapore, The Peninsula Paris is unlikely to show consistency when it comes to the present pandemic, although, it ‘ticks all boxes’ of a new property. Ironically, under its media ban, the hotel communicated that it has appointed a Hygiene Manager.
A clean environment resonates with both medical theories that the virus can ‘live’ or not on certain surfaces. Covid-19 is a respiratory virus – fresh air is essential (many ICU units have documented the benefits of regularly opening windows). Fresh air is a must not only for accommodation but also for all public spaces. Virus spreads both indoors and outdoors through particles, i.e. if mask is not fitting properly can even spread the virus on the lateral sides. Physical (not ‘social’) distancing is yet another key factor in preventing and fighting the spread of the virus.
Quality of air – fresh air is essential for any buildings (rooms or public spaces)
- even if it is a historical / heritage property, the AC system had been entirely changed and updated – a huge investment for any similar luxury property, which can only be performed under full closure of the property
- many ‘renovated’ hotels in heritage buildings would suffice to changing the control pad of the AC to look newer, while the piping and even filters would remain as they used to be, therefore increasing uncertainty about the quality of air and the system possibly
- installing air purifiers (based on silver particles) is another good option – there are solutions that could be installed without being very visible and high-end versions can also be most silent
Cleaning / housekeeping service on demand
- beyond the ‘standard’ day cleaning and evening ‘turn-down’, hotels may be expected to be prepared to provide housekeeping even after the guest has in-room dining or after
- offer more complimentary dry cleaning of guest clothing items
- house-keeping staff should wear masks and gloves at all times, with an ‘effortless’ manner
Masks are a must, both indoors and outdoors – closed or open spaces
- each property should have a Hygiene Manager with a dedicated team, depending on the size of the property
- in-room check-in should be encouraged – thus avoiding guests standing or even forming a line
- in-room check-in should be done by both Guest Relations and a Hygiene Manager / Responsible
- in the privacy of the room, guests may feel more at ease interacting with the Hygiene Manager should make sure that guests are handed a pack of masks (medical – not ‘fashionable’ or ‘branded) and make a short briefing on where and how to wear the mask correctly (including children); only on demand, the Hygiene Manager / Responsible should provide more information
- this should not be over-done on site, once the guest is at the property – risking to generate inherent anxiety
- email guests before their arrival, concisely providing all the key information about cleanliness and disinfection – insisting on
- measures that had been taken by each hotel but also mentioning details for example that there are at least 2 days between stays in the same room or that pillows are washed at 90C degrees
- any dining reservations should be made 24 hrs ahead – same for sun-beds for hotels with pools or beaches
- encourage chauffeur driven airport transfers (usually over-priced, should instead be included in certain accommodation rates (not to take the risk of taxi, bus or train) – no crowd and clean car
No more buffet-type meals
- buffets are impossible to control when it comes to touching
- ‘controlling’ a line in a buffet can be very challenging
- to compensate for the ‘abundance’ of a buffet, guests can be offered individual trays which can be brought to the table and can be refilled
- depending on the weather luxury hotels should consider creating or expanding outdoor spaces where the virus is less likely to spread compared to indoor spaces – these could be an excellent marketing opportunity (ex Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan set up many years ago a FENDI branded outdoor terrace which proved to be a tremendous success)
- reconfigure dining possibilities by the outdoor pools – for security reasons, hotels would restrict serving food by the pool) – this could be adding different type of furniture and use non-breakable recipients ( ex a basket is ideal, instead of plastic)
- offer ‘special rates’ or even complimentary upgrades, at check-in, for accommodations with outdoor spaces (balconies or terraces) – obviously, based on availability
Avoid crowds and lines
- hotels should encourage in-room dining for breakfast with additional incentives (ex the most comprehensive choice can be complimentary if ordered in the room
- politely and diplomatically inform guests that all dining venues required a 24 hr notice advance reservation
- non-hotel residing guests should also be applied the same conditions or during higher seasons or bigger demand offer home delivery of a selection of items from the menus of the restaurants (i.e. have your favourite item at home)
Do not turn your hotels into hospitals
- while hundreds of new protocols would be implemented, guests should not feel overwhelmed – the communication should be carefully filtered and delivered
- now, more than ever, appeal to Art pop-ups in a most creative and unexpected manner – another excellent co-branding opportunity
- communicate through third parties – media can play an essential role
- sensibly run word-of-mouth
- refrain from placing printed notes or TV welcome images or videos detailing for instance how the room was cleaned or mentioning disinfection
- a dedicated booklet as part of the in-room literature could be placed and staff may mention at check in could briefly mention where details on hygiene can be found
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