What is the biggest challenge facing luxury hospitality? Is it the Covid-19 pandemic?
Without question the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented challenge for the hospitality industry as a whole – including the luxury segment – as we’ve faced numerous closures, lockdowns and changing health and safety protocols repeatedly over the past year.
Yet overall, the luxury market is positioned well for recovery. Strong financial markets have given a boost to high net worth consumers and there is ample pent-up demand among luxury travelers. We do expect the resorts offering plenty of space and privacy to be the most coveted leisure destinations for awhile. In the short-term, luxury properties in urban centers will likely see less international traffic with more demand coming from local and regional events, weddings, family reunions, staycations and the like.
Which are the most important overlooked opportunities of the past year?
The challenges of the past year have been profoundly difficult; however, we have been extremely proud of our central, regional and hotel teams for being so proficient at reacting to the changing situations and adapting as needed. In places where hotels were closed, or even commandeered to serve as adjunct hospitals or quarantine centers, our staff responded swiftly and with compassion; moving guests and preparing our properties quickly; rallying to help others in their communities; organizing food drives; and really supporting one another through the crisis.
We do see the opportunity to make longer term changes based on what we’ve learned and what guests will be expecting. I think it’s too early to be definitive on what will be lasting changes, and our hotel teams will be closely observing how guest demographics and demands may shift over the short term and how best to adapt. For example, our hotels across some markets may need to reconsider how events are planned and executed; how we space tables in dining rooms, sanitization protocols, etc. – some of these things will be with us for many months or longer.
At the same time, luxury guests have become increasingly concerned with traveling responsibly and choosing hotels that are environmentally sensitive. Once travel resumes in earnest, we expect this to be a continuing priority. In addition to the many sustainability practices we have in place, our hotels are constantly introducing new and innovative ideas for reducing waste and protecting the ecology around them. For example, we continue to be committed to eliminating single-use plastics throughout the Accor network and we will continue to push forward on this.
Is there a recipe for conceiving a luxury hotel brand?
The essential ingredients are vision, clarity and time. In a competitive environment a luxury brand must be clearly defined with a well-communicated guest experience. However, it’s time that really develops a brand – by building trust, relationships and reputation. Once you have that underway, you must continually ensure you’ve got the right people, the right products and the right programming for your market and your guests. The right people on your team will make all the difference – guests remember how they were treated. Ultimately, it’s your hotel team that will either bring your vision to life and deliver on the brand promises – or not.
How important is consistency at every aspect of a luxury hotel operation?
Consistency of the guest experience is the most important, much more than physical product or programming. A hotel may be styled very differently in Marrakech than in Los Angeles and offer unique cultural experiences – this is important for guests to feel the authenticity of the place. However, the quality of those experiences, the service levels and the smoothness of delivery – these cannot vary. When guests can trust they will receive the same warm, gracious and expert hospitality whether in Singapore or São Paulo – that is how brand loyalty is built.
Besides developers, do consumers ‘benefit’ in the segmentation of the various levels of luxury? – ultra-luxury, luxury, upscale, premium, etc.
The segmentation within luxury is led by guests themselves. Luxury consumers are far from a homogenous group. Different age groups, ethnicities and personality types interpret ‘luxury’ very differently and are attracted by very different amenities, programs, even style of service. There are those who desire the grandeur of historic palaces, while others prefer the barefoot chic of a private villa on a remote island. The higher the level of luxury, the more individualized the service becomes. To the untrained eye, some of these differences may seem nuanced, but our role is always to anticipate and exceed the expectations of our luxury guests, at every level.
How has the perception of consumers changed when it comes to luxury hospitality?
Beyond the events of the last year, many areas of customer perception have advanced over the last decade, but one notion, the cohort of one, has been the most profound. While personalization and individuality are frequently used terms, they accurately capture the expectations and mindset of today’s luxury guest. The days of mass segmentation and lumping luxury guests together are in the past. Instead, the focus has shifted to technology as it plays such a critical role in delivering against guests’ expectations. Initially there were concerns around privacy and information sharing and we had to balance the levels of knowing our guests with any semblance of intrusion.
However, with the influence of smartphones and big data, guests now expect us to know their preferences, their stay histories and even the personal details they choose to share. When a guest arrives at one of our luxury properties, they expect us to know them by name, ask about their flight or their family members, and remember their favorite rooms, or amenities, or even offer up their preferred types of wine at dinner. This is how we deliver value to the luxury guest – by understanding their personal preferences, anticipating their needs, and making them feel genuinely cared for.
What generates and maintains desirability when it comes to a luxury hotel?
While a great location or property can take you far, it’s a commitment to quality that gives a hotel its staying power. By this I mean constantly ensuring you have the right products and programs in place for your market. Continuous improvements, innovation and a regular refurbishment cycle. Most importantly, however, is the relationship with your staff and service delivery to your guests. Leadership teams need to foster an environment where staff feel empowered and engaged and where guests feel valued and cared for.
At the end of the day, a guest may not remember every aspect of their physical environment, but they will surely never forget a meaningful gesture that enhanced their stay experience. When employees feel valued, treated well and have a sense they are positively contributing to the business, they are more likely to go above and beyond to treat guests extraordinarily well.
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