Luxury hotels, whether independent or part of a larger chain / group, have for a long time been relying on travel press (media) to create awareness among wealthy travellers mostly through reviews with the aim of highlighting competitive advantages through an objective 360 degree evaluation that would include in detail a review of the location of the respective property, the quality of the product and most importantly service.
The luxury hotels / hospitality sector, unlike most other luxury sectors, can generate press coverage and awareness with minimal costs, arranging so called ‘media stays’ which entitle a journalist to a maximum of two nights complimentary accommodation with breakfast and, only exceptionally a Spa treatment, dinner or airport transfers. The actual ‘investment’ for the hotel is the cost of servicing the respective accommodation (housekeeping, electricity, wear & tear, amenities etc) which is, at most 30% of the best available rate.
However, the primary criteria in hosting such press has taken a perilous angle – the reputation of the journalist and above all his/her credibility, and objectiveness has been gradually replaced by numbers / traffic, especially social media. With this change, hotels seem to have forgotten that, for instance, evaluating customer service standards throughout each department of a hotel involves years of experience which is based on an in-depth understanding of the behind-the-scenes in such a way to create a criteria base luxury service standard.
A true luxury professional, including a journalist, must be informed
- to understand the various operational models (most luxury chains only operate/manage the properties which are actually owned by another party or, some chains own and operate their properties)
- to keep up with the latest trends / innovations / openings
- updated with the latest technologies but also with the quality of furnishings – low quality furniture and furnishings age faster – the ultimate goal of any luxury hotel is to be a ‘home away from home’ which rules out mass quality furniture (this has resulted for instance in two luxury hotels one in London and one in Warsaw, belonging to different owners and chains, look almost identical
- to constantly follow all the other luxury sectors thus commanding an accurate profile of the luxury consumer, including its lifestyle, preferences etc.
Regardless of their profiling, any luxury traveller expects an objective and reliable review to reflect on:
- the consistency of service – it takes an expert eye to recognise a fake smile or a robotic manner in delivering service
- the individualised / personalised approach – luxury travellers do not want to be ‘identified’ as a ‘prisoner in a jail’ and asked his or her room number at each interaction with hotel staff even if staying a few nights
- privacy – unlike other luxury sectors, luxury hotels are predominantly expected to provide privacy
- whether the location of the hotel suits his needs for the respective trip (leisure, corporate etc), the actual state / condition of the hotel (including video footage in a review is essential; hotels which feature a poorly maintained or dated product will make sure are more likely to be keen to host journalists for ‘media stays’)
- the mix of guests / customers of the hotel – the fact that a certain F&B venue or even Spa is frequented by locals is often regarded as an additional validation of the standards of the respective hotel but also makes hotel guests like they ‘belong’ and they are not ‘outsiders’
- whether the AC can be automatically set to a certain temperature, i.e. it has both cooling and heating options (many top luxury hotels, especially those housed within heritage buildings require major investments to offer this facility)
- sound-proofing – it is often the case that accommodations with views can be noisier and louder, therefore guests may prefer a courtyard or back-side room or suite
- bathroom fixtures must be spotless, not only from the point of view of cleanliness but also the functionality of taps etc.
- shower water pressure
- quality of food and diversity – nowadays, vegan options are a must and
- local flavours – guests appreciate hotels which feature subtle references to local culture, whether it is an architectural / interior design element or a certain dish in a menu
- safety – a luxury luxury hotel located within proximity of a train station (which in some countries could pose safety issues) would never ‘warn’ about this aspect on their websites
- often times, (some) luxury hotels intentionally divide their accommodations into categories which have very blurry differentiations – it may be the case that a certain accommodation is larger in size but the additional surface is actually a hallway
- bedding – no luxury travellers whether travelling on their own or with a spouse of companion appreciates that the ‘King Size’ bed mentioned on the hotel website is actually made up of two joined mattresses (obviously this provides hotels versatility to turn a double king room into a double twin bed room)
A reliable and credible review must be :
- balanced, with both positives and negatives – CPP never publishes entirely negative reviews – when planning a stay, we would very carefully research the property in advance to make sure it matches our criteria, in order to avoid negative reviews, however, in situations which the entire review would be negative, the hotel would be advised that no review will be published
- design and aesthetics should be descriptive – (taste is personal) – unless it is massive contrast with the style of the building or not reflecting a luxury standard
From the perspective of hotels, such professional hotel reviews by luxury media specialists:
- are an exceptional opportunity to gather objective feedback
- explore ideas / suggestions
- build an unconditional long time relationship which ensures continued coverage of the hotel
With the explosion of social media, hundreds of ‘influencers’ have mushroomed overnight, providing luxury hotels with a very dangerous manipulation tool – no such influencer would ever conduct a review of the hotel, instead it would always paint a ‘picture perfect’ exposure guaranteed to be positive. A selfie with breakfast in bed, in a bathtub, by the pool or on a terrace make up the ‘coverage’ of the hotel, which not only secures a positive review but it also creates the illusion of reaching audiences of millions of followers, of which, at most 1% may actually be potential future customers. For most of these ‘influencers’, such stays are often vacations.
Subsequently, traditional (‘old school’) media are in a similar way nowadays expected by hotels to publish entirely positive reviews, some luxury hotel chains going as far as creating discriminatory lists of media, including banned media – all part of a ‘race’ to secure that much coveted ‘media stay’. Even a slightly negative review would automatically result in a ‘silent’ ban with any future requests being rejected.
Ironically, this kind of manipulation can only help an unlikely player, Tripadvisor, which, beyond all controversies of ‘paid’ rankings and competition posts, is still a platform for freedom of speech where guests can make public their feedback, whether positive or negative. Also, it is a platform where real photos of the hotels can be published, without hotels being to intervene.
One such major international luxury hotel group has accidentally confirmed to CPP, in writing, its practices to keep discriminatory media lists (highest ranked media list is identified as ‘Best of the Best’). A recent early departure from a property of the same group resulted in an immediate ‘ban’ with the senior PR executive of the group copying the entire global team to notify about us being downgraded to a ‘black list’. An email detailing the reasons for the early departure which included even the CEO of the company has, until now, remained un-answered. No influencer / blogger would miss the opportunity of a complimentary accommodation or meal.
Nevertheless, recently, there are signs that the industry is slowly awakening. Much like in fashion, true influencers are leading figures in their field those whose audiences include a solid number of potential future guests. An ‘effortless’ photo with the hotel in the backdrop, without any hashtags, tags or check-ins is undoubtedly the ideal branding and communications exercise for a top luxury hotel. This involves a very carefully planned execution and not a ‘paparazzi style’ walking in and out of the hotel.
Top influencers: Celine Dion, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Karim Benzema,
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