UPDATED March 16, 2021
Revenge or vengeful shopping is being more and more often associated with ”post pandemic” and the recovery of the luxury industry, however, this was so far evident only in China, when Chinese flocked to luxury stores and stayed at long queues on the day authorities relaxed Covid-19 measures. In more mature markets, the same behaviour would be often considered as ”splashing out” or ”shopping therapy” – this is very unlikely to happen. ‘Splashing out’ in a lavish suite may only become relevant for a very special occasion.
Mention must also be made that ”post pandemic” is far in sight, even those vaccinated will likely need booster doses (shots) or actual ARV medication which can bridge between vaccinations, insuring a minimal level of viral load and an immune system able to fight infections with any potential Covid-19 variants or re-infection with Covid-19 which has been a constant for both those infected and those who already had some form of a Covid-19. Only very sophisticated genetics labs (3 in Europe) can actually ”trace back” the infection.
By now, a year into the pandemic, vaccination is clearly failing to bring a clear and structured recovery, with serious challenges popping up daily, generating more and more doubts and anxiety, which obviously is still stifling the urge and desire to travel again.
People need to feel they are SAFE and they are in REAL control, to be motivated to start planning to travel again. They need to feel they are taken CARE of and that they are in possession of as much information as possible on the destination, which could be both Covid or non-Covid related.
One of the major challenges which inhibit travel nowadays is the lack of demand, which forces airlines to cancel scheduled flights last minute. You should no longer expect a refund of more than 30% of the ticket which would come under the form of a voucher that can be used to deduct the amount for the new ticket. For long-haul flights refunds may be bigger but still (re)booking a flight ticket may involve a new purchase and also most likely additional costs for extending a stay in a hotel – as a gesture of care and empathy, hotels should charge less!
Wealthy consumers are much more restrained when it comes to spending, especially on an intangible purchase such as a hotel, that is why, many of those CPP has been surveying for the last 3 months, often mention the word RELEVANCE. Unlike a general perception that ”making it” to a certain destination during Covid-19 is an achievement that must be shared with friends back home who may be in some various forms of lockdown. How is this ‘rewarding’ or even better to say, how is this luxury? Is luxury nowadays about the affordability to pay for cancelled / rebooked flights, pay for Covid-19 insurance, pay for Covid-19 tests etc.
RELEVANCE can be directly related to a special limited-time art exhibition or artistic installation. Many top luxury brands from the most diverse sectors realise the importance of the artistic dialogue between the sectors. Brand associations will be much easier to forge, whether it is a fashion, jewellery, beauty, home decor (interior design) or watch brand. And this goes much deeper than a ‘themed’ or ‘branded’ pop-up suite in hotel – but an actual full installation, which could be even part digital, recreating a catwalk through AI.
Idilic beach photos do not mention that the actual journey had been preceded by several PCR Covid tests, in many cases these days, there are 4 such tests – before the trip, on arrival, during the trip and before return. In some destinations, travellers need to quarantine in their hotel room until they receive the result of the test taken on arrival at the airport.
Other major issues which can cause a lot of hassle and inconvenience:
- it is unclear how long the protection of the vaccine will last – there are no timing guarantees and researchers and doctors keep stressing that it is important to continue to wear masks, keep social distancing, wash hands, etc.
- new variants and strains are being discovered on a daily basis and none of the vaccine producers is able to provide any effectiveness – often times, we hear about the possible need of a ”booster” – additional dose
- the pace of vaccination has been very slow in many countries around the world, with a constantly increasing anti-vaccine ‘trend’ – this leaves the majority of the population under no protection of a vaccine
- the majority of governments are against ”vaccination passports”, and rightfully so – there are way too many variables – when everyone thought that Sinovac (Chinese made vaccine) and Sputnik (Russian made) vaccine have provided the least information on their formula, research and testing to evaluate effectiveness, the Astra Zeneca Oxford University vaccine has just been banned by the majority of E.U. countries, all stocks being withdrawn – side effects lead to deaths and the vaccine is less effective over a certain age
- ‘vaccination passports’ would also generate chaos and confusion, for example, thousands of E.U. nationals were obliged to be vaccinated with Sinovac (Chinese) in several Middle Eastern / GCC countries which rushed to get the message of an apparent ”safety” – their refusal would lead to losing their jobs; still in early research, it appears that the Chinese vaccine cannot be ‘doubled’ by Pfizer or Moderna which were conceived on completely different formulas; what kind of ”vaccination passport’ would these people have?
- in spite of the vaccine, many countries around the world still demand a PCR Covid-19 test besides the proof of vaccination – vaccination certificates vary in form from country to country and airport / customs staff are being challenged by ‘reading’ these certificates – most such certificates do have some vaccination codes, but otherwise they are a piece of paper with no counterfeiting protection elements
- beware to check whether local authorities also require a test upon the departure so you give yourself at least 48 hours – normally a genuine PCR test should take minimum 12 hours, however, you may receive an ”inconclusive” result so you may need to repeat the test
- even within the same country, certain areas or even cities may still be under some form of lockdown, including curfews, restaurant closures, partial operations to limit capacity
- within the E.U. one in 3 flights is cancelled because of lack of demand, in most cases, on the day of the flight
One year since the debut of the pandemic, travel restrictions are still being modified last minute, making predictability almost impossible and thus, causing anxiety and insecurity. Flights are cancelled last minute, mainly because of lack of demand. Worst examples were destinations which ”re-opened” with great fanfare, to then later ‘panic’ as they saw spikes in infections – Greece and the Maldives were the best such examples.
From country to country, it is unclear how a traveller showing Covid-19 similar symptoms is treated – who pays for their hospitalisation, what kind of a treatment would be administered – there are no uniform medication protocols such as those throughout the E.U. How would friends / family get in touch with the patient and the doctors to monitor progress of recovery.
Re-building trust will take time and ‘trust’ will most likely have different meanings when it comes to post-pandemic recovery – Guest Relations or Concierges have to be trained to provide different services. Knowledgeable travellers are open to pay more attention and to verify information before deciding to travel, however, confusion remains predominant, with no predictability.
Before traveling to a certain destination, wealthy consumers (travellers) will expect luxury hotels to be fully knowledgeable and supportive regarding all these variables, including statistics, areas to avoid, airports to avoid, airlines to avoid; they will expect and demand private chauffeur driven cars for airport transfers but also for shopping. Luxury hotels cannot continue to stay away from these matters and consider that sending a form with general information is enough, thus waving their responsibilities. These are times for the Concierges to update their travel agent (ticketing agent) contacts who may be in a much better position to re-book and combine flights than one could do online.
Flying private is not necessarily a guarantee for a smoother journey. Being granted a landing permit in Slovenia can be much easier than Italy, Switzerland or France – especially when it comes to long-haul flights. In some cases, a landing permit would be provided but not a take off one. Once again, it is a matter of being extremely well connected but also very well informed to be able to identify alternative 27/7. Some airports would not be in a position to be straight forward about the Covid-19 restrictions which apply to a private jet compared to a commercial flight – instead of expedited disembarking or customs procedures, these may actually end up taking longer.
Luxury consumers purchase luxury goods and services to pamper themselves – luxury is also about self-rewarding but also about the joy of gifting. Luxury is supposed to be fun, creative and innovative. For many, luxury is a way to show off their social status – but wealthy consumers must think twice where they can actually wear a certain outfit, piece of jewellery or a watch.
A luxury hotel stay should be a home-away-from-home indulgence, an opportunity to disconnect, experience culinary delights as well as exploring the respective destination. A luxury hotel stay, nowadays, should provide ultimate safety when it comes to Covid-19 safety and hygiene measures – luxury hotels can implement in an effortless manner an array of measures, such as make sure guests travel in a disinfected private chauffeur driven car whether it is an airport transfer, a shopping tour or exceptional experiences such as private museums or galleries.
Similarly to other luxury sectors such as fashion and jewellery, luxury hospitality needs to make sure the experience has a strong desirability / WOW factor – which could range from a Michelin-starred Chef prepared breakfast with a spectacular set up for in-room dining, a car with driver as well as driver available during the entire stay of guests (guests who are booked in signature suites).
DESIRABILITY can also come from a brand new, exclusive Spa menu based on pure organic products, aimed at releasing tension, detox, water retention, digital detox, aromatherapy. Pandemic fatigue and the daily stress has been causing major sleeping disorders, compulsive eating and muscle / joints tension because of excessive use of laptops, Ipads, screens etc. Whether an luxury urban or a luxury resort property, hotels can include in their menus foods which have a direct impact on our immune system, ideally local and ideally organic. Specialist trainers should re-think gym activities – not only because of pandemic restrictions but also dosing the right amount of effort.
There are also those who purchase luxury goods as an investment, not only cars, watches, jewellery but also fashion, especially handbags. Except those who turn collecting and re-selling into a full-time job, the connoisseur type of consumer may take a while to overcome their current inhibition and restrain, nevertheless they may be open to visit an exhibition or have a private tour of a new showroom or flagship.
Staying healthy is the new ultimate luxury. ‘Making it’ to a certain destination and rushing to post images on social media is not a reward. Profile of travellers and consumers is different in each destinations (70-80%), with consumers from ‘traditional’ feed markets being unable to travel. For instance, certain luxury hotels would be able to offer more privacy for swimming (certain times booked exclusively) and less privacy when it comes to the gym, therefore, luxury hotels may need to be prepared to provide in-room sports or transform a specific suite into a private wellness suite.
Many top luxury hotels boast expansive bathrooms, some even with jacuzzi, sauna or steam. The Spas of the hotels could easily create in-room Spa menus, including Spa ‘mini-bars’ or displays with products, and guests can recreate certain relaxation experiences, with various goals – invigorating, energising or relaxing. Natural wax scented candles, bath salts, bath foams can be the new ‘standard’ amenities.
(Re)building trust with a luxury hotel or chain, may be much more complex that one would anticipate and many angles and details should be taken into account:
- luxury hotels must provide all pandemic information in an effortless, yet confident and firm way – hesitations could be costly
- luxury hotels should run through the hotel Covid-19 policies even if you may have heard the same things over and over again – but there may be exceptions, for example, there may be smaller elevators (normally max of 6 pax) which should not take one pax or 2 pax who are together
- ensuring guests that staff who are not vaccinated, are tested on a weekly basis
- providing detailed information on the new cleaning and disinfection protocols – for example that pillows are washed at 90 degrees – some hotels (no matter luxury ranking) may not have on-site cleaning / washing of laundry, which can be performed by a third party
- there is minimum one day left between guests checking into the same room / suite and there was a minimum of 6 hours leaving windows open for fresh air
- despite housekeeping wearing the most complete PPE equipment, including gloves, guests need to be re-assured of the minimal touch points of their belongings in the room; housekeeping is no longer provided by default, but on demand and this should be part of the check-in briefing
- a luxury hotels housed in a heritage (historical) building may have to do much more than cleaning / disinfecting filters of the outflow units in the accommodations – it is critical that the AC system not only to re-circulate but also guarantee a minim 30% fresh air in-flow
- a luxury hotel part of an international chain is not necessarily safer, i.e. implementing safety and hygiene protocols drawn by third party expert certification companies in addition to local authorities measures; it is critical to understand whether authorities are also regularly conducing punitive inspections
- a smaller hotel is not necessarily safer than a larger property (i.e. less guests – less crowds) but for sure a recently renovated property would have an important edge – easier to clean and disinfect
- a new built hotel or a recently renovated hotel will most likely be preferred to a heritage hotel; modern buildings with windows that do not open should be a major warning factor
- avoid crowds, even smaller ones – without any doubt, wealthy discerning travellers would not mind morning breakfast buffets with individual trolleys brought to each table from which guest can make any choice;
- ‘encouraging’ in-room dining with a special WOW factor set-up would be welcome – special amenities or a special menu may only be available in-room dining or serving time may be extended compared to breakfast served in a restaurant
- luxury hotels can include in their menus, foods which are specifically aimed at supporting the immune system – not necessarily ‘green’
A pricing policy making suite categories more affordable but also including in the accommodation rate the airport transfer, proximity car and a private shopping experience – could be some of the changes that may be welcome by wealthy guests nowadays. Rooms or suites with outdoor terraces may also be a major attraction factor. Packages promoting upgrades may also be yet another welcome initiative.
For all sectors, luxury is about constant investment ! Not all luxury businesses / brands will survive Covid-19. Luxury is equally about buying a new Birkin bag or having it fixed / repaired. Luxury is about service, even more in hotels – luxury is about consistency of service – investing continuously in discovering and nurturing and motivating talent. Genuine, high service standards cannot be achieved over night and motivation of staff can be much more complex especially after long lock-downs.
Luxury is about patience and about a long term vision. Luxury is about the ‘crafts’. Luxury is about passion! Luxury is about seamless experiences! Luxury is about trends including trend-setting, even when it comes to hotels. Luxury is about bespoke, personalised service.
Luxury is where you feel you belong!
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