Luxury hospitality groups and tour operators are saying that their guests today are craving more simplicity, better wellness options, and a greater convergence of experiences combined together in one place.
The luxury consumer in 2017 is seeking integrated experiences that align their various passions in a seamless whole, whereby the convergence of elements delivers a sum greater than its parts.
According to The Future Laboratory’s new Luxury Futures Report 2016, “Luxury brands are becoming convergence spaces that facilitate culture, education and wellness, combining diverse consumer needs into a single, multifaceted lifestyle zone.”
In travel today, the most forward-thinking luxury hotels are playing the role of those convergence spaces.
During the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) conference in Cannes last month, many hospitality executives emphasized that their guests want the best in food, wellness, culture, and activities combined together in one destination, with the hotel acting as the curator to customize the experience. Luxury guests especially want access to everything that wealthy locals have access to, and they want it provided within a context that educates them as much as possible about the local community and culture.
According to Tim Davis, VP, brand & marketing at Small Luxury Hotels (SLH), there’s a rise in demand for smaller hotels under 30 rooms because, he argues, they tend to provide a more easily navigable, stress-free, relaxed, and locally immersive travel experience.
That’s driving the company’s membership development strategy. SLH added 57 new properties to its portfolio in 2016 with an overall average size of 28 rooms. That contrasts significantly in comparison to the company-wide average of 48 rooms across the consortia’s 510 hotels and resorts previous to 2016.
“Small has never been bigger,” said Davis. “Our guests’ passion for immersive authentic experiences is not new but it’s more important for them than ever before. They want to feel that they are really staying where they are staying.”
SLH has identified four primary trends for 2017 which it labels: Love of Local, Experiences of a Lifetime, Digital Detox, and Sophisticated Simplicity. With regard to the latter two relating to reducing stress in-destination, Davis said, “Luxury travel today is about getting away from social media and throwing your phone in the pool. It’s about getting back to friends and family, and what’s most important in life.”
Simplicity Meets Convergence in 2017
Simplicity is going to be a big buzzword in luxury travel in 2017. According to Ovation Vacations‘ Luxury Vacation Trends 2017 report:
“We’ve been obsessed with words like “experience,” “authentic,” and “curated.” The word of 2017 will be “Simplicity.” We’ve made travel too complicated — too many options, too many channels, too many inconsistent prices. At a time when people are overwhelmed with apps, blogs, reviews, aggregator sites, social media channels, inconsistent news feeds, and endless options therein, people will revert to simple options.”
Simplified hotel and destination experiences include stripping away a lot of the artifice around extravagant hotel design. For example, SLH added four new Colibri Boutique Hotels in Tulum to its fold in 2016, based on what Davis described as rising consumer demand for more “rustic luxury” experiences integrated into natural surroundings, but still with world-class culinary and wellness experiences.
The Colibri properties, including the 17-room Hotel Mi Amor and 24-room Hotel La Zebra, are hosting the Noma Mexico pop-up restaurant project. The founder and chefs from the world’s previously #1-ranked Noma restaurant in Copenhagen will be preparing a series of $600 dinners from April 12 to May 28 this year. The dinners sold out in less than four hours after online bookings opened on December 6.
Hip destinations in Mexico such as Tulum on the Atlantic coast and Sayulita on the Pacific coast have been trendy for years, but the raft of new luxury properties is now attracting new high-spending clientele to these areas.
Zachary Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico, said that the next generation of luxury travelers are seeking hotels in smaller destinations that offer everything they want nearby.
“There is more interest among luxury clients in towns like Tulum, San Miguel de Allende, Puebla, and Sayulita, because they’re either surfy and slightly edgy, or they have a lot of history, color, and culture,” said Rabinor. “Those are all places where you really see a convergence of food, art, and design. I have always loved food, but now I’m a foodie. It’s the same thing with art and design for many people. But now I think there’s a growing consciousness of searching out those places where all of that comes together.”
He said there’s also an interesting dichotomy among upscale, digitally savvy travelers today. On one side, they’re looking for the intermediary to recommend where to go and what to book. But at the same time, they want to have direct contact with the local hotel or tour operator.
“It’s almost like they want to talk to the experts to learn what’s the best out there, but then they want to push them aside and go straight to the product,” Rabinor explained. “So purveyors are having to become more sophisticated at how they capture the client and protect the value they provide. It really comes down to packaging. I think a lot of the change in luxury travel today relates to the purchase process — how people consume information and buy things.”
Health Is Going To Be Huge in 2017
Everyone in luxury travel is talking about health and wellness as a mainstream element incorporated into every aspect of the guest user experience.
Neil Jacobs, CEO of Thailand-based Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, says it’s imperative for his company to continue innovating in the luxury wellness space, because the entire travel industry is coming around to what has always been Six Senses’ fundamental mission promoting wellness as a lifestyle.
As such, Six Senses launched its Integrated Wellness platform in December 2015. The holistic approach, as described by the company: “empowers in-house experts to measure and analyze key physiological biomarkers from a system based on the preventative principals of Eastern medicine combined with result-oriented Western influences.”
Those in-house experts are educated by Six Senses’ advisory board consisting of noted physicians specializing in nutrition, sleep, cardiovascular, and complementary medicine. One of those is Dr. Mehmet Oz, who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show for five seasons before hosting his own show
“It’s not about fru-fru type spa stuff anymore; we’re very focused on evidence-based programs,” said Jacobs. “Integrated wellness today starts with screening and then we provide four different programming themes: Sleep and Resilience; Trim and Fit; Cleanse and Detox; and a heavy-duty exercise program we’re calling ‘100% Full Potential.'”
In November, the company launched a new Sleep With Six Senses initiative, based on the idea that sleep is the single most important thing for a healthy lifestyle. All new room products are being rolled out in every Six Senses hotel room, anchored by new beds developed by Naturalmat in England. Constructed by hand using coconut fibers and latex materials sourced from what the company says is the world’s only certified organic rubber plantation, the beds are designed to let the body breathe. The beds also have built-in motion detectors to track how guests sleep, so hotel staff can then develop customized therapies based on the individual sleep data.
For mid-2017 launch, the company is developing a new Eat With Six Senses program, emphasizing organic foods and nutrition education.”
“The programming will revolve around menus, ingredients, and content, not to detract from taste and texture, but to focus on what’s going into your body,” said Jacobs. “Even if you want a big fat cheeseburger, it’s about knowing where the meat is from, what kind of cheese it is, and the bun is gluten-free, etc.”
Urban Residential Lifestyle Luxury
Legacy luxury hotel groups like Park Hyatt are positioning their properties as second homes to answer the demand for more stress-free, high-end local travel experiences.
“The question is always the same: ‘What is luxury today?'” explained Laura Amanzi, VP of marketing at Park Hyatt Zurich. “We define it as understated luxury. You walk into Park Hyatt and you feel a little like you’re in your own apartment, so you’re doing exactly the same thing as you would at home, except with all the 24-hour services anyone could need.”
She added that quiet, reflective time is the new luxury, especially for business travelers in a world occupied with constant digital distractions and ubiquitous connectivity.
“I think it’s really about creating a residential lifestyle environment so guests can do the best with their time — that’s true luxury,” Amanzi suggested. “We have people say, ‘I finally had time to have breakfast in the hotel lounge and read a newspaper.’ Luxury hospitality today needs to support that.”
Art plays a pivotal role at Park Hyatt to communicate the apartment-style vibe. Zurich has 92 pieces of original artwork by Swiss artists. The brand has always spoken to modern, more erudite urbanists, which is something Park Hyatt should probably emphasize more to differentiate itself in the luxury urban hotel space growing more crowded every day.
The Sharing Economy As a Luxury Lifestyle
Founded in 1999, Montreal-based Luxury Retreats provides booking and onsite concierge services for 3,500 luxury residences in 95 destinations. Rates range from $700 to $35,000 per night, and the company is unique among many home-sharing portals in that it pays standard travel agent commissions.
Much of the travel advisor community is still somewhat wary of the sharing economy due to concerns about liability and consistency, according to Amr Younes, VP, revenue optimization, for Luxury Retreats. However, he said that although home-sharing might never be a mass-market proposition, it does provide untapped opportunities for advisors to open up new experiences for high-end consumers, especially for wedding parties, corporate retreats, and multi-generational families.
“We are described as the Airbnb for the one percent,” said Younes. “That’s because 95 percent of the homeowners who apply are rejected. We have over 250 inspectors worldwide doing 100-point inspections, so that’s what makes us different.”
When asked what luxury travel consumers want today, Younes answered that consistency is always the most important thing, because clients want the assurance of premium service wherever they go, and for whatever purpose. But at the same time, there’s a growing demand for more customized experiences in more remote locations that hotels can’t always provide. One Russian client, for example, rented out an entire ski mountain in Vail as an add-on experience attached to a Luxury Retreats bookings.
“We offer the same quality level comparable with Four Seasons, but with a peer-to-peer 2.0 delivery,” he explained. “No one else is providing that, so we feel we’re the ultimate guide toward penetrating the luxury market today.”
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Photo credit: The first Six Senses Hotel in North America will open near Manhattan's High Line in 2019. Six Senses / Six Senses