What is it that the luxury traveller really seeks from his hotel experience? When money is not the consideration, what do premium places of stay bring out on the silver platter to this discerning set of guests for whom luxury is a way of life?
How do you define luxury in hospitality? Is it the history or reputation, location or view, brand value or affiliation, star employees or infrastructure and furnishings, the period furniture you sleep and rest on, the crystal ware, silverware, precious metal flatware you eat and drink from, the finest fittings and fixtures that assist you as you relax or conduct your usual business. In reality, the luxury world of hoteliering is all this and more.
While all of the above aspects make the luxury brand stand apart from competition also within their genre, the bottom line for top-of-the-line luxury rests on the time-tested virtues that truly are very basic in the business of hospitality – cleanliness, efficiency, very well-trained and knowledgeable staff such as the battery of personal Jeeves who delight the guest with their immaculate butler service, latest technology, 24-hour services – yes, all those things that we thought were common but are hard to come by if the hotels do not have their brand operating standards and value-cum-service systems worked out right.
Here follow the remaining parameters that underline the ultimate in luxury hoteliering –
1. Exemplary Service Standards
Utah's Deer Valley ski resort - Stein Eriksen Lodge has ski valets who escort guests to and from the slopes. The resort also boasts of heated sidewalks and walkways to keep the guests warm and cosily comfortable.
The Oberoi Group ferries its VIP guests in a private jet to its lovely Vilases in the magnificent golden triangle destination circuit. The luxury hotels are more than eager to serve up their aces to the preferred guests in such creative ways that are a touchstone for the brilliance of their brands.
Unique to their properties, some hotels develop a signature style of service which becomes a major draw for the luxury traveller. The pillow menu has been done to death by a handful of luxury hotels where the guest can choose from a list of differently stuffed pillows that serve to soothe you gently to sleep or rid you off that stiff neck or even induce the most pleasant of dreams.
The Imperial in Delhi went a step further to develop a statement fragrance for the hotel and for its suites. Boston Harbor Hotel gently nudges its guests into NiniLand with linen mists and sleep balms. To prevent the guests from getting into a headache-inducing traffic jam Boston Harbor Hotel organizes water taxis for the guests to cruise hassle free to the airport.
2. Privacy and Security
Even in normal, run-of-the-mill hotels guests hate to get buzzed incessantly by housekeeping or the valet or Front desk. The constant interruptions, all in the name of good service, are more of a nuisance; impinging on guest privacy and taking away majorly from the work or R&R that the guest has checked into the premises for. But in the case of luxury hotels, the guests pay the top dollar actually for privacy and a sense of space and solitude.
Two of the top most things that high-profile jet-setters desire most, indeed, are - exclusive treatment and the highest level of privacy. In the case of celebrity guests, privacy is of paramount significance.
One of the thumb rules of privacy and exclusivity is that the Hotel signs on a self-established rule of secrecy – something that the VIP guest cherishes to the utmost. From the doorman to guest relations, Sales coordinator to the PR person – nobody utters a word about the stay or leaks a hint to the Press – an aspect that the Celebrity guest appreciates hugely and rewards the hotel with his / her repeat visits.
Plus, imagine the word of mouth that the guest spreads amongst his famous friends about this beautiful place that has truly become his home-away-from-home.
Along with privacy, security is a terribly important factor in the scheme of things existing in the world today.
Jenny Knight, a well-known London based journalist, nails the topic rather well when she states, “As gadgets and gyms become more common, qualities like space, peace and privacy are being seen as true luxury.”
3. Attributes that exceed Guest Expectation
The expected, tried and now seemingly ordinary set of luxury amenities such as Porthault bathrobes, handmade soaps, Cesame and Kohler fixtures, Posturepedic spring mattresses, Bose speakers or the clock and radio, Bang & Olufsen Television, 50 channels in various international languages, complimentary leading newspapers from around the world have actually become quite de rigueur for these havens of luxury.
They, now, seem to be in a race to get steps ahead of their competition in presenting the new definition of luxury ranging from beguilingly bizarre to mind-blowingly breathtaking.
Sample this – Rosewood Hotels in their North American and Saudi Arabian properties present a dedicated Fragrance Butler to their guests who serves up a fragrance menu tailored for lady guests (Chanel No. 5, Bvlgari Black, Daisy Marc Jacobs and Chanel CoCo Mademoiselle) and for the gents (Tom Ford for Men, Bvlgari Pour Homme and Hermes Terre d’Hermes).
A thoughtfully appointed Tea Sommelier at The Lanesborough in London proffers an award-winning afternoon tea service to the guests. The Soap Concierge at The Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico presents a selection of artisanal, organic soaps made by hand by the Mayan communities in the vicinity. A 24 hrs on call in-room Mixologist at The Surrey Hotel in New York City arrives to do his bidding aided with a fully stocked cocktail cart.
Ritz Carlton in New Orleans pampers you into the normal state after a hard night of partying with its Recovery Concierge who helps resuscitate your jaded senses with the selection of curative cocktails, sparkling water and savoury snacks.
The Surf Butlers at St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, California are really manna from heaven for the surfing enthusiasts as they go about their work of helping guests catch the perfect wave, fitting them with perfectly measured wetsuits, offering personalized service to new surfers and sharing tips on local wave conditions and secret breaks in the areas with the experienced ones.
The Sleep Concierge at The Benjamin, New York City comes well-armed to combat any situation that the modern, hectic, stress-ridden world throws up with its remarkable array of antidotal measures - dozen-pillow menu (water-filled version, NASA-designed Swedish Memory Foam version, a five-foot body cushion or an iPod-ready lullaby pillow), aromatherapy bath products, comforting treats like warm milk, cookies and calming teas, sleep mask, lavender linen oil, coconut water and a wake-up call.
Luxury hospitality destinations are also about uniquely superlative touches. At the Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia you can savour dinner at the Steakhouse while a bagpiper plays just outside at sunset every day.
At Rajvilas, an Oberoi Vilas hotel, the hotel priest conducts a religious ceremony (puja) twice a day in the ancient 280 year old Lord Shiva temple on the hotel grounds in which the hotel guests can also participate; elsewhere in another suite a majestic peacock saunters inside for a close dekko.
Some top-of-the-line, ultra glam, super luxury hotels thrive on making the stay consummately and delightfully luxurious for their guests from the time the guests disembark to the time they bid adieu.
Wynn Las Vegas lays out its ‘privileges red carpet’ inside the airport even before the guests are picked up in the hotel’s fleet of Phantom Rolls Royce. The installation of flat-screen TVs in the poolside cabanas ensures that the guests are not deprived of their personal entertainment even when they are outside by the pool.
Taking it a few notches up are the Tanning Butlers at Ritz Carlton South Beach who are fully trained and trademarked SPF specialists qualified to offer you a range of sun-protection products and pleased to apply the products on hard-to-reach spots, clean your sunglasses and come up with local dining expert advice.
Then, there are the Tartan Butlers, at The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Scotland, who help the guests to trace their Scottish ancestral roots, get them fitted in bespoke kilts made from their clan’s traditional tartan by the local craftsmen and arrange a tour of their native region. In a similar vein, the Lodge at Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland employs on-site Genealogists who are members of the Clare Roots Society and the Council of Irish Genealogical Organizations. These experts help the guests research and discover their Irish roots and visit their ancestral villages.
And in the realm of somewhat bizarre, magically oddball and phantasmagorically private are the following four – in line with the spirit of its location, I would say, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas presents its guests with a room-service menu of lingerie and unmentionables from its in-house boutique Love Jones.
The Pierre in NYC offers the perfectly quiet and secluded place to guests who wish to recover and recuperate after plastic surgery. As a very thoughtful and well-strategized offer, ‘the post plastic surgery convalescence’ package includes car service to and from the procedure, in-room spa treatments and a specialty menu designed to encourage healing.
The Andaz 5th Avenue, a Hyatt hotel in Manhattan, New York boasts an artists-in-residence program whereby it commissions street artists, graffiti gurus and tattoo artists to work on extraordinary ideas and create wonderful art.
Finally, the one right up my alley – Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon offers the services of an on-its-rolls pet psychic. During a complimentary wine hour, the psychic hashes out any behavioural issues of the pet and the pet parent and shares suggestions for improving the pet-parent relationship.
In the name of wonderful, never-felt-before experiences, hotels stretch themselves from fantastically awe-inspiring to quaintly funny.
The novel experience can range from the very much intentional and well-planned to completely unintentional and purely incidental – lounging around in a South African wildlife resort amongst a pride of lions or a tower of giraffes can be labeled under the former and enjoying a lazy Sunday Brunch in the soothing winter sun at a colonial Delhi hotel with the resident eagle swooping down to share a piece of your pie definitely falls under the latter.
4. Promising Return on monetary and physical investment
It is an established fact that the more money people have, more judicious they get about spending it. The filthy rich, be it the late Leona Helmsley, Buffet or Gates, detest squandering their millions and like to see their dollar deliver to the last cent.
They know what they should be paying mega bucks on – presidential suites, logo-embossed luggage, the larger experience; but hate to see it wasted on vacuous spend such as inflated mini bar items, unnecessary taxation, frills that are frivolous.
Luxury travellers hate to be taken advantage of and like to be served to the optimum for the top bills they pay.
Increasingly, time is being seen as the premium commodity of luxury – be it reduced time taken to travel, communicate or do work. Every new innovation seems to be geared up to bring us an X satisfaction in Y time and sooner the better.
Life at luxury hotels is the same. The standard of service is measured by the timeliness of its delivery unless or until the guest himself wants to languidly laze over a brunch or a spa treatment. Tardiness shown by staff is seen as a strong contra indicator and defeats the basic principle of luxury espoused by such establishments.
5. Defining Story
Iconic places have uniquely interesting stories, legends, innovations woven around their existence - King Cole Bar at St. Regis in New York, which houses a famous 1906 Art Nouveau oil mural, is considered the birthplace of the Bloody Mary just as the Long Bar in Raffles Singapore is of the Singapore Sling.
The Imperial in Delhi has an alleged Kipling Corner in the 1911 Bar, Raffles Singapore has its Writers Bar and Personality Suites where Somerset Maugham and other literary greats of the time enjoyed their tipple and stayed, The Ritz in Paris was virtually the second home of Coco Chanel for years; yes the same hotel that also houses Bar Hemingway as a tribute to its other famous guest – Ernest Hemingway and where Diana, Princess of Wales had her ‘last supper’ with Dodi Fayed before that tragically fatal crash.
It does boil down to one single most important or set of important discerning traits that a luxury hotel is identified with. This somehow seems to be the key in defining the personality of a luxury brand.
Peninsula Hong Kong, Raffles Hotel, Singapore and The Imperial in New Delhi are known to be historic institutions and have played a strong part in the history of their destinations. They continue to offer colonial-era decadence to their guests.
Ritz Carltons urge their guests to “Let us stay with you” with their memory-laden collection of stay-stories, tips, recipes and moments. Therefore, personal, inimitable experience is what these hotels set out to market to their elite guests.
Special hotel properties such as a Palace in Royal Rajasthan or a European Castle turned into a hotel are great attractions. Their main selling plank – the guests are treated royally and can relive, in part, the life which was led by the kings and queens of yore.
6. The ‘X’ Factor
There are hotels with the poshest address stamped on their gilded envelopes. There are hotels that have been touched up admirably to infuse fresh life into their reputed pasts. There are also modern marvels with the finest of mortar and marble carted in from all over the world to create their personality.
There are hotels atop famous mountain cliffs or carved out of black lava (Four Seasons, West Hawaii) or ancient caves (Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa, Turkey).
There are luxury places that robe themselves in bespoke linen and dress their staff in famous designer threads. There are lodgings that reek of history from every nook and cranny and then there are futuristic abodes that seem to be out of a sci-fi setting.
In the name of luxury, there are hotels that will have you dine underwater with sharks swimming overhead or present you with a gold leaf covered dessert on a silver platter or fly in a known opera singer to croon for you on your anniversary or have you take the conjugal vows while securely fastened together to the bungee rope for a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Special places of stay have that ‘X’ factor that makes them first among equals.
Location is a definite winner when it comes to picking a luxury resort. Is the hotel on the banks of the holy Ganges or overlooking the Victoria Harbour; is it within a hop & skip distance of the Colosseum or in close vicinity of the Pyramids!
The Oberoi’s luxury resort Amarvilas in Agra has earned its bragging rights from the impressive fact that the hotel offers a view of the Taj Mahal no matter where you may look out from.
Additionally, one of the most unparalleled and unbeatable views anywhere in the world is from one of Amarvilas’ king-sized bathrooms – looking up from your leisurely, relaxing bath out of the giant glass wall you are blown away by the beauty of the Taj in all its resplendence anytime of the day or night.
A luxury hotel experience comes replete with all the trimmings and trappings of ultimate pampering – whether it is organizing a local historian or writer as your personal guide to unravel some of the fabulous secrets that the destination has to offer, calling on duty a personal shopper who gets you the best buys and bargains, fixing a star city masseuse to perform their special hand magic to soothe your frayed nerves, getting you seats for an A-list, queued up show or a table at a much-awarded restaurant that seems to be perpetually booked all the time while you relax in the plushest beds, rejuvenate in the best Spas, tingle your taste buds with matchless food cooked by prize-winning hands, sip on the widest and best selections of wine, shop in an exclusive arcade, awaken your senses to the finest fragrances and freshest flowers, accomplish your business stree-free with advanced technology playing your best personal caddy.
No demand is too much and no service too less for the privilege of hosting you as a preferred guest!
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