Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Ultimate Luxury Hoteliering 101! Part 1

I was recently invited by a leading Hospitality Industry Portal to offer my thoughts on how hotels can provide the best brand experience for their guests; what really goes into true customer satisfaction and what do the world’s best hotels really do, so discerningly, to be slotted as top luxury hotel companies?

It set me thinking about what hotels think is a luxury experience for their guests, vis-à-vis the guests’ actual expectation of luxury.
Is it the Carrara marble carted all the way from Italy, the bespoke scent developed in step with a celebrated Parfumer, glasses blown especially by a lineage rich craftsman in Murano, the exquisite crystal from Baccarat, the priceless lights from Lalique, the made-to-order toiletries from Bvlgari? 

But all this can be bought and brought in by any wealthy industrialist aspiring to be an hotelier or by a rich real estate magnate who has set his business goal towards constructing monstrous buildings that he hopes to open hotels in.  

We often mistake plattering out of opulence for luxury. Luxury is far bigger than the price; it is a principle that defines the gold standard of a brand.

In the last few days, my newsfeed on one of the social media platforms is being flooded with shares from friends about their recent luxury hotel stay at one of India’s most luxurious chains. 

What has taken their breath away is how hotel staff are leaving little notes behind along with an item that they felt the guest needed the most at that point in time but did not have it available. The items are commonplace – ranging from a tube of paste, shoe mitt, laptop cleaner, earphones – but the attention to detail and acute guest orientation is what is inspiring awe in the guests. Isn’t this the fine art of luxury hoteliering?

Luxury is not something that can be carried back as a memento in the LV Tote; it is a subliminal interface with the hotel’s Product-Service confluence that stokes the guest’s finer sensibilities and finds a permanent corner in the guest’s memories, bringing the guest back again and again.

The jury is in on what is truly a luxury experience for guests worldwide. Let us closely look at facets – agreed upon by experts and aficionados alike - that truly make a hotel a luxury brand –

1.     Guest Recognition

An ex-boss and a veteran hotelier, who has spent his life working for the finest hospitality brands worldwide, recounted a Four Seasons’ template of Recognition during one of the training sessions. 

It is said that both guest and employee recognition are really big ticket items at the premium hotel chain where all Excom members are supposed to know the names of not only all the hotel employees but also their spouses and the family dog. Just imagine, to what lengths they would be going to offer recognition to their guests!

Guest Recognition through guest mapping by different layers of the hotel staff – from concierge to the GM and in some cases even the Owner - is a wonderful strategy that creates a pronounced guest-oriented environment, makes sure that the Hotel staff is familiar with its guest list and keeps the guests happy.

2.     Employee Excellence

A hotel is so much more than the richly constructed shell, the branded hardware and the awe-evoking infrastructure. It is actually the people who work towards presenting the brand service standards in the best way possible. And this is truly the most important discerning factor when sifting the chaff from the real grain.

A hotel that aspires to be top-of-the-line luxury endeavours to train its staff to a level of benchmarked excellence on a pre-defined template of superior standards that embody its brand value.

More important than the owner or the General Manager, it is the direct interface employees such as the Airport representatives, chauffeurs, doorman, valet, bellhop, concierge, housekeeping, butlers and servers who are the real brand ambassadors of the hotel and who, at all times, must live and breathe the same code of work ethics and tenets as set in the brand operational philosophy.

In order to create a cohesive exercise towards guest orientation, it is imperative that the training is immaculate, briefings are vividly elaborate and there is an open system of sharing and reiterating information pertinent to the guests.

The Doormen at The Raffles, the Bell girls at The Peninsula, the valet at Island Shangri-La, the Les Clefs d’Or decorated concierge at some of the finest hotels around the world, the awarded chefs lording over their Michelin-starred restaurants, are all icons that have made an example out of providing legendary service to their hotel guests.

Luxury hotels are Special Places where ‘pinned up’ Concierge bends over backwards to bring true every wish or whim of their special guests – from Pink elephants for the little guest’s birthday; or an exclusive chat with a historian on the colonial background of the City where the hotel stands; to flying in that novel, hard-to-get ingredient for that special meal on the guest’s momentous occasion. 

Ritz Carlton Group’s motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” underlines the focus on guest orientation and the intense employee training that goes into making a stay at one of their hotels ‘Ritz Remarkable.’

Not just the concierge, the entire hotel is geared towards turning the experience into a memorable one for the esteemed guests. “No” and “cannot” just do not exist in the hotel’s vocabulary. 

The doors of the celebrated ‘The Spice Route’ restaurant were opened two hours earlier by The Imperial management to entertain John Galliano and his entourage with a special meal that was personally cooked by the Restaurant’s celebrated chef. This way Galliano, who was touring India in his halcyon days, could enjoy the authentic meal in the actual ambience of the Restaurant while still being out of the public eye.

Luxury hoteliers and guests alike agree that it is often the stellar software of the workforce that makes these places more special. Great places have a great set of staff that happily goes beyond the brief whether it is the Concierge taking that extra pain to find a seamstress or suit maker or the General Manager repairing an ordinary piece of luggage with his own hands, the latter actually happened to me at the Marriott in Washington DC.

3.     Intimate and Exclusive Personalization

Stay at luxury hotels is all about getting as far away from the cookie-cutter culture as possible and treating every guest as a VIP.

There are hotels that take personalization to a different level – Hermitage Hotel offers personalized stationery to its important guests; at Montage Beverly Hills, guests get to lay their heads on customized pillows embroidered with their initials; just as they do at the ITC luxury hotels in India.

A dynamic, well-kept Guest history is the strongest tool in the Hotel’s armoury for keeping the high-profile guests (as a matter of fact any guest) happy and loyal to its brand. 

From your favourite Earl Grey tea, the movies that need to be stacked up in your suite before your arrival, the choice of fruits that must fill up the fruit basket or the kind of flowers that should deck your temporary abode, your food allergies, your favourite Valet who must be made available specially for you at your every visit to even ensuring that a Yoga teacher is brought in specially for you or a particular brand of sparkling water stocked in the pick-up limo or your mini bar……….the guest history records each and everything about you that will go a long way in making your stay all that special and privileged.

One of the best software strategies up a top notch hotel’s sleeve is a clean, livewire guest history that is shorn off all dead wood and to which all key operational staff pays keen attention. This not only ensures repeat guests but also that the guests do not walk over to competition.

Personalization stems from well-defined Best Practices in service standards such that the service is quick and one that meets the request pointedly, at all times.

4.     On top of Trends and Technology

There are hotels known and sought after for novel concepts that they have introduced to the world of refined hospitality. High Tea at the Ritz in London is an institution and a must try in every intrepid luxury traveller’s calendar. 

A personalized art tour of the in-house gallery showcasing an impressive collection of original lithographs by the designated art curator at The Imperial in Delhi is part of the itinerary of guests ranging from the US Business Council delegates to the visiting Thai Princess and her entourage. 

Sipping on a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, the place where it was incidentally invented, and chucking peanut shells on the bar floor just as how Somerset Maugham and his other contemporaries may have done in the early 20th century is a matchless experience that perhaps is worth more than the bucks you may spend in the place.

In today’s ‘webbed’ world, a luxury hotel’s standard of excellence is gauged by the superior level of technology it offers its constantly-connected guests. That the internet connectivity is smooth, super fast, Wi-Fi, without any glitches and free is expected to be a given at the plushest of luxury-laden retreats.

The erstwhile Chief Executive of the UK’s Barratt Group, David Pretty says: "Tastes evolve and change. People's idea of luxury still includes elements of space, comfort and quality, but increasingly involves sharp design and cutting-edge technology."

5.     Unique Features

Some hotels stand out for the incomparable aspects beset in their building features and facilities. MGM Grands’ Skylofts offer breathtaking bathrooms that boast infinity tubs with light therapy and “champagne” bubbles. Some hotel pools such as the one at Four Seasons, HK, get the guests to enjoy their swim as lilting classical music plays underwater.

Louis XV furniture, Silver chairs and lounges, antique four-poster beds, Bvlgari / Hermes / Aveda toiletries, period art or Art Nouveau paintings, Swarovski threaded chandeliers, flowers done by florists specially flown in from France, Riedel crystal glassware, Wedgwood plates, Christofle serving trays, crisp Pratesi linen - the amenities and features reek of refined taste and fine art of luxurious living; and stand out with a lot of ease amongst the usual suspects of the heretofore overused luxury standards such as over 300 thread count crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, down-feather pillows, 14” rain shower heads, Jacuzzi tubs, butler & maid service, overnight shoe shine, high-speed WiFi, Cisa safes, individual temperature control to mood lighting control.

6.     The Wonder Wheels

Even the choice of wheels is as hot and happening as the personality of the luxe hotel - from Phantom Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Maserati, Maybach, reworked vintage Ambassadors, horse-drawn carriages that pull majestically into the porch of the old fort hotel, camels and elephants – the luxury hotels pull out all the stops.

The Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel does it in impeccable style with its Hot Wheels menu of Lamborghini Gallardos, Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis, Bentleys and some more offered to the top-tier suites guests under the complimentary Suite Drive program. The guests can select the Wheels of their choice to cruise around Los Angeles and can also pick up the car at the airport to drive into the hotel. 

7.     Delighting the Guest with Distinct Dining Experience

Food is truly the winning factor for most hotels – smart, simple, sensible selections for certain meal times of a business traveller and elaborate, exquisite and enchanting ones for those on the languorously leisure downtime. 

The restaurants (including room service) offering their culinary artworks are certainly the places to showcase award-winning talents of the hotels’ food & beverage team. There are several luxury hotspots that are known exclusively for their food craft and kitchen talent.

Luxury hotels, by virtue of being iconic in image and astral in brand personality, just must offer dining options that delight their varied clientele – those awe-inspiring signature dishes, the mesmerizing wine lists, ingredients specially flown in, fantastic concepts painstakingly created, creative presentations that promise to stay on the guest’s mind and above all culinary talent that is simply the best in the world.

There is a cluster of hotels that are known for the Chef who presides over his Michelin star restaurant in the establishment and is happy to cook up a signature meal for you. Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adria, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jean-Georges

Vongerichten, Gordon Ramsay – all culinary greats with a star power normally reserved for film actors and with a waiting list of guests that runs sometimes into months and years – make hotels housing their restaurants a definite port of call on a luxury traveller’s route. 

These Rock stars promise to delight your taste buds and paint their culinary art on the canvas of your palate. Some hotels go a step further, like The Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence which offers truffle hunting expeditions with an expert truffier followed by a cookery demonstration by the chef and a special truffle-rich dinner.

The fascinating concept of luxury hotel living is perhaps best described by Susan Kurosawa, one of the finest Travel Writers we know today. She says, “Instead of gold taps and silly trimmings, we want privacy and sanctuary. The biggest accommodation trend is towards walled private villas with petite gardens, plunge pools and ultra-discreet service. We long for the same level of stylish sequestration as celebrities escaping the scrutiny of fans and press. 

Luxury is also about a rediscovery of comfort. We have survived the edgy all-white minimalism of the 90s and now we want cosy comforts such as pillow menus and sink-into sofas and all the expected accoutrements of our homes but with the bonus of in-room dining, butler-drawn baths and views of an exotic elsewhere.”  

Note 1 – To be continued in Part Two.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

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