What is luxury? When I worked for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, it was about perfectly scripted interactions, an unwavering focus on quality, and an opulent environment immaculately cleaned and maintained. While we were always focused on the guest, when it came to luxury, it was really all about the hotel—the product we showcased.
As in many other consumer-facing industries, luxury is now defined more by the experience than the products and services offered. Luxury is based on what the guest wants, which creates more challenges and costs compared to the traditional model where one size and look fits all. So, what does the modern guest want in their luxury hotel experience? The reality is, every guest is different, but there are some key values that are prevalent today. Let’s review each one and how to address them.
Industry disruptors like AirBNB are making an impact because they offer guests an opportunity to connect to the local community. They promote cultural immersion. According to BDRC market research, AirBNB usage is highest amongst luxury branded hotel guests (24%). This tells us that luxury properties are not doing enough to deliver their guests a story worth telling and a local’s experience. If we are going to charge luxury prices, then we need to offer something that no one else can offer.
We have to connect guests with our neighborhoods—the local coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants, designers, breweries, and activities. We often get so caught up in our own properties that we fail to engage partners in crafting something special and out-of-the-ordinary. Do your restaurants, bars, and spas introduce and celebrate local artisans, products, and influences? If not, then you are not delivering the type of cultural connection and experience so many of luxury guests seek.
While managing Hayman Island in Australia, we partnered with local helicopter and seaplane companies to deliver our guests along with some great food and beverage options to private beaches and landing pads in-and-around the Great Barrier Reef. Those were authentic experiences our guests never forgot, and couldn’t help telling others about.
If we are talking about authenticity, then we also need to talk about staff. Stop scripting and controlling your people. Empower and enable them to have fun and make a difference. Let their personalities come forth. Select your team for personality and common sense, and then teach them about all the resources they have access to in order to create something memorable for each guest. When it comes to selection, we need to ensure we are selecting people who are going to be successful in a particular role rather than leaving it to chance. I have always been a big fan of Talent Plus and their ability to find people with the personality and disposition for certain roles, which in today’s world is a win-win for both the guest and the associate. For more information on talent selection, check out our blog on Hiring for Cultural Fit.
Lets keep talking about your staff. Great service has always been a trademark of a luxury property. It is one of the advantages we have over lower-tiers brands or home-sharing providers. However, it is important to recognize that great service is not just about smiling and delivering, but that it is also about recovery. According to Econsultancy in 2013, 82% of customers say the number one factor that indicates great customer service is the ability to resolve issues quickly. SGEi’s clients have received this message, because in the past twelve months we have created more training modules than ever before for companies wanting to elevate their staff’s ability to manage customer emotions and resolve their challenges. We also spend a lot of time reminding managers they need to let go.
I believe luxury hotels are some of the best at empowering their staff to respond quickly, which is why it is so disappointing when the staff of a luxury property have to defer to a manager for permission to take care of a problem. Let’s face it, luxury has often been so perfect because it is over managed, and yet in today’s world our guests prefer a little imperfection for more authenticity and staff empowerment.
Technology is prevalent in almost everything we do, and for many of our guests, especially Millennials, technology seems to be in their DNA. Partnering with third-party providers, utilizing apps, and incorporating smartphones into the experience is becoming the norm rather than the exception, at least for a new generation of luxury guests. This is where the problem for a luxury property exists. While some of our guests want to always be connected, others want their stay to be a time-out from technology so they can actually appreciate the world and those they are with. How can you take care of both guests? You need to give them choice.
Guests want to collect and share their stories, and to do that in the moment they need to be connected. However, once the moment has been shared they want the choice for the technology and the Internet to disappear. You have to have it available when required, and for it to disappear and be turned off when it is not. My wife is from Baden Baden in Germany, where the Villa Stephanie opened earlier this year. One of the features offered is an Internet kill switch for each room, affording luxury guests the connectivity choice.
Luxury hotels have always been known for the ability to deliver the impossible. Apps like Killer Rezzy or Resy, for example charge guests a small fee to get great seats at popular times at the best restaurants in town. There are already many private concierge services and apps with the goal to deliver memorable experience and insider access for those who travel. What about your own concierge? Why are you not promoting concierge services via your app or website with a live-chat feature or direct line so guests can utilize local experts to help deliver the best possible experiences and moments?
Hotels have to maintain their ability and reputation to deliver on the most difficult requests, and to give guests access to something special. Focus on ensuring your concierges are the experience experts guests expect, and ensure they are easily accessible. We love The Ritz-Carlton app that utilizes information and recommendations from their top concierges to help guide memorable experiences.
Also, remember to think beyond your concierge as the staff member able to deliver access and insider information. All staff should be local experts with knowledgeable about activities and experiences. Make it a habit to keep all staff updated and in the know of what is going on in and outside of your hotel.
The proliferation of third-party feedback sites and our guest’s willingness to use them means transparency is no longer the exception but the rule. Let’s stop thinking we can hide our weaknesses and limitations from guests. Today’s traveler wants to be able to make an informed decision about the property they choose, and they have become more reliant on other travelers to make that decision than on marketing or advertising campaigns.
Be honest about the value proposition you can deliver today, because not informing a guest about the construction project, the closure of a restaurant, or the reason behind recent poor guest experiences, will only hurt your reputation long term. I learned this lesson the hard way while managing Hayman Island and constructing beachfront villas: the backlash of negative online feedback was more about our lack of transparency than the noise on our beach. For more information on managing your social presence, check out Mastering Your Social Media Customer Experience.
Wellness goes beyond the ideas of physical activity and relaxation, though they are still important. Wellness is a state of mind; an attitude that for some guests they seek while at a hotel, while for others it is how they always see and interact with the world. Wellness must be integrated into all aspects of the guests stay, providing them with not only a great experience, but also access and insights on how to sustain a healthy lifestyle and mindset in their every day lives. We have been watching the collection of hotels within the Healing Hotels of the World grow every year as a testament to the growing belief in wellness beyond just the gym or spa.
While there are many things your luxury property must consider, we believe these are some of the most important tips to establish your reputation and position in the marketplace as relevant and desirable to the modern luxury guest.