by L. Aruna Dhir, Featured Contributor
IN Part One of the article we looked at the Top Five traits of a premium Luxury Hotel. As it is said, ‘God is in the small things.’ The same applies to fine attributes that top level luxury travellers seek from the hotels they wish to frequent.
Let’s look at the remaining five needs of a Luxe traveller
6. 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 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. Both Paolo Sagina, the luxury hotelier (Hotel Director at Kalidria Thalassa Spa Resort & Alborea Luxury Lodge in Italy) and Mary Gostelow, the venerable luxury traveller (of Gostelow Report and girlahead.com fame), put a premium on “seclusion and privacy.”
Susan Kurosawa, Travel Editor of The Australian says “there’s a new austerity and sense of restraint among today’s high-end travellers. Luxury is now all about what isn’t there, including too many fellow travellers.”
Two of the top most things that high-profile jetsetters desire most, indeed, are – exclusive treatment and the highest level of privacy. In case of celebrity guests privacy is of paramount significance. Sir Gordon Sumner loved his stay at The Imperial in Delhi for the hotel assured him anonymity. The privacy privilege continued till the time he was interrupted by a fellow guest while enjoying his drink at Patiala Peg who was eager to know if he was THE ‘Sting’ to which the legendary singer turned back and replied ‘No, that’s my twin brother.’ This amusing anecdote apart, the tour operator had instructed the hotel amply about the strict do’s and don’ts of handling the VIP guest, the Excom had met and conferred and the operational team had been thoroughly briefed; all to ensure that Sting enjoyed a hurdle free incognito stay and that he came back to the hotel each time he transited Delhi.
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. Gautam Anand, Vice President – Operations Planning & Pre-opening Services, Hotels Division, ITC Limited, says, “In the current environment of global terror threats, guests demand a secure environment. Security must be maximized with an attention to discretion, so that guests feel safe, but not imposed upon. The security staff must be trained to be polite at all times, so that every interaction with a guest is peaceable and pleasant.”
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.”
7. THE AWESOMENESS OF THE PRODUCT AND THE AMENITIES
“To me luxury lies in the experience not in the quality of soaps or the thread count of the bed sheets. Today traveller wants to experience a country, its people and culture. I have stayed at many fine hotels, but at times it is the smallest or simplest gestures that create the strongest emotions. Luxury hotels tend to think (especially in Asia) that by having imported soaps and fancy stereo systems they are doing something special. But for many uber luxury travellers, that is what they may have in their normal lives. I have found that the more the money traveller has, the more excited he gets by simple authentic experiences,” puts Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd., very aptly.
Varun Sharma, the host of popular TV show ‘Inside Luxury Travel,’ is floored by “spectacular welcome amenities.” Sagina makes sure that his resort is kitted out with “signature bath products and tailored amenities.” Anoothi Vishal, an established and prominent Indian Food & Travel writer, is won over with “Good bath amenities in big bathrooms, a splendorous pillow menu, essential oils kept for relaxing in the night, comfortable and clean towels— eco chic does not apply and basic things like good tea and coffee selection in the room.”
Nigel Bolding, Publisher of The World’s Best Hotels, rues the fact that “so many otherwise great hotels seem to ignore simple things like ease of use of in-room lighting and access to plugs. Also great bathrooms – with ergonomic functionality and two basins [his and hers] is a real luxury allowing guests to spend time and pamper themselves in the bathroom.”
“It must be a fresh and exciting product and must always stay relevant,” asserts Sandeep Walia, Vice President for Ritz Carlton, Bvlgari and Edition Hotels for Europe.
Kurosawa wants her luxury abode to present sensible choices and expects it to pamper her with “Quality toiletries, including plenty of hair conditioner for female guests; good hairdryers, not those ridiculous wall-mounted whoosh-whoosh models; bedside lights that can be turned off from the bed, and individually, so you don’t disturb your partner; pillow menus with plenty of varieties; well-designed space with power points in easily accessible spots and good mattress and bedding – the Sofitel MyBed is the benchmark.”
Gostelow gets upset if the hotel fails to offer a “24-hour gym with a Pilates ball.” For Julia Gajcak, PR and Marketing consultant, too, “24 hours gym hours and knowledgeable trainers” is a pre-condition. Julia Gajcak lists out her other musts – “Mini bars that can be stocked according to the guest’s favourites. Also, complimentary business center access with several Apple computers and PCs plus quality printers.”
Amit Oberoi, General Manager – Shangri-La’s Boracay luxury Resort & Spa, is amazed at how a lot of hotels claiming to be luxury places find even the brass tacks difficult to deliver. “Luxury means total cleanliness in the room and public areas; everything must look brand new and completely sanitized. The accommodation must be functional, especially things like clear cable TV, accessible plug points and switches, AC control. The retail options on the premises must showcase local products,” Oberoi insists. “Several guests expect a Food Safety international accreditation like HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points),” pitches in Anand.
When asked to define luxury in brand and product Sheila Donnelly–Theroux, CEO, Sheila Donnelly & Associates, desires, “Fresh fruit, bottled water, a beautiful flower; an abundance of plush towels and seasonal bath amenities by local artisans; great 24/7 laundry and valet service and 1-hour pressing; a massage at any time of the day, especially when arriving from overseas; a hotel car that might be available from time to time and secret special and delicious local products in the mini-bar.”
From a luxury hotelier’s point of view Gautam Anand suggests, “Luxury hotels really shine in their amenities, offering world class toiletries, branded bath & room linen as well as artisans’ chocolates or at least a corbeille de fruits. Not only does the room need to be bigger, but the bath and room areas must also be seamless. Space planning is essential.”
“Please avoid annoying repeating musical announcements often used when the guest turns on the TV. Guests will find the premium services if they want them, without the audio assault. Also it should be a natural to tie in the entertainment centre to the property management system. The guest should be welcomed by name on the screen, should be able to view their bill, order room service (with pictured menus), see hotel information /activities, tie into an “event network” if desired by the planner, check-out and more,” Anand further adds.
And here’s some fantastic advice from Corbin Ball, an international speaker, consultant and writer who has been voted one of “The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry” this year and whose Company helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. With regard to luxury properties Ball identifies the following – “A working office is essential part of the guest room experience. Therefore, a workable desk and an adjustable, ergonomic (Hermann Miller Aeron-like) chair are essential. I particularly like the split level desk that rolls out to provide more space with the lower counter level at a good height for keyboard inputting. Provide at least four transformer-friendly outlets at desk-height for guest to plug in phones, iPads, computers and other gadgets. Please don’t make us crawl under the desk to find them! Also, provide an adjustable reading light with an easy to find switch. Although wired room phones will be used with decreasing frequency (guests are using their own phones), speaker phone functionality on the desk phone is a nice touch. Also provide an electronic telephone wake-up service using the phone keypad. This is usually faster and more reliable than a “human interface.” Guests are bringing their own entertainment systems (computers, video players, iPads, Slingboxes, cameras, etc.) and will wish to use the TV for playback. Provide a variety number of AV input sockets (VGA, HDMI, 1/8” stereo, RCA video) mounted at counter height near the entertainment centre as well as easily accessible transformer-friendly power outlets to plug in the above devices. A wireless keyboard using the TV for internet access is a nice luxury for some travellers, although this will be decreasingly used as most business travellers are relying on their own mobile devices for this purpose. Finally, a Blu-ray/DVD player and stereo audio/home theatre system are welcome additions to luxury rooms as long as there is sufficient sound insulation between rooms.”
8. THE WOW 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. “They have nice small touches that make you feel wanted,” says Bolding. Rajeev Kohli shares a small, simple incident that took his breath away with its subtle thoughtfulness. “I stayed at the iconic Oriental hotel in Bangkok three years ago. I was lazing by the pool in the afternoon and all of a sudden I was served a little arrangement of Thai spiced olives and a shot of a fruity mojito with a small sign that said something like enjoy your afternoon. Was it an expensive service, no? But it was an unexpectedly thoughtful treat.”
Sandeep Walia feels it is “Location, Location, Location. Prime location with excellent views plays a key role.”
“Design that reflects the destination, even with subtle touches,” opines Kurosawa.
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.
Andreas Augustin of The Famous Hotels of the World fame wants the hotels to “tell me the story about their place. They should give me a sense of where am I, what is the specialty of this hotel in this particular country/city.”
Julia Gajcak thinks that a luxury hotel can bowl over its guests “if it provides great local offerings such as access to private viewings at a museum, access to a top fashion designer, entry to a film set, after hours shopping, backstage passes to top entertainment event.” Gautam Anand feels “a shuttle between the Hotel and Airport is a huge WOW, for first time guests.”
“It is all about the atmosphere,” says Gautam Anand. “Atmosphere refers to the overall impression a luxury hotel leaves its visitors with. The level of service, available amenities, attention to detail and even the building design, decor and landscaping must combine to create a pleasantly memorable visit. In addition, a signature lobby fragrance and indoor air quality are important,” elaborates Anand.
Kohli regales us with yet another lovely stay story that impressed upon him the difference between the fluff and the finest. In his words, “A few years ago, I and my wife were on a break in California and had a few days to spare in San Francisco. I didn’t want to stay in town as had done that many times before, so I googled romantic options and came across something called “The Inn Above Tide.” It was a small boutique hotel on the water in Sausalito overlooking the SFO skyline. Every room had a small fireplace; evenings had wine and cheese service in the lounge. No fancy restaurants, no large lobbies. Very small, intimate hotel that made you feel at home. And it was not cheap. Could have stayed cheaper at the Grand Hyatt or the likes in the city, but this departure from the cookie-cutter definition of luxury is what appeals to the experienced traveller.”
9. VALUE FOR MONEY
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, they 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 travelers hate to be taken advantage of and like to be served to the optimum for the top bills they pay. Both Nigel Bolding, the veteran publisher of ‘The World’s Best Hotels’ and Varun Sharma, who has made a home out of the Luxury hotels he covers for his highly popular travel show ‘Inside Luxury Travel’ say that “Value for money or differently put, not being ripped off is an extremely important consideration.”
“Reward / loyalty points, complimentary room upgrades, complimentary pickup/drop to airport, discount cards in local up market stores are fabulous ways to stretch the guest’s dollar in a well-strategized retention/recognition framework,” advises Varun Sharma.
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.
Amit Oberoi puts it in hotel-management Plain speak when he says that “the staff should not have a sense of urgency when providing their starred service.”
Mary Gostelow, the doyen of luxury travel, is quite categorical when she emphasizes, “I want what I want and when I want it and that is completely non-negotiable with high-end hotels.”
The fascinating concept of luxury hotel living is perhaps best described by Susan Kurosawa, who 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 cozy 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.”
(Images courtesy of Google Images)