The ongoing evolution of luxury and changing guest expectations were the focus of the opening panel during the annual BITAC® Luxury event, which kicked off earlier this week at the JW Marriott Austin.
During a session entitled “Evolving Expectations: How The Luxury Guest Has Changed,” the panelists framed the discussion by offering their personal definitions of luxury.
According to Douglas DeBoer, owner/founder/CEO, Rebel Design, “For us luxury is stunning design, spot-on amenities, some kind of cultural and local significance, and service, service, service.I think service is kind of a lost art in today’s world and it’s an important factor when you look at a luxury property. So we look at design to enhance that; both the service experience and the user experience in the long run.”
Micah Tipler, principal, Tipler Group—which specializes in private member resort designs—also offered a nod to the importance of service, among other things. “We are essentially catering to the 1 percent of the 1 percent, which is an interesting field in itself. I think from our client’s perspective what they are really looking for is a unique experience, individualized service and time,”she said.
Svetlana Muzaleva, principal/owner, Next Design Studio, added. “I feel like quite often there is a misconception that luxury is a one size fits all experience and I feel like it’s a very individualized approach to someone’s set of values, expectations and experiences. It’s something that is unique to each individual based on their upbringing, interests, beliefs and lifestyle.”
Jim Richman, President, Cabanas by Academy, provided a literal definition.
“It is a condition of abundance or great ease in comfort; something adding to the pleasure of comfort, but not absolutely necessary. As far as cabanas and our product people are looking for the luxury because they’re getting used to it. A lot of the younger people grew up with their family taking them places that have cabanas,” he said.
Richman further drove home the point about service. “As a general statement luxury to me is service and I think we’re living in a world where service has become something of the past. I don’t care what business you’re in in this room if you supply people with a level of service people will come back. It’s all about service, that’s what people look for; if you do it you’ll see the difference,” he said.
DeBoer further addressed service from the standpoint of design.
“I think we’re also seeing the removal of the barrier, the giant counter when you walk up to the reception area. It’s like being in a bank. We find that people like the smaller pod-style design where [staff] can walk out from behind the counter and show things to you on a map and give you directions to the elevator and more individualized service…In the old days they made you feel like you are lucky to be here because you have that gigantic barrier,” he said.
DeBoer also cited what he sees as the chief concerns of millennials, in particular.
“When it comes to hotel design they have five basic factors we find. They want a really good shower; web; TV;bed; and air conditioning. That’s luxury to them. Anything above that is icing on the cake, but something they really don’t fend for, because they are more communal people than people of other generations,” he stated.
The executives also acknowledged that luxury has continued to move in a more casual direction in recent years.
“Without exception all of the resorts that we have developed and worked with are extremely casual. They’re a getaway. CEO’s, celebrity athletes, politicians, they are escaping to a place that they can have a t-shirt on. If you saw some of our members out of context you would have no idea who they are and that’s what they want. They are wanting to escape; we’re definitely seeing a move towards that casual living,” said Tipler.
DeBoer added, “I think luxury has changed where it’s less about design and high end fabrics and finishes and more about a comfort zone. People want to feel comfortable in space that’s luxurious feeling to them. I think that follows with it more casual clothing. They don’t want to get up in the morning and put on a suit to go downstairs and have a cup of coffee in the lobby; they want to be like they are at home. In the old days you would travel to a hotel and you felt like you were at a hotel. Today’s more casual approach makes you feel like it’s just an extension of your own home. I think people find that more luxurious than a 30,000 dollar chandelier.”
Nevertheless, technology remains a critical component of today’s experience at any level of hospitality,but especially at the luxury level. DeBoer pointed out, “the number one thing across the world is strong WiFi.”
Muzaleva added, “I feel like addressing technology as a luxury item is kind of passé. I think it’s an expectation of each property. All of us have smartphones and all those gadgets and computers and to arrive somewhere and not have it [Wifi] readily available in a room or public area is frustrating; it’s a huge minus to a property. So it’s not really something like ‘oh wow, it’s amazing I found an outlet.’ It should be an everyday necessity and requirement,” she said.
Muzaleva pointed out that any technology solutions need to have broad appeal. “It’s not only millennial guests, quite often it’s older guests. I think the technology should be easy to understand, easy to find, and easy to access.”
Tipler stated, “We find that our clients want to be able to press a button and have room service. They also want to be able to press a button and have their properties turned over when they leave; ready for when they come back and notified when housekeeping has been there. We’re definitely seeing what happens with that and continuing to develop that.”