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In one of the most buzzed-about travel news stories of 2018, LVMH, which owns luxury brands like Christian Dior and Moet Hennesy, acquired Belmond, the storied, high-end hospitality group known for its global collection of iconic hotels, trains, and river cruises.

To some, it looked like an aberration (the owner of Louis Vuitton acquiring a hotel company? To what end?). However, to those of us who have paid witness to — and in Luxury Frontiers’ case, pioneered— the explosion of experiential lodging, this move confirmed one of the biggest “trends” in the hospitality world: the rise of experiences as the new luxury.

Luxury brands have been aligning themselves with hotels for nearly 20 years. Palazzo Versace Queensland, which opened in Australia in 2000, was arguably the world’s first fashion-branded hotel. Since then, brands like Armani, Bulgari, Fendi, Ferragamo, and Audemars Piguet have followed suit.

With the fashion world in the throes of major industry shake-ups — specifically, the decline of brick-and-mortar retail and the spike in online shopping — luxury brands are eager to push into the global luxury hotel market, which is projected to reach $116 billion by the year 2025. But the “trend” is branching out beyond fashion-branded hotels. More popular than ever is the way retail brands are dabbling with experiential hospitality to drive customer discovery, create unique lifestyle experiences, and increase their global prestige.

One way we’ve seen fashion brands experiment in the hospitality space is through exclusive capsule collections. High-end retailers are collaborating with the world’s most luxurious hotels (Gucci and The Chateau Marmont; Vilebrequin and Baha Mar, and Christian Louboutin and the Marrakech Royal Mansour) to create one-of-a-kind pieces that double as unique souvenirs. These collaborations turn the notion of a hotel gift shop on its head, giving guests the experience of discovering unique fashion items in a surprising and immersive setting.

For this very reason, hotels are becoming fertile ground for pop-up retail concepts. In an interview with Skift, Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner at Embark, a luxury company that develops bespoke travel experiences, noted: “‘Hotels are becoming hubs for future pop-ups, helping both the hotel and the fashion brand position themselves … and to engage ultra-high net worth clients with brands.’”

Ezon predicts that this trend will be “particularly prevalent in secondary markets, where luxury consumer goods brands might not otherwise have a physical presence.”

But we’re not only seeing pop-up businesses open within larger resorts. We’re also seeing whole resorts that are comprised of pop-up accommodations. Similar to the pop-up retail spaces, pop-up resorts offer guests that elusive feeling of having a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can never again be reproduced or recreated. Now that is luxury.

High-end car companies, too, are entering into exclusive partnerships with hotels to expand their market share and cultivate a richer brand image. Waldorf Astoria, for example, is pairing up with Aston Martin Lagonda to “present hotels guests with Aston Martin’s latest models” and “offer guests VIP hospitality at automobile shows and international races.” And Montage International has forged a relationship with Cadillac to provide complimentary chauffeured transportation.

And the “trend” shows no sign of slowing down. In a report titled “How to Attract the Luxury Consumer in 2020,” WGSN notes, “Collaborations, whether product or artistic, will be key over the next five years, with co-creation changing the emotional investment consumers have in product.” Image: A guest room at the Belmond Eagle Island Lodge in Botswana, whose redesign and rebuild in 2016 was led by Luxury Frontiers (Interiors by Inge Moore of Muza Lab)

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