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The Conflicted World of Luxury Hospitality

Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers

Several weeks ago, I was invited to an informal luxury hospitality round table to discuss the state of the industry and address the phenomenon of transformational travel. This event was attended by a coterie of seasoned hoteliers who have spent their lives working for many of the world’s most reputable hotel luxury chains and independent luxury brands.

After broaching ever-present themes such as the threat of Airbnb and OTAs (Online Travel Agents), the discussion turned to the state of luxury hospitality. Everyone agreed that affluent travelers now view luxury in a completely different light and expect an entirely new set of bells and whistles. I picked up on a communal anxiety that, unless drastic measures were taken, hotels would be launched onto a path to extinction.

After observing and listening to this discussion, I came to realize that with the fast and furious evolution in the luxury consumer mindset, many hoteliers are scrambling to make sense of the differences between the values of today versus those of the past.

Having been in the luxury hospitality industry for the past 13 years, I too have observed seismic changes in consumer behavior over the past decade as more high net-worth travelers set out to discover authentic travel experiences around the globe. However, to proclaim that “old” luxury is out and a “new” luxury is in is a fallacy.

Luxury, in all contexts, whether it’s fashion or hospitality, is being feverishly portrayed as a struggle between old versus new. But in my opinion, the dichotomy is not as stark as the media and other players make it out to be.

What we see as the hallmark features of “old” luxury are elegance, comfort, quality, craftsmanship, refinement, and safety. These qualities are not “out of style” but have rather have formed the bedrock of luxury hospitality. New luxury is driven by a broadened consumer mindset that builds upon those old luxury characteristics, adding elusive traits such as authenticity, personalization, exclusivity, and uniqueness. In new luxury, value is not strictly attributed to cost, but rather to a highly individualized and personal experience. New luxury adds a dimension of fulfillment to it that seeks to fill the traveler´s heart and overwhelm his senses.

I agree that there should be a legitimate concern by luxury hospitality professionals about the evolution of luxury and the changing expectations of a more heterogenous affluent traveler set. However, there should be no doubt about the nature of luxury hospitality’s foundation. To think that there exists such a dichotomy glazes over the fact that consumers have come to expect and demand those attributes associated with old luxury.

The luxury consumer will continue to evolve and as such, hospitality brands will be forced to change and adapt accordingly. But these hoteliers would be remiss to chase these new ideals in lieu of the tried-and-true characteristics on which luxury hospitality was founded. Instead, they must build on the luxury of the past while offering amenities and services that are conducive to transformational travel — that is, travel that cultivates a deeper sense of self and community.

Photo credit to North Island