Hotel Luxury is not what it was
Luxury is becoming more complicated. There are now more people with greater wealth than ever before and these people are more diversified than ever before in terms of their age, nationality and cultural experience. They are therefore inclined to interpret "luxury" differently. At the same time, and partly in the scramble to satisfy the demand for luxury, there has been what might be termed "luxury creep" – more top-end products, more premium hotels and more expensive options for travellers.
The trouble is that as increasing numbers of people buy into luxury, it ceases to be exclusive, which after all is the quintessential quality of luxury, so hotels and destinations continually have to look at developing new angles to attract the wealthy.
Clearly, the increase in wealth is both a challenge and a great opportunity for hotels and resorts around the world. People are seeking what's next and what's exotic. To the Chinese, this might be Paris or London, while to Western Europeans, this could be a cruise down the Yangtze River or a spa resort in the Indian Ocean. So, it might be thought that West and East could neatly reciprocate on spending their fortunes in each other's countries. However, luxury today has many layers and as Gen X and Y become its purchasers and as people become more experienced in spending their money, their focus is changing from buying more expensive 'toys' to acquiring products and experiences that have long-lasting value because they are authentic and rejuvenating. These people seek a relationship with the place in which they are staying – and this relationship, I argue, has a good deal to do with the design of the place as well as with the service guests receive before, during and after their visit.
Today, architects and designers of luxury hotels and resorts simply must deliver a sense of place as well as a myriad of large and small experiences that will make guests feel individually nurtured and entertained, and this means everything from considering the orientation of a building at masterplan stage to the hand-feel of the cutlery in the restaurant.
Until quite recently, the luxury hotel experience was seen as something dictated by the hotel. There was a dress code for the restaurant; there were the same items in every guestroom mini-bar and pretty much the same interiors, whether in Moscow or Milan. Twenty-first century luxury, however, has to be a lot more collaborative with its consumers and it has to be a lot more thorough. After all, an unsightly tangle of cables can be photographed and virally shared around the world within minutes, but so can a beautiful infinity bathtub merging with the sea view or the butler who returns your child's precious teddy bear that was thought lost on the beach.
The luxury hotel experience now has to be adaptive to the individual guest and to his or her requirements through every hour of the day. This has implications for hotel planning and design. When re-planning the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, for example, we created a new flow of public spaces on the ground floor to meet the wish of the hotel to be able to offer guests a choice of the restaurant, bar or lounge in which to take their breakfasts. We also entirely re-configured the guestroom floors to more than double the number of suites to 45 flexible one, two and three-bedroom suites to accommodate different family permutations. These suites have been consistently in demand since the hotel re-opened early last year and have played a significant part in the hotel's achievement of some of the highest rates in the capital.
There is also growing evidence that luxury hotels and resorts benefit from being environmentally and socially responsible. An increasing proportion of leisure travellers want to feel they are staying in place with respectable eco-credentials and many corporations now require their employees to book environmentally conscious hotels on their business trips. Besides, hotel owners and their designers and architects are fast recognising that using local materials, working with the natural landscape and reaching out to local communities all contribute to creating the genuine, informative and different experience that is the hallmark of contemporary luxury. As the concept of what luxury is moves on from the desire to display quantity, it is instead seen as an investment of time as well as money in retail, recreational and other self-fulfilling experiences. This is a great opportunity for everyone involved in creating luxury hotels and resorts to provide quality and integrity in all they do.