It’s 1930 and you’re checking into one of the finest luxury hotels in the atmospheric Italian city of Venice.
You enter through the lobby, a sprawling foyer lit by a pair of crystal chandeliers, and check in at the marble-covered front desk. After receiving your key, you’re greeted by a well-dressed elevator attendant who helps you load your luggage into the lift. A bellman opens the door to a guestroom that’s straight out of a magazine, setting your suitcase near a bed festooned with decorative throw pillows.
Fifty years ago, these features and amenities gave a hotel “luxury” status. Later, travelers began to associate luxury with upgraded amenities – high-definition TVs and lush spas were in high demand. But these amenities have become standard and elite travelers are looking for something more.
Today, it’s less about the furnishings and more about relationships, experiences and services that go above and beyond. Guests want to feel recognized and appreciated by the hotels they frequent. After check-in, travelers crave unique experiences that cater to their personal preferences. Special services that help guests get the most from their trip ensure repeat visits and even turn a first-time guest into a lifetime customer.
“With the growing number of luxury hotels owned by private equity funds and institutional investors today, hotel owners and operators often weigh the profitability of offering standard luxury amenities with focusing on services that truly build loyalty and promote unforgettable experiences,” says Geraldine Guichardo, Americas Head of Hotels Research at JLL.
Building personal relationships
“Relationships are a fundamental aspect of the hospitality industry, especially for frequent travelers,” continues Guichardo. “Spending days—and even weeks–on the road away from loved ones is challenging, but checking into a hotel where you’re treated like family can make travel easier.”
Many hotels offer designated guest services attendants and on-call butlers for spur of the moment requests. Having a designated employee assist each guest during their stay allows them to get comfortable with that person and makes the brand feel more personal.
The Portrait Roma hotel in Rome, for example, offers its guests access to a lifestyle team. A guest assistant provides in-room service during their stay and a lifestyle assistant loads a complimentary iPad with individualized restaurant recommendations, maps and local tips.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts has an ambassador program that assigns a personal assistant to every guest that stays 100 nights per year. These ambassadors arrange private tours for special groups and can even snag a VIP guest a seat in the Starwood suite for the U.S. Open.
Indeed, creating unusual and memorable experiences are a tried and tested way of turning guests into advocates for the hotel among their friends and acquaintances. At the Segera Retreat in Kenya, guests can view a collection of unpublished letters from Ernest Hemingway and other celebrated authors.
More adventurous options include a champagne bath at the IL Salviatino in Italy or helicopter service at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. “Luxury hotels that aren’t afraid to get creative will stand out among their competitors,” Guichardo says.
The personal touch also counts for a lot in hotel rooms – imagine a tray of your favorite fruit next to a monogrammed bathrobe and a custom itinerary. “Such gestures leave a lasting impression and make visitors feel remembered and valued,” says Guichardo.
And while turn-down service is nice, having a pre-screened nanny available for last-minute babysitting needs is a game changer for parents in a pinch. Many hotels offer these services to give mom and dad a night out on the town or a day to relax. Complimentary entertainment bags, filled with items such as children’s books, games and crayons, give the kids something to do on a rainy day.
“Services that take a guest’s personal needs in mind and go above and beyond to deliver value are increasingly important in luxury lodging,” said Guichardo.
For guests travelling with their furry friends, a wide range of pet-friendly services is available at luxury hotels around the world. The Egerton House Hotel in London offers food and water bowls, dog sitting and walking services, grooming, toys and even special breakfast and dinner menus for four-legged guests. Portland’s Hotel deLuxe provides its leashed travelers with eco-friendly pet beds and custom dog tags.
The relationship doesn’t stop when the guests leave the building. “In addition to building relationships, staying top-of-mind even when guests are at home is equally important,” Guichardo says. Some hotels send their most loyal guests birthday cards to help reinforce the relationship from afar.
The new era of luxury
Affluent travelers don’t mind footing a large bill for their hotel room, as long as they feel pampered and well looked after throughout their stay.
And while the service is all important, the setting certainly helps. The chandeliers at The Hotel Danieli in Venice make for a grand entrance in 2016 just as they did in 1930.
“Luxury hotels will continue to redefine what luxury entails, especially as new generations of travelers shape their expectations,” says Guichardo. By establishing more personal relationships with guests, creating unique experiences and offering a range of services, these hotels are spurring guests to keep checking in year after year.