Evolv­ing Lux­ury

Data-based ser­vice, brain boost­ing, au­then­tic aes­thetic, peace and tran­quil­ity – th­ese lux­ury trends are shap­ing your travel ex­pe­ri­ence

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Jenny Southan

Data-based ser­vice, brain boost­ing, au­then­tic aes­thetic, peace and tran­quil­ity – th­ese lux­ury trends are shap­ing your travel ex­pe­ri­ence

For the av­er­age per­son, travel in it­self is a lux­ury, but for the fre­quent flyer who tra­verses the globe on a reg­u­lar ba­sis – of­ten stay­ing in the best ho­tels and sit­ting at the front of the plane – it takes more to be im­pressed.

But as the econ­omy con­tin­ues to strug­gle, peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship to lux­ury is shift­ing – some turn to it in a bid to es­cape, while oth­ers have had to curb their ex­cesses or found their de­sires are no longer sat­is­fied by con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. Of course, there are those who are so wealthy that spend­ing money is as easy as breath­ing, but what­ever the per­cep­tion, lux­ury – in all its evolv­ing forms – is here to stay.

So what does lux­ury mean to you? For Ar­rigo Cipri­ani, owner of the epony­mous chain of high-end restau­rants, bars and ho­tels across the world, it is many things. “It is a jewel, a car, a watch – any ob­ject that is made into a beau­ti­ful shape by love and in­tel­li­gence. But of­ten one can dis­cover lux­ury in small things – it is to be 80 and still re­al­ize you can run up the steps of a bridge in Venice. Lux­ury is to dance in the bed­room and have a naked lady in the bath­tub. It is to be­lieve in what you want. It is free­dom when you did not have it for a long time. It is an old bot­tle of red wine that has been wait­ing for you for ten years.”

As one top-level ex­ec­u­tive I spoke to points out: “One per­son’s lux­ury will be another per­son’s or­di­nary.” But for him, when it comes to travel, it’s all about the lo­ca­tion, the ac­com­mo­da­tion, the level of ser­vice and the at­ten­tion to de­tail. “I have a ‘high­est cabin only pol­icy’ when­ever I fly and, if I could af­ford it, I would love to take pri­vate jet hol­i­days. I try to choose prop­er­ties where there is a smaller num­ber of guests and a higher em­pha­sis placed on per­sonal ser­vice and ex­pe­ri­ences. I also want ev­ery­thing to be as easy and stress­free as pos­si­ble, from the air­port to the desti­na­tion, so that can in­clude lit­tle things like hav­ing pri­vate car trans­fers, rather than hav­ing to queue for a taxi.”

David John­stone, founder of Key-2 Lux­ury – an elite life­style ac­ces­sory that gives ben­e­fi­cia­ries ac­cess to VIP priv­i­leges with brands such as Shangri-La and Krug – feels peo­ple’s as­pi­ra­tions are higher to­day. “There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘pre­mium’ and ‘lux­ury,’” he says. “Lux­ury gives an el­e­ment of ex­clu­siv­ity and unique­ness and, in to­day’s mass mar­ket, that is some­thing peo­ple want and are will­ing to pay for. It is the ef­fect of hav­ing a ser­vice or ac­cess to some­thing that money can­not buy.”

To Ja­son Philips, man­ager of two of Lon­don’s top restau­rants, Franco’s and Wil­ton’s, lux­ury is about “ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions.” “This could come in a va­ri­ety of forms, from the tan­gi­ble el­e­ments – qual­ity of the food, air­line seat and

toi­letries – to the in­tan­gi­ble, such as the wel­come, and how well your re­quest is re­ceived and ul­ti­mately man­aged and de­liv­ered,” he says.

But Philips notes that each as­pect of the ex­pe­ri­ence needs to be in­ter­linked. “No mat­ter how much has been spent on a ho­tel’s re­cep­tion, lobby and fixtures in the rooms, if there is no­body to greet the guest on ar­rival, the check-in is slow and room ser­vice is de­liv­ered with mis­takes, the ex­pe­ri­ence will no longer be a lux­u­ri­ous one,” he says.

What­ever your stance, Busi­ness Trav­eler has iden­ti­fied five lux­ury trends that are shap­ing your travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

Data-Based Ser­vice

Im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice has al­ways been a lux­ury, but now it’s get­ting per­sonal. For years, ho­tels and air­lines have been able to build a pro­file of guests based on the in­for­ma­tion they pro­vide when sign­ing up to loy­alty pro­grams, and some­times they put it to good use – mak­ing sure your room pref­er­ences or di­etary re­quests are taken into ac­count, for in­stance, or wel­com­ing you on board by name. How­ever, at the top end of the mar­ket, as more and more data is col­lected, trav­el­ers can ex­pect this to be taken fur­ther (though the cost may be to their pri­vacy).

Fol­low­ing the roll-out of iPads to se­nior cabin crew, Bri­tish Air­ways un­veiled its “Know Me” ini­tia­tive last July, al­low­ing staff to ac­cess im­por­tant pas­sen­gers’ Ex­ec­u­tive Club sta­tus, on­ward jour­ney, meal pref­er­ences and pre­vi­ous travel ex­pe­ri­ences. It also en­ables them to find out what pas­sen­gers look like on Google Im­ages so they can rec­og­nize them. Chen­nai’s ITC Grand Chola ho­tel, mean­while, has in­stalled RFID scan­ners in the cor­ri­dors that read your room key as you walk by, si­mul­ta­ne­ously send­ing an alert to the mo­bile phones of nearby staff with your name, photo and other “use­ful” per­sonal de­tails for that spe­cial guest ex­pe­ri­ence.

Greater choice and be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences are also be­ing en­abled by in­for­ma­tion the cus­tomer pro­vides in ad­vance. Pre­mium pas­sen­gers can of­ten eat when they want, and some car­ri­ers give them the op­tion of or­der­ing online from an ex­tended menu up to 24 hours be­fore de­par­ture. Top fives­tar ho­tels are ask­ing guests to com­plete de­tailed ques­tion­naires in ad­vance that high­light their in­ter­ests, al­ler­gies, fa­vorite bathing prod­ucts, pil­low types, snacks, drinks and even pre­ferred level of ser­vice (dis­creet or in­dul­gent, for ex­am­ple).

Brain Boost­ing

From brain train­ing games to smart drugs, one of the new trends in lux­ury travel taps into the idea that“grey mat­ter is the new black,”with ameni­ties and ex­pe­ri­ences that boost the in­tel­lect. Forbes mag­a­zine has tipped IQ en­hance­ment as be­ing the next tril­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try and, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tels Group’s Trend Re­port 2012,“the mar­ket for goods and ser­vices re­spond­ing to new de­mand for men­tal stimulation is ex­pected to grow be­tween $1 bil­lion and $5 bil­lion by 2015.”

In­spired by our thirst for the likes of online TED Talks (as of Novem­ber 2012, ted.com’s videos had been viewed more than one bil­lion times), IHG pre­dicts that trav­el­ers will soon be check­ing into“brain spas”–“city-center sites of learn­ing where you can take a lec­ture or de­bate, or fol­low a struc­tured course in a stylish, re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment.” And it is very likely th­ese could be af­fil­i­ated with high-end ho­tels for guests who are life-long learn­ers.

Con­sider Mor­gans Ho­tel Group, which part­nered with Lon­don’s the School of Life to pro­vide guests with a“mini­bar for the mind”to help make travel more ful­fill­ing. The box con­tained 250 con­ver­sa­tion starters, a vol­ume of col­lected thoughts and “re­duce and re­lax”read­ing pre­scrip­tions. In the Mal­dives, Banyan Tree Vab­bin­faru re­sort of­fers ma­rine biology cour­ses, and the Shangri-La Villingli re­cently launched cul­tural tours of nearby is­lands. Provençal wine es­tate La Ver­rière in­vites guests to be­come a wine ex­pert in six days, while De­sign Ho­tels mem­ber the Li­brary, on Thai­land’s Koh Sa­mui, has a col­lec­tion of more than 1,300 books to bor­row or buy.

The trend for of­fer­ing be­spoke book col­lec­tions has been qui­etly catch­ing on, with Philip Black­well’s Ul­ti­mate Li­brary at the fore­front. His com­pany has been sup­ply­ing brands such as Six Senses, the Dorch­ester Col­lec­tion and Fair­mont with life-en­hanc­ing lit­er­a­ture for five years.

“Re­search shows that for busy peo­ple, read­ing for plea­sure is a lux­ury saved for go­ing on hol­i­day, so a well-cho­sen li­brary can sur­prise and de­light,”he says. If you are trav­el­ing on busi­ness, you may not have time to read that copy of Plato’s Repub­lic placed by your bed, but peo­ple like to be sur­rounded by books.“Whether stacked on a cof­fee ta­ble or in a li­brary, they add warmth, tex­ture and soul to a room,”says Black­well.

Wabi Sabi

For­get “green”, “eco” and “sus­tain­able,” the buz­zword of the fu­ture is go­ing to be “wabi sabi. “This Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy of aes­thet­ics is al­ready be­gin­ning to take off in the West, and taps into peo­ple’s de­sire for things that have authen­tic­ity and prove­nance, that are vin­tage, or­ganic, ar­ti­san, hand­crafted or nat­u­ral. The sen­ti­ment has been dubbed “lux­ury shame,” as peo­ple re­act against os­ten­ta­tious dis­plays of wealth.

Ac­cord­ing to wabi sabi, beauty is found in im­per­fec­tion, transience, in­com­plete­ness, un­pre­ten­tious­ness, sim­plic­ity, mod­esty and in­tegrity. With re­gard to ob­jects or en­vi­ron­ments, it could re­fer to some­thing that has been weath­ered and aged, or de­signed to have a cer­tain un­der­stated el­e­gance.

Bou­tique prop­er­ties lend them­selves well to this zeit­geist, opt­ing to sen­si­tively re­store or con­vert build­ings to main­tain their orig­i­nal fea­tures and flaws – think his­toric moun­tain lodges, in­dus­trial ware­houses and Mediter­ranean vil­las. New-build wabi sabi prop­er­ties could in­cor­po­rate un­pol­ished, nat­u­ral, raw or

This Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy taps into peo­ple’s de­sire for authen­tic­ity

re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. In­te­ri­ors may be fur­nished with pared-down Scan­di­na­vian fur­ni­ture, in­dige­nous folk art or hand-woven car­pets, while restau­rants would serve home­grown veg­eta­bles from kitchen gar­dens on plates made by lo­cal ceram­i­cists. They would also have good eco-ac­cred­i­ta­tions.

Prop­er­ties that have a wabi sabi fla­vor in­clude the Alila Vil­las Uluwatu in Bali (lava rock roofs, bam­boo ceil­ings and pools of wa­ter), the Beresheet ho­tel in Is­rael’s Ra­mon Crater (no­madic wall hang­ings, re­pur­posed tim­ber rail­way sleep­ers and care­fully ex­ca­vated nat­u­ral rocks) and the Water­house at South Bund in Shang­hai (a con­verted ware­house with ex­posed brick­work, raw ce­ment and dis­tressed paint­work).

It can also, be­lieve it or not, be found in Las Ve­gas, in the five-star Nobu ho­tel, open since Fe­bru­ary. It was de­signed by David Rock­well un­der the au­thor­ship of Ja­panese chef Nobu Mat­suhisa, who was in­spired by wabi sabi prin­ci­ples. Upon ar­rival, guests are pre­sented with a cup of fresh green tea, served at the per­fect tem­per­a­ture, and a rice cracker. The tran­quil in­te­ri­ors are a blend of metal, bam­boo, rice pa­per, grass cloth, stone, fir, ebony and oak, and rooms are neu­tral with Umi tiles from Ja­pan, tra­di­tional teak bathing stools and cof­fee ta­bles made from slices of tree trunks.

Ex­treme Well-Be­ing

Health has been a con­cern of the lux­ury travel sphere for some time, but Swedish mas­sages, swim­ming pools and lowcalo­rie mini­bar snacks just don’t cut it any­more. Th­ese days, well-be­ing is a se­ri­ous mat­ter – an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are trav­el­ing abroad for med­i­cal treat­ment (an es­ti­mated 750,000 a year from the US alone), and tak­ing on ex­treme sports and fit­ness chal­lenges such as moun­tain climb­ing, marathons and triathlons – the Chicago Triathlon with Lake Michi­gan as a back­drop has been around for over 30 years and 2013’s event at­tracted over 9,000 par­tic­i­pants.

High-end ho­tels are start­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on this – from Champ­neys Tring, the only UK re­sort to fea­ture a full-body cryother­apy cham­ber that freezes you to mi­nus 211°F to St Lu­cia’s Le Sport, which of­fers be­spoke work­out hol­i­days co­or­di­nated by Olympic cham­pion Da­ley Thomp­son.

Lon­don’s Bul­gari has em­braced “holis­tic life­style ap­proach” Body­ism (a fa­vorite among celebri­ties), with per­sonal train­ing and Body­ism-ap­proved dishes on its restau­rant menu, while over in Spain you can do a mac­ro­bi­otic weight-loss detox at Sha Well­ness Clinic, or, in Ger­many, check in to Dus­sel­dorf’s Brei­den­bacher Hof ho­tel for some plas­tic surgery, laser treat­ment or aes­thetic den­tistry in its un­der­ground clinic.

It is also be­com­ing com­mon to com­bine over­seas busi­ness trips with a fit­ness boot­camp or med­i­cal pro­ce­dure, al­low­ing time to re­cover af­ter­wards. Switzer­land’s Grand Re­sort Bad Ragaz has a health center of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from meta­bolic op­ti­miz­ing and in-depth ex­am­i­na­tions to monas­tic reme­dies and phys­io­ther­apy, while Buc­ca­ment Bay in the Caribbean runs multi-ac­tiv­ity train­ing weeks to whip you into shape.

Quiet

Do you find it hard to switch off? Are you ad­dicted to check­ing your e-mails and so­cial me­dia plat­forms? If so, you’re not alone. Smart­phones and tablets are be­com­ing such a prob­lem for us that we are will­ing to spend money on ways to get peace, tran­quil­ity and a good night’s rest.

A lack of online dis­trac­tions helps us to be more fo­cused, cre­ative and grounded, and the lux­ury travel mar­ket has picked up on this. Nowa­days, you can book your­self into a “black hole re­sort” or go on a “dig­i­tal detox,” where you check your de­vices in at re­cep­tion and there is no WiFi in the rooms. In Cal­i­for­nia, tech junkies can go cold tur­key at Camp Grounded (thedig­i­taldetox.org), build­ing camp­fires and sleep­ing in bunk beds.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute of Cir­ca­dian Psy­chol­ogy in Bos­ton, sleep prob­lems cost US busi­nesses $70 bil­lion a year in lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, ac­ci­dents and med­i­cal bills. Lon­don’s Mile­stone ho­tel of­fers a £1,170-per-night “Sound Sleep” pack­age in­clud­ing a pri­vate con­sul­ta­tion with cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral spe­cial­ist Tej Se­mani, a spa treat­ment and aro­mather­apy oils. IHG pre­dicts: “A ho­tel group that de­vel­ops its own sleep re­search center could pos­si­bly al­low it to be­come a mar­ket leader in what is ev­i­dently a grow­ing trend.”

Ray­mond Kol­lau, founder of air­line­trends.com, notes that, along with space, sleep and si­lence are two of the most sig­nif­i­cant lux­u­ries you can en­joy when fly­ing. Lufthansa claims its A380s and B747-800s have the qui­etest first class cab­ins ever, with sound-ab­sorb­ing cur­tains and car­pet. That said, planes are no longer the last bas­tions of dig­i­tal si­lence, as more are in­stalling in-flight WiFi – all the more rea­son for that detox when you land. BT

Pho­tos: The Li­brary ho­tel, Koh Sa­mui, Alila Vil­las Uluwatu, Bali

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