It's A Great Plea­sure

Lux­ury ho­tels rein­ter­pret the se­lect ex­pe­ri­ence

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nina Lemke

What if you chose a dif­fer­ent ho­tel for your next busi­ness trip? Some­place where an im­pec­ca­ble staff an­tic­i­pates your ev­ery need and pro­vides those touches that de­light your senses.

A ho­tel that’s unique, indige­nous and wholly mem­o­rable.

What if you ar­rive at your meet­ings each day feel­ing con­fi­dent, suc­cess­ful, re­laxed and pam­pered? You en­ter­tain your clients at the per­fect lo­cal restau­rant or meet with your team in an at­mos­phere of el­e­gance and re­lax­ation. And imag­ine you come home from the trip feel­ing en­er­gized in­stead of over­worked and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated.

What if a suc­cess­ful out­come could be ac­com­plished be­cause you took a leap into lux­ury?

Vet­eran busi­ness trav­el­ers are ac­cus­tomed to the suite up­grades and concierge priv­i­leges that come with their fre­quent trav­eler sta­tus. But there is a place, above the typ­i­cal concierge level, where some find ac­com­mo­da­tions that ex­cel and the dif­fer­ence is more than just thread count and down pil­lows.

Small Ho­tels, Big Ex­pe­ri­ences

From a tech­ni­cal per­spec­tive, there are six tiers of ho­tel prod­uct; econ­omy, mid­scale, up­per mid­scale, up­scale, up­per up­scale and fi­nally, the lux­ury tier. Each tier has a spe­cific set of stan­dards from food ser­vice to property ameni­ties; from staffing mod­els to pub­lic space use. Ev­ery tier caters to their core guest and trav­el­ers choose their ho­tel based on their spe­cific needs for a par­tic­u­lar trip. The lux­ury tier may be the nat­u­ral choice of celebri­ties and the wellto-do, but it’s also the choice of busi­ness trav­el­ers when the oc­ca­sion calls for distinc­tion.

“There are many and var­i­ous fac­tors that go into de­liv­er­ing a ‘lux­ury’ ho­tel prod­uct,” ex­plains Bob Van Ness, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cas, Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group. “Lux­ury is cre­ated when vari­ables like fine ser­vice, the phys­i­cal as­pects of the property, ameni­ties and am­biance are care­fully ex­e­cuted at a very high qual­ity and highly per­sonal level.”

With over 650 ho­tels world­wide, Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group rep­re­sents a collection of in­de­pen­dent ho­tels, re­sorts and lux­ury res­i­dences lo­cated in both city cen­ter and des­ti­na­tion lo­ca­tions.

For Paul Kerr, CEO of Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World, lux­ury is all about choice, “At SLH we give our cus­tomers the choice to book that is most con­ve­nient for them,”he ex­plains. “They have the free­dom to choose when they want to ar­rive, when they want to eat – even if it’s break­fast at 2 PM by the pool. That is lux­ury to me. Pre­vi­ously lux­ury meant fluffy white robes and room ser­vice, but that has changed dras­ti­cally. No­body wants to have the same ex­pe­ri­ence as an­other guest – it’s nei­ther spe­cial nor mem­o­rable.” True to their name, Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World, SLH, has 520 ho­tels in 70 coun­tries with an aver­age size of just 50 rooms.

Both PHG and SLH of­fer unique col­lec­tions of ho­tels that are in­de­pen­dently owned. “We have a ded­i­cated de­vel­op­ment team who is con­stantly scout­ing emerg­ing des­ti­na­tions, places where SLH is not rep­re­sented where cur­rent ho­tels or new builds would be a good fit for our brand,” ex­plains Kerr. “The se­lec­tion and in­spec­tion process is rig­or­ous. Fi­nal ap­proval is done by me, per­son­ally and the board of SLH.” Only five per­cent of the ho­tels that they con­sider ac­tu­ally make it into the SLH port­fo­lio.

“No­body wants to have the same ex­pe­ri­ence as an­other guest — it doesn’t feel spe­cial

nor is it mem­o­rable”

“To join SLH, the ho­tel must be the best of the best in the area and in­de­pen­dent. It must of­fer high stan­dards of ex­cel­lence and re­flect its lo­cal sur­round­ings and cul­ture. We’re all about small ho­tels and big ex­pe­ri­ences.”

PHG has a sim­i­lar vet­ting process and works closely with their own­ers and man­agers to truly de­velop an in­de­pen­dent cul­ture and deliver au­then­tic lux­ury hos­pi­tal­ity. “Our mem­ber prop­er­ties con­tin­u­ously in­tro­duce trav­el­ers to a new twist on the lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence. Whether in Bos­ton or in Bei­jing, trav­el­ers can count on our ho­tels to be indige­nous and unique.”

There are ser­vice and staff stan­dards to be con­sid­ered a lux­ury or 5-star ho­tel in­clud­ing, among other things, a high staff to guest ra­tio, 24-hour room ser­vice, mul­ti­ple din­ing out­lets, a concierge and valet. The phys­i­cal property re­quire­ments are less stan­dard­ized so se­lec­tion process, in­spec­tions and au­dits must be done per­son­ally. “At SLH, we don’t have a set of stan­dard ameni­ties that all ho­tels are re­quired to have. For ex­am­ple, it wouldn’t make sense in Fiji to have a door per­son be­cause in Fiji, some ho­tels don’t even have doors.”

There are lux­ury chains with rec­og­niz­able names such as Four Sea­sons, Wal­dorf-As­to­ria and Fair­mont. Large, multi-brand ho­tel chains also of­fer prod­ucts in the lux­ury tier. Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional of­fers mul­ti­ple choices in lux­ury lodg­ing in­clud­ing JW Mar­riott, BVL­GARI Ho­tels and Re­sorts and the Au­to­graph Collection which fea­tures in­de­pen­dently owned ho­tels that can tap in to Mar­riott’s re­sources and op­er­a­tional ex­per­tise.

One of the most rec­og­niz­able names in lux­ury ho­tels is Ritz-Carl­ton, which also falls un­der the Mar­riott um­brella. Ser­vice is the hall­mark of a true lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence, and ‘Puttin ’on the Ritz’ has be­come al­most syn­ony­mous with care and com­fort of guests. As the ho­tel’s credo puts it: “The Ritz-Carl­ton ex­pe­ri­ence en­livens the senses, in­stills well-be­ing, and ful­fills even the un­ex­pressed wishes

and needs of our guests.” And their motto, “We are Ladies and Gen­tle­men serv­ing Ladies and Gen­tle­men” is leg­endary in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

A Rare and In­ef­fa­ble Qual­ity

Whether part of an in­de­pen­dent collection or a brand within a brand, what is it about the ex­pe­ri­ence that sets it apart from any other ho­tel? “It’s the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the guest’s needs and per­son­al­ized ser­vice,” ex­plains an in­spec­tor with Five Di­a­mond Hos­pi­tal­ity. “From the mo­ment you ar­rive, the ex­pe­ri­ence is seam­less.”

You can de­scribe a ho­tel build­ing; the dé­cor, the art and the grounds, but try­ing to de­scribe the in­tan­gi­ble feel­ing of stay­ing in a lux­ury ho­tel is dif­fi­cult un­less you’ve shared that ex­pe­ri­ence.

If you’re un­fa­mil­iar with it, here’s the kind of hos­pi­tal­ity you can ex­pect: You give floor, a room on this level is a wise up­grade as these ac­com­mo­da­tions can en­hance your stay im­mea­sur­ably. Club floor guests can an­tic­i­pate early check-in and late check­out, rooms with ex­tra ameni­ties, and, in most cases, a lounge with com­pli­men­tary food, bev­er­age, busi­ness ser­vices and other perks. A place to gather the team, dis­cuss the wins of the day and cre­ate a plan of at­tack for to­mor­row.

Let the feel­ing of suc­cess drive suc­cess.

Lux­ury Bar­gain Hunt­ing

Most busi­ness trav­el­ers, guided by their com­pany travel man­date, stay within the mid­scale to per­haps the up­scale tier. Depend­ing on the mar­ket, some five di­a­mond ho­tels play in the ne­go­ti­ated cor­po­rate rate arena. How­ever, for most busi­ness trav­el­ers and ex­ec­u­tives, lux­ury brands, par­tic­u­larly the small, in­de­pen­dent

“It’s not the pro­fes­sion, rank or even net worth that de­fines our core guest. It’s much

more about their sense of ad­ven­ture”

your name one time and from then on, you are in­tro­duced to each staff mem­ber along the way as if you were the only guest in the ho­tel. They an­tic­i­pate your needs and re­quests. If you’re there for a wed­ding, for in­stance, your tuxedo will need to be pressed and your shoes shined. No need to ask. Women stay­ing in a lux­ury brand are treated to spa qual­ity toi­letries, ameni­ties, ser­vice and spe­cial touches that are dis­tinct from even the up­scale brand they may have ex­pe­ri­enced.

If you’re there on busi­ness, they may an­tic­i­pate your need for trans­porta­tion and have made ar­range­ments pend­ing your ap­proval. They en­sure you are con­nected to the ho­tel concierge who can lit­er­ally make your stay.

For busi­ness trav­el­ers, hav­ing ac­cess to a spec­tac­u­lar concierge, one that can make any­thing hap­pen for you, is a ben­e­fit worth con­sid­er­ing. “The concierge at a lux­ury property can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a good trip and a wildly suc­cess­ful one. Their job is to make you look good,” the in­spec­tor says. More than just a re­source for mak­ing restau­rant reser­va­tions, the ho­tel concierge can be a crit­i­cal part­ner in your busi­ness suc­cess.

In ad­di­tion to the concierge, if the property of­fers a ho­tel “club” ho­tels, aren’t of­fered on their cor­po­rate book­ing tool.

There are, how­ever, op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy a lux­ury stay at a rate that doesn’t raise the ex­cep­tion flag on your ex­pense re­port – if you know where to look. Some of the most beau­ti­ful ho­tels in the world are lo­cated in ar­eas that are con­sid­ered weekend des­ti­na­tions and may wel­come busi­ness trav­el­ers who can fill their rooms dur­ing their slower mid-week. Trad­ing the con­ve­nience of your stan­dard lodg­ing choice for the lux­ury ser­vice and ex­pe­ri­ence of a five-star ho­tel might be well worth a lit­tle ex­tra travel time and in­cre­men­tal ex­pense.

Pos­si­bly for busi­ness but def­i­nitely for in­cen­tive or leisure, Las Ve­gas has one of the largest se­lec­tions of lux­ury ho­tels in the world and of­fers trav­el­ers a great value on the five-star ex­pe­ri­ence.

Vet­er­ans of lux­ury ho­tels agree that trav­el­ers to­day are look­ing for the new and dif­fer­ent. PHG’s Van Ness de­scribes his fa­vorite ho­tel as, “One that is up­scale yet com­fort­able and wel­com­ing, that is easy to get around, that has friendly, knowl­edge­able staff to as­sist you when you need it and has ex­cel­lent food, whether din­ing in your room, in the restau­rant or pool­side.”

For Kerr, the phys­i­cal at­tributes of the property are tan­ta­mount to the ser­vice level; “I tend to fa­vor ho­tels on the wa­ter be­cause I en­joy trav­el­ing on my boat. I also en­joy ho­tels with a gym, prefer­ably one with a view so I can look out over a beau­ti­ful vista when I’m break­ing a sweat rather than in some gloomy base­ment that’s been con­verted to house ex­er­cise equip­ment.”

Ho­tels in ev­ery tier do their best to take care of their guests while stay­ing within the ex­pected price point for their prod­uct. From the road­side mo­tel to the con­fer­ence ho­tel in the city cen­ter, the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is in busi­ness to serve their guests.

Brands are de­vel­oped based on guest feed­back and trav­eler needs. In ev­ery tier, ho­tels are go­ing through sig­nif­i­cant changes, re­freshes and up­dates to­day as the typ­i­cal busi­ness trav­eler pro­file tran­si­tions to a younger de­mo­graphic with dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions and re­quire­ments of their lodg­ing choice.

The core guest for a lux­ury brand ho­tel isn’t over-the-top, suite-trash­ing celebri­ties you read about in the press. “I could de­scribe them by pro­fes­sion, such as the en­tre­pre­neur, the fi­nan­cial plan­ner, the busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, the real es­tate de­vel­oper or the ho­tel owner. But it’s not the pro­fes­sion, ex­ec­u­tive rank or even the net worth that de­fines our core guest,” notes Van Ness. “It’s much more about their sense of ad­ven­ture, de­sire for new ex­pe­ri­ences, per­sonal con­fi­dence and their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of fine ser­vice.”

De­spite what the non-trav­el­ing pub­lic thinks, busi­ness travel is far from glam­orous. Away from home and fam­ily, try­ing to an­swer e-mails on an iPhone or tablet, stuck in the mid­dle seat on a crowded flight; stand­ing in line to check in to the ho­tel af­ter a hot, traf­fic-de­layed shut­tle ride from the air­port. Busi­ness travel can be a grind so here’s a ques­tion… What if you chose a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence?

What if, when you ar­rive at the ho­tel, you feel like you’ve ar­rived? BT

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