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The Differentiation Game

BITAC® - International Luxury kicked off this morning with a discussion about how luxury hotels must differentiate themselves by delivering unique and rarified experiences.

Monday, March 22, 2010
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Sure, the luxury hotel business is down. But the real question is what are you going to do about it? Guests are still craving the luxury hotel experience, and yes, there are plenty of luxury travel consumers out there. The inherent problem is not finding potential guests, it’s figuring out a way to get that guest to come to your hotel rather than your competitor’s property.

And though it may seem like an unsurpassable conundrum to some, the savviest hoteliers have minimized the luxury segment downturn by effectively evaluating and delivering highly differentiated experiences combined with unparalleled service.

Understanding today’s luxury consumer was the focal point of this morning’s discussion here at the latest Buyer Interactive Trade Alliance and Conference (BITAC®), which began last night at the extremely lush and elegant Fairmont Mayakoba in Playa Del Carmen Mexico. The sold out BITAC® International Luxury was the largest to date and is quickly turning into a unique ideas cauldron.

Attendees here at BITAC® International Luxury are sensing a recover is afoot with 42 percent agreement the recovery is afoot while an additional 32 percent believe the luxury market has already stabilized.

“Brands are forcing themselves to create new experiences, said Steven Marx, Chief Operating Officer with Sage Hospitality / Sage Restaurant Group. “But you have to use technology to capture, promote and lure guests back.”

Meg Prendergast, Senior Vice President of the Gettys Group, a hospitality design firm, agrees that it’s all about the ability to deliver on experiences, but added that it has to occur in the right atmosphere. “People are looking for a simplified state of luxury. The want an experience in a nice home, where people are gracious; so how do you translate that to the guest experience? You have to make sure there is a balance of the unique style of the destination and the unique level of service regardless of level of hotel, symbiotic relationship. Personalized level of service that is organic and local is critical,” she said.

“My guests are looking for a good experience. But they also want you to be able to personalize experiences to excite them,” said Christophe Vallet, Founder & Managing Director of Authentic Hotels. “I think that now, many people are looking for the ‘true luxe’, in a small familial hotel with smiles. It is more important to have a fresh tomato from the hotel kitchen garden, with bio olive oil and bio wine, fresh fish from local fisherman, homemade jam. They also want an ecological room with wood, stone, natural materials. Much more so than gold and diamonds and marble in the room. I think that more and more clients are looking for this "natural" and "bio" luxe. It could be the future and the way to go.”

Cheryl Rowley, President of Cheryl Rowley Design, said that luxury is getting back to where it was before the big boom from 2003-2007; something more rarified. “It’s the look; environment and exclusivity that makes people want to come back. Where we are today is a turning point. Luxury is going to smaller more exclusive. Ostentatious large brand hotels are out,” said Rowley.

Pedro Martinez Campanero, Corporate Purchasing Officer with NH Hoteles agreed there has been a move to sustainable properties to create the wow factor for guests. But it’s also smaller and more intimately sized properties he said is what luxury guests really crave.

But no matter what experiences your hotel is able to deliver, without good service you might as well quit and go home, panelists said.

“At the end of the day, you can only deliver service with the best people. We’re tired, we want to be nurtured. So hotels using technology to determine their preferences such as the type of wine they drink, bedding and pillows they prefer and focusing on their needs is how you get them back again and again,” said Marx.

“You can create the most beautiful property, but you have to have the service to differentiate you,” said Prendergast.

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