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Leaning Into Luxury Design

Broad Range Of Executives Weigh In On Latest Trends During BITAC® Panel

Wednesday, March 06, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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A wide array of executives representing everything from design and architectural firms to owner/operators and brand companies detailed some of the ways luxury design has changed in recent years during an educational session at BITAC® Luxury earlier this week.

The annual event—which took place at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA— kicked off with a panel discussion entitled “Driving Differentiation: Leaning Into Luxury Design.”

Todd Iacono, COO, True North Studio, offered his perspective. “Luxury today is so much different from what it was 10, 15 or even 5 years ago. When we go in to create a luxury product the first thing we look at is approachability. Is it approachable to the millennial? Is it approachable to that person looking for the experience? Because they’re willing to pay for it as long as the experience is of quality and something that’s memorable. More importantly, I think today’s luxury customer wants to feel like they belong to something and how do you connect all those dots? It’s not easy,” he said.

Iacono later added, “I think the days of walking into the white tablecloth with the white glove service are gone; the customer’s changed.”

Amy Hulbert, vp, boutique and upscale brands, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, drove home the point by touting the continued emergence of boutique hotels.
“I think a lot of what the boutique hotels are doing is providing a unique experience, something that’s maybe a little different and unexpected. It’s delivered in not only the product, but also the services and the food. So it’s becoming a very well rounded segment and that’s I think a nice complement to the luxury segment for a lot of customers,” she commented.

Nile Tuzun, chief creative officer, Nilebrand, pointed to the recession of 2008 as something of a turning point for high-end hotels. “There’s been a shift in luxury hotel design. Before [the recession] we were all about high design and putting things on the building for the sake of putting things on the building. Excessive design was what worked for a long time for the guest but after the recession hit people realized they were paying a lot of money and not getting anything meaningful back in return. So there came a shift in design where we started to think about what the consumer really wanted and what they were wanting was an authentic experience,” she maintained.

“What’s so great about what’s happening in the market today is luxury can be an experience for someone who is not of means. So we start to have to look at the specifics of who we’re serving,” said Colletta Conner, associate principal, Forrest Perkins.

The panelists also acknowledged that social media must be an integral part of any design strategy going forward.

Iacono commented, “it’s so important; whether you like it or not it’s here to stay. It’s how our next customer is coming up and how you’re going to communicate with them,” he said.

Iacono further added, “Engaging local influencers is such a big deal these days and it really allows you to reach the customer at a very limited price scale. You’re no longer spending hundreds of thousands on print ads and mailers. You’re getting free advertising.”

Tuzun reinforced the point. “Social media is here to stay. It’s a fact of life; you have to embrace it. Those instagrammable moments that we create through design are really important because then you are bringing influencers into the building and that in turn brings those followers that come and spend money in your building.”

Conner elaborated on the medium’s potential. “Upper-end brands have an opportunity to relay the essence of their brand through social media and it’s not just a matter of capturing still moments in time, but video is becoming really big. Clips of stories that are happening in real time are also gaining traction; things like live events, the making of a cocktail, the chef prepping a special meal or something off the menu. All these things really create intrigue and help you develop essence.”

Meanwhile, executives emphasized the inclusion of local art can really help when it comes to making a dramatic statement and wowing guests.

“I think art is an integral part of design nowadays. It’s not just any art that you slap on the walls, but art that is really meaningful, thoughtful, authentic and local,” noted Tuzun. Iacono added his company actually has a full-time art curator on staff.

Conner further honed in on the company’s approach as it relates to the guestrooms.
“Luxury is about giving something unexpected, especially if you’re talking about people who have all of the comforts of life at home. They’re sleeping on a really great bed, they have all the amenities in the bathroom they want, so just giving them what they already have doesn’t necessarily equate to luxury. So what is that thing that we can unwrap as we walk into the guestroom that continues to create this moment?” he said.

Tuzun further commented on the guest evolution. “We all have challenges now more than ever before, because we’re having to cater to so many different people who are now very well traveled. They’re very well educated and they have expectations. From the millennials to non-millennials there’s a huge area of people that we need to cater to. I think that’s why the brands are having to constantly reinvent themselves,” she concluded.

Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
Hotel Interactive®, Inc.
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