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Identifying Innovation

BITAC® Panel Discusses Key Movements Within Luxury Segment

Friday, March 08, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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An increased emphasis on personalization, wellness, and creative approaches to food & beverage were among the key luxury trends touted by a handful of executives at BITAC® Luxury.

The executives spoke during a panel discussion entitled “Identifying Innovation: How The Luxury Landscape Has Changed.” The panelists began by citing what they see as the most critical recent developments within the luxury segment.

Kathleen Flores, EVP, Trump Hotels, commented, “What I think is probably one of the most impactful innovations is the emergence of a variety of digital channels that allow us to get the message out...Our target digital demographic is 35 to 45 years old so it’s allowed us amazing insights in terms of how we deliver the service that this group of people is looking for,” she said.

Jayson Seidman, founder/managing partner, Sandstone Hospitality Developments, offered a different perspective. “What people really want these days is that ability to essentially disconnect in order to properly reconnect. I bring in chefs that are local, poets that are local and artists that put on performance art in the pool. We do things that take it to the next level because what people really want at the end of the day is the experience and they don’t really care much about the shiny things in the room,” he insisted.

David Messersmith, director of hospitality, JMJ Development, agreed. “Guests want a story; they want something unique and they want something authentic...We’re finding the f&b aspect is a great opportunity to create something really unique and very experiential,” he said.

The panelists unanimously acknowledged that the approach to food & beverage has evolved and become less formal.

Flores provided a specific example. “About a year ago we took our Michelin Star-rated white-linen restaurant in Chicago and completely revamped it and made it much more accessible. Instead of a place you went once a year it’s a place you go once a week and obviously that has really wonderful financial implications. You’re reaching a broader audience, including more of the local community. Now we’ve got a much more energized and better use of the greater space,” she stated.

Shammoth Beach, president, Hospitality Merchandising, has also observed a change despite his personal feelings about formal dining. “I love all that pomp and circumstance, but that’s just me. A lot of places are revamping all their areas and taking away all the linens and table cloths. I think it’s a sin but they’re doing it. It seems to draw people in more because they’re not as fearful,” he said.

Messersmith talked about the evolution of guests while emphasizing a varied approach. “Without a doubt guests are becoming more savvy. We all eat out more than we used to and it is much less formal. There are lots of things you can do to create a very formal experience and have it not feel stuffy. We bring in chefs on a regular basis to really create something unique,” he said.

Messersmith further added, “I do think in a luxury hotel you’ve got to have that signature seafood or steakhouse that feels a little bit more formal. But beyond that we encourage everybody to really have a very diverse f&b offering,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the advancement of technology in recent years has offered the opportunity for more customization or personalization at the luxury level.

Seidman noted, “We have a nice delicate balance between technology and actual personal communication. Everyone talks about this automation of the check-in process but we still can’t forget we’re in hospitality. The idea is to have a warm greeting; to have somebody there who is willing to do anything and everything you could potentially want. That’s the beauty of hospitality. At my properties I cross-train all the employees so essentially they can all facilitate the check-in process. You can check in at the bar, by the pool, or anywhere.”

According to Flores, “It’s leveraging technology with our partners that we’ve integrated into the system; it’s made it that much easier. Whether you want to pick up the phone and talk to a person or send it through a text message, which seems to be the much more preferred route right now to get information, those types of integrations and technology improve that for us.”

Messersmith noted, “We pay special attention to technology not to avoid interaction with the guest but to create more interaction. We send them a text, ‘we’re doing some special drinks at the bar right now’ or ‘if you have time stop over at the spa.’ Things to get them out of their room and get them activated and get them to be part of the community and engaged.”

Panelists agreed that technology has been particularly useful when it comes to eliciting feedback. “I just love the fact that more guests are driving customization. The industry is listening and they’re watching. It’s become easier to ask for that feedback and get it back,” said Beach.

Flores agreed and touted the advantage of real-time feedback. “It’s not a post-stay thing, where your contacting somebody after a week or days after, you’re getting it in real time so you’re able to respond. That’s really incredible from an operations standpoint,” she said.

The wellness movement continues to gain momentum within the luxury segment as well.

According to Messersmith, “You can tell hotels that are authentic about wellness when they incorporate their fitness center and their spa with their menu. A lot of hotels miss the mark there. There are great financial opportunities when you can incorporate it all and create an entire package for somebody and it’s authentic and well construed with the fitness instructor and the chef.”

“Wellness in its own right is different for different people. I don’t think it’s just a buzzword. Everyone has their own level of wellness and what that means for them,” Beach concluded.
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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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