Imagine resting your head after a long day of meetings on a
1,000-thread-count cotton pillowcase while watching your
favorite movie on a 42-inch LCD TV fitted with a Bose audio
system, or just enjoying the view of Japans Imperial
Palace Gardens with Mount Fuji in the distance. Guests willing
to pay top dollar about $19,590, plus service and tax,
per night can do just that in the 2,896-square-foot
Presidential Suite at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo.
Such comforts help the Shangri-La win the top spot in the
Worlds Best Hotels, Institutional
Investors annual ranking of the top 100 hotels on
the planet. The establishments luxurious suites and prime
setting are noteworthy, but they are far from unique in an
industry that keeps raising the bar.
Ritzy rooms and restaurants used to be enough to lure guests
to the worlds leading hotels. Today, however, the
überwealthy are demanding unique travel experiences,
personalized attention and out-of-this-world accommodations.
And they are willing to pay just about anything for them.
Affluent business and leisure travelers are driving the
recovery of the hotel industry, says Scott Berman, U.S.
hospitality and leisure practice leader at
PricewaterhouseCoopers in Miami. Growing demand for
high-quality accommodations has driven a rise of 5 to 10
percent in U.S. room rates in the past year, he adds.
Corporate groups, who left top hotels for dead in
2009, have returned, Berman says. Now they like to
show off and hold events in luxury properties, many of which
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To keep up with the superrich Joneses, luxury hotels and
resorts have to provide guests with enduring memories,
preferably the kind that can easily be shared on social media.
Whether guests are traveling for business or pleasure, they are
posting pictures and stories for friends, family, colleagues
and the general public, says Edwina Kluender, director of
communications at the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco, which
ranks No. 11.
We want to give our guests something to share,
she adds. For example, her hotel has a repeat guest who loves
chocolate-chip cookies, so the staff makes sure to have some
freshly baked ones ready every time he visits. Another guest
once asked for a hair straightener, so there is one in her room
whenever she checks in.
At the Shangri-La, which occupies the top 11 floors of the
37-floor Marunouchi Trust Tower, staff walk down to adjacent
Tokyo Station to greet guests arriving on Japans famous
bullet train and escort them to the hotel.
The best of the best have ratcheted up personalized service
to include travel experiences authentic to their regions. At
the Shangri-Las CHI spa, guests can enjoy the Yang CHI
Energiser, a set of deep-tissue techniques that focus on
stimulating points of the body to improve blood circulation,
alleviate stress and relieve pain.
In fact, having an extraordinary place to stay is a given
for the latest crop of luxury travelers, who want more from
their hotels. We have quite a number of guests where
money is not an issue, says Philippe Frey, general
manager of No. 2ranked Palacio Duhau, Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires.
All that matters are unbelievable experiences from A to
A multigenerational family staying at the Palacio recently
asked staff to organize a dinner. The hotels chef
interviewed the family and tailored a traditional Argentinean
menu for them, serving each course with an explanation of the
cooking techniques. A sommelier worked with the chef to pair
each course with Argentinean wines. Such a meal costs between
$200 and $250 per person at the Palacio.
Any Palacio guest can sign up to take in a polo match, one
of the countrys pastimes, and participate in an
asado, or Argentinean barbecue, afterward. The hotel
offers a similar event featuring tango dancing. During warmer
months it puts on Tango Under the Stars, which
allows guests to watch a dance performance in the garden and
sample a specially created menu. Visitors can also view the
hotels art collection and receive a complimentary tour
from a curator.
At the Peninsula New York, which ranks No. 6,
guests can arrange to see a Broadway show, meet the cast and
tour the stage. They also can tour a New York City Fire
Department firehouse, with a chance to hop on a rig.
To compete with newer properties, veterans have had to up
their game with renovations and additions. Now that
theres a renaissance of sorts in the luxury sector,
companies are willing to invest again, says PwCs Berman.
Both the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco, and the Peninsula
New York recently celebrated their respective 25th
anniversaries with makeovers.
The Mandarin Oriental renovated suites, created a new spa
and opened a new restaurant, says spokeswoman Kluender. The
Asian-inspired spa offers three treatment suites with
rain-forest showers, a couples suite with twin beds, a
dedicated manicure and pedicure area, a relaxation lounge and a
fitness center. Age-repair facials and massages that cater
to new mothers, travel-weary guests and the downright stressed
are among the treatments available.
The new restaurant, Brasserie S&P, follows the foodie
trend of focusing on healthy local ingredients. The menu,
created by executive chef Adam Mali, features dishes such as
grilled local albacore tuna and a Fallon Hills Ranch burger
with house-made pickles.
In a similar vein, the Peninsula New York recently opened
Clement, a contemporary American restaurant focused on the
flavors of the Northeast. The menu by executive chef Brandon
Kida offers such local delicacies as Maine lobster, Long Island
duck and New Jersey porcelent, or baby pig (with apples,
parsnips and cabbage from the Garden State).
The growing demand for luxury accommodation is likely to
generate a supply response, says Adam Weissenberg, vice
chairman and head of travel, hospitality and leisure at
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in New York. You will soon see
the construction of high-end, $1,000-per-night hotels with 20,
30, 40 or 50 rooms, he says.
Luxury chains are looking to increase their footprints, he
adds. Once upon a time they considered 50 hotels in major
cities to be the most that their clientele would support. Now
some could grow to have as many as 300 hotels, including
establishments in secondary cities, beyond London, Paris, Hong
Kong and New York, Weissenberg says. Asia is becoming
more important to this, he notes. Thats where
the money is.
There is one contradiction in the new world of luxury
travel: Although guests want to immerse themselves in the
culture of the place they are visiting, they still want their
hotel to feel like their home away from home.
Luxury properties are focused on retaining loyal
clientele willing to pay more, and the expectations of these
guests are evolving, says PwCs Berman. The
creature comforts of home are part of the equation.
Feeling like youre at home does not mean doing your
own laundry or just being comfortable enough to hang around in
your sweatpants. At high-end hotels, creating a home away from
home means having hotel staff who anticipate your needs and
prepare everything before your arrival, writes Mayumi Fujitani,
director of communications for Shangri-La, Tokyo, in an e-mail
Ultimately, these hotels can justify their high rates as
long as they provide real value by pampering their guests from
check-in to checkout. One way to do that is to create a sort of
VIP club that gives guests access to the best rooms and
additional services and amenities.
At the Shangri-La, Tokyo, for instance, Horizon Club guests
stay at one of the establishments 41 club rooms and
suites. They can head to the Club Lounge for breakfast and for
cocktails in the evening. Club membership also includes
newspaper and magazine service, in-room check-in and checkout,
shoe polishing, garment pressing, a dedicated concierge and a
hot beverage of your choice with your wake-up call.
In addition, Horizon Club guests get special attention at
the Takashimaya department store, one of the most popular and
prestigious stores in Japan. An interpreter, who can translate
Japanese into English or Chinese, will join guests on a
shopping spree and arrange for all purchases to be sent
directly to their rooms. Guests can stop off at the
stores tea salon.
Hiring and training staff who can attend to every detail and
create these larger-than-life travel experiences is likely to
be a growing challenge. For years, says Deloittes
Weissenberg, industries like banking have lured talented staff
away from luxury properties, which notoriously pay less. This
is something the sector will have to deal with as guest demands
for the best become ever louder, he adds.
In a world where everyone is connected by the click of a
mouse, luxury hotels are providing their clients with top-notch
technology. Wi-Fi with great bandwidth is a minimum
requirement. Going forward, more hotels will allow guests to
download their favorite TV shows for viewing on
state-of-the-art televisions and allow them to easily adjust
lighting and heating or cooling in their rooms, Weissenberg