EHMA update – lapping luxury

12 December 2014

New-concept hospitality based on innovative and surprising offerings is threatening to outmode the traditional high-end hotel. EHMA president Hans Koch explains why the conventional market needs to relearn and redefine the meaning of luxury.

Boutique and design hotels are a hot topic at the moment. Newcomers are accomplishing surprising and exciting accommodation projects that are really hitting the mark. Meanwhile, the ever-hungry media is finding stories to tell about these new concepts, which work so differently to classic hotels. I am not talking about fast-growing brands such as Airbnb, Motel One, Ibis Styles and Moxy, but rather the three-star hotels, youth hostels and hotels emerging in converted industrial buildings.

These new offerings are popping up in unexpected locations - in new or up-and-coming districts, on the peripheries of major international cities or close to top tourist spots - as hotels that offer original concepts and comfort to all, while radiating flair in a laid-back, straightforward atmosphere.

Youth hostels have built a reputation as new accommodation concepts that use outstanding and trendy architecture; Scuol and Saas-Fee in Switzerland, Porto in Portugal and the Spai hostel in Barcelona, just to name a few. They are very much appreciated and visited by many young international travellers.

Meanwhile, hotels in converted industrial buildings that appeal to very specific target groups are now found scattered across the globe.


Outside perspective
People who create such new concepts are usually very open to new ideas; they think outside of the box, travel a lot and get inspired by feedback from other frequent travellers. They are often individuals whose careers have nothing to do with tourism. A typical example of such entrepreneurs entering a field of work different from their educational background and core competence is the highly successful car-maker TESLA, with a development team formed of non-car-industry specialists.

The same trends are starting to show in the hotel industry. Today's guests, especially travellers with high purchasing power, are hybrid in nature. Thanks to review platforms and social media, word spreads quickly when a new hotel with an extraordinary concept opens.

Guests are looking for new names and concepts, and they can find them on various booking platforms and websites. They don't just limit their search to traditional luxury hotels. "Why not try something different for once?" they ask, and all of a sudden, instead of booking our hotel, they go for bold newcomers in the industry.

They still love stepping into exclusive lobbies of well-known luxury hotels, and they talk about top hotels they stayed in on visits to Paris, London and New York. But hotels worldwide increasingly resemble each other, at least in their appearance online. Just take a critical look at photos of lobbies, rooms and other facilities at five-star and luxury category hotels on the web. Try to spot the real difference between a given room and one in the same category on the other side of the planet.

Should it then amaze us when well-travelled guests with high purchasing power prefer to try a new design hotel in an old industrial building, where the beds are just as high-quality, well-trained employees have a touch of playfulness and the service is easy, straightforward, yet flawless?


Art nouveau
The hotel industry remains a fascination. Welcoming guests, making them feel comfortable and surprising them with 'wow' experiences is our top priority. Usually, guests, investors, management, chefs, concierges and service employees alike, love to be on-stage at hotels. The credo of our luxury hotel business must therefore be to relearn the art of enchanting and surprising guests. This is the only way to give them an experience of true care and friendship, just as good as, or even better than the competition.

The necessity is to reinvent luxury and what it means mean for today's travellers. The current trends, as researchers have been preaching for a few years, are for real care, authenticity, originality or simply 'less is more'.

The winner of this year's prestigious Swiss Tourism 'Milestone' award is one of the luxury hotels showing such initiative - the Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne. It opened in 1845 and was last renovated in 2013, incorporating the profile of its guests with special stories in the interior scheme of each room by means of quotes, photographs, souvenirs and individual history sound files played through the in-room television. Guests such as Neil Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, James Blunt, Winston Churchill, Wolfgang Joop, Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain, all of whom have stayed there over the years, are featured.

An authentic, genuine and very successful concept. Bravo.

Hans Koch is president of EHMA and official delegate for EHMA’s Swiss chapter.

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