Staying competitive: the luxury hotel business29 October 2018
EHMA president Hans Koch looks at the challenges of remaining relevant and competitive in a changing hotel landscape.
Just recently, the new Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort near Lucerne, Switzerland, celebrated its grand opening. Invitees from across the world participated, and they enjoyed this new luxury resort and its impressive historical background. There are amazing facilities throughout the site, offering a versatile and appealing range of services and stunning views across central Switzerland. Everybody is talking about it, so please check it out.
But beyond such grand luxury properties, boutique and design hotels are a hot topic on many people’s lips. Newcomers are offering and accomplishing surprising and exciting accommodation projects. The media is looking for stories, and highlights those that make use of fresh concepts, working so differently to classic hotels. I am not talking about the fast-growing brands like Airbnb, Motel One, Ibis Styles or Moxy, for example. Rather, I am thinking about new concepts that pop up in unexpected locations, in the centre of historical cities, upcoming districts, on the peripheries of major international metropolitans or close to top tourist spots – hotels that offer original concepts, comfort to all and radiate the flair of a laid-back and straightforward atmosphere.
Such hotels have built a reputation of outstanding and trendy architecture. They appeal to very specific target groups by making fantastic offerings, and are very much appreciated. These establishments are visited by young and elder international travellers, and are scattered across the world.
People who create such new concepts are usually very open to new ideas; they think outside the box, they travel a lot themselves, and they get inspired by feedback from other frequent travellers. They often also include individuals whose careers have nothing to do with tourism. CitizenM co-founder Hans Meyer, now developing Zoku in Amsterdam, is a typical example of such an entrepeneur, stretching the definition of a traditional hotel into a place where people truly engage with the world and the people around them.
The guest of today
Thanks to reviews on online platforms and social media, word spreads quickly when a new hotel with an extraordinary concept opens its doors. Our own guests are also 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 our 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.
Sure, guests love stepping into the exclusive lobbies of well-known luxury hotels. They love to talk about the top hotels they stayed in on their last visits to Paris, London and New York. Nonetheless, a lot of hotels around the world unfortunately increasingly resemble each other, at least in their appearance and presentation 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 find out what is the real difference between your room and a room of the same category on the other side of the planet.
Should it then amaze us when welltravelled guests with a high purchasing power prefer to try new design hotel and concepts? Where beds are just as comfortable and bathrooms just as modern? Where well-trained employees have a touch of playfulness about them? And where service is easy and straightforward, yet flawless?
The hotel industry is, and will remain, a fascination for years to come. Welcoming guests, making them feel comfortable and surprising them with some ‘wow’ experiences is our top priority. Usually people – whether as guests or investors, management, chefs, concierges or service employees – 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 our guests the experience of true care and friendship, at a level just as good as, or even better than, the competition. This is the challenge these innovative concepts pose us.
The conclusion is to reinvent luxury. What does luxury mean for today’s travellers, and what are the expected developments for the future? The current trends – researchers have been preaching for a few years – are real care, authenticity, originality, or simply ‘less is more’.
Therefore, the theme of our upcoming EHMA Annual General Meeting in Paris in February 2019 will be ‘Welcome to the Future’, focusing on what is required to stay competitive in a more aggressive and disruptive business environment.