The new face of luxury travelers: Sophisticated, rejecting fake luxury, and tired of discriminations.

How to define the new trends in luxury travel? A new generation of wealthy individuals is evolving the concept of luxury travel. Luxury hotel marketing strategies must stay aligned with their customer base and think “outside the suite.”
Filip Boyen, CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, comments: “Luxury travel used to be all about visiting certain destinations, being seen in the right place by the right people, and generally enjoying the high life in a more ostentatious manner, all while getting the exact same experience as everyone else. Luxury hotels reflected this, they were grand and provided people with a platform to enjoy themselves.”

A recent shift away from the hotel stay and towards the actual experience itself has caused luxury hotel marketing strategies to evolve quickly to meet the needs and expectations of their wealthy clientele.
Philippe Brown, founder at bespoke travel planners Brown and Hudson, explains, “With ideas like ‘Luxpedition’ we make challenging grand expeditions to the world’s most remote corners accessible to people who might otherwise be put off by arduous conditions. This has opened up a whole new market of mid-life crisis sufferers who would like to be Bear Grylls but want their comforts and moments of specific luxury.”
How then can the concept of luxury hotel marketing be adjusted accordingly to capture a market that still wants the luxury but also wants the unique experience too? The answer lies in staying true to the key luxury brand values of authenticity and quality, while also adding in the experience element as part of the holistic package.

Pierre Gervois, Founder of Gervois Hotel Rating, the New York based luxury hotel rating system for U.S. hotels added “ The new generation of wealthy travelers and guests are not like their parents, who were attracted by flashy hotels made to display the arrival in a new social status, but now are attentive to sophistication, refinement, and all the discreet details and signs of recognition of the new elite”

Albert Herrera, SVP of Global Product Partnerships at Virtuoso, says, “Authenticity has become a buzzword. It really does reflect the current trend of giving the guest something that is unique to that particular destination. Hotels started down the path of authenticity by offering a greater sense of place, especially with new builds. First it was apparent in the architecture and design, then with the furnishings and styling. From there, the concept has expanded to fully integrate local customs and cuisine, and provide the ability to fully explore or celebrate the culture.”
Herrera comments: “Hotels have done a great job of developing and partnering with their local communities to create experiences that highlight the destination. Whether it’s a morning run with the General Manager, sourcing the fresh catch of the day with the executive chef or even being an English teacher for a day to local schoolchildren, ‘living like a local’ is a trend that will continue.”
Another key feature of luxury hotel marketing is offering the ability to totally switch off from everyday life. Being immersed in a local culture and experiencing that life is one way to do this, but offering an out of this world experience is another.

Brown says: “We are regularly approached by clients who want to join our missions to explore the wreck of the Titanic and others looking to invest in a longer stay at the International Space Station, or to do something shorter with Virgin Galactic or with some of the other more interesting options.” Here the role of luxury hotel marketing is to offer the accommodation that supports the experience, maintaining the luxury while supporting the immersive element.
Personalization adds a great deal to this ethos. Today’s guests want their hotels to respond to them in a personalized and tailored way; they want to be recognized as an individual.

Gervois explains: “One of the issues in luxury hospitality in the last twenty years was the arrogance of staff, and the discriminatory practices on race, nationality, religion or gender identity, that went largely out of scrutiny and were tolerated by luxury hotel groups”.
“These unacceptable practices slowly start to be addressed, but we hear oftenly complaints from travelers who feel discriminated in the luxury hotel segment, and Gervois Hotel Rating fights to improve this issue with the industry.”, Gervois added.
However, this point applies both ways. Luxury hotel marketing should also take into consideration how the personality of the owners, management, and their staff contributes to the overall feel and experience of the hotel. This ties in well with the desire for authenticity and having a real experience.
Boyen explains: “Hotels are becoming more aware that their offerings need to go beyond that of the suites, butler, concierge – the hardware. Hotels just need to be themselves. They need to be mindful of the things that make them interesting to guests – be it their location, history, owner or vision – and not try to conform to fit in with any expectations of what a luxury hotel ‘should’ be.”
Ultimately, the way a wealthy traveller defines their ideal experience remains highly personal. Accordingly, best practice for today’s luxury hotel marketing experts is to leverage market research on their target clientele, as well as individual research on high-spending VIP guests, in order to understand their preferences and create a memorable experience–  both inside and outside the suite.

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Saying Ni Hao! to Chinese guests

Luxury Hotels of America Fall 2013 Cover 2Mandarin television channels. Congee rice porridges. Smoking rooms. China has become the biggest travel spender in the world, and hotels are taking notice. Across Europe and America, back-office planners and front desk clerks are learning Chinese customs to attract the new travelers and keep them returning.
The market is large, and growing. China’s economy included $102 billion spent on travel abroad in 2012, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Rising incomes, combined with a relaxation of foreign travel restrictions and the sheer number of citizens, have fueled the Chinese growth.
Scott Taber, a vice president at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said his company was updating its employee training and guest offerings to meet the 76 percent increase in travelers from mainland China over the previous year. Bellmen, reception clerks and telephone operators are being trained to pronounce Chinese names and offer Chinese newspapers, translated welcome materials and green tea in rooms at hotels in Paris, London, Los Angeles and other cities.
“We operate six hotels in mainland China and have learned cultural expectations and preferences from our experience with guests there,” Mr. Taber said. The Medallia company, which created the customer feedback system for Four Seasons, has translated it into Mandarin so Chinese guests could provide feedback worldwide.
At a minimum, hotels that hope to attract and retain Chinese business teach their front desk staff and reservations agents basic cultural information. Guests from China are not assigned to rooms that include the number four, which is considered unlucky because it sounds like the word for death. Chinese business practices and management hierarchy influence room assignments, so managers need to be assigned to a higher floor than their team, or given a higher room number.
Some hotel chains formalize these amenities and services under names like JW Marriott’s Li Yu, meaning “To Serve with Courtesy.” As part of this program, The JW Marriott London Grosvenor House staffs a Chinese welcome desk for group arrivals, offers Chinese-labeled bathroom products and supplies a Chinese do-not-disturb sign.
The Hilton Worldwide website lists hotels where its Huanying or “welcome” program is offered, including 19 in Europe and 29 in America. Guests of Conrad Hotels and Resorts can use the Conrad Concierge mobile app to choose Chinese television channels, mini-bar foods and other amenities, in Mandarin, on their mobile phone before they arrive.

Gervois magazine - The new travel magazine for millennials travelers in the United StatesSales and reservation departments are also adapting. At the Waldorf-Astoria New York, Robert Armstrong, the sales manager, quotes all-inclusive pricing, with taxes and breakfast, to Chinese guests who ask about reservations, because they are accustomed to that type of pricing in China. He also asks which guests need to stay on a smoking floor. Chinese business groups often travel together, so the staff greets them at the entrance when they arrive.
The Preferred Hotel Group, which oversees 650 luxury hotels, says the number of Chinese guests and their average room rates has increased. “Chinese travelers have also started coming without tour groups, and so we are seeing a shift from traditional wholesale rates,” said Casey Ueberroth, senior vice president for marketing.
To market to these individual travelers, the company is starting a program called “China Ready” next month. Participating hotels will meet more than 25 criteria and become part of the company’s global marketing campaign to attract Chinese travelers via websites and online advertising in China.
“We thought just hotels in the bigger cities would sign up, but we have places like the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs joining because they see the importance to their client base, ” Mr. Ueberroth said.
Many hotels in the United States and Europe have not adapted. According to a survey by Hotels.com, three-fourths of Chinese travelers say hoteliers need to improve their offering of translated items, like welcome literature, websites, television programs and newspapers, while 42 percent say that they would like to see more Mandarin-speaking staff.

Chinese travelers also prepare their trip well in advance, and use the help of digital travel magazines in Chinese language, such as Luxury Hotels of America magazine, an iPad magazine in Chinese mandarin exclusively about luxury hotels in the United States. As Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC and Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America said “Today, Chinese guests no longer want to to stay in a standardized hotel in the U.S. that has been randomly chosen for them by a Chinese travel agency in Beijing or Shanghai. They want to carefully choose the style of hotels they like, and have a real choice. That explains the success of magazines as Luxury Hotels of America, or Niuyue Mag, more focused on New York City.”
Ray Zhang has made about 10 business trips to the United States from China since 2006, staying at some of the largest hotel chains in the largest cities. “They expect you to know English,” he said. More than half of the hotels polled by Hotels.com said they had spent less than $10,000 in the last 12 months on programs or products for Chinese travelers.
Hotels can go beyond Asian menu items and translation services to cater to Chinese clients with entertainment, among other items. Richard Sprague, co-founder of a Beijing-based health devices company, travels in the United States regularly with Chinese business colleagues, and says he is often asked to find local karaoke rooms (or “KTV”, as the Chinese refer to them), which can sometimes be found in Chinese hotels.
Si Jingnan, an engineer from Beijing, said he traveled to the United States once or twice a year and brought a shopping list from relatives or friends. “This list not only contains L.V. or Gucci,” Mr. Si said, referring to Louis Vuitton, but it also has new brands he has never heard of in China. A shopping guide or helper from the hotel, even with an extra fee, he said, would be most appreciated.

Catering to Chinese travelers: From monogrammed pillows (in Chinese) to tea kettles.

U.S. hotels are catering to Chinese travelersYu Chao Liang and his wife saved a few bucks recently by checking into a mid-price chain hotel in Santa Monica for a two-day business trip from Suzhou, China. But they were not impressed.
In the room, they found no slippers, teakettles or complimentary toothpaste — extras that come standard in Chinese hotels. The hot breakfast bar in the lobby was free but it didn’t include any of the traditional Chinese breakfast dishes they get back home, like rice porridge.
“I can eat almost anything,” Yu said, referring to the breakfast at his hotel. “But I won’t like it.”
In hopes of appealing to Chinese travelers like Yu and his wife, some high-end hotels in Southern California are making big changes such as offering new menus, Chinese-language newspapers, slippers, teakettles and even monogrammed pillows in the room.
It makes sense. Chinese travelers are the fastest-growing segment in the world, thanks to the nation’s thriving economy and new policies to ease travel restrictions. The number of Chinese travelers visiting the U.S. grew to 1.5 million in 2012, a 35% increase over the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Chinese tourists, on average, spent $5,948 per visit in the U.S. last year, compared with an average of about $4,370 per visit for all overseas visitors, according to the U.S. Travel Assn.
“Our strategy is to provide services that Chinese travelers want and hope they go out and spread the word about the Montage,” said Charles Black, director of sales and marketing at the Montage Beverly Hills, where a standard room is about $600 per night.
The Montage is a member of the Preferred Hotel Group, a collection of more than 650 independent hotels. The group launched a program Thursday to designate members as “China ready” if they meet more than 25 criteria, such as employing a Mandarin speaker to take reservations.
As part of its effort to be China-ready, the Montage this year added several extras to appeal to Chinese visitors such as monogrammed pillows with the word “Welcome” emblazoned in Mandarin. Slippers are standard in all rooms, and teakettles, shave cream, razors and toothbrushes are added in those rooms reserved for Chinese travelers.
Staying at luxury hotels hasn’t typically been important for first-time Chinese visitors, who usually focus their spending on gifts and souvenirs to take back home. Some Chinese visitors get no choice in hotels because they book with tour operators who reserve cheap rooms to better compete against other tour companies.
“Tour operators have to put them in two- or one-star hotels because they are on a budget,” said Haybina Hao, director of international development for the National Tour Assn., the 63-year-old group that represents the country’s tour professionals.
For that reason, managers of luxury hotels say they are targeting “seasoned” visitors who are returning to the U.S. for a second, third or fourth visit and want to enjoy the amenities offered at a high-end hotel. Many of those returning visitors travel to the U.S. on business trips and no longer need to book cheap hotels as part of a tour group.
“These travelers will soon discover the finer properties,” said J.D. Shafer, the newly hired general manager of the Hotel Irvine, Jamboree Center, who plans to offer translated material, Chinese newspapers and traditional Chinese dishes at the hotel.

According to Pierre Gervois, Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America, a travel magazine in Chinese mandarin language read by affluent Chinese travelers coming to the U.S. “Chinese travelers are extremely aware of the quality of service in Western hotel brands. They know which hotels make a real effort to respect and understand their culinary tastes and don’t impose the standard western food for breakfast, for instance.”
The trend of catering to Chinese travelers is spreading across North America.
The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, the Charles Hotel Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., and the Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, Canada, are taking part in the “China ready” program with the Preferred Hotel Group.
Other businesses in the travel industry — including theme parks, tour bus operators and shops — have begun to cater to Chinese tourists by hiring translators or posting signs and pamphlets in Mandarin. Even some economy hotels have added extras to appeal to Chinese visitors.
Now luxury hotel owners hope many Chinese visitors are ready to graduate from booking cheap hotels and visiting typical tourist attractions to enjoying the luxuries of high-end U.S. accommodations.
“We try to pamper them as much as we can,” said Mark Podolski, director of sales and marketing for Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry. The resort has dedicated an entire floor to Chinese visitors — the eighth floor, a lucky number in Chinese culture — where all rooms include teakettles and slippers.
American hotels that offer such extras will appeal to Chinese visitors, said Hao of the National Tour Assn. But she said first-time leisure travelers who visit the U.S. to shop and visit theme parks will continue to stay at cheap hotels to save money.
“Leisure travelers don’t want to spend that much, but the business traveler may want to check into a high-end hotel,” she said.
Qiang Xu, a Chinese visitor from Beijing, booked a room in a chain hotel in Glendale during a recent trip to shop and see tourist attractions around Hollywood. He said he chose his hotel based on price and location.
But he said he might consider paying more in the future for a hotel room with traditional Chinese amenities.
“I had to make tea with a coffee maker in my hotel,” he complained.

Source: Los Angeles Time, article by Hugo Martin