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  • Laura Powell

Luxury General Managers on How Five-Star Expectations Have Changed

What better way to discover how luxury travel has evolved than to chat with veterans of the five-star hospitality space?

No better source exists to learn about the current expectations of luxury travelers than a team of experienced general managers of five-star hotels. We rounded up several global nomads to discuss how luxury hospitality has evolved over recent decades.

Our experts have decades of experience around the globe and work at locations that range from tiny independent properties to large luxury chains. One, Andrea Scherz, is a third-generation hotelier whose first jobs as a teenager were “smashing the blocks of ice and doing the inventory in the wine cellar.”

The hoteliers are: Franck X. Arnold, general manager at the Ritz Carlton Toronto; Philip Barnes, managing director of The Savoy in London; Shaun Campbell, managing director of Langham Hong Kong; John Graham, managing partner at the 20-room Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont; Aaron Kaupp, general manager of Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris; and Scherz, general manager of Gstaad Palace in Switzerland.

We spoke to them about an evolving luxury clientele that embraces a casual atmosphere and longs for meaningful interaction; secrets to personalization; going beyond buzzwords; and why In-N-Out Burger has forced them to raise their game.

Skift: How has luxury changed since you started in the business?

Aaron Kaupp: I think our industry has completely changed 180 degrees in last 25 years. Before, when our clientele would stay at nicest hotels, they would be getting ideas about how to renovate their houses, or they would be learning what was new in technology. Hotels used to be ahead of the trends. Now, with money more accessible, and being more educated on design, our clients have nicer homes than the nicest suites.

Franck X. Arnold: Luxury has changed tremendously. Luxury hospitality has had to evolve with society. As more people have the means to travel, it’s gotten much more casual… much less stuck in the past… which is where luxury hospitality was for the longest time. You know, the classic hotel with a conservative environment, the French restaurant, and strict codes of conduct. You can still find that in Europe, but in North America and the rest of the world, things have evolved a great deal.

Philip Barnes: In some respects, it hasn’t changed at all. It’s still about attention to detail, understanding who your guest is and understanding their needs. The main difference is the formality, back in the days of [famed Swiss hotelier] César Ritz, is was about a white glove-style of service. But now, because guests are so busy, they now want more intuitive, more relaxed, more comfortable service…. and a relationship with our colleagues who are taking care of them.

John Graham: I think there are some universal truths in luxury that haven’t changed. But the guest, from an American perspective, has come to understand they deserve to be served well. Twenty years ago, when you were served well, you were surprised. But today, there’s a greater expectation of service. After all, you can get good service now at In-N-Out Burger, so we have to take it well beyond that level.

Skift: Today, the luxury traveler expects personalization of service. How do you research guests in order to understand their individual needs?

Shaun Campbell: We get to know that some guests prefer very low-profile stays, with some small familiar touches. Others are more social and we will give more recognition and be more proactive in engaging with them about new suggestions, to dine or to visit. We also brainstorm with some regular guests and local partners (about developing unique local experiences like tailored special offerings with fashion partners or jewelry brands).

Barnes: A guest who stays with us expects us to know his expectations: what kinds of pillows they want, what they eat. We have a global guest history system that is key to understanding that. Also, our guest services department go through full arrivals list and look at every guest. Why are they here? Have they been here before? Did they have a problem when they came before? We actually spend time writing personalized welcome cards to guests.

Skift: The big buzzwords in travel are experiential, localization, and authentic. How are you authentically delivering localized experiences for your guests?

Kaupp: Our average guest age is 41. People in younger age groups are more bound to searching for authentic things and not doing what the majority of the world does. My customer is not a first-time Paris goer, but wants to live Paris on an authentic level.

Our concierge team can deliver experiences that offering something that allows guests to live and experience through the locals’ eyes. For example, we offer an off-the-beaten track tour of Paris via a motorcycle sidecar. We open the ateliers of up-and-coming French artists, showing our guests how they live and work. Moreover, we have two restaurants and a bar in our hotel, and 95 percent of the clients are locals. We cater to the French. That’s local.

Andrea Scherz: We run the Walig Hut, an alpine hut built in 1783, located in the mountains 25 minutes away from the hotel. It’s a traditional farmer’s hut that we restored in a very subtle manner to preserve its authenticity. No electricity and a latrine like it was used 100 years ago. The Walig Hut is offered to guests as a way to experience true Switzerland. It’s an absolute success with our guests, they love to experience how the farmers lived in the past combined with excellent food and service from the hotel.

Graham: The key word is true. Things have to be truly us, a unique Vermont experience. For example, we have our own farm. Our guests can connect with our farm, and we also visit farms in our area, to really center on that which makes us unique. Beyond that, we connect with local partners that are quintessentially Vermont, like local potters, furniture designers and other makers.

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