What does luxury mean to you? Its definition is forever changing, but as hotelier Frank Marrenbach reveals, the one constant is making life easier for guests.
Today, the definition of luxury is less about material goods and more about refined experiences. But what is a luxury experience? To my mind, a luxury experience is defined by the intangibles. At the highest level of luxury hospitality, a guest feels as though they are at the center of their surroundings and are not simply a spectator on the sidelines.
From the feeling evoked when a guest enters a hotel lobby, to the way a guest is greeted when entering the restaurant, these intangibles always start with a hotel’s staff. Training is so important. The best luxury hospitality begins with an ability to read guests’ emotions and therefore anticipate how a guest is most likely to react to any interaction.
Luxury experiences are also always emotional; for a hotel that means making every guest feel safe, well taken care of and happy during their stay. This is the first step to creating the ultimate experience for all guests. For any hotel group the vital infrastructure of the brand is its people. Strong people attract strong people and success begins with management. Choosing the right management develops the foundation for the future, as management set the tone for the other people involved.
We recognize that there are four key elements to building success in our luxury hotels: heritage, craftsmanship, focus and rarity.
Heritage is not to be confused with tradition. While tradition can be lost in time, heritage goes right back to a brand’s roots and shows where it comes from. The Oetker Collection, for example, has a European heritage and this is deeply rooted in the intricacies of each of the nine hotels.
Craftsmanship is all encompassing. It is in a hotel’s most complex details and the specifics that guests often don’t even think about. It is built from a combination of unique restaurant concepts and haute cuisine in the kitchen, to what you receive at the turndown service after returning from a personal training session, to what the doorman says on your way out.
Focus means having an understanding of your brand’s defining qualities and restricting changes that move outside the brand profile. You can’t be everyone’s darling and that is why there are so many options for travelers to choose from. Focus means not worrying about losing potential customers, but pleasing and keeping those that already exist. To focus is to generate risk, which is important for the growth of every good business.
Rarity means offering something that is hard to find elsewhere. It doesn’t mean having the most radically different design, cuisine or theme. It means you must have a consistent identity that cannot be replicated elsewhere. An iconic hotel’s identity is never questioned, it is simply known.
With each of these four elements, comes timelessness. Again, this doesn’t have to mean offering a radical change. Over the years we have found that focusing on our brand values has led to success. A timeless hotel doesn’t need radical change, only gradual development to meet the guests’ feelings of safety and comfort.
In the future of luxury hospitality, security and privacy are two important intangibles to consider. Security and privacy go hand in hand. While each contains a deeply emotional feeling, technology also brings other risks, such as data breaches. But hotels have to keep up to date with advances in technology, whether that’s in-room entertainment or safety developments, something that allows for improvement without taking away from a great hotel.
The goal of the luxury hotelier is just to make it easier for guests to carry out their everyday life. In the future there may be greater desire for luxury, but at its heart, the idea of what a luxury experience means isn’t changing. There is no need to completely reinvent the luxury wheel. Instead, the key is to enhance it with a gentle approach. After all, luxury should never shout – it whispers.
Frank Marrenbach is CEO of the Oetker Collection