Defining Luxury

Ask anyone “What defines luxury hospitality?” and you’ll inevitably find that everyone’s a connoisseur. You’ll receive a myriad of answers suggesting luxury spas, restaurants, lounges, and private hideaways; you’ll be pointed to boutiques, palaces, or some dazzling modern alcazar; the location will be a private archipelago, a shimmering oasis, or in the clouds half a kilometer above the city sprawl. The sheer array of answers will make you wonder whether luxury hospitality is actually quite commonplace but the prices of the baseline will always remain reassuringly elusive.

The definition of luxury hospitality is constantly shifting, and its accessibility has flourished. Over the last 50 years, the clientele landscape for luxury hospitality has developed from those who are featured in Vogue to those who follow Vogue on their phones. Palaces are no longer roped off for the aristocrats and the famous and royal suites can be booked online. Expectations have changed too, with a standard 5-stars being pretty much an entry-level requirement and luxury hospitality becoming a spectator event on social media.

But luxury hospitality is really far more than Guy Dubord’s Society of the Spectacle. Sébastien Chebaiki, who manages guest relations at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris says, “In luxury, things can be more powerful than words. Service. A view. Something you don’t expect. Something more than you’d expected. It’s the ‘Wow!’ factor that goes beyond expectations and can be translated into a number of things, in many different ways.” It is the intangibles on the other side of Instagram eye candy, the way that person felt at that moment, that is the true instant of luxury. Perhaps this is one reason why we spend so much time editing our photos before posting to social media; we chase the desire to recapture the feeling through shade and saturation. That feeling is luxury.

As in many other industries, the hotel business has embraced the luxury sector. New competitors, ownership structures, and business models are emerging. Boutiques and collections- independent or family-owned or corporate, and managed with diverse management strategies. These businesses adopt a mix of branding strategies that include “soft” and “hard” approaches. A microcosm of these approaches can be seen within the globe-straddling boundaries of the Marriott International company where hotels that proudly bear the Marriott brand compete for business with members of the Luxury Collection with much lower brand visibility, hinting at independence and exclusivity.

Even luxury marquees with few credentials beyond ritzy fabrics – LVMH, Gucci, Armani – have amplified their brands into luxury hotels, bars, and restaurants. Bvlgari, for example, moved into hotels and resorts as part of a joint venture with the Luxury Group – a division of Marriott International. In doing so they have enhanced and further built relationships with their clientele by offering somewhere to go and something to do while wearing and shopping for their core products. In effect, these brands have literally opened their doors and offered clients the chance to step into a fashion shoot.

But the world of luxury hospitality could never be simply limited to the earthly pleasures of the land. As the pandemic took hold, the desire to avoid airports and crowds and simply to get away from everything has led private air travel to take off spectacularly. There is even talk of private jet rage as surging demand has led to higher prices and, worst of all, longer waiting times. The race is now on for a Concorde 2.0 as supersonic aerospace is again on the radars of the leading companies with Lockheed Martin competing with other public-private partnerships from Japan and elsewhere.

More sedately perhaps, there’s no doubt that the luxury yachting industry is one of the most successful of the moment. Who wouldn’t want the coveted $3.5m Tecnomar from Lamborghini or Mercedes-AMG’s new Cigarette Boat? One of the most recent big names to join the yachting pool is Ritz-Carlton. Since so many oversized cruise ships are described as being similar to luxury hotels on water, why not have an actual hotel brand do it properly and develop a yacht?

The first Ritz-Carlton luxury superyacht, Evrima, hasn’t yet sailed on its maiden voyage but the stats scream diva luxury levels. First is the incredible staff to guest ratio – 298 guests and 235 staff members, so that every guest can enjoy the best possible (almost 1:1) service. Plus, every one of the 149 suites includes access to a Personal Concierge providing assistance with anything from dinner reservations to organizing itineraries. Speaking of suites, there are 6 types, disposed on decks 3 to 9. All include a private terrace, 24-hour in-suite dining, and a “complimentary bottle of chilled champagne upon arrival”. Everything from the bathroom to the furniture and linens lives up to the Ritz-Carlton gold standard.

For those interested, Evrima is set to depart on her maiden voyage towards Lisbon on May 6, 2022. Itineraries are available for all inquiries and bookings. But rest assured, like all the great hospitality experiences, the prices will be equally prestigious.

Author: Hugo Williams

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