Even in the Motorcoach Industry the style for travelers to slide towards more luxurious services has not gone unnoticed. From different and more luxurious destinations, to seeking more coach services, even the restaurants that groups are frequenting are changing.
From design to service to technology, luxury travel is enhancing with a new generation of international travelers who are younger, more global minded, and tethered to their smartphones and tablets. Even the typical mature luxury travelers in their 50s and 60s tend to be more adventurous, health conscious, and tech savvy compared to their predecessors of 30 years ago. Such generational shifts and technological tools that permit hospitality companies like Starwood Hotels and Resorts to better learn about and engage their clientele are shaping a new era of luxury travel with heightened personalization.
At the recently renovated St. Regis New York, a classical landmark founded by John Jacob Astor IV in 1904, guest demographics are shifting, says Paul James, global brand leader for Starwood Luxury Brands, which include St. Regis, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, and W. In 2008, St. Regis New York guests were 80 percent American, 80 percent male, and 58 to 64 years old. Today they are 40 percent American, 60 percent male, and 40 percent of guests are under the age of 40.
This dramatic alteration is the result of an extensive strategy to reposition the brand as “not your father’s” luxury hotel with a group of next-generation travelers that James dubbed Borderless Luxurians. “What we saw in the story of the Astors and the Gilded Age’s burst of technology and wealth is precisely what is happening in Delhi and Shanghai,” says James. “There is this new group of luxury consumers who are wealthy, globally educated, and passionate about travel.” And they have more modern, less-fussy tastes in dining, design, and service.
Making use of the butlers as an example, James compares the transition from the image of Batman and Alfred to that of Ironman and Pepper Potts. “Downstairs, the formal restaurant with white linen tablecloths and layers of silverware has given way to a globally influenced dining experience under the culinary direction of Executive Chef John DeLucie. Guests can also take advantage of the hotel’s new car service– a pair of “day/night” Bentleys that are available at no charge for trips within a 10-block radius.
“We must think more about the holistic environment, about health and wellness, about sustainability, and those kind of things because that’s what our consumer is after,”says James, who adds that they took inspiration from the rebellious and clearly defined W brand to help St. Regis break down some of the old-fashioned ideas of luxury. Since 2008, St. Regis has grown from 12 to 34 properties with openings planned this year in Moscow, Istanbul, Venice, Mumbai, Macau, Dubai, and Langkawi.
Technology naturally is a driving force in the development of luxury travel both in how hotel brands interact and reach with their customers including the guest experience– from in-room systems to Starwood’s app that lets you specify room preferences to the brand’s groundbreaking keyless system that lets you skip the front desk entirely, go immediately to your room, and open the door with a wave of your phone.
Rolling out at W, Aloft, and Element hotels, SPG Keyless Check-In will be offered at all Starwood brands by the end of 2015. The keyless technology transforms the first interaction from handing over a credit card and signing paperwork to a more meaningful engagement about the guests ‘desires and needs. Keyless lets our guests check in on their terms.
Thrilled by the prospect of wearable equipment, Starwood jumped at developing an app for Google Glass. Undaunted by that product’s current exit from the market, Starwood has shifted its attention to the Apple Watch. “There many ways Apple Watch can help enhance the experience with our guests, and we will develop those,” says James.
Although they have long controlled buying decisions when it comes to family travel, women are also gaining consumer clout with growing wealth. According to James, women make up 54 percent of travelers with an annual income of $250,000, up from 42% in 2010, and women are projected to become the richest sex by 2016.
You might expect time-constrained business travelers to appreciate St. Regis’ butler services the most; however feedback shows that the strongest favorability is with women at the resort properties. “It’s not counter intuitive because all of a sudden mom, who is in charge and is normally the decision maker, has an ally saying, ‘Don’t worry, I will get everything organized for you,” says James. Developing experiential and engaging kids programs is another resort essential for an expanding number of families with young children that are booking for longer stays and selecting more spacious villa-style suites with multiple bedrooms.
Fashion and wellness are hot issues for the next-generation female traveler. When she arrives, a St. Regis partnership with Neiman Marcus offers the services of a fashion stylist who selects wardrobe options that are waiting for the guest in her room. The brand has also partnered with young fashion visionaries Jason Wu and Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig. Meanwhile, W, which plans to open properties in Bogotá, Beijing, Amsterdam, and Goa this year, enlisted yoga maven Tara Stiles to develop an in-room workout video, and a series of FIT with Tara Stiles travel packages.
At The Luxury Collection, model and photographer Helena Christensen joins Waris Ahluwalia and other creative personalities in the brand’s Global Explorers program, which chronicles personal travel stories and photos. The site, which was built to tempt the adventurous travel addicts that patronize Luxury Collection properties, features the best shared content across Starwood’s social media platforms. This year, The Luxury Collection plans to add properties in Milan, Mexico City, Kyoto, Nanjing, Lebanon, San Antonio, and Napa Valley.
The success of Global Explorers outgrew Starwood’s research, which indicated that clients of Luxury Collection hotels are extraordinarily loyal and frequent travelers who like to consider themselves destination authorities. When you go there, the idea was to create a digital space where you can discover up and coming destinations and learn about what to do.
Utilizing its considerable data and feedback, Starwood has determined detailed psychographic profiles for the clientele of each brand– from The Luxury Collection’s passionate travelers to W’s fun and flirty trendsetters to St. Regis’ leaders and business owners. “That way we are less about bricks and mortar and owning hotels and more about owning guest experiences around the world with a much deeper insight into what makes people stay.”