Hotel luxury redefined
Associate, ReardonSmith Architects
LUXURY IS becoming more complicated. There are now more people with greater wealth than ever before and these people are more diversified in terms of their age, nationality and cultural experience. They are therefore inclined to interpret ‘luxury’ differently. At the same time, and partly in the scramble to satisfy the demand for luxury, there has been what might be termed ‘luxury creep’ — more top-end products, more premium hotels and more expensive options for travellers. The trouble is that as increasing numbers of people buy into luxury, it ceases to be exclusive. So hotels and destinations continually have to look at developing new angles to attract the wealthy.
Clearly, the increase in wealth is both a challenge and a great opportunity for hotels and resorts around the world. People are seeking what’s next and what’s exotic. To the Chinese, it might be Paris or London, while to Western Europeans, it could be cruise down the Yangtze River or a spa resort in the Indian Ocean.
Luxury, today, has many layers. People have become more experienced in spending their money, their focus is changing from buying more expensive ‘toys’ to acquiring products and experiences that have long-lasting value because they are authentic and rejuvenating. These people seek a relationship with the place in which they are staying — and this relationship, I argue, has a good deal to do with the design of the place as well as with the service guests receive before, during and after their visit.
Today, architects and designers of luxury hotels and resorts must deliver a sense of place as well as a myriad of large and small experiences that will make guests feel individually nurtured and entertained. This means everything from considering the orientation of a building at master plan stage to the hand-feel of the cutlery in the restaurant.
Until recently, the luxury hotel experience was seen as something dictated by the hotel. There was a dress code for the restaurant; there were the same items in every guestroom mini-bar and pretty much the same interiors, whether in Moscow or Milan. Twenty-first-century luxury, however, has to be a lot more collaborative with its consumers and a lot more thorough.
The luxury hotel experience has to be adaptive to the individual guest and to his or her requirements through every hour of the day. This has implications for hotel planning and design. When replanning the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, for example, we created a new flow of public spaces on the ground floor to meet the wish of the hotel to be able to offer guests a choice of the restaurant, bar or lounge in which to take their breakfasts. We also entirely reconfigured the guestroom floors to more than double the number of suites to 45 flexible one, two and three-bedroom suites to accommodate different family permutations.
The luxury hotel experience now has to be adaptive to the individual guest
There is also growing evidence that luxury hotels and resorts benefit from being environmentally and socially responsible. An increasing proportion of leisure travellers want to feel they are staying in place with respectable eco-credentials and many corporations now require their employees to book environmentally conscious hotels on their business trips. Besides, hotel owners and their designers and architects are fast recognising that using local materials, working with the natural landscape and reaching out to local communities, all contribute to creating the genuine, informative and different experience that is the hallmark of contemporary luxury. As the concept of what luxury is moves on from the desire to display quantity, it is instead seen as an investment of time as well as money in retail, recreational and other self-fulfilling experiences.
The views expressed here are personal.