Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Travel Awards Inflation and Marketing

Are travel awards still an effective branding tool and if so, how? Magazines, professional organizations, tour operators and more are giving awards on a regular basis. Some companies exist only for their award programs as a stand alone business, reaping revenues from entry fees. All of this has resulted in award inflation. And where they’re so prevalent, they’re less meaningful in the eyes of the consumer.

So what is their value? To the entity giving the award it’s an effective way to make new friends and reinforce relationships. Plus, in this age of social media, lists of Top 10 and Best of always rate high in views.   Award recipients undoubtedly appreciate the recognition, getting their name out there, and being in  rarefied company as in you’re known by the company you keep.

But how about their effectiveness for branding, and how to promote them through public relations? Here are  do’s and don’t’s:

First the “don’ts”:

Too often the knee jerk reaction is let’s do a press release. If an award is given by a media property, other magazines or newspapers won’t be interested – that’s the competition.

It’s important not to send too many award releases to the same media or run the risk of  overkill and their not opening your email after a while.

Think twice about how significant the award is. If it’s not from a well recognized organization, promoting the award can look as if the recipient is desperate to get a distinction and it won’t reflect positively on your brand.

Then the ‘do’s:

Think paid distribution channels as in online industry media (e.g.Hotels Online, HNET) as a vehicle to get the award news out. That helps build recognition within the industry and also helps SEO.

Send the award releases to past press guests who have visited your hotel(s), taken a cruise, whatever. It is a good way to keep in touch and reinforces the fact that you’re maintaining a quality product.

Social media which has an appetite for constant content is a perfect distribution channel for news of awards.

If the award is not from a media property, do consider sending it out to a wider distribution if it’s truly impressive, as in your being in the top 10, 25 or even 100 (e.g.Virtuoso’s bests, Expedia’s Insider Select).

And outside of PR, there are numerous ways to get the word out, especially if the award is impressive, from adding it to your signature and sending an eblast to your internal database, to highlighting it on your website, collateral,  and more.

The Future of Print Magazines

What’s the future of print magazines? Are they doomed?  If a gauge of their influence is a function of how newsworthy they are (other than news reports about media groups from Hachette to Time Warner and Hearst being bought), then one could think they¹re hardly relevant. I recently met with Sara “Fifi” Castany, a legend in publishing, and former editor of big titles ranging from the Spanish language versions of Cosmopolitan and Ocean Drive, to luxury custom publications such as Bal Harbour and Fisher Island magazines.  Now owner of her own custom publishing company, Sareli Media Group, I asked her about the role of print magazines in the future.

“I think we are experiencing an important transformation in the publishing industry,” said Castany. “We can¹t deny the Internet has impacted our
business, but print is hardly dead, the playing field is just changing. Who will survive? The really great magazines will, the ones that have managed to be exciting and unique in a niche market, ” she continued.

What I found most interesting about what she had to say was how luxury brands are selling products by transforming their catalogues into quasi
lifestyle magazines. An early adopter of this marketing strategy was Williams Sonoma who started featuring recipes in their catalogues along with
carefully styled displays of tables set for the holidays with their dinnerware, linens and enticing meals.

“These product catalogs with integrated editorial content are called magalogs, and they are very effective in engaging the consumer and enhancing
the shopping experience,” said Castany. “Neiman Marcus started out by including fashion trends and unique gift guides. Today their catalogs are
must-haves for any fashion savvy customers,” she added.

In house hotel magazines have tended to be little more than advertising vehicles that have a branding benefit – association with other luxury brands and thick, glossy stock that makes a luxury statement.There’s a lot of room to adopt this new “magalog” formula to travel industry products and combine the best of both — what has existed with a new service orientation.

The days of the mass market magazine are just about over. For magazines, it’s about luxury and niche titles that are indulgences.  Nothing like going to the beach with a cool drink in hand and a stack of my favorite magazines.

Sleep: New Big Thing in Travel USPs

Feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, sleep deprived? Join the large and growing group. It’s no surprise that the travel industry is turning to ensuring a good night’s sleep as a Unique Selling Proposition, branding opportunity and even a new profit area.  True, selling a restful sleep has been the key to Westin’s branding for 15 years with its Heavenly Bed, and about that time we came out with the idea of the pillow menu (the first) and sleep concierge for our client, New York’s Benjamin Hotel. But now, the industry is going well beyond that. Here are some of the innovations described in “The Quest for Sweet Dreams” in the New York Times.


  • Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is rolling out a program to create three types of proprietary mattress toppers that can be zipped on or off, addressing the problem that guests like mattresses of varying firmness.
  • Eithad Airways, after almost two years of research with the American Center for Psychiatry and Neuroology in Abu Dhabi, is now offering all natural mattresses, mood lighting, noise canceling headphone, and pillow mists. The headphones are for all classes; the other amenities for first class passengers.
  • Delta Air Lines offers some Westin Heavenly bedding in all of its Business Elite International and some domestic flights and a white noise channel on Delta Radio.

Steven Carvell, associate dean for academic affairs at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration was quoted as predicting more of these airline-hotel partnerships. “Don’t be surprised if you wind up seeing first class cabins pairing with Four Seasons or Cathay Pacific pairing with Peninsula or Mandarin Oriental”, he said.

And then there’s the PR value. The pillow menu and sleep concierge put the Benjamin Hotel on the map and also resulted in a subsequent profit center with a separate catalogue of pillows for sale.

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Design and Fashion: What the Hotel Doctor Calls For

kwe blog AC by marriott

When even Apple, an icon of high technology, makes moves to become what tech analysis site Stratechery called a fashion house, you know there’s something major afoot in branding.  For those who haven’t read it, an important article, “Apple’s Team of Tastemakers” appeared in the New York Times recently about the company’s hires of tastemakers from Yves St.Laurent and  Burberry to the addition of Beats’ founders Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine for top management positions.  Their mandate is to remake the marketing strategy.

What is this about?  Design and fashon that are leading the lifestyle charge. We see this  across product categories and price points. If anything, expect it to accelerate with marketers’ attention turning increasingly to Millennials whom research has shown to  expect a major dose of style and good design,

This hasn’t been lost on the hotel industry as major groups continue to announce new lifestyle brands that they always bill as design forward, one of the latest being AC by Marriott. I couldn’t help but think will we soon see yet another new brand –  the hotel counterpart to a Zara or an H & M — low cost, big fashion statement,  and wildly successful? And then many of these same groups have new executive positions with serious titles who are like creative directors, helping ensure the brands continue to align with changing design and fashion values.

Travelers are seeing hotels with new eyes and new words to describe the hotel product.I  couldn’t help but think about the term “boutique hotel” which, when first deployed, implied a property with special style. Not so much anymore.With simple bed and breakfasts calling themselves boutiques, will this term become meaningless? I think so.

Amenities, even ones with a “wow” don’t seem enough to cut it these days. Travelers are going beyond that, looking for fresh new looks that excite and entertain.  A large dose of creativity is just what the hotel doctor calls for.

For more on hotels and fashion brands, click here to read a previous post on the topic.



4 Trends in the Business of Restaurants

kwe blog le locamerchant-1Not much has happened in the business of restaurants in recent years. I’m talking about innovations other than in the cooking itself or culinary approach, to increase revenues. With the tremendous competition now and rising rents and food costs, we’re finally beginning to see some new, creative ideas that are worth noting. Expect to see a lot more in coming months, especially with Priceline’s recent purchase of OpenTable.  Here are several restaurant trends that have a lot of promise:

!.How to increase covers in the downtimes of 5:30 to 6:30/7? Fine restaurants are trying to make diners feel as if they’re special, going out of their way with attention and service. Restaurants realize they need to overcome the traditional stigma of diners feeling like second class citizens, part of an “early bird special” group.  In addition, all matters of special incentives are being offered, from smaller portions (and prices) of signature dishes and a small bites menu to unique menus such as New York’s Le Cirque offering what they call a heritage menu with items like Dover sole and wild Burgundy Escargots. Read more in “No Shame in a Table at 5:30” in the Wall Street Journal.

2.As the top 1% get richer and the stock market continues on an upward trajectory, demand at the top restaurants in peak hours has been off the charts. New apps have sprung up like Zurvu and Resy that cooperate with restaurants sharing revenue for the most in demand dining times  and access to prime tables (a “commission” from $10 a person to $50 a table).

3.Restaurants hosting a visiting chef from out of town or out of country has been around for a long time. But now there’s a new twist – a visiting local chef.  Harry’s Pizzeria owned by star Miami chef Michael Schwartz hosted a series of themed dinners with Miami colleagues. We’re also seeing several chefs team up to do special dinners at a colleague’s restaurant. The idea? Copromotion which makes a lot of sense.

4.Reservation websites are providing incentives for early bookings. Members of Opentable get more points for booking early time slots and another app. leloca, gives last minute discounts at participating restaurants to users (like the restaurant counterpart to Hotel Tonight).

Emotional Marketing and Music

You can’t help reading these days about emotional marketing –  forging an emotional connection with potential buyers or clients as a key to sales success. Story telling and appealing to the senses are touted as  effective ways (and I concur as you’ve read). In the case of the latter,  incorporating aromatherapy and visual candy (design, art, fashion) into the product and marketing are becoming a “given” with many hotels and lifestyle products. But what about the hearing sense? Some interesting information and data recently crossed my desk . Rightune makes music for websites, 1000 of them right now that are active, as well as online ads and applications. They claim this has increased business by 15 to 20%, the highside being in the hotel, travel and lifestyle industries. Here’s an example of what CEO Erez Perlmuter says is one of the more successful of the sites (click on the name to hear the music):

Europa Hotel 

How does this work?  They customize the music based on branding values, target audience, mood to be created and business goal (e.g.lead generation, purchase, staying time). The client then gets a code snippet to embed on their website which will give a user a playlist. The user’s behavior is tracked and music updated as needed. Clients get a dashboard where they can see what was played and its impact on website business performance. What kind of music works? Not surprisingly, soothing tunes in the morning and more upbeat works in the afternoon.

I asked the obvious question, how do they know how many people to the site don’t like the music? They said on average 4% of visitors mute or lower the volume and 96% stayed longer.  I have to say, I found the music on the Europa Hotel relaxing (he said the music increased their business by 50%). What do you think?

Urban Armor, New Twist in Clothes

kwe personal space dress

Urban Armor. Who would have thought — clothes that are about more than dressing as in self defense, pollution protection, personal privacy and more. Wearable tech — be it watches with internet a la Dick Tracy, Google Glass, and more are very much in the news. But the newest wrinkle is Urban Armor by Tokyo based, 27 year old New York artist Kathleen McDermott. Her signature piece, described in the Wall Street Journal is a dress said to “reclaim personal space by expanding several inches when sensors detect another person is standing too close”. The dress inflates while someone stands as close as 15 inches. Some have described a special benefit of the dress of “avoiding unwanted sexual advances”. Hmmm. It’s only in prototype now, along with other projects McDermott developed for her master’s of fine arts degree at City University of Hong Kong.  Other clothing items she has created include the “autofilter”, a scarf that inflates to protect from pollution and “miss my face” a hat and veil lined with infrared lights to hide a person’s face when viewed on close circuit security systems. Interested in making your own dress, tapping into her know how? Instructions are on her website.

Wellness Travel Trends

kwe blog MGMGrandStayWell-terrace

Preventive health features as a critical part of  interior design, that’s the latest wrinkle in super high end real estate and hotels. As Town and Country magazine tells it, former Goldman Sachs partners Paul Scialla is offering this new approach he calls “Wellness Real Estate” developed with architects and doctors.  His new company Delos, has also worked with the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Stay Well Rooms. The rooms take up the hotel’s entire 14th floor and feature more than 20 health and wellness elements ranging from air purification systems and advance room lighting optimized black out shades to  special mini bar items and in room menu. New is a dedicated lounge for the floor’s guests with private registration, dawn simulator alarm clock, aromatherapy and an iPad app kiosk with mobile app giving suggestions on wellness including how to reduce jet lag. Stay Well rooms and suites are available for a $30 a night upgrade.

In the real estate front, Delos is building apartments in New York with features including supportive flooring to ease impact on joints and hips, circadian lighting to improve sleep and antimicrobial coatings for high bacteria areas among other features. He tried the features out first in his own apartment and claims he has seen “staggering differences” in his sleep and energy and wellness overall.  Four apartments ranging in price from $14.5 to $50 million are on the market now.  Deepak Chopra just bought one.The company also installs the features in existing homes and plans are to work with offices, hospitals and planes.

Photo courtesy of

CoWorking Space, Hospitality and Flexibility


Neue House in New York, a new take on coworking space

Neue House in New York, a new take on coworking space


Executive suites or what is now coworking space,  can be seen to have really taken off when Regus came along in 1989 . They’ve worked well both for traveling business people who either aren’t staying in a place with a business center and for small businesses, especially professionals, who want maximum flexibility which comes with short term leases and low rent.

They’re also seen as very “corporate” which works well with some businesses , but less well with creative types. Enter coworking spaces which started in the West Coast, in Silicon Valley (called “incubators”), and are now spreading and really coming into their own.  The West Coast was also a breeding ground for a new kind of office – office as campus which lends itself to social interaction, such as ones from Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

On the private front, the sequel to Regus were incubator type formats  with not only private offices, but dedicated desks for rent, and for even less money, a flexible desk which is a space at a long communal table.

And now, uber designer David Rockwell has come up with a work collective membership model as glamorous work space called NeueHouse, pictured here, described in this month’s Departures magazine (and another interesting article on the topic in CNN Money). The 50,000 square foot New York building is a combination coworking space, members club and cultural center. As Tracey Ryans, a luxury marketing strategist described it,  “they took the best of what Ian Schrager did with hotels, what Nick Jones did with restaurants and bars and what the kids in San Francisco did with the shared work space and combined them.”

The ground floor has what Rockwell calls “Spanish Steps”, plywood stairs with kilim pillows that serves as a meeting and work area during the day and at night is the setting for lectures and presentations. Recent cultural events include a lecture by designer Paul Smith and a conversation between a string theorist and a steel drum player. NeueHouse also has access for members to resources like a 1Gbps internet connection, video editing suite and 60 seat screening room. Sounds to me like a model for expansion.

And for those in the hotel industry, this might be a new offering for a hotel loyalty program with a membership based business center? What do you think?

Insatiable Luxury in China

luxury in china

Peninsula Shanghai image from

Post by Karen Weiner Escalera

We’ve all read about the boom in sales of luxury products in China. But nothing prepared me for the reality — the quantity and size of stores of the big names in luxury brands. Staying at The Peninsula Beijing, within two blocks there were several Chanel stores, one larger than the next. Within the hotel itself, besides the entrance being flanked by Chanel and Louis Vuitton shops, there’s a two story arcade exclusively with all the big brands. And this is repeated throughout the city.  Curiously, walking past the shops there was seldom anyone inside. Why? Our guide said that wealthy clients get the brochure of the new collection (or see it online), call the shop, and have the item or items sent to their residences much as mere mortals would order take out food.

I asked the same guide why there weren’t more top Chinese fashion designers. She said why would anyone buy a local fashion brand and pay a lot for a name no one knows. Anyone in the luxury business should not miss a visit to the “knock off” multi-leveled emporiums – the Silk Market in Beijing and several in Shanghai. It’s fascinating to see what brands are being counterfeited besides the obvious – Hermes, LVMH, Prada, etc. Beats headphones and speakers seem to be “hot” items. No wonder Apple recently announced a possible purchase of Beats. It was also interesting to see how luxury brands have to quickly come out with new lines to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. Of course new models help fuel purchases but you can’t help thinking that in any case, this counterfeiting greatly debases the brand.

Speaking of luxury and hotels, I also had a chance to see the latest in hotel technology in action by the master, Peninsula. At the hotel in Shanghai, here are some of the picks for top features:

  • Built in “nail dryer” in the dressing room
  • VOIP for free international calls
  • Humidity control for the guest rooms
  • Preset internet radio channels
  • A Yamaha speaker built into a lacquered cabinet, totally unobtrusive
  • And then the bathtub that even they have taken up a notch: luxuriate in the tub watching tv, having a conference call by speaker phone, choosing your favorite spa music, and more

All this being said I kept asking if and when the bubble will burst. As someone said, throughout the country there are thousands and thousands of unoccupied apartments bought for speculation (said one friend, in China the crane is the national bird). Makes for an unstable situation, no?