Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

It’s the Little Things That Count

“It’s the little things that count”. That was the tent card in my room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Gurgaon, India. I couldn’t agree with them more – especially since they delivered on their promise. The hotel was my last stop on a several week trip to India staying at one of the better hotels in each destination which sometimes was barely three star. So the details on my final stop were especially welcome – from Dead Sea Salts for my bath and every other bath and toilet amenity you can think of to preparing a boxed breakfast to go since my departure was before the restaurant opened.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

During my trip I experienced other notable and original touches and amenities that will surely remain top of mind long after I’ve departed which should be every hotel’s goal. In the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai it was the manicure kit complete with nail polish remover, nail clipper,  emory board and cream and oil delivered on a tray with rose petals and a hammered brass bowl.

When the laundry was returned, a sachet bag graced the top of the linen cover.

taj mahal palace hotel

Then in New Delhi on the club floor at the Taj Palace Hotel they sent a mini-facial treatment kit.

Even a three star hotel in a rural village, the Dera Village Retreat, staged a dance presentation complete with popcorn and saris on loan for the women and a turban for the men.

dera village retreat

These kind of details and hotel amenities go a long way not only in making memories for guests and giving value add, but creating long term fans plus generating word of mouth and oftentimes press coverage. So Crowne Plaza. It IS all about the details.

Solo Travelers, an Evolving Market

Solo travelers


The phenomenon of solo travelers has evolved. It’s no longer just the “single” — unmarried, widowed or divorced. And not only is this market segment growing, but it represents a large, untapped potential.

Solo travelers make up about 23% of all leisure travelers according to the U.S. Travel Association. And almost 40% of total travelers replied they would take a vacation by themselves if they had the opportunity, in a survey by MMGY Global.  So who is this new vacationer who is going alone? Men and women. With work schedules more demanding than ever, couples are having a harder time coordinating travel schedules. And in this age of special interest travel, often one member of a couple wants to go on perhaps a wellness holiday or go trekking in Bhutan and the other prefers to go golfing. With the tremendous number of tour offerings, finding a group, a price point and departure that suits, is easier than ever. And then there’s the traditional market of solo travelers — the unmarried, the widowed or divorced. With people marrying later, more getting divorced, and living longer, the numbers in these categories have soared.

All of this has major implications for hotels. As we all know, single supplements are a sore point among this group. What can be done? Why can’t hotels build more single rooms or I can see the potential in a hotel chain just with studio rooms — 3.5 or 4 star? Then there are new challenges in restaurants. As reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “ Your Dream Vacation: a Table for One and a Selfie”, Jason Moskal, vice president of lifestyle brands for InterContinental Hotels group and Hotel Indigo said the number of solo guests has risen by a double digit rate in the past 18 months. He said staffers are paying more attention to being up to date on local hot spots since independent travelers count more on the concierge desk.  How about dining? Solo travelers are no longer resigned to just ordering room service because they don’t want to go into a fine restaurant alone. So there also needs to be sensitivity training in how to treat a single diner — some like to engage with wait staff, chatting, and others prefer quiet time  .Founding Fathers restaurants in Washington D.C. coaches staff to convey ease to solo diners when they arrive, never pity. “We look for the personality in their eyes — someone who is there to engage will give you those clues,” said Dan Simons, a co-owner. They also sometimes offer free samples of popular appetizers and cocktails, showing they value their business.  Bar seating for restaurant meals works well, a personal favorite of mine as you can choose to engage with a fellow diner or not.

There also needs to be sensitivity to language. The word “single” doesn’t work since, as mentioned, many are not “single” in the traditional sense of the word. Tour operators, too, have made changes in wording of promotional literature. Country Walkers avoids using “romantic” to describe its soft adventure trips and the article reported that Norwegian Cruise Line never uses “single” to describe new studio rooms or private lounges to cater to travelers boarding alone.

Finally, speaking about dining, especially interesting is a recent statistic from Open Table the online restaurant reservation service — dinner reservations for one are the fastest growing party size, up 62% in two years. The most dramatic gains are in Dallas, Miami and Denver.

Photo courtesy of

Is Aspirational Luxury Dead?

Ralph Lauren men's shop

Ralph Lauren men’s shop


Retailing and the world of luxury fashion is all aflutter with the appointment of Stefan Larsson as CEO of Ralph Lauren. Larsson came up through fast fashion giant H & M and then went on to get Old Navy back on track. As you know, Lauren built his business with fashion that called to mind Old Wealth which was personified in an upscale preppy way of dress and lifestyle. One could say he took the Brooks Brothers approach, added more of a fashion element, and marketed the fashion with Old World trappings. The price point wasn’t cheap, but it was accessible, compared with the look he imitated. Aspirational luxury. Is it here to stay in fashion, travel and lifestyle in general?

Now this new CEO has a totally different background in new -to- the- brand market segments and comes from the egalitarian Swedish society. One’s first reaction. Can he recreate this aura of luxury lifestyle, albeit updated, which Lauren obviously wanted to do by going with such a radical new hire? Or, as Barbara Thau wrote in, does this mean aspirational luxury is dead so he’s going to take a totally new approach to the brand?

She also ties that in with her contention that conspicuous consumption is a thing of the past. I don’t agree with either premise.

First, conspicuous consumption. As I’ve written about before, during the Great Recession, extravagance was seem as unseemly and, in the hotel business in particular, a serious negative. Companies couldn’t be seem as having luxury trips for executives when the public was suffering financially. But all of that has changed. The elite 1% has no compunctions about spending — the media is filled with stories about extravagance and over the top purchases reflecting the reality of what’s going on out there.

And as for aspirational luxury, I contend that it will always be with us. What will change is what is the desired luxury lifestyle to be emulated. There will always be a “luxury uniform” as Thau called it, though it will change. Instead of rich Mahogany paneled studies filled with antiques and Persian rugs, maybe there will be minimalist Italian furniture that cost five figures, and technology that’s in the same ballpark budget. The clothes? No gold buttoned blazer to be sure, or a fine Egyptian cotton bespoke shirt and custom trousers. How about a t-shirt made from some hard to get hi-tech fabric, a hoodie from the rarest of rare cashmere along with custom sneakers and  a Hermes Apple watch? And, a new turn is having fashion reflect one’s individuality and creativity — perhaps the ultimate luxury?

Hotels you say? Much less about baroque palaces from European nobility with Michelin star chefs in formal dining rooms. Think Richard Branson and the kind of hotels he builds and travel experiences   that personify the adventurous, innovative lifestyle. Things certainly are a changing. Lauren got that right as he has been so prescient with many other customer aspirations. It will be fascinating to watch.

Men Circa 2015 and the Travel Industry

domenico vacca club

Domenico Vacca’s new club

Remember when “metrosexual” was news, defined as” an urban heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes”? That was in the early 2000’s . In a little over a decade businesses are finally starting to go all out with products and services to meet the interest and need. And men are more comfortable showing their “metrosexual” side. There are major implications here for new products and marketing, and some savvy retailers – but not as yet the travel and hotel business – are getting on the bandwagon.

Let’s speak first about the settings for the delivery of these goods and services. Traditionally you’ve had men’s social, athletic and university clubs, but they’re about socializing and possibly networking, though some have accommodations that are pretty basic. Little or nothing in retail, grooming or heaven forbid pampering services. Enter opportunity.

This fall in New York Italian fashion designer Domenico Vacca is opening a 12 story luxury lifestyle destination that New York Racked called “a Carnival for the one percent”. Not only will it have a flagship retail store for men and women, but a barber shop, gym, long stay residences, Italian café, and a social club/lounge you can belong to for $20K a year. Though there are facilities for women too, the pitch as seen in the images and décor is very much directed to men. I heard there’s another strictly men’s luxury destination on the way from a publisher no less. Stay tuned.

All too often men’s pampering and fashion offerings are done as an afterthought, not getting “equal time” or thought out as those for women. It takes a mindset – to look at everything directed to women buyers and travelers and say what’s the outtake for men. For instance, two years ago we launched a handbag bar at our all inclusive client Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta. Designer handbags are offered on loan to guests for the evening. It was a big hit, and we decided to expand it this year and are offering a “Murse” – men’s purse, MontBlanc no less (it’s a luxury resort). A small thing, but it makes a statement.

So many luxury hotels and cruise ships have spas with beauty salons but how many have barber shops or pitch men’s grooming? And spa treatments for men can be found on menus, but they almost seem like lip service. Or how about men’s getaways? Aren’t there more creative possibilities than golf and boating?

You men out there, what do you think? What would you like to see?

5 Tips to Market to “Seniors”

marketing travel to seniors

A market segment of senior travelers crave soft adventure


Seniors I speak to don’t like to be addressed as such, so it was no surprise to read results from a recent survey about five must “do’s” and “don’ts” in marketing to baby boomers and older.

With the kind of disposable income this demographic has, it’s well worth the time and effort to give heed to this valuable advice from Bronwyn White, co-founder of the Sydney based travel research firm

As helpful background White said: “Today’s seniors were a product of ‘the swinging sixties’ and the seventies. In Western societies, they were a generation that saw liberated sexual experiences, the pill, the rise in feminism, experimentation with substances and a new freedom never experienced before.

“Many of them were wild, adventurous and exploratory. Today they are looking to rekindle that fire through travel adventures now that the kids have left home. Senior travellers come with a natural intrigue and a zest for life rarely seen with any other segment of the market,” she added.

Here are her five tips along with Karen’s additional comments:

Use ageless marketing, particularly imagery

Seniors don’t think they are senior, therefore they do not readily relate to images of seniors or text that talks to seniors. Age-based marketing is counter productive. Age does not define values, attitudes or behaviour. Use ageless marketing that emphasizes universal values such as love, friendship, loyalty, altruism and fitness. (Karen’s note: I’d also add that they downright dislike being called “senior”. I recently asked a small group why, and they said because focusing on age conjures up images of limited possibilities and opportunities which they don’t like to be reminded of).

Emphasis value, not low cost

“Contrary to popular myth, the senior traveller is not obsessed with cheap deals. They are very clear about this. When they do their research, they are simply looking for value for money – travelling in off-peak periods, bonus night offers, food and beverage deals, late check-outs, or tie-ins with local service providers. (Karen’s note: definitely do not use the word “cheap” as it connotes low quality)

Be smart about search engine use

“It is not necessary to use the term ‘senior’ on your website, unless you are referring to a discount in your pricing (then they’ll happily become a ‘senior’). The secret is to talk to a mindset and attitude rather than an age group. If you are paying big bucks for the term “Senior Travel” through Adwords or any sort of pay per click campaign, think again. Seniors who do actually include the search term ‘senior’ tend to be penny pinching and will give you a very low conversion rate.

Use language that hints at life-changing experiences:

“Seniors are not so interested in acquiring material assets. They’re interested in acquiring life-changing experiences – especially in travel.” (Karen’s note: and don’t underestimate the desire of some in this age group to crave soft adventure – many are fit, in good health until their 80’s and like to boast of their believe-it-or-not feats)

Market to single seniors

“We have seen a rapid growth in senior singles wanting to travel. The majority are women. They may be newly divorced or newly widowed. Or we have often come across a married single senior whose husband or partner has no interest in travel. It is important to appeal to a sense of emotional security.” (karen’s note: They like to travel in groups but there’s also a market for ones who want to travel on their own with the services of a guide in every destination).

Photo courtesy of


Instagram and ROI


Instagram has over 300 million users, about the same as Twitter, give or take a few million. Instagram marketing is the new darling of social media, in the news for its impact (or lack of) on sales of art, beauty and fashion products.  All about images, it certainly lends itself to travel and hotels. The question being asked is how effective is it in branding and sales?

I use both to promote my personal blog,  on food, fashion and culture (and some travel) in Miami, though am newer to Instagram.  Twitter has been one of the top drivers of traffic to the blog, but the jury is still out on Instagram.  Its effectiveness in driving traffic to a blog or website was a subject of discussion in one of the travel blogger forums. I asked one  of the members who amassed 5000 followers about the benefits and her answer is that conversions to subscribers or increasing blog visitors is minimal.

So what’s the benefit? Here are recent excerpts from an excellent article in Digiday where beauty and fashion brands, among the top users and boosters, are quoted as saying they are betting their social marketing dollars and resources on Instagram over any other platform. 98 percent of L2’s top fashion brands are on Instagram as of this month, and 95 percent of beauty brands are on the platform — up from 75 percent and 78 percent in October 2013.

For beauty and fashion brands, engagement and interactions are higher on Instagram compared to any other platform. As of the second quarter of the year, of the 67 top fashion brands on social media, engagement is up 77 percent, while frequency of posting has shot up from just over 8 posts a week to 10 posts a week.

While Facebook still attracts the lion’s share of paid advertising (82 percent of marketers surveyed by Forrester say they currently pay for ads on the site), brands are increasingly flocking to Instagram. About 46 percent of brands say they do or plan to pay money to get on Instagram in the next 12 months — the highest rate of growth compared with other platforms.

High-end fashion brands are among the prolific on Instagram. For example, Christian Louboutin in January launched #louboutinworld, a photo gallery displayed on its homepage that goes directly to its Instagram page. Its followers there have grown 80 percent in the last year, while Facebook likes have grown only 8 percent.

What about a direct path to purchase? While Instagram introduced clickable ads via its “carousel” platform back in March, brands are hoping that a more direct path to purchase (a “shop now” button, or a click to buy capability) will eventually be introduced. But until then, Instagram still makes more sense for brands that want engagement and inspiration.

Bottom line: wait and see.

Butlers and The Travel Industry


sandcastle butler

Sandcastle butler


Butlers, concierges, they’ve been marketed by the travel industry for years, from hotels to more recently cruise ships (Viking river cruises) as evidence of going the extra mile in service. They can be a true value proposition – as in a baby concierge offered by our client Velas Resorts, or a public relations tactic to generate press. In fact, one of our all time great press generators was when we announced the butlers as a service at an Intercontinental Hotel, talking about how the butler would even iron the newspaper to avoid the guests’ having ink stained hands. Over the years we’ve read about everything from pillow, recovery (as in from a hangover) and suntan concierges to fragrance, camping and barbecue butlers . Interestingly enough, this kind of news, falling into the category of unusual hotel services,  continues to be a media darling.

And speaking about what’s happening in the hospitality industry and “butlerdom”, I thought I’d share these interesting thoughts and updates from Steven Ferry, Chairman of the International Institute of World Butlers . It appeared in his recent newsletter which always makes for good reading.

“An interesting article about the lengths butlers go to in hotels to service their guests—although the author has taken it upon herself to pronounce that “butlering is a dying art.”

Some entrepreneurs have created a company called “Hello Alfred” (referring to Batman’s butler)  that offers “butler service” for $25 a week—the duties basically being running errands and managing small projects for which the clients do not have time. As the company already employs 100 butlers (stay-at-home mums and artists) so far in New York and Boston, they are obviously much in demand by busy executives and no doubt appreciated by those looking to boost their income.

If the above is a bit of a stretch, then how about Sandcastle Butlers, the latest hijacking of our profession to boost image? The picture (from the Hertfordshire Mercury) says it all.

Hot on the heels of the Japanese cafe culture with butlers and maids, we now find Glasgow, Scotland offering the same: a cafe with maids and butlers. Used to be a time when one went to a cafe to enjoy a simple coffee and scintillating chat.

Not sure if we have covered the “Stock Butler” before—software that analyzes and rates a person’s stock portfolio. (Karen’s note: idea for a city hotel?)

The first hotel in the world has opened with service almost exclusively carried out by robots—done to save money on wages and downtime, such as days off, and to create “the most efficient hotel in the world.” Um…. Let’s see: “Hospitality,” basic definition being “friendly.”  “Friend” comes from an Indo-European root word meaning “love.” Met any friendly robots recently, ones who express their heartfelt love for you? (Perhaps that should read “programmed love”?). Somewhere, someone, or a lot of someones, are missing the point.

And while “scientists” are busy trying to make robots human, and humans unnecessary, they are also busy making humans into robots: witness the University of California, Berkeley breakthrough (also reported in the Wall Street Journal) in creating neural dust that is so small, it can be implanted into the cerebral cortex (front of the brain) without the knowledge of the individual and run forever, collecting information and controlling people’s thoughts and emotions (and presumably, ultimately, their actions).”

Maximize PR from a Celebrity Visit

How to maximize public relations coverage from a past celebrity visit beyond mentioning the name in a description of the hotel’s  or cruise ship’s history? The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has come up with a terrific promotion that could be a case study, around Frank Sinatra’s centennial birthday. Granted, every celebrity doesn’t have the high wattage of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and it does help that there’s a recent, very successful three part TV series about his life (fascinating, see it). But there are takeaway elements that can be applied to lesser celebs as well. Here’s the scoop:

The hotel is doing a 100 day countdown to Sinatra’s 100th birthday, kicking off September 2. They’re using it to reinforce the image of the Fontainebleau’s “Golden Era glamour”. A highlight will be an exclusive photo exhibit curated by Sinatra’s family and 1966 Americas of personal and historic images. In the iconic Bleau Bar (a favorite of mine)

Bleau Bar

Bleau Bar

guests will be invited to enjoy a sample of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select whiskey as they toast to Sinatra’s upcoming birthday. Additionally, the hotel will also debut unique in-room amenities and packages inspired by the man, while the signature restaurants will pay homage to Sinatra’s favorite meals at the Fontainebleau including throwback, 1950’s-inspired ‘Brunch with Frank’ menus, cocktails and intimate dinners.

For guests who want to ‘Live Like Frank’, there will be a Sinatra-inspired package for $1,915, commemorating the year Frank was born. The package will include a two-night stay in a junior suite or above, a vintage Fontainebleau canvas bag, a Fontainebleau Luxury Art Book, one bottle of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, daily breakfast for two, two 50-minute ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ massages at Lapis Spa, a $250 credit for dinner for two  at one of four signature restaurants and the ‘Ultimate Sinatra’ CD featuring the singer’s greatest hits.

The 100 day countdown culminates with a performance honoring Sinatra’s legacy. The performance act will be announced at a later date.

A Destination That Does It Right

red inclusive card

You’ve read here about destinations that do it right – social media campaigns (Swedish Tourist Board), advertising concept (Amsterdam Tourist Board) and the UK does an especially good job of capitalizing on country milestones and cultural events. That these destinations are cutting edge probably isn’t very surprising. But would you believe The Black Forest Highlands in Southwestern Germany (Hochschwarzwald) is right up there with some innovative product offerings that show their understanding of what today’s travelers want: product with a sense of place, technology, superior value and experiences.

Let’s start with value. Travelers who stay for two nights or more at any one of over 300 holiday accommodations get a Red Inclusive Card free. Often destination value cards have a lot of features but most of them are of little interest. This is a notable exception. The card with a clever tag line of “experiences included” features not only the usual free admissions to numerous attractions and cultural offerings, but also, free local transportation anywhere in the region, guided electric bike tours, golf, spas, rental of cross country ski equipment, and, most impressive, use of a BMW i3 to discover the Black Forest landscape with climate neutral transportation. Besides the value appeal, the features encourage travelers to immerse themselves in the destination, making for a richer, more memorable holiday.

And then there are the unique accommodations, Black Forest Highland Design Apartments dubbed with the clever name of “cuckoosnests”. With their wood and rock faces, tree stumps for bedside tables and specially designed furniture, they appeal to the growing number of travelers who want to stay in lodging that offers a sense of place.

Is this all working? According to Thorsten Rudolph, CEO of the Black Forest Highlands,   the cards have increased tourism to the area from 2010 to 2014 by 27.5%. Each year about 245,000 cards are given out and since 2010, more than two million cards have been used registered. Especially valued and used are the free entrances to the various activities and highlights including Ski Tickets to the Feldberg, Spa Paradise Blackforest, boat trips on the Titisee. When the Black Forest Highlands Card started in 2010 there were 180 participating hotels and now there are 345. Sounds like a success by any measure.

How to Increase the Average Length of Stay

Flower cottage of the Relais Borgo Santo Pietro

Flower cottage of the Relais Borgo Santo Pietro


How to increase the average length of stay? This was a question posed to me by one of our clients, a city hotel in Asia. The common tactic is to give an extra room night free based on a minimum length of stay –as in stay for 3 nights and get the 4th night free. But there are two other solid ideas. The first is to team up a city stay, adding on an extra night to the average length of stay, with two or three nights in a complementary destination, a several hour drive or an hour to an hour and a half  flight away (e.g. Bangkok with Chiang Mai or Phuket). To the guest, the benefit is that the work of packaging two destination highlights is done, and then you make it worth their while financially by giving a break in the total price or giving some value add. Besides gaining an additional night’’s revenue, there’s the advantage to the hotels of additional marketing support from another hotel or hotel group and use of a new customer database from a non competitive property.

An even better tactic is to offer exciting compelling activities on site and nearby that make a longer stay desirable. Probably one of the best examples I’ve seen (and experienced) is from the 16 room Relais Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany, Italy. The Relais, off of the beaten tourist track, though convenient to Florence and Rome, offers exciting activities that not only tap into  its competitive advantages, but also, a sense of place. They also offer guests an opportunity to learn new skills. In house there’s a resident florist who gives floral arranging classes from a cottage amidst an antique rose garden and does double duty making all of the arrangements for the hotel; an inhouse artisan  — a painter when I was there – who gives classes from her own cottage overlooking a lake; the Borgo Cooking school offers a myriad of classes for adults and children; garden walks; and wine tasting  . Venturing further afield, they offer everything from falconry and sightseeing from a two person plane with private pilot to truffle hunting, hot air ballooning, basket weaving, and novel sightseeing trips.

Rafael Ruiz – Front Office Manager says the Concierge program, which was launched in 2014 enjoys a 50% participation rate by guests and that since beginning the program, average length of stay from overseas guests has increased from 3 to 5 days. A final benefit is that guests leave the hotel wanting to come back and experience the other activities as well as the marvels of a superb resort and stunning setting. A winning formula in luxury hotel marketing ideas.