Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Insatiable Luxury in China

luxury in china

Peninsula Shanghai image from www.sienacharles.com

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?

No More Hotel Exterior Images Please

Why do so many hotels show a total view of the exterior as the signature shot? I can understand showing a façade in itself if it’s striking in design – a landmark design by a starchitect; a treehouse, tent camp or eco lodge; over the top villas, or something else unusual. Recently on an outdoor advertisement I saw the image of a new island resort with a tag line about the “American Riviera”. The image was of an undistinguished high rise. Wouldn’t it be better to show images that conjure up the glamour implied by the Riviera? How about very fashionably dressed couples lunching at the beach served by waiters wearing  crisp white starched jackets serving champagne as they do on the French and Italian Rivieras? The interior of a glamorous casino that could be out of a James Bond film with the men in tuxes? Or better yet, a collage of images that appeal to powerful visual sensibilities in this age of Pinterest. Tell the story visually. Showcase what’s unique. Focus on the details. That will capture attention.

New Twist on “Grab and Go” Hotel F & B

grab and go

Vending machine at Mondrian Hotel South Beach

“Grab and go” luxury products? You got it right. A pioneer in this was the Mondrian Hotel in South Beach which opened with a full wall of the lobby taken up by a Semi-Automatic, purple vending machine that helped put it on the hipsters’ map. Some go-to items: a feather vest ($400), a $28 T-shirt emblazoned with the word recession, and even 24-karat-gold handcuffs ($350). You could even buy a nearby condo, or rent a 1953 Cadillac DeVille convertible. Prices ranged from $10 to $1.2 million.

The vending machine phenomenon is accelerating, embracing even luxury food and beverage products. Here’s a rundown of some of the newest, latest and greatest brought to my attention by Chicago based Farmer’s Fridge which could have some interesting applications for the hotel industry with the burgeoning “Grab and Go” food and beverage concept:

Let’s Pizza .Let’s Pizza kneads the dough, forms a round, adds tomato sauce, layers toppings and then bakes it all in front of every customer in 3 minutes. Let’s Pizza is basically a mini-pizzeria that’s open 24 hours a day!

Moët & Chandon Champagne Vending Machine (UK): Located in the Selfridge’s department store in London, this Champagne vending machine holds 200 milliliter bottles for $29 each. Each bottle is decorated with Swarovski crystals and the machine uses robotic arms to deliver the Champagne safely to the customer.

Corner Chips (BE): Outside of Brussels, Belgium, this unique vending machine is a diet-breaker. For €2.50, hot fries are delivered in 95 seconds with your choice of condiment including ketchup and mayo. Built with high-tech technology such as remote-management that lets its operator know when it’s almost out of potatoes.

Beverly Hills Caviar (US): From $5 to $600, customers in Beverly Hills, CA now have access to the delicacy of caviar from a vending machine. The caviar is dispensed in a glass jar and has an expiration date of 365 days.

 

ABOUT FARMER’S FRIDGE

Farmer’s Fridge, a new healthy vending machine concept, delivers delicious gourmet salads and snacks to customers via automated kiosks around the Chicagoland area.  The idea to provide nutritious meals came from Founder Luke Saunders’ realization that health-conscious people were struggling to find nutritious meals and snacks that were easily accessible.  Building on that belief, Saunders drew on his background in manufacturing to create an automated kiosk that could dispense healthy food options.  Farmer’s Fridge offers people healthy, nutritious foods that are delicious and satisfying in a state-of-the art, innovative automated kiosk.  The salads and snacks are made from fresh ingredients available from local produce vendors.  Farmer’s Fridge salads and snacks are handcrafted each morning in a local Chicago kitchen and are stocked daily by 10 a.m.  The company also provides catering to businesses in downtown Chicago. For more information, please visit www.farmersfridge.com.

 

 

Service, Small Business and CRM

No one doubts the effectiveness of CRM systems and loyalty programs though for small businesses, the costs of implementation in dollars and human resources can be a challenge. So what’s a small business – be it hotel, restaurant, service provider to do? Here are two examples of the right way and wrong way based on my recent experiences, and then a look at the takeaway.

Two hair salons. Both I’ve been going to for several years. Salon 1: Oribe in South Beach. When the hair stylist is running late they let me know. If there’s a big traffic tie up they give a call. And the best yet, this week I called to make an appointment. First, and unbelieve, the receptionist recognized my voice ( I go every 6 weeks). Then, she asked if I’d like an appointment in the morning, remembering my preferred time. Whenever I walk in, she makes me feel as if I’m coming home.

Salon 2. They have all of the tech stuff – as soon as I make an appointment I get a text confirming it. Then, a day before I get another text and a call (overkill). The problem. When I call they always ask me for my phone number which is in the computer, act as if this is my first time at the salon, and have me spell my name more than once.

Now which salon will I recommend? What’s the takeaway? It’s so important in a service company to have a good receptionist and do whatever to keep him/her so there’s longevity and he/she gets to know the client. Tech goes just so far.

Madigan Pratt, President of MP & A Digital and Advertising who has serious credentials in CRM summed it up. “Today CRM software allows companies with a culture of great customer service to move up to another level. When they do they can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Problem arises when companies think office automation software is the answer to their customer service problems. Staff may know how to push buttons, but do they really know how to empathize a customer? More often than not, the answer is no.

“CRM with a human touch just may be the answer”, he concluded.

Budget Luxury

luxury budget

Flying a private jet doesn’t sound “budget” to me but new European jet carrier Wijet bills itself as “budget luxury”, charging $3,000 an hour for a Cessna Citation Mustang 510 that accommodates four people. As quoted in the New York Times, Alexandre Azoulay, owner, says the “budget” comes in since there’s no need to buy a minimum number of hours.

I guess if you’re an exec that has to get someplace in a hurry and millions or billions of dollars or Euros are at stake – or if you’re a billionaire, then $3,000 an hour is a “deal.” More apt, though, would be to call the service “value” luxury.

All of this prompted my thinking about what luxury means in today’s travel world.

The term “affordable or budget luxury” has been around for a number of years, meaning you’ll have a “luxury like” experience that’s within many travelers’ grasp. The expression packed some punch at the time it was first used, but now – with overuse – it has become almost meaningless.

Today, three-and-a-half star hotels and resorts are claiming to offer luxury – not in terms of service or expensive millwork, but with other elements such as top-of-the-line mattresses, designer linens, marble bathroom countertops or rainfall showerheads.

“It’s a challenging time for anyone who wants to cater to upscale consumers, regardless of their price point,” said Barbara DeLollis, the former USA TODAY hotels reporter. “Why? Younger generations who have vastly different expectations and needs than their parents are forcing new definitions of luxury.“

So this begs the question, what qualifies a hotel or resort as offering total luxury and how do consumers substantiate the claim? Prestigious awards certainly help. Invoking brand names of products used – from suites conceived  by fashion designers to luxury branded amenities and facilities. Not easy. And interesting that another word has not arisen to take the place of “luxury” so I guess we’re still stuck with it.

Images for Blogs: Branding and Photography

images for blogs

Just as all employees need to be trained on the importance of how to deal with online reviews, an equal amount of attention needs to be paid to training them on catering to bloggers’ photography needs. As we all know, images affect branding – especially in luxury. But the fact is, we can try to direct, but cannot control, bloggers’ output. And the best way to maximize your visual coverage is to train staff in effective ways to deal with bloggers’ photography and video needs.

Here are four tips:

1. Don’t ban photography.

By doing that, you risk having media decide not to feature you and/or it will create a bad impression. Case in point – I saw a handbag in a Madison Avenue storefront that I wanted to feature on my personal blog. Since images without glass photograph better, I walked inside the store and asked to see the handbag to photograph it. They said corporate policy prohibits photography in the store and that I’d have to call the PR department to waive the policy. The upshot of this? I used the photo taken through the window, not the best quality, so I could post it immediately. This inconveniences a reporter who is  probably on deadline and used to taking pictures — and sharing them with friends — whenever they want.

Besides taking the risk of not being featured in a publication, you also run the risk of missing a captivating image that you hadn’t thought to take. A case in point: as she recently told me, when former USA TODAY hotels reporter Barbara DeLollis took a hard-hat tour of the Capella Washington D.C. with Capella CEO Horst Shulze a year ago, she looked at the large, circular bathtub in the luxury boutique hotel’s premier suite and asked its size so she could tell readers about it. Before someone could respond, she stepped inside the tub and asked GM Alex Obertop to take her picture sitting inside it – in, of course, her suit and heels.

“The tub was so sumptuous that simply stating its dimensions wouldn’t give readers the whole story,” said DeLollis (soon to launch the travel site barbdelollis.com). “Showing them a photo of someone they know sitting inside it was worth 10,000 words. That picture, by the way, generated a lot of comments on social media.”

2. Make it quick and easy for bloggers to obtain images.

Have the staff know where to retrieve images for blogs (ideally online without a password) or, better yet, have them offer to get a particular image the blogger wants sent to him/her. If you know that a writer is on deadline, it would be wise to ask them if they would like you to email them a particular image to save them time. Or, at the least, have business cards for the PR contact/agency ready to be handed out by staff/employees or the list of contacts available at easy access to give to bloggers on the spot.

3. Create USB memory sticks with property or product images for blogs.

If they like the images, they’ll tend to use them rather than take their own. One caveat: Others will insist on taking their own images as they’ll want to express their own voice or take their own pictures because they’re more “real” than generic, touched up images.

4. Plan ahead.

When a press visit is confirmed, be sure that the person – before they arrive – receives a few relevant images (spa, food and beverage, sports, etc., depending on their interests) along with the link to the image gallery. Ideally they’ll have a look before their trip.

6 Things to Know to Attract the Same-Sex Wedding Market

same-sex wedding same-sex wedding

By Steve Deitsch

With marriage equality seemingly sweeping the country, more and more same-sex couples will be tying the knot in the coming months and years.  To date, well over 75,000 same-sex marriages have been performed in the U.S. and that number will only grow.  There are about 650,000 same-sex couples in the U.S.  so there is huge economic potential.  In fact, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates an additional $1 Billion in revenue from same-sex weddings  if it were legalized across the U.S.

How can your property get a piece of the pie?  Here  are some things to consider:

1.  Become relevant before you relate
76% of same-sex couples want to work with LGBT-friendly properties and vendors. In 28 U.S. states and many countries, it’s perfectly legal for vendors to refuse to work with LGBT couples.  That means you need to vet your vendors, train your staff, and even update your forms so they don’t say “Bride” and “Groom” but “Spouse” and “Spouse,” for example.  72% of LGBT couples want vendors who use inclusive language and 69% want vendors to show inclusive photos.

2.  Location matters
The economic opportunity for those states in the U.S. or the 17 countries that offer same-sex wedding is enormous.  If same-sex marriage is legal in your location, research shows that same-sex couples will spend up to three times more on their wedding than in locations where only a civil union or domestic partnership is legal. Many couples also opt for destination weddings, so if you are in a desirable location in a state in the U.S. or a country where same-sex weddings are legal, cast a wide geographic marketing net.

3.  There is a difference between weddings between men and weddings between women 
Lesbians spend up to 15% more on their weddings than gay men  For example, 66% of lesbians bought an engagement ring, vs. only 19% of gay men. The women also tend to stick more traditional aspects of the wedding ceremony and reception.

4.  Be open to non-traditional and creative approaches to the ceremony and reception – especially for gay men
Because same–sex couples don’t necessarily follow wedding tradition, they are often interested in doing things beyond the ordinary to make it more personal.

5.  Same-sex weddings tend to be smaller and more casual, but more expensive 
Same-sex couples spend slightly more on their weddings and more per guest than the $28,400 the average straight couple spends. Because many of the same-sex couples have been together a longer time, they are often older and their parents don’t invite their friends and distant relations.  Also, most same-sex couples  pay for the weddings themselves.

6.  Show you care
Gays and lesbians are a lucrative audience, and tend to influence the general population and be extremely loyal to a brand or company that supports them.  So if you are new to marketing to the LGBT community, it’s important to establish that you not only want their money, but that you genuinely support the LGBT community.   This can be accomplished a number of different ways:  provide equal benefits and protections to LGBT employees; sponsor local (or national) LGBT charities; and offer products or services or packages that would be of special interest to the LGBT audience.

Sources:  Community Marketing Inc., TheKnot.com <http://TheKnot.com> ,  Pew Research, U.S. Congressional Budget Office, 14 Stories

Steve Deitsch is President of Reverberate! Marketing Communications. The company specializes in reaching the LGBT market.  

Latest Trends: Men, The Rich Opportunity for Luxury Segment

luxury latest trends

New Berluti Shop in New York

 

Most everything comes full circle at some point, so in that sense it’s not surprising that men, once far surpassing women in sales of luxury goods, are back as a major target. And nowhere is this more evident than in luxury retail. LVMH, whom we know is the lead to follow, is investing tens of millions of dollars in the male market segment. This week they’re opening the first New York store of Berluti, the maker of expensive men’s shoes that they’ve turned into a full apparel and accessories line and are showcasing this in their new outpost. This is part of a $137 million investment they’re making according to the Wall Street Journal. During the Great Recession many women who previously traded up become introduced to the likes of H & M, Zara, Forever 21 and others, and realized they could get knockoffs of the latest trends, such as an “it” bag or clothing items, for a lot less. And it’s unlikely they’ll return to shopping as before. Not so men, who, according to the article, are more loyal to brands and care less about the latest trends. Plus, according to Bain & Co., between 2009 and 2013 men’s luxury spending increased 55% compared with 37% for women. So the luxury heavyweights are opening men only stores. In the past year alone, for example, in Miami’s Design District, Dior and Christian Louboutin have opened shops for men only along with a Berluti store.  If fashion leads the way in luxury latest trends, then what can we expect to see  for men in other lifestyle categories like hotels and spas?  Sounds like a real business opportunity.

 

Using Art to Sell Real Estate

faena development miami

The latest luxury real estate trend: high end condo developers have found the perfect new amenity — art, and they’re using it to generate buzz, separate themselves from the competition, and for community relations, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.  New York and Miami developers are leading the pack in this innovation.One of the more creative uses of art is to make friends in the neighborhood before the building’s opening by holding a monthly tour of area galleries.  For instance, the lobby turns into an art gallery every six weeks at 350 Bleecker in New York’s West Village, complete with an opening party for 50 to 75 people and actual sales of the art. An invite to a potential client becomes a social event and time for bonding.

Probably the boldest initiative is from Argentine hotel and real estate developer Alan Faena (hotels in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro) who is building a $100 million exhibition space called Faena Arts Center by starchitect Rem Koolhaas that will make the development (pictured here), which includes a hotel, a cultural destination. It will feature art exhibits and dinners with visiting artists. The Faena Group also sponsors an annual art award with $75,000 in prize money ,and commissions original work as well. Also in Miami, the new Oceana Bal Harbour has commissioned $14 million in art from mega artist Jeff Koons. After five years, the art can be sold upon an 80% majority vote of homeowners. Similarly, at the Ritz Carlton Residences in Chicago, buyers of apartments selling for $1 to $11 million will get a share of a half million dollar art collection. They can choose to change it or sell it and split the proceeds. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out as, though it’s a noble effort, if you’re ever been on a condo board you know how contentious even the smallest thing can be.

Keeping up with the Crawleys (of Downton Abbey)

More and more consumers these days want to live the Manor Life. Call it the Downton Abbey Effect: demand for the well-staffed home is on the rise, according to agencies and house managers alike. Clients are calling for live-in couples, live-out housekeepers, flight attendants for private jets, stewards for the yachts and chefs for the summer house.

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