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.

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.

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.

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 Market Hotels

the betsy

Hotels have been using art to appeal to the affluent market for years. I remember when we launched Ritz Carlton Hotels years ago, art in the public areas was promoted as a major amenity, as it would become with many other hotel groups and individual properties. Artists in residence, experiences with art such as the Peninsula Academy’s class in Chinese brush painting, art tours, and even one with the word “museum” in its name (21C Museum Hotel), have all been part of the appeal. But now, especially at the recent Art Basel in Miami, it has been taken to the next level, both in uses in marketing and in reaching out to new audiences.

And that’s not just travel products, but lifestyle in general, brands ranging from American Apparel and Fiat to Maserati, Harper’s Bazaar and Samsung. Publishing, apparel, automotive, beverage, food, they’re all jumping on the bandwagon and in a major way. According to a recent New York Times article, “In Marketing, Art’s the Thing”, they’re using art to reach consumers in their 20’s and 30’s who are already making art part of their lives, as a differentiator in the luxury category, and as a point of reference for relating to the beautiful and artisanal.  Miami hotels chose to wave their flag during Art Basel with popups – from The Newstand at the Standard Spa Miami and all night dining at The Raleigh to cultural events at The Betsy. The Betsy’s tie-ins were especially notable, featuring exhibits in its dedicated visual arts space, programming inviting guests to interact with the artists, and a cause related marketing initiative. Percentage of all works sold is contributed to the Zara Center for AIDS Impacted Youth in Zimbabwe.

Restaurants and bars got into the act with special themed menus like Red Steakhouse’s “Red Basel” and cocktail bar The Broken Shaker serving up drinks with their companion art. Pamela Drucker Mann, publisher of Bon Appetit cited food and art coming together, giving examples of restaurants designed to look like art galleries and “tablescaping”, designing table arrangements or centerpieces. Indeed, art sells.

Blogpost by Karen Weiner Escalera, President & Chief Strategist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psychographics and Hotel Lifestyle Branding Part 2

Using psychographics rather than demographics (see Part 1) what are the options and new directions in hotel lifestyle branding for the hospitality and cruise industries?

The oldest lifestyle branding route is still through a celebrity recognized in a specific category, primarily food/chefs (Daniel Boulud), golf (Jack Nicklaus), and architecture/design (Philippe Starck).

Major hotel brands like Starwood Hotels and Resorts and IHG are segmenting by special interests. Starwood has been a leader in this over several decades, with its fashion brand (W), wellness (Westin) and the newest, eco-luxury (1Hotel) and entertainment (Aloft). At the same time, they continue to build their straight luxury portfolios, with high end appeal (The Luxury Collection and St. Regis).

Lifestyle brands especially from the fashion world – Versace, Armani, Bulgari, Missoni and others – are creating immersive hotel brand experiences at the high end. In a very interesting development, at the other budget end of the spectrum, Marriott is doing a partnership with IKEA. My prediction: always one to watch, LVMH will use its hotel acquisitions to showcase its full range of lifestyle product lines. Imagine this: you walk into their hotel and are greeted by runway models, offered a glass of Moet et Chandon. Want more? Visit the Moet et Chandon Ice Lounge (already in existence). Choose your fashion suite – Celine, Donna Karan, Fendi, Pucci maybe with Acqua di Parma bath amenities. It’s dinner time and you’re hungry? Head down to the restaurant through the lobby fragrant with the newest perfume from Dior, order a lobster and a glass of Chateau d’Yquem. And before heading home, stop off in the hotel shop and pick up a Bulgari or Chaumet watch as a memento of your stay.

And finally, the newest option is to brand by a niche, special interest category. Examples include the Food Hotel, Divorce Hotel, Women Only Hotel, and the Pet Hotel.  Interestingly enough, most of these have come out of Europe. Marketing associations with a niche such as Design Hotels are yet another choice, also a European invention.

Post by Karen Weiner Escalera, President and Chief Strategist

Psychographics and Hotel Lifestyle Branding Part 1

Branding

Special interests and passions are driving travel decisions more and more, from themed weeks at hotels and cruise ships and tour operator offerings to learning vacations and now, hotel brands. Drivers in travel buying decisions are increasingly about psychographics – behavior rather than demographic determinants.

Let’s take a look first at the traditional “big four” of demographics: gender, age, geography and income and their influence today:

  • Gender lines continue to blur with women taking on more of the traditional role of men and vice versa, and the advent of same sex marriage.
  • Age is also less important. Whether it’s the “coveted” 18-34 males or moms from 25-44, this is an outdated way to target for many reasons. First, people are age shifting and not living lives based on their chronological age. Second, the top end of a demographic (34) has almost nothing in common with the low end (18). Also, age demos leave out influencers and others for whom a message may be relevant. Finally, focusing on age can take you away from emotional or other relevant benefits.
  •  Then we have geography. In this global, highly mobile world, people often spend their lives in multiple cities.
  • Of the four determinants, the only one that is still very important is income, especially at the two ends of the spectrum: budget and high end.  Price will trump passion if you’re on a budget and at the high-end, travelers are reluctant to compromise their comforts and service.

However, these traditional measurements don’t tell you “why they buy”- why consumers would choose one brand over another. Psychographics, or lifestyle and behavioral information are playing a larger role in hotel branding, which was my topic as a panelist for the Urban Land Institute, Southeast Florida/Caribbean chapter, last month. What are some of these options and new directions for the hospitality and cruise industries? Check out the answer in Part 2 tomorrow.

By Karen Weiner Escalera, President & Chief Strategist

Hotel Websites Gone Wrong

 

 

Four Seasons Weddings Website

Four Seasons Weddings Website

Since starting this blog and newsletter on luxury travel and lifestyle trends in 2005, we have always focused on what’s next and new opportunities in travel and lifestyle – all positive. For once we’re making a departure – and writing about something gone wrong. Hotel websites. Granted, we haven’t seen all of the websites in existence, but we’ve seen hundreds. And the overwhelming majority are boring and have obviously used website templates. Speaking about the luxury segment  (the universe of hotels is too large to opine on), most websites have no personality, no point of view, are weak on compelling content, and don’t say “luxury”. So, you say – and are correct to say – what do we think are effective, aspirational websites? Here are some of our current favorites and why:

A special hats off to Four Seasons Hotels for its weddings website. The site reads like an online publication, rich in interesting content, with feeds from various social media channels and a section promoting gift cards.

Peninsula  Hotels – they do contemporary classic and luxury so well: gorgeous images, clean, and with a point of view. Their current campaign is “Glamour Redefined” and the site conveys that.

Standard Hotels – leave it up to Andre Balaz and his team to have a point of view – in t heir case, cool, now, and with its own culture. In fact, “culture” and community are their rallying point.

Le Cheval Blanc – In thinking of whose website to go to, who is always right there on the touch point of luxury lifestyle – LVMH. Sure enough, their website for their two Le Cheval Blanc hotels is stunning. Two full screen images pack an emotional punch as well as the strong  design element and sense of texture. Fabulous.

For an individual hotel, effective for its destination and audience, The Puli in Shanghai’s site gets high marks for sophistication, style, and classic contemporary luxury.

Which hotel websites get your vote?

 

 

What Millennials Want: Live Branding Case Study

Amherst College

Amherst College

The always innovative Frits Van Paasschen, CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, commissioned a study of marketing and branding trends with students at Amherst College. The target market was young adults. The “Live Branding Case Study” was a first for Amherst, his alma mater, and a first for Starwood who has only worked with hospitality schools in the past. Among the questions were “What are your generation’s biggest concerns?”” How will these influence your purchasing behavior”, and “What three initiatives would you commission if you were Starwood’s CEO”?

Survey results revealed that millennials put a premium on businesses that embrace technology and environmental sustainability along with social responsibility in general. This smartphone bred generation wants more from hotel mobile apps, like being able to order room service even while on the plane with a touch of a button, or being able to network with other travelers. The students encouraged hotels to look beyond the onsite facilities to events like in house art galleries, concerts, book clubs and meetings. And what is probably no surprise, the importance of design as an end in ltself, part of the experience.

The insights are valuable but I think what’s most interesting is the idea of going to a liberal arts college to do what they billed as a “Live Branding Case Study”. As described by the editor in an article in Amherst College’s magazine, Van Paasschen wanted to leverage the interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts education and students’ interests ranging from fashion, real estate and finance to media and contemporary art. The Starwood CEO  said this will be the first of other similar studies, and I’m sure many other hotel companies will follow their lead. Interested in reading more about millennials and marketing? Check out our Luxury Travel and Lifestyle Trends newsletters.