Humanized hospitality: why the ‘new luxury’ will be about experience, not excess

What really is luxury hospitality? Worlds apart from what it once was, thanks to a new generation of travellers that prefers experience over material excess. The impact of that shift on the sector is getting more pronounced by the day. At Frame Awards 2020, we asked industry leaders – InterContinental Hotels’ Caroline Cundall, designer of the new age Marcel Wanders, Design Hotels CEO Peter Cole and Meaning.Global founder and CEO Dr Martina Olbertova – to share their own understanding of luxury and vision for the future. Keep reading for key insights from the panel discussion – chaired by Stephanie Bartscht, founder and CEO of Everise Agency – and find the full talk on our YouTube channel.

The meaning of the experience is going to become most important

Escapism, privacy, individuality, authenticity, spirituality. All came to mind for the panel as they mulled over what luxury really means to the hospitality sector today. But one element in particular was central to the conversation: experience. Even still, Cole believes that ‘new luxury’ won’t just be about experience alone. ‘I think it’s going one step further to be about the meaning of the experience,’ he said. ‘It’s going to become the most important: what is the meaning, what do you search for? Finding it is where luxury comes in.’ To help guests achieve these ends, hoteliers need not only to develop their niche offerings, but ‘have a purpose in their concept – and be rather overt about it.’

Cole’s theory aligns with research done by Olbertova on the topic, who found a considerable shift in focus among people and brands. ‘People are aspiring less and less toward artificial brand worlds. Now, brands are instead looking to people and their authentic values and needs and mirroring them to in order identify with them.’ ‘It’s one of the reasons that the boutique hotels have become so much more popular now, added Cundall. ‘They feel more human.’

The new luxury is about understanding where scarcity is today

Olbertova doesn’t believe that travellers are rejecting ostentatiousness per se, but that the semantic parameters of luxury have developed considerably with the economy. ‘The new meaning of luxury is fundamentally about understanding where the scarcity is today,’ she explained. ‘Value is always fundamentally tied to scarcity. The more value you have – and luxury is always about that enhanced, symbolic value – the more scarce it needs to be. If you look in the past, a lot of people had very little. What was then seen as luxury was an excess of material wealth, being able to show off and being able to differentiate oneself from the rest. Fast forward a hundred years to now and we’re living in an age when those two polar opposites have shifted. We now have an abundance of information, goods, technology: in this environment, what actually is scarce is time and being able to connect back to yourself.’

This point is exactly why Cundall feels that technology doesn’t pose a threat to hospitality the same way it does other sectors. Augmented reality, for example, ‘is extraordinary for selling houses and property,’ she said. ‘But there's nothing like the real thing – like actually being there – at the end of the day, I'd still want to be in the place.’

Hotels have always been about experience

To Wanders, hotels have ‘always been’ about this kind of real-time experience and it’s the job of designers to ‘represent the intangible’ – to build a lasting encounter from nothing. ‘I think the whole point of design is that designers think about people,’ he said. ‘We think about how they get in the space and with what reason, what they do there, what they expect from it. If done well, you build something that’s amazing for hundreds of people for the rest of time.’ As for the travellers? ‘You go, you step into a world that you will be a part of for a short time, then you leave. You take nothing home but memories. You’re not supposed to make it materialistic – you’re supposed to leave the towels.’

Want to tune into Frame Awards 2020 talks and panel discussions? Subscribe to our YouTube channel here – we'll be releasing the insight-driven conversations in coming weeks.

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