During the last Distinguished Speakers Series presented at EHL, Tim Weiland (AEHL 2006) currently General Manager at the Aman Le Mélézin in Courchevel, shared his view on the luxury hospitality industry variations and challenges.
The availability of surplus spendable income – thanks to the rise of living standards – has created an explosion in the expectations of travelers. Coupled with the travel and tourism industry boom, the scenario provided a window of opportunity for proposing exclusive products and services. This propelled the demand for luxury hotels and the hospitality industry saw both chain and independent hotels target this specific segment with niche offerings.
Luxury or elegance
Luxury is something way beyond necessity that thrives on thirst and desire. In fact, if it wasn’t it would lose its charm. Luxury hotels whether beach, resort or city properties, differentiate themselves from "regular" five star hotels by providing their guests with amenities and services qualitatively far more superior in standards and style.
"We don’t like the word “luxury”, everything is luxury today. In France there is a saying: “Le luxe est une affaire d’argent. L’élégance est une question d’education” [Luxury is a matter of money. Elegance is a question of education.] We would rather be thought of as elegant rather than luxurious." explains Aman chief executive, Olivier Jolivet.
Small yet perfect
The boutique hotel market (generally accepted to include hotels with no more than 100 rooms) has truly established itself in the past few years. More than a trend, it has become a game changer, pushing several larger brands to reposition some of their establishments to compete in this niche. In fact the limited capacity strategy enables each outlet to enhance the quality of service, customize the experience and respond to the changing demographics of the luxury consumer.
“At Aman, we like to say that we are one of the biggest small hotels or one of the smallest big hotels. Our 30 properties range from 10 to 80 rooms only. With each property being built around a different feel, we are definitely aiming to offer our guests a unique experience rather than a commoditized product.” continues Tim Weiland, AEHL 2006 and General Manager at the Aman Le Mélézin in Courchevel.
Seasonality or exclusivity
The hotel industry experiences fluctuations in business due to seasons. The main challenge for many establishments is therefore to maintain profitability during the off-season period. The luxury hotel industry players tend to rely on increased accommodation charges so as to keep up with their high operation costs but also to cover their off-season expenses.
“The Aman Le Mélézin in Courchevel operates 4 months during the year. As it is a ski resort, it is a branding choice to keep it as such. I would not say that the price of our rooms is meant to comprise the cost of our yearly operations as it definitely reflects our product and service offering. But it is indeed true that seasonality influences the pricing strategy of most luxury establishments.” adds Tim Weiland.
Ostentation versus conspicuous consumption; new wealth versus old wealth; affordable versus exclusive luxury. We have seen an attitudinal shift with consumers increasingly turning their back to what can be bought, stitched or labeled in favor of a world without borders filled with meaningful experiences.
“Proposing locations that are mostly rather “remote” or “unreachable” has been at the core of the Aman offering. It is a privilege to access them. It allows us to leverage the best of their local surroundings and therefore answer to the growing need for invisible luxury.” comments Tim Weiland.
An influential staff
If branded, inviting and high-end amenities can illustrate an establishment’s commitment to quality, the staff of a luxury hotel is just as important. It contributes to a unique guest experience and interactions thus winning guest's appreciation and confidence.
“It is important for luxury establishment to keep the balance between innovation, customization and still maintain that personal touch. It is really what sets us apart from the rest of the hospitality industry.” continues Tim Weiland.
Technology & social media
Luxury is no exception when it comes the technological revolution, in particular when considering the various online branding opportunities – including Social Media. Whilst the possibilities of harnessing those appear limitless, the luxury industry needs to choose carefully; the smartest app is no replacement for service and human contact.
“I would distinguish on-site versus off-site technology here. Aman's philosophy is very independent in its thinking on that matter. We want to be a part of this world – we have a Facebook page – and keep offering the access to technology to our clients – Wi-Fi for example – but we also feel it is important to remain discrete and allow our guest to be “forgotten” when on site” explains Tim Weiland.
Finally, “As we walk ahead, the definition of luxury is doomed to evolve a lot more. Our industry and more particularly our niche, should be ready to constantly redefine it.” concludes Tim Weiland.