Courtyard by Marriott was one of the first luxury hotel groups to redesign their dead lobby space into something more functional. So far they say the investment is paying off with a 50% increase in food and beverage revenues. As business and leisure guests spend more time socializing and ordering snacks and drinks in these public foyers, they have seen revenues from pay-per-view movies and room service drop. Overall, however, they report higher food and beverage sales that more than make up for the losses.
Business guests find the new social lobby spaces, often with private booths, are the perfect place to conduct business or socialize with colleagues. However some lobbies have fallen victim to their own success as they attract a hipper, more techno-savvy crowd. One guest complained that “a hotel should be a hotel. If I go to the front desk, I should be able to check in without running the gamut of people who are transacting business that has nothing to do with a front desk function.”
Another unhappy guest could not hear the desk clerk over the noise from the lobby. “Moving a nightclub into the lobby is too much,” he said.
More than 50% of guests currently make use of the Link@Sheraton lobby and computer lounge area. Competitor Starwood plans to create more library lobbies with comfortable sofas, space for speakers to lead meetings and a relaxed coffee/wine bar area.
With occupancy levels at around 70% in luxury hotels in California, many are now encouraging guests looking for extended stays to fill rooms. Historically, luxury chains such as Rosewood Hotels and Resorts shied away from encouraging long-term guests but now they are welcomed with open arms as business has yet to return to pre-recession levels.
The Surrey Hotel and Spa in New York added kitchens to its suites during a recent upgrade and has seen long-term stays increase by 50% year-on-year. There are many reasons guests are choosing to stay long-term in luxury hotels. Employees working on projects away from home, recent divorcees, those visiting a city for medical treatment or people finding themselves homeless after a disaster such as flooding are all likely to prefer a luxury hotel over a short-term rental. Relocating families unable to sell their home and those choosing to renovate rather than move up are also likely long-stay guests.
Although visitors staying more than 30 days may negotiate high discounts, they are likely to spend more on additional services, such as butler service, room service, dining and laundry, which all help keep staff gainfully employed. The Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, California added five villas in its grounds to accommodate long-term guests and it is certainly paying off. The Rosewood Crescent Hotel in Dallas accommodates long-stay guests by providing extra clothing racks and the Mansion on Peachtree, a Rosewood Hotel in Atlanta, is happy to hang guest’s artworks in their rooms.
One long-term guest finds staying at the Pelican Hill in Newport Beach extremely convenient. If he has had too many cocktails, he calls the concierge and requests a pickup in the hotel’s staff-driven Escalade. Pelican Hill struggled after opening in the depths of the economic downturn and has survived by offering discounts for stays over a month. Rooms regularly priced at $745 are $263 a night although turn-down and butler service are extra.
Private airport lounges are a recognized godsend to business travelers who typically spend hours at a time waiting in airports. Now luxury hotels are spotting the benefits and are offering exclusive hotel club lounges as a perk for those upgrading their room.
Sheraton hotel chain has just spent $100 million upgrading 120 club lounges for their Preferred Guest members after feedback showed that concierge or executive lounges were a sought-after perk for regular business and leisure guests.
They offer a quieter and more comfortable club environment than the hotel bar or restaurant and include wireless Internet, showers and free newspapers. They are seen as a great place to chill out and mix with like-minded travelers over complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres or continental breakfast. In addition, club lounges are ideal for arranging private business meetings or for killing time in a comfortable environment between checking out of their room and departing for a later flight. Women travelers feel particularly safe as the lounges are only accessible using a hotel room key.
Guests will increasingly be offered this new perk in luxury hotel chains such as the Four Seasons, St Regis, Fairmont, Starwood, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Marriott and Sheraton hotels.
Middle Eastern hotel group Jumeirah has ambitious plans to double the number of hotels over the next 14 months. Its newest offering is the exclusive all-suite Ocean Pearls resort, part of the Jumeirah Dhevanafushi Hotel on the Gaafu Alifu Atoll in the Maldives.
Offering a Robinson Crusoe castaway experience, the cluster of 16 over-water villas sit above the ocean and are surrounded by water on all sides. Access is along an 800m long boardwalk or by boat to the jetty. Along with the private villas there is an infinity pool, spa, seafood restaurant, bar and library all suspended above the water, which creates a tranquil peace and unique desert island atmosphere.
Each Ocean Pearls villa has a private deck with daybeds, a sunken bathtub and steps down for a swim in the warm Indian Ocean with its pristine coral reefs. Butler service is available for those requiring a “Man Friday” and guests can choose from a choice of suites ranging from 270-340 square meters, all with unobstructed ocean views, of course.
Jumeirah is keen to compete with luxury hotel brands such as the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental. It has planned openings in Kuwait, Majorca and Azerbaihjan in the forthcoming year.
USA Today reports a 300% increase in the demand for hotel WiFi services as business and leisure guests carry more and more devices. David Garrison, CEO of iBahn which provides Internet services to the hospitality and travel industry, sees the rocketing demand will present problems for hotels in the near future.
In his experience the rapid growth in the use of iPads and tablets is already stretching demand, causing slow Internet service at peak times. He foresees that hotels and airports will be forced to increase the band width and that will be the end of unlimited free Internet access for guests.
Almost one third of travelers today carry a smartphone, laptop and a tablet such as the Apple iPad and they are using them more than ever before. The demand for video is particularly heavy and can create a tremendous traffic jam at peak times. Garrison predicts that chains such as Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood and Hilton that currently offer free Internet may change their policy. Guest may be able to check their email for free in the future, but downloading films and video may incur an extra fee.
Condé Nast Traveler has just released the results of its annual Readers’ Choice survey for the Best Hotel in the World. It revealed that the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai luxury hotel is the 2011 winner of this prestigious title.
In second place was Peninsula House in the Dominican Republic, just ahead of the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. Luxury hotels in South Africa, which have done very well in tourism awards so far this year, was represented by the Safari Lodge at Phinda Private Game Reserve which was given fourth place.
The awards are chosen by a large cross-section of business and leisure travelers as over 28,000 readers submitted their top choice. The same process was used for readers to vote for the best city in each country. Here the United States winner was Charleston, South Carolina. Quebec City was voted top city in Canada and San Miguel de Allende won for Mexico.
Further awards were given for each continent, giving travelers more ideas for some great city trips. Sydney, Australia was voted the top city to visit in the Oceania section, Buenos Aires won for Central and South America, Kyoto won in Asia and the lovely city of Florence, Italy won the award for best city in Europe.
Despite an onslaught of hype and billions of dollars invested, Dubai did not get a mention until #49 when the Park Hyatt Dubai was named, well behind more modest offerings in England, New Zealand and Greece.
Few people would want the job of Offer Nissenbaum, General Manager of the Peninsula Beverley Hills luxury hotel in California. Even he admitted, “We do have demanding guests, and we’re fine with that. It’s OK because they have high expectations.”
However the job does have its upside – he has just been shortlisted as one of the five finalists for the Hotelier of the Year Award. The award ceremony is organized by Virtuoso, the luxury travel agent network, who whittle down the nominees from 900 luxury hotels around the world. The award goes to the person best showing “an unrelenting passion for the industry, an astute appreciation for detail and a keen sense of how to lead and manage a dynamic team of professionals.”
The other finalists are from all four corner of the world. Michel Jauslin is Director General of the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome; Torsten van Dullemmen works for the Oberoi Udaivilas in Rajasthan; Nigel Pace is General Manager of the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town in South Africa and Claudio Ceccherelli represents the Park Hyatt Milan in Italy.
The final award-naming ceremony will take place at the Virtuoso Annual Travel Mart Conference held at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas where top travel agents, luxury hotel representatives and hoteliers will mingle and network.
Have you ever considered how much you pay to cover other people’s dishonesty? Luxury hotels worldwide are now finding it is financially worthwhile to add miniature high-tech tags to their fluffy towels, plush bathrobes and high-thread-count sheets.
Apparently up to 20 per cent of hotel stock goes home with guests, who clearly feel that the room price includes a couple of souvenirs. Somewhere down the line the cost of that missing stock has to be paid for – by all travelers.
More and more hotels are now using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to implant a tiny chip inside duvet covers, bed sheets, bathmats and pool towels. The cost of tagging is around a dollar per tag and the items can then be monitored using inventory tracking technology. The tags are well able to stand the rigors of the washing machine, being both flexible and washable. The ultimate systems can track each item from its removal from a housekeeping closet, making both staff and guests accountable.
What was most surprising to me was that following the press release, the idea of tagging hotel items was roundly condemned by the general public, who cited that “the price [luxury hotels] charge, we deserve the towels” or one wag who joked “I never stay in a newly opened hotel. The towels are too fluffy and I can never close my suitcase!”
Hopefully the threat of micro-tags may be a sufficient deterrent to light-fingered guests so that towels and sheets stay behind when guests check out and losses are minimized.