The British TV period drama Downton Abbey, which weaves stories around the lives of a fictional aristocratic family and their staff in the early 1900s, seems to have captured the imagination of luxury hotels worldwide. The series was featured as a Masterpiece Classic PBS program in the USA, and New York’s Oheka Castle luxury hotel in New York decided to offer its own Downton Abbey experience. It has created special “Aristocratic Escape Packages” where Lords and Ladies can be entertained in the manner befitting upper class gentry.
This pampering package includes overnight accommodation, afternoon tea, champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries and a copy of the drama series on DVD. Oheka Castle and Estate on Long Island is no stranger to an upmarket clientele. It was the setting for the marriage of Maude Kahn, elder daughter of Otto Kahn, to Scots Guard Major John Marriott in 1920 with a guest list straight from the Who’s Who of New York Society.
Other luxury hotels cashing in on popular TV series include the urban art hotel, Artists Residence, in Brighton England. It was featured in the Hotel Inspector TV series that shot a behind-the scenes-documentary and the hotel now basks in notoriety.
Similarly, the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars has prompted a spate of package weekend breaks with a dancing theme. Judges and professional contestants from the British version, Strictly Come Dancing, are guests at luxury country house hotels across Britain. Guests have two dance lessons before a performance, plus a Q&A session and photographs with the celebrities.
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.
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.
In a recent survey commissioned on behalf of Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, it is not security that most hotel guests look for, it’s cleanliness.
In a survey of 1,000 travelers, 43% of participants said that the cleanliness of a room was more important than price or location. I would tend to agree that bed bugs, dust or a dirty bathroom are unacceptable, but when one books a night in a hotel, isn’t cleanliness the norm, not something to simply hope for?
The trend towards hardwood floors and all-white bed linen and towels certainly indicates that spotlessly clean rooms and fresh bed linen are high concerns for many.
The full results of the public opinion survey showed 43% of interviewees prioritized cleanliness, 23% were most concerned about the price, 19% prioritized the hotel’s location and 11% ranked security as the #1 priority. Possibly if the survey had targeted a higher percentage of women or families, the concern about security may have been higher. The remaining participants chose other priorities, such as WiFi or a free breakfast.
Luxury Hotel group Hilton has been using the latest 21st century phenomena, flash mobs, to attract publicity as part of its Hilton HHonors Great Getaway. The hotel chain recently orchestrated an entertaining flash-mob beach party on the sizzling streets of New York City as it experiences a summer heat wave.
The 40-or-so members of the group discarded their business attire to reveal bikinis and swimwear, to the amusement of commuters making their way more slowly than usual through Penn Station.
The group moved on to Times Square, Grand Central Station, the Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park tossing beach balls, dancing and generally having a good time. Hilton also orchestrated a similar event in London recently which attracted city workers along with Ben Cohen, a former rugby international player. However, I doubt that the weather was quite warm enough in London for beachwear.
The message however was clear. If you want to be part of what’s happening at Hilton hotels, best sign up for Hilton Honors to be included in the next fun event.
What governs your choice of luxury hotels? Do you go to your favorite booking site and punch in the destination? Are you loyal to a particular brand, maybe drawn by the benefits of a loyalty card? Or do you choose the hotel with the best bath products?
Hilton Hotels seem to think the latter is all important and has even gone to the trouble of ousting its high class La Source amenities from Crabtree and Evelyn, replacing them with a new line from Peter Thomas Roth. Both retail for top dollar so it is not a money-saving exercise, yet Hilton Hotels believes this change in the bathroom will convey a “more worldly image”.
This new line is certainly not a mass-market brand and actually runs the risk of being underrated as few people have heard of it. However Hilton’s execs believe it suggests a sense of exclusivity and cache, making Hilton looks eminently more stylish.
Hilton executives reportedly took 18 months to choose their new toiletries and considered more than 50 products - nice work if you can get it. The products include a shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash and two soap bars, so nothing new there. It has yet to be decided whether to use the Peter Thomas Roth brand in the spas, but the products will be on sale at Hilton Hotel’s shops. Meanwhile Doubletree by Hilton recently switched from Neutrogena to Crabtree and Evelyn’s Citron line, but does anyone really care?
by Gillian at Luxique Luxury Hotels
The Palace of Versailles outside Paris is to transform one of its satellite buildings into a luxury hotel.
L’hôtel du Grand Contrôle, the traditional home of the chateau’s treasurers, is to be converted into a luxury hotel with 23 bedrooms. Some will look out over The Orangerie, the palace’s elaborate greenhouse, and others will have a view of the Swiss ornamental lake. The hotel could be ready as early as the end of next year.
A concession has been granted to the Belgian company Ivy International SA to renovate and develop the building, which dates back to the 17th century but is currently in a dilapidated state. The work is expected to cost 5.5 million euros (£4.6 million/$7.3 million).
Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage site deemed one of the crowning achievements of 18th-century French art, is one of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions.
The development paves the way for a series of French projects aimed at exploiting the economic potential of listed buildings while securing their renovation.
Another royal palace, the Chateau of Fontainbleau, south of Paris, is preparing to appeal for bids to develop its listed Heronniere barracks next year. “We have to find a purpose for these buildings to avoid them falling into ruin,” said Jean-Francois Hebert, President of Fontainbleau. “One of the ways will be to set up an upmarket hotel complex.”
by Andy Moreton/AFP
Luxique offers you a choice of accommodation at some 70 luxury hotels in Paris,including the Trianon Palace in Versailles.
There might be severe belt-tightening and worried workers protesting on the streets, but Paris will still see four new five-star luxury hotels in the next fifteen months.
The first opened this week. The Royal Monceau, near the Arc de Triomphe, was previously a standard class hotel, but it’s been transformed by the celebrated French designer, Philippe Starck, into a luxury hotel in Paris, art gallery and club for what he calls ‘the smart tribe’.
Starck said that the hotel – now owned by the sovereign fund of Qatar and managed by the Singapore-based Raffles hotel group – was an attempt to recreate French modernity.
The three other luxury hotels are also being built (or rebuilt) with Asian or Middle Eastern capital. The Shangri-La, due to open in December, has been created by a Hong Kong-based group from a private mansion on the Avenue d’Iéna, with stunning views over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.
The Mandarin Oriental (another Hong Kong funded project) will open next summer on the Rue Saint-Honoré, close to the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre, while the old Majestic Hotel on the Avenue Kléber is being converted (Qatari money again) into a 200-room ‘palace’, to be called the Peninsula-Majestic.
Paris is littered with beautiful sites, shops and expensive restaurants but is, surprisingly, under-supplied with top-of-the-range hotels. It has only seven establishments in the ‘super-luxury’ class, compared with 14 in London.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique’s travel experts have hand picked 63 luxury hotels in Paris and they’re available to book at the best possible rates.
Not content with an airline, music and entertainment, mobile phones and a hundred and one other interests, the Virgin Group’s billionaire owner, Sir Richard Branson, is moving into the luxury hotel market.
He’s currently seeking properties in the United States in order to launch a contemporary four-star chain under the Virgin brand. He’s initially looking at New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington DC, although there are plans to expand globally in the long-term.
The group aims to acquire the management contract or ownership of $500 million (£316 million) worth of 150-400 bedroom properties in ‘appealing neighbourhoods’ over the next three years. The luxury hotels will be aimed at what the company terms ‘high income, well educated, metropolitan, creative class customers’.
Sir Richard said (modestly): “I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their heads and making sure those industries would never be the same because Virgin took them on.”
The entrepreneur has already dipped his toe into the waters of the luxury travel business with Virgin Limited Edition, a collection of exclusive vacation retreats around the world. They include Necker, a small island in the British Virgin [!] Islands owned by Sir Richard and available to hire for up to 26 guests.
by Andy Moreton
One of the most popular hotel review websites, TripAdvisor, could face a legal challenge from hoteliers who say adverse comments are damaging their businesses.
TripAdvisor encourages its users to give honest feedback and ratings for hotels, flights, restaurants and rentals. But a growing group of hotel owners claim many of the posts are either exaggerated or completely fabricated (either by users or competing hoteliers).
The mass action is being put together by KwikChex, a company which monitors online reputations. Chris Emmins, from the company, said more and more businesses from around the world were contacting him about the situation. Many were smaller concerns that couldn’t afford to fight back.
Mr Emmins said he was keen to avoid legal action if possible, and his aim was for TripAdvisor to take down reviews that were proven to be false, defamatory or malicious. “We hope common sense will prevail,” he said.
TripAdvisor said it couldn’t comment on threatened or pending litigation, but added that every review was screened, and those deemed suspicious were investigated.
by Andy Moreton