Luxury hospitality is no longer defined by rigid brand standards, according to a panel of experts speaking at the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin last week (4 May).
“Nobody wants to travel to destinations that look the same as other destinations,” said Ingo Schweder, CEO of GOCO Hospitality, who warned against brands dictating standards for a hotel in a country or area they were unfamiliar with.
“In luxury you can’t throw a book of brand standards across the other side of the table – those days are gone… you’ve got to work within the market you’re in,” agreed Daniel Wakeling, vice-president, development, luxury and residential - Europe & Africa, Hilton.
While he said there was still a demand for the ‘cookie cutter’ approach in other segments, he said luxury travellers didn’t want to spend money to travel halfway around the world “and not feel the location they’re in”.
“When you’re buying luxury, your expectation is that it’s going to be authentic, it’s going to reflective of the place it’s in and the product is going to be of a certain quality,” he said.
Willemijn Geels, vice-president development Europe, IHG Hotels & Resorts, added that while the trend of hotels being identical wherever they were in the world was gone, this did not necessarily conflict with the concept of luxury brand standards.
“There are certain key brand-defining things that you do not want to compromise on,” she said, but pointed out that groups such as IHG had a breadth of brands to choose from.
She also said there was “a lot of discussion possible and that’s how it should be in any project”, describing hotel development as a “partnership” with all sides bringing their experiences to the table to make the best possible hotel for that location.
She continued that brand standards needed to evolve with the market, with IHG updating its brand standards several times a year.
IHG has expanded rapidly into the luxury and lifestyle segment in recent years through the acquisition of the Kimpton brand in 2014, Regent in 2018, Six Senses in 2019 and the launch of Vignette Collection last year.
The panel also explored the expansion of hotel brands into luxury residential, for which Jaidev Menezes, regional vice-president, mixed-se Development (EMEA), Marriott International, argued the same was true and that there should be more of a focus on the developer.
“We as a brand should not dictate what the unit mix and size is,” he said. While he said Marriott leaned towards a greater number of studios within its luxury brands and defined a minimum square footage for a bedroom, he said developers had the freedom to make those decisions; otherwise “the product’s not going to sell”.
He said the common areas of a residential product were where the brand experience and design were delivered.
Marriott is focused on growing its branded residential portfolio with approximately 110 sites open and about 90 in the pipeline – three-quarters of which were across its luxury brands such as St Regis, Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott. The remaining quarter was across its premium brands such as Marriott, Westin, Sheraton and Le Méridien.
Wakeling also described residential as a growing component of both Hilton’s business and the wider industry.