Not a week appears to go by without the opening of a luxury hotel somewhere in the world. Just take a look a consumer travel magazine and you'll see all sorts of new concepts and offerings flooding the market. Until about 15 years ago, the differentiation between luxury hotel brands was clear. Guests knew who was who and what was what. Today, the market is saturated with many different hotels, brands and offerings. If you factor in the disruption of new entrants due to technology, it is not surprising that customers are confused. As client demands are also changing, is it any wonder then that many luxury hotels are struggling to maintain their competitive edge?
Faced with so much choice, how can consumers decide what is right for them? And how can hotel businesses distinguish their offering to attract clients? Business case studies across the years have proven that focusing solely on product – room type, facilities, etc. – is not sufficient. They do not leave a lasting imprint in consumer's minds. Experience is everything – and that is why branding is back on the table for luxury hotels.
Hotel or brand?
Based on a series of interviews with 18 international hotel managers, my research into the topic has aimed to obtain first-hand insights into the challenges hoteliers are currently facing and the strategies they are adopting to attract clients and maintain a competitive advantage. But when I asked about their brand differentiator, many of them talked in the context of a hotel operation or its service offering, yet only a few managers were able to explain their differentiation. The more I probed, the more it became clear that the hotel itself was unsure about its brand positioning. If the hotel manager is unable to articulate the differentiator – or worse, does not even see it on his or her radar – how can we expect customers to be clear about the offer?
The question is - are you a hotel or a brand? Many large, medium and small hotels offer very similar product offerings. Often there is not a great deal of individual personality either. When customer choice depends solely on products that are instantly comparable in terms of price and features, it leaves hotels vulnerable. But a brand has longevity. A brand can weather market storms. What makes a true brand that will stay with the consumer forever?
Service or hospitality?
Luxury hotels are in the business of taking care of people. This goes beyond service. In a Tedx Talk on hospitality, restaurateur Bobby Stuckey describing. In essence, creating a brand personality is about defining your offering. Of course there is the tangible offering - the quality of the rooms, the spa, the dining rooms, for example. These have to be first class. And of course, there is quality of service and how it is perceived by your guests, and that is why hotel managers spend so long drilling its importance into their staff. But the best hotels, those that are succeeding, stretch their definition beyond these two elements to incorporate the concept of hospitality.
Luxury hotels are in the business of taking care of people. This goes beyond service.
luxury hospitality – it needs to be a transformative experience. It should change something in each person. It should create cherished memories, enrich their experience and become part of their life story.
Guests arrive from all around the world. It is vital to go beyond cultural difference by not judging the difference, but to deliver the care even before the guests know they are in need. Hospitality in Asia is different than in the west.
Service is action-orientated. Care is universal. As Bobby Stuckey defines it, service is 'what you do to someone', hospitality is 'how you make someone feel'. When care is offered, it provokes a feeling. The feeling transmits between people. True care changes the emotion. And the impact spreads. This is hospitality. True luxury hotel brands develop and nurture hospitality and integrate it into a brand DNA.
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