Attilio Marro, Stefano Bajona and Elisabetta Neri talk about hospitality trends in luxury event venues.
This article about luxury venues for meetings is the result of three interviews to three professionals involved in the luxury hospitality world: Attilio Marro, general manager of Bulgari hotels; Stefano Bajona, CEO of Onirikos, tour operator specialized in luxury travels; Elisabetta Neri, partner of NeBe, company specialized in b2b events in the luxury tourism business. Its purpose is to identify significant trends, and give venues and event managers some useful key tips to simplify their choices.
This is our second article on the topic. The first, written by Gianfranco Bucher, owner of the historical Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, talked about the past of the luxury hospitality business. With this article, our aim is to explain today’s trends through three luxury specialists’ words.
Luxury venues: the Best for a Few
Luxury, since forever and in every field, has always been characterized by two requirements: excellence and exclusivity.
Excellence and exclusivity in the luxury event venues
Excellence means the best obtainable quality; exclusivity means that its access is reserved to a few, most of the time, but not exclusively, because of its price. In order to talk about luxury, both requirements are needed.
For instance, in Washington state, every fast food serves excellent fresh lobster, but it’s clear that this type of service can’t be labeled as ‘luxury’, even if the food quality is great and it technically is a “high quality product”: lobsters are everywhere!
Attilio Marro adds: “Luxury is a synonym of rarity, and it can be translated in authenticity and genuineness of locations, products, atmosphere, people… These things have a great emotional power, as they’re always more difficult to find”.
Emotion: this is the magic word of contemporary luxury. In the hospitality world, it implies a third mandatory condition: the quality of the offered experience.
Luxury venues: a unique, emotional and customized Experience
“Stay in my hotel and you’ll live this kind of experience”: according to Stefano Bajona, this is the message that more and more luxury hotels are trying to convey these days. “But luxury hospitality cannot afford to offer only itself anymore“, he adds. The luxury emotional experience has begun about ten years ago with the introduction of SPAs, that are now a minimum requirement in luxury hotels. It has since then evolved, and now offers different services whose common trait is always its uniqueness: an exclusive visit to a closed archeological site, or a cooking class by an executive chef.
Personal services have been influenced as well: some luxury hotels offer a personal butler, the possibility of checking-in and checking-out from inside the room, or a 24-hour breakfast. “Anticipating the client’s needs and possible desires, and not just the most basic ones, adds value and translates into real emotions.” (Marro)
Luxury venues: multi-faced Luxury
The idea of tailoring services is now partly influenced by new customers from emerging countries, whose luxury culture is connected to opulence and ostentation, whereas customers from the “old luxury markets” generally prefer “an informal but outstanding service” (Marro). The services offered by luxury event venues have had to become very flexible in recent years, and they will probably continue to change in the future.
For instance, the topic of sustainability has slowly started to enter the luxury world, as it supports “an increasing sensibility towards the ambience, and it’s also a bit of a trend” (Neri), and it accentuates the request that “the luxury market has the responsibility to respect and preserve the places where it operates” (Marro).
Despite this, the culture of ostentation is popular as well. But it’s no surprise, as the luxury market is a world of contrasts: “high society” vs seclusion in nature, design vs damasks and antique furniture, and so on. These contrasting demands, however, don’t seem to divide customers, as they are often shared. “There is a lot of overlapping of customers between seemingly irreconcilable segments, and this is also the reason of the delving into different experiences” (Bajona).
Mass luxury and luxurious luxury: the differences among Events Venues
Regarding sales, the most interesting trend seems to be the birth of a new market: “’affordable luxury’ has been created as a marketing tool to attract new clients, a sort of oxymoron that we can call the ‘democratization’ of luxury” (Bajona).
Obviously, the demand for exclusivity tends to draw a clear line between mass luxury and luxurious luxury. “Some hotels are now presenting themselves as Exclusive Clubs, where only people who have been introduced by somebody else can access, and where waiting lists are extremely long. In the last few years, some companies have become Clubs as well” (Neri).
Some luxury venues flirt with both markets, offering diversified services based on different accomodations: this is how executive floors, that promise a more exclusive service, are born.
“Most of the time, a flawless service is still guaranteed, but sometimes their baffling sloppiness comes to the surface: lack of WiFi in the rooms, or WiFi available for a charge; a nice jacuzzi, but no headrest; desing furniture but cheap paper bins”, an astonished and irritated Elisabetta Neri says. “It doesn’t take a lot to ruin the client’s perceptions. A lack of style can’t be forgiven by the promise of luxury.”
Luxury and meeting industry
The diversified luxury market offers event venues exciting new opportunities.
The meeting industry can be a great source of income for the luxury hospitality, even though the relatioship between luxury clients and luxury events is valued differently by the three professional we interviewed.
The most optimistic is Attilio Marro, who sees the symbiosis in a positive way: “Luxury services and luxury events could definitely go together and benefit from one another. But not every hotel can host an event, and not every event can be hosted by a hotel.”
Stefano Bajona believes that events don’t usually offer great profit opportunities for hotels, but they are important as a promotion tool for a certain target.
Elisabetta Neri underlines how companies, mostly pharmaceutical, insurance, and banks, have to maintain a low profile by law or because of convenience. This isn’t good for luxury hotels, as it’s more difficult for them to attract and host high-spending corporate events.
All things considered, the meeting industry should definitely grasp these new opportunities.
The editorial staff thanks Stefano Bajona, Attilio Marro and Elisabetta Neri for their collaboration.