Back in the late 1800s, the Savoy famously became the first hotel in London to run on electricity, a sign of true luxury at the time. It also had lifts, “speaking tubes” so that guests could call for a maid and, later, en suite bathrooms with showers. Over the decades, it has continuously evolved to find new ways to ensure its guests feel pampered – Marlene Dietrich was always welcomed with 12 pink roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon.
With a global increase in standards of living, demand for luxury hotels has rocketed, and competition has become fierce. From athlete-quality gyms and Michelin-star restaurants, to helicopter transfers and room service for your dog, there’s no end to the ways the world’s most expensive hotels are vying to win new clients.
According to a study by Transparency Market Research, the value of the luxury hotel market will increase to $195bn by 2021 (up from $148bn in 2014). But what does “luxury” mean for travellers in the 21st century? According to Uwern Jong, editor-in-chief of luxury travel journal OutThere/Travel: “Luxury today is about elevating what is already great service to a level where it becomes unforgettable.
“Modern five-star travellers are looking not just to stay, but to engage personally and emotionally with a property. And the world’s best hotels are responding – we’re seeing more and more top-tier hotels with “chief experience officers” or “brand experience directors” to effect everything from the check-in process to shareable nuggets of social currency.”
James Wallman, author of Stuffocation and founder of trend-forecasting agency The Future is Here agrees: “Luxury is changing more quickly this 21st century than ever. Travel and luxury have plenty in common. They’re a status marker – a way of indicating your prowess and power in the social hierarchy.”
Wallman says we’ve entered the age of “experientialism”. “People want to stand out not through what they have, but through what they do. And the travel industry is perfectly placed to help them do that. Luxury today isn’t better stuff, it’s better experience.”
Here are some reasons to be excited about the future of luxury travel:
1. Cultural salons
The path to enlightenment comes not only in the form of seaweed body wraps and vintage wine, but exposure to grandiose ideas. In London, five-star hotels such as the Shangri-La at the Shard, the Hoxton, the Ace, Rosewood Holborn and Pullman St Pancras have been hosting panel discussions, events, workshops and lectures from celebrities, fashionistas and industry influencers.
2. Customised wardrobes
Imagine checking into a hotel, pulling open the wardrobe and finding a rail of clothes, all in your size, for you to wear for the duration of your stay and beyond. A recent report by trend-forecaster Faith Popcorn, commissioned by InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, predicted: “Hotels will partner with fashion brands to sponsor guests’ in-room wardrobes, complete with 3D-printed clothing. Wardrobes will be customised to suit personal taste based on online shopping habits, size and local weather conditions.” Starwood’s W Leicester Square has already launched Walk Out Wardrobe (designer dresses delivered to your room) in partnership with online platform girlmeetsdress.com.
3. Experiential itineraries
Not everyone wants to lie by a pool for a week – these days hotels are crafting itineraries jam-packed with Instagram-worthy moments and adventures you can regale friends with over dinner. Conrad Hotels has appointed a “director of inspiration”, who will organise insider tours to suit your interests, however niche (OK, it sounds a bit like a concierge); Swiss hotel Chedi Andermatt will organise a mindfulness meditation and yoga retreat with a genuine Buddhist monk; Anantara Si Kao Resort in Thailand have a program where guests can plant sea grass for endangered sea cows.
Four Seasons was the first hotel group to unveil its own-branded private jet in 2015 – a pimped-out B757 with fully flat beds and Bulgari amenities that whizzes from resort to resort, taking in some of the world’s most amazing sights on the way. Next year will see three new itineraries including the three-week “Culinary Discoveries” tour dreamt up by Noma head chef Rene Redzepi, and the 24-day “International Intrigue” trip taking in Seattle, Kyoto, Beijing, the Maldives, the Serengeti, Budapest, St Petersburg, Marrakech and Boston. Prices start from $135,000. This October, Frontiers International Travel is selling an 18-day private jet tour of Asia for $63,888, in partnership with Aman Resorts.
4. Luxury cars
Many hotels provide guests with a complimentary chauffeur service within a certain radius, but others are going a step further by letting guests test out luxury cars themselves. Properties under 1 Hotels (New York and Miami), Mandarin Oriental and Virgin Hotels (Chicago) have all partnered with Tesla, for example, while Waldorf Astoria last year began offering access to exotic super cars as part of its “Driving Experiences” package. At Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, you can hire Aston Martins, Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
5. Michelin-level room service
Food is inextricably entwined with luxury, and hotels have traditionally provided some of the biggest, most extravagant dining venues in the world. The new Nobu Hotel Eden Roc Miami Beach (opening this autumn) will supply guests with Michelin-star sushi delivered to their room. Stay at the MGM Skylofts in Las Vegas, on the other hand, and you can phone down for Oscietra caviar and frogs’ leg fritters from three-Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon. As more hotels invest in “destination” restaurants on-site, gourmet food delivery will become de rigueur.
6. Recording studios
Up until recently, you might have been lucky to find a karaoke machine in your penthouse, but now some hotels are building entire recording studios for both amateurs and artists on tour. The W Bali revealed its 50 sqm Sound Suite in the spring (complete with mixing desk, vocal booth and professional instruments), while Ibiza’s Ushuaia Beach and the Eden Roc in St Barts already have sililar facilities. W is also planning to open Sound Suites in LA, Barcelona and Seattle later this year.