A pillow menu, gold-plated bathroom fixtures and spacious rooms will not be enough to woo the next generation of the world’s wealthiest clientele. They will be better traveled than their parents and grandparents, and much harder to please.
“The younger generation, who is 28 to 35 years of age, they will start traveling differently,” said Marco P. Nijhof, chief executive of Yoo Hotels, a division of the London-based company co-founded by the designer Philippe Starck. “It’s a whole different ballgame.”
Designers are proposing everything from underwater hotels to high-tech enclaves that will use facial-recognition software to predict a guest’s every whim. But some are moving in the opposite direction, creating simple hotels that they want to stand as works of art, allowing guests to escape from their hectic lives.
“People are moving away from the bling factor,” said Andreas Scriven, director and head of consulting for Christie & Co., a sales and advisory company for the hospitality industry.
No one is sure what will work. But everyone knows the stakes are huge. The luxury hospitality sector is valued at an estimated €127 billion, or $164.4 billion, a year, up from €91 billion in 2009, according to Bain & Co., the global management consulting firm based in Boston. And the target audience is growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2022, there will be 4,076 billionaires in the world, an 85 percent increase from the 2,198 billionaires in 2012, the international property agency Knight Frank predicts. There also will be 285,000 high net-worth individuals with at least $30 million in assets, a 50 percent increase from 2012, the agency’s analysts say.
In many parts of the world, luxury hotels have recovered from the global recession far more quickly than other economic sectors.
The average price for a night in a luxury hotel last year in Paris was €617, up from €532 in 2010, according to data tracked by STR Global, a hotel research company. And in Hong Kong, the average daily rate for a luxury room in 2012 was 2,585 Hong Kong dollars, or $333, up from 1,901 dollars in 2010.
In response to the market forces, developers now are building 458 luxury hotel projects with 123,325 rooms around the world, according to STR data. Of those, 253 are in the Asia-Pacific region, the area with the largest predicted growth in billionaires. The rapid development of the luxury market in Asia is sending ripples through the entire industry, some say. “Asia will continue to set the trend in creativity and what you can do,” said Mr. Nijhof, the Yoo Hotels chief.
The next wave of luxury hotels around the world is expected to try to reach the standards of many top Asian resorts in emphasizing exceptional levels of service, privacy and nature.
“It is the personal service you get in certain countries in Asia, but not in Europe and the U.S.,” said Jaya Ibrahim, founder of Jaya International, an Indonesia-based design firm that had worked on luxury hotels around the globe. “It doesn’t happen in ordinary hotels because it is very expensive.”
To compete, private butlers will become more common, as customers come to expect their bags to be unpacked and in-room refrigerators stocked with their favorite foods and beverages, some executives say. Hotels will also have to know more about their customers. Software and services that help hotels anticipate the needs and desires of clients are in their infancy now, many analysts say. And concierge services will have to advance to new levels, delivering on the demands of guests long before they arrive.
Helicopter pickup service will become more popular, connecting to airfields used by private jets, said Xavier Destribats, senior vice president for operations with Kempinski Hotels. “More and more of the clientele will use private planes,” he said.
And in some markets, security will become increasingly important; the bulletproof glass and steel doors now in some locations will be replaced by bazooka-proof glass and personal panic rooms.
“These customers will be more and more demanding,” Mr. Destribats said. “If they are going to pay for it, they are expecting value for what they are going to pay.”
Then there is technology. While hotels will be expected to provide the latest array of gadgets, guests will also want seamless use of their own mobile devices, analysts say.
But technology is a slippery slope for hoteliers. Guests do not want to spend time figuring out controls, and what is cutting-edge technology today may be passé in six months. Trying to keep pace with the latest and coolest is an expensive, never-ending cycle, some argue.
“The trend will be to remove some of the technology,” said Mr. Scriven, the Christie & Co. executive. “People don’t want to interact with technology.”
The debate is part of a larger rethinking of the basic luxury room. Designers are already questioning the orientation of beds and the role of a desk in a room, said Lamarr Reid, managing director of the Chicago office of Pierre-Yves Rochon, a Paris-based interior design firm that had worked with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Ritz-Carlton and other luxury chains.
“People are not using the desk in a guest room the way they did 10 years ago,” he said, adding that bathrooms will be opened up to create a sense of space. Guests will be able to customize their rooms, using light and window systems to control the “scene” and mood. Walls will be able to move, and glass dividers will be able to turn from transparent to opaque.
In older hotels, however, designers face the constant challenge of making modest square footage “seem like a big grand room in the European hospitality standard,” Mr. Reid said.
Some hoteliers argue that the next generation of wealthy travelers will want a room experience that reminds them of home, even while they are getting away from home. Those companies are moving away from glitz and technology to focus on creating casual, individual atmospheres that seem far removed from the standard hotel ambiance.
“The desire to feel like you’re in another home is growing,” said Jonathan Oakes, general manager for resort operations with Oil Nut Bay, a British Virgin Islands development that recently opened three cliff-top suites priced at $1,500 a night. The furniture in the 1,334-square-foot, or 124-square-meter, penthouse was designed by Fendi Casa, the home design arm of the fashion company, and includes a Fendi-designed chandelier.
In the future, luxury resorts will distinguish themselves with attention to detail, he believes. “If you charge what we charge, people better pull out the hair dryer and say that’s a good hair dryer,” Mr. Oakes said.
Yet a conference for hotel designers last month in Valencia, Spain, included a panel debate on “Ornament is Crime.” Speaking in support of the statement was Tarek Hegazy, creative director of Living Design, a company based in Sweden that has completed more than 250 hotel projects.
“How would ornament add to the luxury?” Mr. Hegazy said in an interview. “We try to show that luxury has so much ornament, that now the next wave is ‘simple is beautiful’ and ‘simple is luxury’.”
But the designer acknowledged that many luxury hotels of the future would still have the ornate style and private dining rooms that have been part of the formula for generations.
“This is a sign of luxury,” Mr. Hegazy said. “This is a sign of showing off. This is a sign of power. That is never going to disappear.”