This post is sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.
Allison Sitch is vice president for global public relations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company where she oversees the reputation, messaging, media relations and strategic positioning of one of the world’s most iconic and powerful brands. Guiding her team through a period of unprecedented growth and evolution, she also oversees the company’s move onto social media platforms. ILHA asked Allison about upcoming trends to look for in 2015.
Question: What are some of the high-end amenities you are seeing for business travelers?
Allison Sitch: One of the biggest is that people are looking for experiences over upgrades. Luxury travelers tend to travel often and stay with a single brand for hotels and airlines; however, they are looking for tangible benefits for their loyalty.
A survey by The Future Laboratory found that 94 percent of exhibitors at International Luxury Travel Market believed ‘authentic local experiences’ were what luxury travelers wanted most. The brands and hotels that are able to make a travelers’ experience effortless and bespoke will be the ones to win.
Q: What types of amenities are hotels adding for vacationers?
AS: At The Ritz-Carlton, there are so many it is hard to know where to begin. Here are some examples:
- Ski Valet: At The Ritz-Carlton resorts in Lake Tahoe and Bachelor Gulch, Colorado ski valets put the ski boots on our guests, walk them to the snow where skis lay waiting with the poles upright.
- The Naturalist at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain: Leading the family-friendly Ritz Kids program at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, Ranger Rick shares his insider knowledge about Sonoran Desert creatures. Learn more about Ritz Kids programs at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain.
Q: How is luxury travel changing, particularly for younger people?
AS: We have noticed that next generation of travelers responds well to three particular areas: Design, digital communications and remote locations.
The Ritz-Carlton has completely evolved design from an almost cookie-cutter approach to a model where no two hotels are the same. Drawing from the location, we have adopted design strategies to enhance the brand image in an increasingly global marketplace. All Ritz-Carlton hotels opened since 2004 are examples of this approach brought to life. Our company design standards are the blueprint from which we establish engineering infrastructure, operational requirements, safety regulations and room sizes – however they do not drive the character of a hotel.
Being a part of consumers’ conversations and responsive to their comments, suggestions and requests can bring great benefits if you are seeking to appeal to a younger audience. The younger luxury traveler chooses the brands they want to interact with and support, seeking out companies and brands that can simplify and improve their lives, and make their experiences richer.
The Ritz-Carlton research indicates a desire for more privacy and less ostentation: a quieter, more discreet style of luxury is now preferred. For example, private islands are highly desirable. This is coupled with an increase in demand for spectacular landscapes and unspoiled nature as well as a growing interest in off-the-beaten-track destinations. Destinations with appeal to environmentally concerned and culturally interested travelers: destinations with fascinating cultures and traditions, including Israel and China, are growing in popularity with affluent travelers, as are destinations actively working to protect nature and endangered animal species.
Q: Can you talk about how luxury travel companies are meeting demand for doing charity work or other humanitarian aid?
AS: There is much evidence across the industry that efforts to be more sustainable or philanthropic are being made at various levels. Our parent company, Marriott International, has long been known and recognized for their Spirit To Serve programs. There is also a growing interest on the part of travelers to participate in community development, environmental and wildlife conservation projects. At The Ritz-Carlton, “voluntourism” experiences give us the opportunity to extend our traditional service beyond the hotel and build on the programs we’ve developed in our existing Community Footprints focus areas of hunger and poverty relief, well-being of disadvantaged children, and environmental conservation.
Q: Where do you see the luxury travel industry heading in five years?
AS: Luxury travelers will continue to place more emphasis on service, personalization, and authentic and enriching travel experiences than the mere physical trappings of luxury.
Emerging destinations will gain in importance. Increasing demand for authenticity, new experiences, and exclusivity will boost interest in places reflecting the culture and traditions of local communities.
The need for personalization will continue to impact luxury travel, leading to the creation of enduring personal relationships based on trust between luxury travel providers and travelers. This trend is amplified by the use of ever-advancing technology, and especially by the phenomenal growth of social media.
People are demanding simplicity and seamless service. With time being the most precious commodity, all elements of the luxury travel experience must work seamlessly, from the planning process to returning home.