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Updated: Mar 9, 2022


Outdoor Lounge, Veranda Hotel Chiang Mai, Thailand

I thought for quite some time about what my first topic of discussion would be, or should be; this post for me is quite significant, as it sets the tone for my entire work. It’s like the pilot of a new series: if the pilot is successful, people will keep watching my show, so the pilot needs to be about something exciting and relatable.

But then I remembered the real reason why I am doing this: I am not trying to gain approval or endorsement, I just want to voice my opinion and hopefully help someone, so I am going to talk about what I like to talk about, whether that’s popular or not!

One of the initial questions I was asked when I joined the hospitality industry is a question that still sparks a lot of interest for me, because based on who you ask and when you ask it brings very different answers: What is luxury to you?

When we talk about luxury hotels, when we think about luxury as a word, do we all mean the same thing?

Luxury is by definition a good for which demand increases as income rises.

In the past luxury used to be perceived much more in relation to tangible things: an expensive good, a pricey vacation, something material that defines our status by being unattainable to most.

What many of us work with now is the fact that this perception has clearly changed: luxury is now much more of a state of mind, an emotion, a feeling, and has no price tag.

It is important to understand what luxury means to people, as in the hotel business our main job is to cater the experience to the specific guest in front of us.

Yes, luxury also means high quality bedding, expensive amenities, awarded restaurant and Chef, state of the art Spa, and so on. But if we know that it is now more of a personal feeling versus something material, how do we know if we are making somebody’s experience really luxurious or not? How do we know we have really made our guest feel the luxury when it means something different for everybody? As my friend and former colleague said: “When money is not a factor, what are we doing for our guests?”

I asked this question “What does luxury mean to you?” to a group of respected friends, colleagues and family members, and I heard the most extraordinary and inspiring answers:

“It is anything that gives me the feeling of exclusivity”

“It’s free time, time for myself”

“It’s a good health”

“It’s the possibility of allowing yourself to do what you feel like in the moment”

“It’s privacy”

“It’s a full disconnect from responsibilities”

“It’s being able to chose”

“It’s the opportunity to enjoy something you don’t usually have access to”

“It’s being able to be with the people you love when you want to”

“It’s celebrating with the finest things”

“It’s the combination of the right amount of elegance and the right amount of comfort”

“It’s unattainable extravagance”

“It’s a distinctive and uncommon experience that must feel easy and relaxing”

“It’s a state of ultimate comfort”

“It’s something that makes you slow down and enjoy the moment at the next level”

“It’s not having to compromise”

“The harder something is to get, the more luxurious it is”

Isn’t all this exciting? This is exactly why this idea is so fascinating, because - if I may try and give a new definition of luxury that could apply universally - luxury is the connection that each person has to their own idea of it.

So what do we do with all this?

We take the message and look at our jobs differently, we look at our guests with a new perspective; we stop thinking of luxury as a shared feeling of elegance, beauty and efficient service; we don’t assume anymore that what it means for one person applies to the next, and we really look for what will make the specific human being in front of us feel in a luxury state of mind.

That’s the best way I can think of to describe it so that everybody can agree: it’s “a state of mind”. And a state of mind, it’s only temporary. We have a very limited amount of time to get to know the guest, understand what they want, and put their wishes into action. And there is only a small amount of time for them to enjoy that wish, so you need to make it count.

Don’t spend too much time trying to understand what they need, what they need is a comfortable bed, a clean room, a nice shower and a fast efficient service. That’s why they came to a hotel, but how can you make a difference between going to a hotel and going to your hotel? You focus on the hidden desires, I say hidden because sometimes guests don’t even know what it is that could make the difference, and you could be the ambassador of what luxury can be for them.

At Pulitzer Amsterdam where I worked for almost 3 years, we had a whole guest relations program dedicated to exactly this, we called it “creating WOW moments”, idea based on making a connection with the guest at any point before arrival or during the stay, and find out what could be a WOW factor for them, to finally design that moment to their surprise. It was a real culture amongst the employees and the ideas the staff would come up with to amaze the guests were so incredibly inspiring for all of us!

If you manage to discover what a person considers wow or luxury, and you discover it before they do or before they tell you, you have really achieved a new level of customer service. You will be able to create an experience that is anticipated, tailored, unexpected and fulfilling.

Which brings me finally to my answer to the question, my very own idea of what luxury means:

Luxury is not having to think or plan or action, but having all this already anticipated and arranged for me.

And now you dear reader, what is your definition of luxury? Can you amaze us with your thoughts and with your stories?

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