The Luxury Paradox

The Luxury Paradox

Following the success of the Leaders of Luxury web series, we’re working with Robb Report once again. Continuing our look into the future of luxury through the eyes of those who are determining it, Jackie Caradonio, Travel Editor at Robb Report, gives us her take on the L word.

In a world in which the word “luxury” is applied to anything and everything, high-end hospitality brands must develop meaningful and authentic new ways to connect with consumers.  

It has been more than 10 years since Andrew Sacks, a New York–based expert on high-end marketing, told a room full of hoteliers at the Leading Hotels of the World’s annual conference in Monaco that “luxury” was “dead.” He wasn’t talking about the concept—to be sure, a decade later, we know that luxury is very much alive and well. He was, however, talking about the word. The term was so overused, it had virtually lost all meaning, Sacks argued. It had become “a descriptor that is highly suspicious to the very people to whom it is designed to appeal: the affluent.”

Ten years later, the L word is no less pervasive. And it has indeed lost much of its power. Between luxury pet spas, luxury diaper bags, luxury dentists, and luxury keychains (yes, these all claim to exist), it seems everyone and everything is geared toward the good life—or at least the perception of it. As such, truly high-end brands are left with a conundrum: How do you convey luxury in a world where everything claims to be luxurious?

For Jumeirah Hotels, the answer is making its brand synonymous with luxury, without actually using the word. “The term ‘luxury’ has become diluted and perhaps depreciated through its overuse in the hotel industry,” concedes Charlie Taylor, Jumeirah’s group director of brand communications. To combat that, Taylor says his brand created what it calls “the Jumeirah experience,” a combination of bespoke and locally-inspired experiences and traditional five-star hotel service and style—something that captures the modern-day ethos of luxury travel without explicitly saying it.

Other brands have moved away from the L word to create a similar alignment with luxury that sidesteps the actual term. JW Marriott created what it calls the “JW Marriott Treatment” while Conrad Hotels has replaced its old slogan of “The Luxury of You” with the more demonstrative one “Never Just Stay. Stay Inspired.” Oberoi Hotels and Park Hyatt have also dropped slogans using the word. And Ritz-Carlton—a brand whose very name has become synonymous with luxury—coined the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentleman.”

Of course, these strategies are more than reactions to luxury fatigue. They are proof that the very definition of luxury, especially as it pertains to the hospitality industry, has changed. It’s no longer necessarily defined simply by opulence or extravagance—two words that, in their own rights, have become less appealing to luxury travelers in recent years. Rather, luxury as a word has taken on a unique meaning for every brand—and person.

“The challenge of today is that where luxury was once prescribed, today it means different things to different people,” says Lisa Holladay, Ritz-Carlton’s global brand leader. “We focus less on telling guests they will receive a luxury experience and instead work to show guests the luxury of the experience the Ritz-Carlton provides.”

There is, of course, a common thread here: experience. Each of these new slogans and marketing approaches leans in to the individual brand’s unique ability to promise not only a beautiful place to stay, but far more importantly, memorable experiences. To achieve that, the goal for every brand is to show—not tell—their consumers how they can offer personally fulfilling and meaningful experiences beyond the traditional five-star stay.

With that goal, a new language of luxury has emerged, relying no longer on the touting of objects and visual cues but instead tapping into emotions. Jumeirah uses the word “rituals” to define the experiences that make a stay with its hotels unique. Ritz-Carlton uses the term “wow moments” in its newest “Let Us Stay with You” campaign. And Park Hyatt defines its hotels as “places where rare and unexpected pleasures are artfully woven into every stay.”

For Wilderness Safaris, this new emotional approach led to a slogan that boldly attempts to redefine luxury altogether. “Purpose is the New Luxury” expresses the safari outfitter’s goal to immerse its guests in the local conservation and community efforts in each of the countries in which it operates lodges. “We don’t do high-end ecotourism for the sake of it, but rather for the positive impacts it can and does achieve,” says Chris Roche, Wilderness’s chief marketing officer. “For us, the challenge has been to connect our purpose to the guest experience and to share this with them.”

Thus, Wilderness set out to classify its own brand of luxury—one that emphasizes space, discovery, genuine personal engagement, disconnection from the modern world, and simplicity. “When we first came up with the statement ‘Purpose is the New Luxury,’ we treated it with caution,” Roche explains. “But the more we considered it, the more we felt that in the modern world, purpose really is the antithesis of utility, and thus in some way embodies real luxury.”

To be sure, buzzwords will forever plague the high-end hospitality industry. Not far behind “luxury” is the overuse of words like “experiential,” “bespoke,” and “transformational.” The antidote to such deterioration of meaning, then, is for each brand to define its own purpose—and the unique language that communicates it. “Even though we all proudly and boldly claim to operate in the luxury space,” Roche says. “It is far too seldom that we ask ourselves what luxury means, and what it really is.” Now’s the time to ask—and answer.

As a regular contributor for View from ILTM, Jackie will be sharing her insights on luxury travel throughout the year. Check back next month for Jackie’s latest view.  

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