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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Hotel Management: Leading Hotels of the World Redefining Luxury

Originally published in HM Magazine October 2006

Welf J Ebeling

Today’s state-of-the-art is tomorrow’s ho-hum. Staying ahead of the consumer, much less the industry, is the challenge for today’s purveyors of luxury. HM News Editor, Roderick Eime meets an expert on luxury, Welf J Ebeling, Executive Vice President and COO of The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) for his take on the world of extraordinary hospitality.


Hand’s up everyone who remembers the classic Monty Python sketch “Luxury”. Four plump, middle-aged, braggart Yorkshiremen all recount their rise to success by out-doing each other’s hardships. “A Cardboard box?! That were luxury, sixteen of us lived in a hole in t’ road.”


A bit obscure perhaps, but you see my point. One man’s luxury is another’s daily fare. ‘Luxury’, ‘deluxe’, ‘five star’ and even ‘leading’ are in danger of becoming cliché as every hospitality provider from hostels and caravan parks to star-spangled palazzos with gold-plated bidets attempt to label themselves superior.


The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd (LHW), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hotel Representative Inc (HRI), is synonymous with luxury. The 80-year-old hospitality organisation is headquartered in New York and, as part of HRI, also provides related and complementary services that include finance, sales, interactive reservations, quality assurance, property investments, hospitality training and employment.


So how does a brand that defines itself by luxury keep ahead of the “also-rans”?


“First of all you must define just what luxury is. Luxury isn’t just a commodity. It is a rare quality that isn’t available in abundance.


‘It’s very easy, for example, to confuse luxury with technology, wi-fi and the latest gadgets and things like feature bathrooms with separate showers – these were luxury ten years ago, now are commonplace and people have them in their homes.


“Today the challenge of a luxury hotel is to match the living standards that an upscale customer has at home. To try and retain that ‘aspirational’ factor is much more difficult.


“Space is still a luxury. Many older hotels, built to that dated formula, crammed as many rooms as possible into the building. Today’s luxury urban hotels typically have 45-60 square metre rooms.


“But ultimately, luxury, when it comes to hotels is the human touch. You can have all the gold and marble you want, but you can’t have true luxury unless you have properly trained staff who can anticipate the needs of the guest, preferably unobtrusively. Nobody likes “in-your-face” service – that’s not luxury. Ideally, you have an ‘instant service’ button with staff on call to provide what you want when you want it.”


As luxury consumers’ expectations and purchasing behaviour changes, how does a luxury hotel chain meet or anticipate those needs?


“Go back to the immediate postwar years when the great Conrad Hilton built his international chain of hotels; people expected “consistency” whether you were staying in Rome, New York, Tokyo or Tahiti. Quality standards often varied enormously then, so ‘Luxury’ also meant familiarity. It was a ‘cookie cutter’ approach that could be justified at the time.


“Today you have the opposite. The upscale traveller wants authenticity and individuality when he travels, especially for leisure. They are looking for an experience that matches the destination and the cultural and natural environment.


“This is reflected in the responsibility of the hotel when they open a new property. Think back to some of the horrible examples from the ‘60s and ‘70s when hotels were built in places without any regard for the environment or local societies. Sophisticated travellers just won’t accept these practices any longer. Particularly resorts in emerging markets, customers want to be sure these properties are part and parcel with the local communities and delivering that authentic experience.”


Exclusivity plays a large part in retaining the LHW allure. Not just any hotel can join the group. How does LHW pick and choose?


“Well, to give you some statistics, year-to-date, we have had 485 applications – and we currently have just 441 properties worldwide. Typically we will accept about 6% of those applications. It also depends on the location and our market penetration in that region. For example, here in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of Asia, we could even be proactive and go looking for properties that fit our profile and could benefit from LHW membership.


“Then we move to quality assurance with those we have accepted. We send anonymous inspectors, who are headquartered in London, to the property to begin an extremely detailed examination that covers some 1500 criteria and fills over one hundred pages.”


The inspectors’ report is completed in just 48 hours and covers the minutiae of a hotel guest’s stay, including;


·       39 separate points on telephone answering

·       28 separate points on check-in procedures – and another 28 on check out

·       25 separate points on the bell staff

·       59 items to check in your room ranging from lighting to coat hangars to bathroom amenities

·       137 points under housekeeping

·       61 points when you go to the bar, and

·       a further 49 things in the public areas


“The scores are then tallied and the average worldwide for LHW properties is about 81.5% with a minimum of 75% just for consideration of membership.”


LHW have also recognised and embraced the burgeoning spa phenomenon springing up alongside and within the luxury hotel and resort segment. The explosive growth in this area has meant LHW have had to move just as quickly as the market to ensure the spa experience matches their rigorous standards for hotels.


“As a hotelier, I recognised that I wasn’t a spa expert so I formed an advisory committee and we came up with around 250 standards required to reach the required 5-star benchmark. By next year we will have accredited 93 spas as “Leading Spas” and will shortly be introducing day spas. I am also working with software experts to create an online booking facility for spas, just as you would book a hotel room or a flight.”


Coupled with their innovative ‘Leaders Club’ recognition program and ability to respond quickly to trends and movements in both the hotel industry itself and the buying patterns of the clientele, LHW has committed to ensuring the longevity and high standards of the ‘Leading’ brand into the new millennium. If you believe your luxury property is a Leading Hotel of the World, now might be the time to find out.

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