Defining Luxury – one man’s definition

Defining Luxury – Reto Wittwer – Kempinski Hotels

Reto Wittwer CEO Kempinski Hotels

Reto Wittwer CEO Kempinski Hotels

President and CEO of Kempinski for the best part of 20 years, Reto Wittwer is not shy of an opinion or two. He talks to Phin Foster about true interpretations of luxury, the failings of his peers and why Europe remains more relevant than ever.

Standards may evolve but the guiding principles of luxury do not.

Luxury, by its very nature, must be limited. “Luxury has to be individualised and that’s something that the Americans particularly don’t understand,” he opines. “For them, luxury is standardisation, but a haute couture dress costs €500,000 for a reason; spend a million on a watch and you want to be sure nobody has the same model. Luxury, by its very nature, must be limited.”

In a globalised marketplace where operators are increasingly looking beyond traditional markets for growth, there is confusion as to how shifting geographies influence the concept of luxury.

“Europe defines luxury, and it does so by lifestyle rather than products” In Asia, peoples lives are dictated by work and money, Europeans take time to live. It is about aspiration: sitting in Paris with a croissant and a newspaper; taking high tea in central London. These things do not go out of fashion.”

The Hotel business is not about banking or insurance brokerage: its about lifestyle, understanding people. But, as my father  loved to say, ” people will always need to eat, drink and sleep. The more comfortable the bed, the tastier the food and the better the wine, the longer you’ll stay in business.”

Well, the days of such simplistic thinking are long gone. Travellers around the globe have become ever more demanding, up-to-date technology is a must and management techniques are changing accordingly. Globalisation has given tourism and hospitality a boost and stimulated creativity in all areas of hotel-keeping as well as in concept design. Trends and fashions come and go, making the life of a hotelier more exciting – and difficult at the same time.

The challenge for operators and hotel owners was, and will be, to identify long-term customer trends and tastes, determine products and organisational structures and thus meet guests’ expectations.

When asked for his personal  personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the ‘luxury’ tag Wittwer replied; “The authenticity of the staff. If the attitude of the staff is not right, if the staff is not genuine when handling the guest, it is not a luxury hotel. Every one with the right bank balance can build a hotel; the difference is in the dedication in training the staff and giving them the right tools to provide the highest standards of personalised luxury.”

Andre Balzazs

The 35-year-old luxury hotelier and  property developer, Andre  Balzazs is measured but clearly enthusiastic as he describes his latest completed hotel project. The Standard NYC, a two-towered glass property, rises above the Meatpacking District just east of the Hudson River.

Any new hotel must be equipped with the latest digital technology and ‘green hotel-keeping’ is a must, as are both energy-saving standards, and safety and security installations.

He has no desire to enter the mass market yet treads the line as an astute innovator with a name associated with distinct good taste and a finger on everything cool, sexy and desirable. “Hospitality is a personal business,” he says. “That is one of the reasons companies of a certain size have difficulty delivering it.”

 Sonu Shivadasani – Six Senses

Six Senses chairman and CEO Sonu Shivdasani  Six Senses  promotes the idea of ‘intelligent luxury’ – that is, offering guests space, privacy and comfort, together with fresh and delicious food and wine, in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Shivdasani  believes it is the group’s focus on life’s simple pleasures that strikes a chord with customers. “A fresh rocket salad, picked moments before it is served and eaten in the fresh air, with one’s feet in the sand, looking at the Indian Ocean,” he muses. “These are rare luxuries in today’s market.”

Claus Sendlinger – Design Hotels

Claus Sendlinger, founder of  Design Hotels   maintains that nowadays being ecologically minded is a necessity.  “It’s the new luxury,” he says. “It is one  our criteria for new member properties and should be a scaled part of any hotel operation.

Ted Teng – Leading Hotels of the World

The Leading Hotels of the World president and CEO Ted Teng affirms that “luxury is never static” and suggests that “in order to see the luxury of the future, look to the fundamentals of luxury in the present and past, and apply the future technologies to these fundamentals”.

So all in all, luxury is definitely alive and thriving – at least in the Hotel Business

Comments taken from a series of interviews published in Hotel Management and the Luxury Bible

Hotel Management

The Luxury Travel Bible



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