Roxy Genier - Luxury Anti-Value - Sameness


Standardization is a word that contradicts luxury.

“What did one mirror see in the other?
Nothing.”  ― 
Khang Kijarro Nguyen

Homogenous luxury. If you stop for a second, you will see what a huge contradiction in terms this is. Homogenous – uniform, identical, undistinguishable. Luxury – rare, different, a cut above the rest. Yet, we are living in a time where global standardization is seeping into the cracks of the very best brands across the far-flung globe.

You could be wandering a shopping mall in the exotic far-east and think you were strolling through suburban America. You could wake up in a hotel in Hong Kong and have exactly the same morning experience you would have in Rome. The same cotton thread sheets, the same suite layout, the same continental breakfast.

For some, maybe this sense of familiarity breeds comfort and safety. But, for many this strips us of any emotional connection. We go through the motions, wrapped in a bubble, warm and content – but feeling very little.

Luxury Can No Longer Play it Safe

Isn’t luxury here to wake us wonderfully from our slumber? Isn’t luxury all about a sensory journey, a chance to connect with the world around us on a deeper more deliriously delightful level? Isn’t luxury about one of a kind adventures, adapted just for you. By delivering cookie cutter experiences, brands aren’t living up to the promises on which they built their world.

Sometimes it feels like luxury is playing it safe, afraid to offer us new things or to fully embrace the bespoke art of being bold and different. But one of the most beautiful things about our planet is that it is full of diversity – colorful cultures, rare religions, and a tapestry of taste and sound from endless backgrounds, this melody of multiplicity extends across the board – even when it comes to those with affluence.

This means that luxury needs to stop cutting from the same cloth; this isn’t a one size fits all situation. People crave culture, experience and authenticity. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want a glorious global standard of quality – but that they do dream of the details being different.

For example if someone chooses to travel to Asia, they will want a little local flavor woven into their world. Otherwise, what was the point in traveling half-way across the globe to mirror the same experiences they have back home? From a Singapore sling on arrival to a carefully curated street food tour, a ride in a tuk-tuk, local art or photography adorning the walls – these are the tweaks that tantalize a traveler.

Roxy Génier - New Luxury - Luxury must disrupt our personal status quo

Standing Out in a Sea of Sameness

It’s understandable that all brands want to build a consistent image, and for big hotel chains with resorts and city dwellings across the globe, it’s a balancing act between keeping your brand image strong and stable and tying in those original details to set each space apart. As outlined in this paper from the IBM Institute for Global Value titled Hotel 2020: The Personalization Paradox;

‘Over the past several decades, the hotel industry has become increasingly commoditized, with consumers seeing little difference between the offerings of one major hotel chain versus another. To break through this perceived sameness, hotel providers must implement solutions that provide unique insight into guest preferences and apply this knowledge to deliver increasingly differentiated and delightful services.’

One glance at the rising popularity for the boutique business and the likes of Airbnb showcase what customers want. There has been a sharp turn away from big hotel chains and a curious passion blooming from the chance to stay someplace that comes with the personal touch. Whether traveling for business or pleasure – boutique brings with it a breath of fresh air.

The Curse of the Golden Handcuffs

Boutique hotels get to be creative in their service without having to run every change up the chain. They are smaller and therefore better equipped to deliver a thoroughly personalized experience. Instead of the strive for perfection which the bigger hotels may have, the smaller boutique hotels celebrate their unique approach, even if it is a little rough around the edge, and it seems – the world is celebrating it with them.

In an article for Hotel Management on Striving for Imperfection, Sharan Pastricha CEO of Ennismore and Hoxton highlights how this is working in his favor “We don’t have brand standards. We are a hyper-local hotel, where our success is not defined by RevPAR, but how our guests and locals embrace us.” The article goes on to say that ‘while the panel was made up primarily of men and women representing independent-minded brands and companies, there was one obvious anomaly: Ben Pundole, VP of brand experience for Edition Hotels, Marriott International’s luxury lifestyle brand. If ever there was a company striving for perfection in the hotel space, it would be Marriott. Still, Pundole said the Edition brand is still a brand “where we embrace imperfection. We don’t want a tailor-made or manicured experience. That’s where creativity lives. There is no creativity in something formulaic.”’

In an opinion piece by Zak Selbert on Why Independent Hotels are Winning, he points out that; ‘Millennials like boutique hotels. Well-established brands are stuffy and undesirable in an era when a treehouse on Airbnb is sought after. Boutique hotels are better able to compete for the customers that Airbnb is siphoning from traditional brands because their customer experience can be tailored. Boutique owners have the flexibility to compete in a way that branded asset owners do not. They can benefit from branding strategies, digital media, big data and creativity to win their customers rather than sticking to an old formula that will soon be broken. The infrastructure and systems provided by major franchisors are golden handcuffs.’

Roxy Génier - Luxury Anti-Values - Sameness

Experience Vs Economy

This quest for originality within the travel industry is running even more rampant now that we have entered a so-called experience economy. The facts and figures have all been counted, we know that consumers are looking for brilliance over the banal.

The idea of the experience economy works at odds with the idea of standardization which beneath the skin is categorized as economy in productivity. When you standardize, you tend to do so in an effort to decrease costs and to increase productivity. Standardization also holds connotations in the business world of appealing to uniformity and transferability in a global context. It means that companies can branch out across the globe without the worry of different cultural characteristics of the countries they expand in seemingly having any effect on their business at all. Regardless of being in Vietnam, Bangladesh, San Francisco or Paris – the standard is the same.

But this checklist way of living doesn’t quite carry over into the luxury space – especially when talking about hospitality. A true luxury experience is sculpted around the consumer. Sure, mystery shopper checklists, rater agencies, and the like are helpful, as they give you the chance to collect data. But building an experience on data shared across the board isn’t going to give you much to mark yourself out when dealing with individuals.

Swapping Standardized for Personalized

As pointed out in this piece on The Best Luxury Services are Customized, Not Standardized, the author Ana Brant says; ‘Trying to provide luxury service by implementing standardized processes that will ensure compliance, with checklists designed by third parties that do not know your business as you do, will inevitably fail to address individual customer needs. These kinds of checklists address the fundamentals of good service — but meeting the requirements of the ratings agencies with standardized processes will inevitably disappoint the individual that you, as a luxury business, most need. Catering to the individual is what defines luxury; in the luxury segment, it is the critical competitive differentiator.’

You already have access to information that could help you to create a customized experience; a quick couple of questions prior to check in could give you the angle you need to personalize this stay for your guest. Those on business may want a different checklist of room amenities, toiletries and features in comparison to those arriving on their honeymoon. By using observation, intuition, and communication – you have all the resources you need to deliver an exceptional service dedicated to the individual.

Luxury brands need to be braver and to use their unique powers to rise above this sweep of standardization. New Luxury is about connection, emotion, and curating rarity so that you have the wonder of the wind behind your sails to venture where others dare not go. People aren’t checklists, and gorgeous experiences and moments of magic shouldn’t be commoditized or tied to someone else’s standards. In luxury we should have the freedom to play, to raise the bar, and to set our own standards – as long as they remain head and shoulders above the rest.

Now that we have  learned about the dangers of sameness, let’s explore the solution.

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