The Global Life: Hotel Heaven

4 minute read
Sonja Steptoe/Los Angeles

A few weeks ago, Carlos Lopes, the managing director of the Hotel Bel-Air, visited a fancy Los Angeles fireplace store accompanied by a renowned architect. A connoisseur of hearths and a frequent guest at the Bel-Air, the architect hoped to use his clout to persuade Lopes to buy a state-of-the-art gas model for the suite he always books. Lopes says he will probably grant the wish, just as he does nearly every request from his best customers.

Of course, catering to FORTUNE 500 CEOs, heads of state, Hollywood hot shots and jet-setters who frequent the property–where the median room rate is $495 a night and $1,800 a night for suites–is part of the job. But these days, Lopes and his counterparts around the globe say, survival in the lucrative but competitive luxury travel industry means going to extraordinary lengths to indulge guests. During the Hotel Bel-Air’s renovation 18 months ago, Lopes redecorated 16 suites according to the tastes of their most frequent occupants. As a result, the bungalow used by a certain female entertainment mogul from the Midwest is now decorated in her favorite beige and pale blue tones, and features spacious closets and a marble vanity built to her specifications. “The level of customization we’re providing is higher than at any point in recent history,” says Lopes. “It requires more attention and more staff, but I wouldn’t be in business very long if I didn’t do it.”

While many hotels offer red-carpet treatment for their best customers, typically they don’t charge extra for it. Managers call the perks a cost of doing business that’s built into nightly rates, and the VIPs seem to consider it money well spent. In a recent poll, almost two-thirds of well-heeled travelers listed “being pampered” as a top priority, and an American Express survey of affluent consumers found that those who crave luxurious experiences last year spent an average of $26,400 a person on them. Brett Anderson, editorial senior vice president of the Robb Report group of luxury lifestyle publications, explains, “Wealthy people see customized services as a way to differentiate themselves.”

Tampa, Fla., businesswoman Kim Goddard says the personal attention she gets at Loews Hotels–suites stocked with her favorite flowers, food and beverages and first-class treatment for friends, family and clients–is the essence of luxury. “The way they bend over backward to spoil me makes me feel like I’m the only one in the hotel,” she says.

As lodgers’ expectations rise, luxury purveyors are stepping up to the challenge. The 24-hour personal valets who attend to every detail for suite guests at Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, Mexico, are trained by the founder of the Guild of Professional English Butlers. Oberoi Hotel Group in India has a special department to research guest preferences before their stays. So when a customer who likes steam baths recently reserved a premier bungalow at Oberoi’s Mauritius resort, he discovered upon arrival that he wouldn’t have to bother walking the 20 yards to the spa because management had installed a personal sauna in the garden of his villa. “It’s all about the wow factor,” says Henry Gray, general manager of Oberoi’s Udaivilas resort in Udaipur, India. “Nothing impresses this type of guest more than to walk in and find that their desires have been anticipated and met.”

It worked for a frequent guest of the Peninsula New York when she brought along her baby. To her delight, housekeeping had outfitted her suite with toys, a new crib and a high chair, which are now kept on hand solely for her use. The Peninsula Beverly Hills even pampers pets with massages and Evian-filled water dishes. At one owner’s request, the hotel organized a playdate for a lonely canine.

The trend shows no sign of abating. Ali Kasikci, managing director of the Peninsula Beverly Hills, is working on a plan to give custom-made steamer trunks to six of his best clients. With personalization fast becoming the luxury-industry standard, Kasikci wants to stay ahead of the curve. “Otherwise,” he says, “we’re just part of the sea of sameness.”

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