New York’s Marmara Park Avenue hotel hosted the latest AFAR Conversations event—an exploration of luxury travel and lifestyle trends for 2016.
AFAR Deputy Editor Jennifer Flowers led the discussion with Bob Chavez, President and CEO of Hermès in the U.S. and Latin America, and Barry Sternlicht, Chairman & CEO of Starwood Capital and founder of SH Group, which manages Baccarat Hotels & Resorts and 1 Hotels.
The impact of technology was a big talking point.
For starters, Sternlicht pointed out that technology has raised the expectations of hotel guests. “We’re supposed to anticipate your needs and make it feel like you’re coming home; the luxury customer wants the perfect experience.”
Sternlicht admitted it’s a challenge for large hotels to create that kind of intimacy and be innovative. “I’ve learned it’s easier to run a $1,000/night, 100-room hotel than a $100/night, 1,000-room hotel,” he quipped.
Still, scale can be powerful. Sternlicht suggested that mergers like the recent Starwood/Marriott deal are a way for hotels to defend against the likes of Airbnb and Expedia.
For retailers like Hermès, the challenge is to motivate shoppers to move beyond their iPad and laptop screens. “We have to create that emotional relationship with customers to bring them into our stores,” observed Chavez.
Hermès recently got customers’ attention by embracing technology and collaborating with Apple. “We had a line of about 100 people waiting outside our Madison Avenue store the day we launched the Hermès Apple watch,” said Chavez. “It brought us a whole new customer and was the number-one gift item for the holiday season.”
Chavez would know, as he admitted to working the stores undercover around the holidays to better understand his customers. “The brands that will be successful will be the un-Amazon-able ones,” he said. “It’s that personal service, knowledge, and store experience that will bring you back.”
Sternlicht added that the ability to continue to stay relevant is crucial since success can breed complacency and hubris. He cited Starbucks and Google as two admirable examples.
The discussion circled back to the importance of delivering original, meaningful experiences—and the notion that time itself is a luxury.
“One thing we ask our clients today is, how much time do you have with us? We want to respect your time,” said Chavez. Similarly, Sternlicht reflected that people have so few vacations they want to make sure they’re going someplace extraordinary. We’d have to agree!
Thanks to our sponsors Belize, Volvic, and the Marmara Park Avenue and to our panelists for a thought-provoking evening. Check out our Facebook album for more photos of the event. The next AFAR Conversations will take place on March 16 in Los Angeles. Follow along with #afarconversations.
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