Imran Hussain – Modernising Luxury
In the latest of our Independent Thought Series of intelligence reports, Imran Hussain editor-in-chief of thehotelculture.com considers the leading hotels who are evolving the definition of luxury for a new age – like Oslo's The Thief with its contemporary art extravaganza, Amsterdam's Pulitzer and its remix of local history, or London's Beaumont with its nuanced understanding of comfort that spans generations.
Your website deals with important hospitality industry trends. What's changing in the luxury sector?
“Guests. Their needs are becoming more distinct. Their version of luxury is not necessarily expensive.
I think they feel luxury should mean ‘well thought out', or carefully considered. That becomes a matter of brand experience. In the 1950s, if you lined up all of the hotels on one street you would've chosen your favourite based on service. It was the main decision driver, and reflected in the price.
Today, movements like design, culture, digital and experiential collectively contribute to a different guest requirement, and this is what we call brand experience.”
How do you see savvy hoteliers reacting?
“By getting to know their guests better, and enhancing that critical brand experience.”
What other things are hoteliers doing to adjust to the change in luxury?
“Assessing their mini-bar prices, offering complimentary wifi, and producing high-quality content like neighbourhood guides. The luxury hotels that have created better brand experiences and driven better value are the ones still thriving in a recession.”
What changes do hotels need to make in their branding and communications?
“An interesting trend is gently-emerging from the likes of The Thief, Baccarat, and Pulitzer. They're luxury brands in the traditional sense of the word, but communicating to their stakeholders using a zeitgeist-y vocabulary. It attracts a wider demographic who still share a mindset – a hipster might meet a captain of industry in the lobby and have an amazing conversation.”
Do traditional luxury hotels still have a place?
“Traditional luxury will always have a place. Undeniably, the likes of Claridges and Four Seasons are icons. I don't see them as needing to adapt."
Say my hotel isn't in the fashionable area of a big city but doesn't want to be left behind by the trends. What should I be doing?
“Invest in the neighbourhood and create points of interest around you. You'll become known as the hotel that makes that neighbourhood. Attracting locals through unique events programming, creating interesting stories for press, and of course building your own network.”
Are these changes relevant to the affordable end of the hotel market too?
“Completely. Just look at Dutch chain citizenM, whose motto is ‘affordable luxury'.”
What do you do?
“I'm the current Editor-in-Chief of The Hotel Culture, an insight and review site that works with contributors from the art, design, architecture, music and brand worlds. We look at culture through the lens of hotels, so our features are as much about the hotel as they are the environment, location and culture of a neighbourhood. It's a community of travellers contributing to a website by a hotelier. It's also a hub that provides observation into hotel brand marketing strategy. Our communications agency THC/ Endeavour works across hotels, members' clubs, lifestyle brands and content platforms. Previously to The Hotel Culture I've worked within boutique hotels, holding marketing director titles at myhotels group and the Great Northern Hotel.”
What's your favourite destination?
“I really enjoy LA. People say its pretentious, but that's true of anywhere. There's a sense of escape and flashes of that old world glamour. There's a huge difference in culture to London too. Also I loved Mykonos on the last trip and would highly recommend Miami. On the travel list: New Orleans, Cuba and Chicago. Also, I just come across Fogo Inn Island, which looks amazing – dramatic isolation.”
Restaurant or room service?
“Depends on the location. I'm a big fan of soaking up local experiences, and hotels don't always successfully provide that. Most of the time the hotel only pulls in the local food and beverage partner when they've already got a massive following.”
Hot city nights or recharging the batteries?
“A bit of both – anyone who says otherwise is lying.”
Smartphone by the sun lounger, or locked in the safe?
“I'm ashamed to say I need that device with me. But it may well be on silent.”
Spa or sports?
“Spa. Just visited The Miami Beach Edition spa – big fan. Favourite one though might just have to go to Cowarth Park by the Dorchester Collection.”
Quirky or slick?
“I don't see why a hotel experience can't be both. A few like Freehand in Miami, The Zetter Townhouse manage to successfully combine a level of quirk offset by an extremely slick experience. But if I had to chose, then quirky.”
Cocktails or culture?
“Culture – it has more hours in the day. Just visited Little Havana in Miami; amazing cocktails and culture. It had a really local vibe, whilst putting on just enough of a show to be attractive to travellers. And yes, I ordered a Mojito.”
Blackout curtains drawn, or first to breakfast?
“Breakfast – in particular the SLS hotel's patatas bravas in Miami.”
Chatty staff or discreet service?
“I think that really depends on what happened last night.”
Is it OK to take the bathroom products?
“Every single time, bar none.”