L. ARUNA DHIR
Richard Gere, the iconic and legendary Hollywood actor has recently forayed into hospitality by unveiling The Bedford Post – his one-of-a-kind boutique hotel. Gere should certainly know a thing or two about luxury living and hoteliering. Being a famous personality of high net worth he is used to travelling ultra luxe and staying in uber luxury abodes – both private and commercial. While I was with The Oberoi in New Delhi, Gere was one of our most high profile guests, luckily for the Hotel both long-stay and repeat. He stayed in his favourite deluxe suite and I am told that the reason he liked The Oberoi so much is because the Hotel was an exclusive address in the Indian Capital City, knew in depth about his likes and dislikes and went to great lengths to ensure privacy to the VIP guest. I remember one of Richard Gere’s main diktats to the Hotel staff was that no one should greet him in the lobby or approach him for photographs and we all were very clear about that. What comes out is that the major need of the mega star was to enjoy total privacy and the up-market Delhi hotel assured him that; keeping the paparazzi and peeping guests at an arm’s length and offering the celebrity guest with much needed R&R in private seclusion – just as he needed – before he went away on his peace missions to other parts of the country.
Then there are the Aman Junkies who will travel from one end of the globe to the other to enjoy exotic locales, breathtaking views, one-of-its-kind experiences, not-found-elsewhere facilities in the hotel(s) of their choice within the Aman bouquet.
So what is it that the luxury traveler really seeks from his hotel experience! When money is not the consideration, what do premium places of stay bring out on the silver platter to this discerning set of guests for whom luxury is a way of life! Here is my list in no particular order –
One unique conceptual facet that Gere is associating with his hotel is sex. “Sex — every choice in here was about sex,” jokes Gere while giving an introductory tour of his luxury Inn to CNN’s Richard Quest. His wife Carey Lowell is more politically correct and uses the right marketing terminology for their Property when she says that “romance and intimacy were key inspirations behind the hotel’s design.” So, it does boil down to one single most important or set of important discerning traits that a luxury hotel property is identified with. This somehow seems to be the key in defining the personality of a luxury brand. Peninsula Hong Kong, Raffles Hotel, Singapore and The Imperial in New Delhi are known to be historic institutions and have played a strong part in the history of their destinations. They continue to offer colonial-era decadence to their guests. History, then, forms the numero uno feature for such hotels. As Michael Aquino, a south-east Asian travel expert, writes about Raffles Hotel, Singapore, “The food is competent, but nothing exceeding expectation – let’s face it, history is the main attraction here.”
Ritz Carltons urge their guests to “Let us stay with you” with their memory-laden collection of stay-stories, tips, recipes and moments. Therefore, personal, inimitable experience is what these hotels set out to market to their elite guests.
Special hotel properties such as a Palace in Royal Rajasthan or a European Castle turned into a hotel are great attractions. Their main selling plank – the guests are treated royally and can relive, in part, the life which was led by the kings and queens of yore.
There are hotels known and sought after for novel concepts that they have introduced to the world of refined hospitality. High Tea at the Ritz in London is an institution and a must try in every intrepid luxury traveller’s calendar. A personalized art tour of the in-house gallery showcasing an impressive collection of original lithographs by the designated art curator at The Imperial in Delhi is part of the itinerary of guests ranging from the US Business Council delegates to the visiting Thai Princess and her entourage. Sipping on a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, the place where it was incidentally invented, and chucking peanut shells on the bar floor just as how Somerset Maugham and his other contemporaries may have done in the early 20th century is a matchless experience that perhaps is worth more than the bucks you may spend in the place.
Some hotels stand out for the incomparable aspects beset in their building features and facilities. MGM Grands’ Skylofts offer breathtaking bathrooms that boast infinity tubs with light therapy and “champagne” bubbles. Some hotel pools such as the one at Four Seasons, HK, get the guests to enjoy their swim as lilting classical music plays underwater.
Louis XV furniture, Silver chairs and lounges, antique four-poster beds, Bvlgari / Hermes / Aveda toiletries, period art or Art Nouveau paintings, Swarovski threaded chandeliers, flowers done by florists specially flown in from France, Riedel crystal glassware, Wedgwood plates, Christofle serving trays, crisp Pratesi linen – the amenities and features reek of refined taste and fine art of luxurious living; and stand out with a lot of ease amongst the usual suspects of the heretofore overused luxury standards such as over 300 thread count crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, down-feather pillows, 14” rain showerheads, Jacuzzi tubs, butler & maid service, overnight shoe shine, high-speed WiFi, Cisa safes, individual temperature control to mood lighting control.
Location is a definite winner when it comes to picking a luxury resort. Is the hotel on the banks of the holy Ganges or overlooking the Victoria Harbour; is it within a hop & skip distance of the Colosseum or in close vicinity of the Pyramids! The Oberoi’s luxury resort Amarvilas in Agra has earned its bragging rights from the impressive fact that the hotel offers a view of the Taj Mahal no matter where you may look out from. Additionally, one of the most unparalleled and unbeatable views anywhere in the world is from one of Amarvilas’ king-sized bathrooms – looking up from your leisurely, relaxing bath out of the giant glass wall you are blown away by the beauty of the Taj in all its resplendence anytime of the day or night.
There are a cluster of hotels that are known for the Chef who lords over his Michelin star restaurant in the establishment and is happy to cook up a signature meal for you. Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adria, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gordon Ramsay – all culinary greats with a star power normally reserved for film actors and with a waiting list of guests that runs sometimes into months and years – make hotels housing their restaurants a definite port of call on a luxury traveller’s itinerary with the promise of the delight that they bring with their willingness to paint their culinary art on the canvas of your palate. Some hotels go a step further, like The Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence which offers truffle hunting expeditions with an expert truffier followed by a cookery demonstration by the chef and special truffle-rich dinner.
Utah’s Deer Valley ski resort – Stein Eriksen Lodge has ski valets who escort guests to and from the slopes. The resort also boasts of heated sidewalks and walkways to keep the guests warm and cozily comfortable. The Oberoi Group ferries its VIP guests in a private jet to its lovely Vilases in the magnificent golden triangle destination circuit. The luxury hotels are more than eager to serve up their aces to the preferred guests in such creative ways that are a touchstone for the brilliance of their brands.
Unique to their properties, some hotels develop a signature style of service which becomes a major draw for the luxury traveler. The pillow menu has been done to death by a handful of luxury hotels where the guest can choose from a list of differently stuffed pillows that serve to soothe you gently to sleep or rid you off that stiff neck or even induce the most pleasant of dreams. The Imperial in Delhi went a step further to develop a statement fragrance for the hotel and for its suites. Boston Harbor Hotel gently nudges its guests into NiniLand with linen mists and sleep balms. To prevent the guests from getting into a headache-inducing traffic jam Boston Harbor Hotel organizes water taxis for the guests to cruise hassle free to the airport.
Even the choice of wheels are as hot and happening as the personality of the luxe hotel – from Phantom Rolls Royce, Bentleys, Maserati, Maybach, reworked vintage Ambassadors, horse-drawn carriages that pull majestically into the porch of the old fort hotel, camels and elephants – the luxury hotels pull out all the stops.
The Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel does it in impeccable style with its Hot Wheels menu of Lamborghini Gallardos, Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis, Bentleys and some more offered to the top-tier suites guests under the complimentary Suite Drive program. The guests can select the Wheels of their choice to cruise around Los Angeles and can also pick up the car at the airport to drive into the hotel.
Luxury hotels are Special Places where Les Clefs d’Or decorated Concierge bends over backwards to bring true every wish or whim of their special guests – from Pink elephants for the kiddo’s birthday to an exclusive chat with a historian on the colonial background of the City where the hotel stands to flying in that novel, hard-to-get ingredient for that special meal on the guest’s momentous occasion. Ritz Carlton Group’s motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” underlines the focus on guest orientation and the intense employee training that goes into making a stay at one of their hotels ‘Ritz Remarkable.’
Not just the concierge, the entire hotel is geared into turning the experience into a memorable one for the esteemed guests. “No” and “cannot” just do not exist in the hotel vocabulary. The doors of the celebrated ‘The Spice Route’ restaurant were opened two hours earlier by The Imperial management to entertain John Galliano and his entourage with a special meal that was personally cooked by the Restaurant’s celebrated chef. This way Galliano, who was touring India in his halcyon days, could enjoy the authentic meal in the actual ambience of the Restaurant while still being out of the public eye.
Iconic places have uniquely interesting stories, legends, innovations woven around their existence – King Cole Bar at St. Regis in New York, which houses a famous 1906 Art Nouveau oil mural, is considered the birthplace of the Bloody Mary just as the Long Bar in Raffles Singapore is of the Singapore Sling. The Imperial in Delhi has an alleged Kipling Corner in the 1911 Bar, Raffles Singapore has its Writers Bar and Personality Suites where Somerset Maugham and other literary greats of the time enjoyed their tipple and stayed, The Ritz in Paris was virtually the second home of Coco Chanel for years; yes the same hotel that also houses Bar Hemingway as a tribute to its other famous guest – Ernest Hemingway and where Diana, Princess of Wales had her ‘last supper’ with Dodi Fayed before that tragically fatal crash.
Luxury hospitality destinations are also about uniquely superlative touches. At the Lodge at Sea Island, Georgia you can savor dinner at the Steakhouse while a bagpiper plays just outside at sunset every day. At Rajvilas, an Oberoi Vilas hotel, the hotel priest conducts a religious ceremony (puja) twice a day in the ancient 280 year old Lord Shiva temple on the hotel grounds in which the hotel guests can also participate; elsewhere in another suite a majestic peacock saunters inside for a close dekko.
Some top-of-the-line, ultra glam, super luxury hotels thrive on making the stay consummately and delightfully luxurious for their guests from the time the guests disembark to the time they bid adieu. Wynn Las Vegas lays out its ‘privileges red carpet’ inside the airport even before the guests are picked up in the hotel’s fleet of Phantom Rolls Royce. The installation of flat-screen TVs in the poolside cabanas ensures that the guests are not deprived of their personal entertainment even when they are outside by the pool.
But the expected, tried and now seemingly ordinary set of luxury amenities such as Porthault bathrobes, handmade soaps, Cesame and Kohler fixtures, Posturepedic spring mattresses, Bose speakers or the clock and radio, Bang & Olufsen Television, 50 channels in various international languages, complimentary leading newspapers from around the world have actually become quite de rigueur for these havens of luxury.
They, now, seem to be in a race to get steps ahead of their competition in presenting the new definition of luxury ranging from beguilingly bizarre to mind-blowingly breathtaking. Sample this – Rosewood Hotels in their North American and Saudi Arabian properties present a dedicated Fragrance Butler to their guests who serves up a fragrance menu tailored for lady guests (Chanel No. 5, Bvlgari Black, Daisy Marc Jacobs and Chanel CoCo Mademoiselle) and for the gents (Tom Ford for Men, Bvlgari Pour Homme and Hermes Terre d’Hermes). A thoughtfully appointed Tea Sommelier at The Lanesborough in London proffers an award-winning afternoon tea service to the guests. The Soap Concierge at The Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico presents a selection of artisanal, organic soaps made by hand by the Mayan communities in the vicinity. A 24 hrs on call in-room Mixologist at The Surrey Hotel in New York City arrives to do his bidding aided with a fully stocked cocktail cart. Ritz Carlton in New Orleans pampers you into the normal state after a hard night of partying with its Recovery Concierge who helps resuscitate your jaded senses with the selection of curative cocktails, sparkling water and savoury snacks. The Surf Butlers at St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, California are really manna from heaven for the surfing enthusiasts as they go about their work of helping guests catch the perfect wave, fitting them with perfectly measured wetsuits, offering personalized service to new surfers and sharing tips on local wave conditions and secret breaks in the areas with the experienced ones. The Sleep Concierge at The Benjamin, New York City comes well-armed to combat any situation that the modern, hectic, stress-ridden world throws up with its remarkable array of antidotal measures – dozen-pillow menu (water-filled version, NASA-designed Swedish Memory Foam version, a five-foot body cushion or an iPod-ready lullaby pillow), aromatherapy bath products, comforting treats like warm milk, cookies and calming teas, sleep mask, lavender linen oil, coconut water and a wake-up call.
Taking it a few notches up are the Tanning Butlers at Ritz Carlton South Beach who are fully trained and trademarked SPF specialists qualified to offer you a range of sun-protection products and pleased to apply the products on hard-to-reach spots, clean your sunglasses and come up with local dining expert advice. Then, there are the Tartan Butlers, at The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Scotland, who help the guests to trace their Scottish ancestral roots, get them fitted in bespoke kilts made from their clan’s traditional tartan by the local craftsmen and arrange a tour of their native region. In a similar vein, the Lodge at Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland employs on-site Genealogists who are members of the Clare Roots Society and the Council of Irish Genealogical Organizations. These experts help the guests research and discover their Irish roots and visit their ancestral villages.
And in the realm of somewhat bizarre, magically oddball and phantasmagorically private are the following four – In line with the spirit of its location I would say, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas presents its guests with a room-service menu of lingerie and unmentionables from its in-house boutique Love Jones. The Pierre in NYC offers the perfectly quiet and secluded place to guests who wish to recover and recuperate after plastic surgery. As a very thoughtful and well-strategized offer, ‘the post plastic surgery convalescence’ package includes car service to and from the procedure, in-room spa treatments and a specialty menu designed to encourage healing. The Andaz 5th Avenue, a Hyatt hotel in Manhattan, New York boasts an artists-in-residence program whereby it commissions street artists, graffiti gurus and tattoo artists to work on extraordinary ideas and create wonderful art. Finally, the one right up my alley – Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon offers the services of an on-its-rolls pet psychic. During a complimentary wine hour, the psychic hashes out any behavioural issues of the pet and the pet parent and shares suggestions for improving the pet-parent relationship.
In the name of wonderful, never-felt-before experiences, hotels stretch themselves from fantastically awe-inspiring to quaintly funny. The novel experience can range from the very much intentional and well-planned to completely unintentional and purely incidental – lounging around in a South African wildlife resort amongst a pride of lions or a tower of giraffes can be labeled under the former and enjoying a lazy Sunday Brunch in the soothing winter sun at a colonial Delhi hotel with the resident eagle swooping down to share a piece of your pie definitely falls under the latter.
A luxury hotel experience comes replete with all the trimmings and trappings of ultimate pampering – whether it is organizing a local historian or writer as your personal guide to unravel some of the fabulous secrets that the destination has to offer, calling on duty a personal shopper who gets you the best buys and bargains, fixing a star city masseuse to perform their special hand magic to soothe your frayed nerves, getting you seats for an A-list, queued up show or a table at a much-awarded restaurant that seems to be perpetually booked up all the time while you relax in the plushest beds, rejuvenate in the best Spas, tingle your taste buds with matchless food cooked by award-winning hands, sip on the widest and best selections of wine, shop in an exclusive arcade, awaken your senses to the finest fragrances and freshest flowers, accomplish your business stress-free with advanced technology playing your best personal caddy – no demand is too much and no service too less for the privilege of hosting you as a preferred guest.