Ask five people what luxury means, and you’re bound to get five different answers, perhaps sharing some common themes. Part of the problem is that our notion of luxury is changing and a person’s cultural background will influence how they perceive it – an additional challenge for brands trying to address a global market.

The concept of luxury is fundamentally psychological and vastly subjective. In Luxury Marketing: A Challenge for Theory and Practice, researchers have defined common facets in the understanding of luxury:

  • Aesthetics;
  • Premium Quality;
  • Personal History;
  • Self-Pleasure;
  • Expensiveness.

Globally, these facets all mean something, but a culture’s own values and self image influence how each is perceived.

When luxury is a feeling

Social theorist, Richard D. Lewis outlines how countries associated with Romantic cultures are more conscious of values related to beauty and feelings. Creativity, elegance, manners, and humanistic attributes matter greatly. Luxury brands targeting people from these countries need to focus on the senses in particular.

Hotels and hospitality businesses serving guests from such countries should focus particularly on the look, smell, and sounds in their hotel, as well as the tastes offered through their food and beverage venues.

When luxury is who you are

For France and Italy, the creation of luxury products is a part of their national history and character. The effect is that French and Italian consumers see luxury as part of their own identity. For these countries, the domestic manufacturing of luxury products is particularly important.

European hotels should pay special attention to the provenance of their bed linens, food, wine and bath products.

When luxury is functional

In contrast to Romantic cultures, people from Germanic cultures and the UK view luxury as representing superior functionality. Certain research has even suggested that cold, harsh climates have influenced the view that luxury clothes, cars and other items need to perform well in all conditions.

These consumers, who place a premium on the performance of luxury products and services, will not be swayed by things that are ‘dressed up’ but lacking in substance.

When luxury is exclusive

One characteristic that’s been noted across India, is the aspect of conspicuousness. In a study of 900 luxury consumers across China, India and Indonesia, it was found that, for Indians, luxury is about “achieving societal acceptance, reflecting the hierarchical nature of the society.” Likewise for post-Soviet countries, people from middle and upper classes use luxury brands to distinguish themselves from working classes.

Signature products and services and strong brand signifiers are likely to resonate strongly with people for whom exclusivity is important.

And now more than ever, when luxury is an experience

One of the biggest trends in the modern luxury market is the shifting focus towards experiences over material things. By 2022, the Boston Consulting Group predicts that personal and experiential luxury alone will be a €1,135 billion market—a 34% increase from 2015. This may be partly due to the view that experiences are harder to commodify: meaning they are more likely to be authentic. Travel to remote parts of the world, and memorable interactions with genuine people represent a kind of rarity that is irreproducible.

Human elements are the cornerstone of an authentic experience. As such, it’s no wonder that hotels are focusing on raising their levels of personalised service and creating unexpected moments of pleasure for the guest.