Today’s luxury hoteliers know that it’s not the thread count of the bed sheets or the plushness of the bathrobes that keep guests coming back. Fostering loyalty at the truly top-end of the market requires offering something more – something that resists standardization. More and more, luxury hotels are realizing the answer lies in unique, authentic experiences.

Commoditized luxury (the industry’s dirty word)

The last few years has seen an increase in luxury spending, but a decrease in the consumption of luxury products. One possible reason for this is the ‘democratization’ of luxury. People who are not the traditional luxury audience ‘trade up’ whenever possible, and luxury brands, in an effort to expand their customer base, are increasingly offering (accessible) entry-level products.

When it feels like ‘everyone’ is sporting a designer handbag, driving a luxury car, and drinking the same brand of champagne, the oversaturated brands begin to lose value. In The Commoditization of Luxury, researchers explain that a subset of luxury consumers see commoditization as a signal to distance themselves from such brands that might tarnish their image as unique individuals.

Mass manufacturing, outsourced from the brand’s own country, has further diminished perceptions of authenticity when it comes to luxury products. These mass-manufactured luxury goods are produced by the thousands and sold at airports and shopping malls in just about every city. With luxury products no longer fulfilling the need for esteem or self actualization, consumers turn to luxury experiences as the ultimate #humblebrag.

Creating authentic guest experiences

Modern culture is obsessed with authenticity, probably because it feels like it has become more and more elusive. From retail, to politics, to manufacturing, and even corporate leadership, true authenticity seems to escape us. A 2016 Expedia study found that millennials from all over the world prioritize authenticity in their travel experience. And while your hotel might be lucky enough to have an authentic setting, like the Four Seasons Tokyo which boasts gardens going back eight centuries, authentic human interactions are still a necessary component in creating an overall experience. A Harvard Business Review article defines three components of authenticity:

In order to be authentic, hotels need to be aware of how they communicate at both a brand level and an individual level.  Attentive, personalized service is nothing new, but according to Frank Marrenbach, the chief executive of the Oetker Collection, a luxury-hotel group, it is an increasingly important differentiator now that the luxury hotel business has become commoditized, “Value is added by being generous in small ways.”

Taking the time to know your guests, their preferences, their mood, and reasons for travel demonstrates that you are generous with your time and that you value them as individuals. However, truly listening to guests is just the first step: the information you gather about them needs to provoke thoughtful service actions that will in turn translate into memorable guest experiences.