As any expert will tell you, luxury travel is about the service.
But data and surveys continue to show that, increasingly, it is about experience and excitement. Especially among younger travelers.
A look at luxury properties in three major cities show independents are gaining ground on the chains that have historically dominated in rate and occupancy. The review by STR shows that independent properties in New York, Miami and Boston outperformed luxury chains last year when looking at rate and occupancy combined.
The review didn’t speculate on why, but the just-released 2014 J.D. Powers Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index shows hotel brands that are perceived as being exciting and trendsetters received the highest number of positive recommendations this year.
Luxury hospitality consultant and former Ritz-Carlton executive Vivian Deuschl says it’s about the guest feeling special and experiencing something new, for both young and old travelers.
Younger travelers with money and no kids, she said, are very much influenced by what’s hot.
“They read in People magazine that George Clooney stayed in whatever hotel,” Deuschl said. “They want to go to Cabo and say 'I saw Jennifer Aniston.'”
And older travelers who used to stay in chains like the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons are also looking for something new. They don't consider travel a splurge, Deuschl said: "They consider it something they deserve, and they are willing to spend the money to be made special.
“They want to create memories, and it’s very hard to create memories in a chain hotel," she added. "They ads always imply they can, but they get the same bottle of wine, the same fruit basket that everyone else gets."
Luxury travelers also increasingly associate the big luxury chains with being more crowded and hosting groups. And the last thing luxe travelers want to see is “their neighbor from Paramus sitting next to them in the chaise lounge."
For today’s luxury traveler, she said, it’s all about the exclusivity that the smaller independents are clamoring to offer.
“It’s amazing to me how many of these luxury hotels are coming up,” Deuschl said. “But I really think a lot of it has to do with age, pent-up demand. People have paid off their house and say, ‘I can only live once.’”