he headline in The Wall Street Journal read "Courvoisier to Launch Clothing Line," and the article below it described how the venerable cognac brand was launching a collection of luxury sportswear.

The company projected that first-year sales could reach $3 million, but a spokesman for its parent company, Allied Domecq, acknowledged that the larger goal was to help transform Courvoisier into a lifestyle brand.

Similarly, when I recently spoke with Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani -- his company is best known for producing jewelry, perfume and watches -- he said he felt comfortable opening Bulgari Hotels & Resorts because focus groups had assured him that his traditional clientele believed that Bulgari "understands their lifestyle." He, too, indicated that the hotel's financial goals were secondary to creating buzz about his brand.

The trend of converting product buyers into lifestyle consumers has been going on for some time, but there seems to be an acceleration of the notion that travel can figure prominently in these strategies.

For the most part, the efforts have been modest -- the Bulgari Hotels, the Cuisinart Resort and Spa on Anguilla, the Palazzo Versace on Australia's Gold Coast and the Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood properties come to mind -- but there are signs that interest in travel-related products is growing. The spokesman for Allied Domecq, which owns Malibu coconut rum as well as Courvoisier, mused aloud that a holiday resort called Malibu would fit in well with the company's goals.

If turnabout is fair play, let's consider what travel brands could become lifestyle brands. It's one thing to stick the name of your resort on T-shirts and ashtrays and sell them in the lobby gift shop, but quite another to expect Saks Fifth Avenue to carry them. If Bill Marriott's Mormon background didn't make it unthinkable, would anyone be interested in buying cognac by Courtyard by Marriott?

I think there are some possibilities. Let's start with the low-hanging fruit: Hedonism is already the name of both a travel product and a lifestyle, and seems ripe for extension into everything from spirits to hot tubs to lingerie. Westin Hotels and Resorts says it's doing a brisk business selling its "Heavenly beds" and accessories on its Web site, but so far has no retail presence. Perhaps it should consider a few well-placed boutiques (or even temporary "guerrilla stores," the latest retail revolution).

For now, the closest the industry has to lifestyle brands are Disney and Virgin Atlantic, but neither started as a travel firm. Disney initially extended into travel from feature films, but gets points for coming full circle, with theme park rides serving as the jumping-off point for movies.

Virgin, one of the premiere lifestyle-branding companies in the world (150 enterprises, from cola to financial services) gets major points for bringing a nontravel brand to the airline industry and running a profitable carrier, something even experienced airline executives can't always manage.

And, unfortunately, there aren't many opportunities in the brand extension arena for legacy airlines -- the poor-morale, confused and struggling lifestyle has yet to capture the public's imagination.

Get More!
Look for additional details on this article in the February 23 issue of Travel Weekly.


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