When Phoenix Suns’ guard Steve Nash decided a tattoo was the perfect souvenir of his Tahitian vacation, travel agent Gail Bradley, with help of a concierge, found a local, reputable tattoo artist and had him flown onto the private island where Nash stayed to make it happen. “Guests want the amenities with the pampering, but there’s a growing need [for] unique experiences,” said Bradley, an independent affiliate of America's Vacation Centers/American Express in San Diego. “The rule of thumb is you don’t say ‘no.’”
In today’s travel industry, when money is frequently no object, limitations rarely exist. Hotel perks and services once reserved for the most elite travelers have found their way to any traveler willing to pay.
VIP experiences were once available only to the most rich and famous visitors, said Angela Grangier, agency manager at Panorama Travel outside Portland, Ore. Now, hotel staffs work to create memorable experiences for all their guests. Attention to detail is at the core of today’s hotel industry, she said. “Where you’re staying at a destination is just as important as where you are visiting.”
Along with over-the-top extras, eclectic choices are made available among standard hotel amenities. With the help of a sleep concierge, The Benjamin Hotel in midtown Manhattan lets guests choose among 13 pillows from water-filled to buckwheat. To ensure a good night’s rest, lavender sprays, pre-bed massages and milk and cookies are available.
At Italy’s Palazzo Magnani Feroni, an intimate palace overlooking Florence, bathroom amenities are stocked based on the guest’s preferred scent. And at Brazil’s Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi, helicopters transfer guests between the Sao Paulo Guarulhols International Airport and the hotel. The $5,500 fee also includes the Presidential Suite and daily spa treatments.
Part of the experience is having needs anticipated, not just met upon request. Technology helps hotel staff stay one step ahead, says Mike MacNair, president of MacNair Travel in the Washington, D.C., area. Travel professionals provide more data to hotels about their clients, and with the help of online flight tracking, attentive employees can greet guests by name as they walk through the lobby doors, he said. “That welcoming factor is tremendous.”
And travelers today want their four-legged loved ones to feel just as welcomed. Many luxury hotels have opened doors to animals and go beyond pointing out the nearest dog park.
Nine Zero, a boutique hotel in Boston, greets each pet with a gourmet treat and stocks the room with a bed and food and water bowls. Pet sitting, grooming and walking are offered, as well as pet massage services. The hotel’s location across from Boston Common, a 50-acre pet-friendly park, doesn’t hurt either.
If guests couldn’t bring their pets but are longing for unconditional love, the Loews Annapolis hotel will bring out Luke, a yellow Labrador. Guests are encouraged to play with Luke in the lobby or can reserve time to take him for a stroll. Luke is such a hotel staple that he even has his own email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“These hotels are working in the experience business,” MacNair said. The companies create more than just a place for out-of-town guests to sleep by becoming a part of the trip, whether business or pleasure.
In the face of such opulent offerings, small, in-house details may seem insignificant, but specialty the room services can distinguish one luxury hotel from another, especially when it comes to return visitors.
Walter Bailey, a regular traveler to Italy, France and England with his wife, Carol, said attentive concierge services are invaluable. “You feel so much better about the country, the visit, the people you’ve turned your life over to,” he said.
Frequent business travelers dread poor Internet connections and technology malfunctions. Guests to any Ritz-Carlton hotel can rest confidently knowing a Technology Butler is in-house at each location. From cell phone chargers to laptop crashes, the "butlers" have handled every mini-crisis on the road.
As hotels across the world step up their game in every facet of the experience, travelers begin to raise their expectations.
New York’s Fitzpatrick Hotel offers a fairy-tale experience for children, capitalizing on the American Girls doll craze. Kids and their dolls are greeted by name at check-in. In the room there are slippers and a robe for the doll, as well as a special bed and turndown service to mimic every guest’s experience. At breakfast, dolly gets a place setting of her own. At Boston’s XV Beacon frequent guests experience holiday cheer with a Tiffany’s gift from the hotel.
The Drake in Toronto offers a discreet “Pleasure Menu” with a la carte items and packages for guests in the mood for an adventurous evening in.
“When they take it one step beyond,” Angela Grainger said, “that’s where the magic of the stay begins.”