Most hotels offer enticing packages and programs, but just imagine if they could organize private after-hours shopping trips, days of deep-sea-fishing with a world-class chef and the hottest Lakers tickets? That’s exactly what some luxury hotels are offering in order to attract guests who demand the most for their money.
Courtesy of the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand, guests can visit the world-famous Dior the same way celebrities do: When it’s closed, with champagne. At the St. Regis Bora Bora, Jean-Georges Vongerichten not only goes deep-sea fishing with guests, he also prepares their catch that evening at his restaurant, Lagoon, at the hotel. And the St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, is offering Magic Johnson’s personal Lakers tickets—the ideal spot for cheering alongside diehard fans Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson.
In order to make the most indelible impression imaginable, more hotels are racing to provide ultimate insider experiences. “People have so many material things, they’re often looking for an experience,” explains Julie Saunders, concierge supervisor at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington D.C. “Once you’ve eaten the meals and slept in the bed, what do you have?”
Saunders and her staff have fulfilled some wild requests. They recently expedited the purchase of the flag that flies over the Capitol, and even arranged access for a family who wanted to watch the July 4th fireworks from the Capitol building’s steps. (Of course, with timing and security issues, there are no guarantees). “How great to give guests something intangible to take with them. So they can say, “'do you remember when we did THAT?'” says Saunders. “It’s a memory that you can hold for the rest of your life.”
It’s also about bragging rights. “The client wants their experience to be a total wow so they can come back from their trip and be the best,” explains Ruthanne Terrero, editorial director of Luxury Travel Advisor and Travel Agent Magazine. “If everyone is doing the same thing, like going to Mustique, these kinds of programs really make you feel extraordinary.”
Steven Lance, co-author of "The Little Blue Book of Advertising", explains that, more and more, hotels need to stand out. “A bed is a bed, but the amenities make hotels different from each other,” notes Lance. “Historically, amenities were usually inside properties. They offered plushy bathrobes, then advanced to health clubs, spas and gyms. These programs are an evolution, the next step from the free shampoo in the room. There’s really no difference between a private visit to the Sistine Chapel a free bar of soap or color TV.”
The best offerings are unavailable to “regular” people. Famed lens woman Mary McCartney, daughter of Sir Paul, will photograph guests of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. At the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes, guests can play pétanque with longtime members of the Association Bouliste in Cannes (whose president offers throwing tips).
Of course, these priceless experiences can come with a hefty price tag. At the Poetry Inn in Napa, the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller will personally cook a seven-course feast paired with Cliff Lede Vineyards wines for $60,000. At a starting price of a mere $8.4 million, guests at the Marquis Los Cabos Beach, Golf, Spa & Casitas Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico can play a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus or Robert Trent Jones II. They can also throw in a tailor-made designer evening gown, a Rolls Royce or Bentley, and a private yacht with a full crew.
“People who can afford it do not have any qualms about spending a ton of money,” says Terro. “If the experience will be enriching to them, they will pay anything for it.” Consider these wows: The Four Seasons Beverly Hills can arrange for VIP tickets to the Tonight Show so you don’t have to wait on line. Eric Beaumard, world-renowned sommelier and restaurant director at the George V’s Le Cinq restaurant in Paris lovingly escorts guests to the super private Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, which is nearly impossible to visit on your own. The St. Regis Grand Hotel, Rome and Hilton Rome have programs where they take guests to the Sistine Chapel behind the velvet ropes after closing.
No matter how priceless these experiences are to guests, they’re just as priceless to the hotels. As Lance explains, these packages seriously add to the cache of the hotel. “They burnish the reputation of every room.”
So what hotels are adding to their reputations by offering out of this world experiences? Read on and think about how Thomas Keller should prepare your steak.