My work makes me an extreme traveler. During the last four weeks alone, I flew more than 30 times, visited 10 countries, and stayed in 20 hotels. This gives me an in-depth view on the state of luxury hospitality not just from the standpoint of a brand advisor, but also as a client.
While there are many outstanding individual hotel properties all over the world, there is a more profound challenge that the entire industry is facing: a sea of sameness. In the competitive world of luxury hospitality, differentiation and brand storytelling have never been more crucial. Recently, at the prestigious LE/Master Pass luxury hospitality conference in Miami, I was invited to present a keynote to the leaders of several luxury hotel groups.
In preparation, I had my team analyze the brand stories of the top 20 luxury hospitality brands. I was struck by a revelation that is both urgent and enlightening. The hospitality industry has been encased in a narrative bubble, where the majority of luxury brands are selling the same story — promising a “paradise-like” experience, where everything is centered around the guest and where guests are meant to feel at home.
This narrative, albeit alluring, is quickly becoming a cliché and fails to establish unique cultural capital, proprietary to an individual brand.
When everybody fundamentally promises the same thing, it’s literally impossible for travelers to understand the differences between brands. As a result, if you look at rankings of the world’s most valuable brands, many hospitality brands are not present among the top. To make matters worse, the hospitality industry is confronted with relatively low loyalty rates, with some luxury properties seeing less than 10 percent of their guests return.
In other words, despite the near-universal promise of paradise, guests often don’t come back. Hence, something is fundamentally wrong.
As brands tell a similar story, there is little perceived differentiation from a client perspective. Brands need to revisit their storytelling approach and unlock emotional promises that resonate deeply with today’s consumers.
A uniform narrative, like the promise of paradise, has its charm. It appeals to the universal desire for escape, relaxation, and the extraordinary. However, it also runs the risk of being generic and impersonal. In a market where brands need to create cultural capital, storytelling must be more distinct and emotionally engaging. Brands need to break free from the "paradise" promise and craft narratives that are reflective of their unique identity.
The key question to answer is: How does your paradise differ from others, and what does it enable your guests to do differently? Brand storytelling always has to be done with the client at its center.
Every luxury hospitality brand needs to have a unique story that is not just buried in a brand bible but clearly perceived by the guest at each touchpoint. The story should encompass the brand's values and core promises — the rational and the emotional.
Critical questions to ask are: What are you really selling, apart from being a luxury hotel brand? And how do you promise to make people feel in a distinct way?
If there is no clarity on these topics, then there will be no perceived story from a guest perspective. Neglecting these stories is fatal as they can forge the most powerful connection with consumers and ultimately create extreme value when leveraged effectively. Lasting value is never created just through stunning architecture or high-end materials; today's luxury clients expect both. Extreme value is created through a genuine human connection. To make it distinct, a unique and relevant story is needed.
I always like to say that there is no such thing as 90 percent authentic. Something is either authentic or it’s not. In a world where discerning consumers have fine antennas to distinguish real from fake, authenticity is non-negotiable. This means staying true to your story and delivering on its promise. Nothing is worse for a client than falling in love with a brand based on a promise and then experiencing disappointment.
In a luxury reality that is changing faster than ever before, luxury hospitality brands must take the leap from selling paradise to selling unique stories that create a strong, emotional client response. It's time to move away from merely selling rooms to telling extreme value-creating stories, from providing service to fostering genuine human connections. Only when every stay becomes a unique narrative is extreme value created.
Named one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch,” Daniel Langer is the CEO of the luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand strategy firm Équité, and the executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He consults many of the leading luxury brands in the world, is the author of several best-selling luxury management books, a global keynote speaker, and holds luxury masterclasses on the future of luxury, disruption, and the luxury metaverse in Europe, the USA, and Asia.
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