What is luxury?

This post is being uploaded a little later than it was written (blame Christmas) but, following a pre-Christmas trip to Morocco, Janet looks at the needs and components of the luxury travel market.


Having just spent the last two hours feeling the traffic after-effects of the UK’s second ‘arctic freeze’ (the radio’s words, not mine), it’s hard to imagine that I was in Morocco three days ago. Nevertheless, this week I was lucky enough to grab five days away in Agadir, staying in a rather plush hotel, and it got me to thinking… just what is luxury?

Several years ago I spent a summer season working as an adventure tour guide in Morocco. I have returned many times since but I have always seen a very different side of the country to my experience this week. In recent years, Morocco has worked hard to improve its infrastructure and resources and the King himself has highlighted the importance of building the country’s tourism industry as a means to progress. In many areas one of the main focuses is the luxury market and it’s big business; data suggests that the 3% of customers at the highest end of the market spend over 20% of total tourism expenditure (data released by ILTM, 2009). However this is not an easy market to succeed in. Luxury hotel resorts attract the widest range of nationalities (because they rarely favour one tour operator considerably over another), and the type of guest may vary from business travellers who habitually book five star accommodation to honeymooners who have spent years saving for their perfect trip; either way, by nature of the resort’s luxury status, all are expecting an ultimate luxury experience. Expectations may be wildly different and so a resort needs to find a way to differentiate the same product in a way that it can be sold to everyone. I read an interesting article defining the habitual luxury traveller into the following segments:

‘• Tycoons are capable of fulfilling all material fantasies, including the ones related to their holiday. The hotelier with such clients must be capable of fulfilling all their requirements, be it a helipad on-site, or the building of a fish-shaped swimming pool for their children or a fire-place next to the sea.

Very rich people may not have that big financial capabilities or requirements. Nevertheless, they also demand impeccable door-to-door service (from the moment they leave their home to the moment they return to it), confidentiality, personalized and individualized service. They are very demanding and do not easily forgive errors of omission or commission.

Rich people demand a qualitative service all round. Rich people usually have to continue working to maintain their lifestyle and, therefore, seek value for money as a matter of principle and not as a matter of sound financial management.

The Luxury spender can also be segmented:

Elite Luxury Lover: This is the “traditional” luxury market. These tourists are extremely interested in image and status. They seek exclusivity and experiences that are unique and not available to others.
Aspiring Luxury Lover: They have the same tastes as Elite Luxury Lovers, but do not have the financial power to satisfy them.
Savvy Luxury Shopper: This is “new money” in the luxury market. They are shrewd customers, seeking value-for-money, bargains and discounts. They use the Internet a lot and are an expanding market segment.
Luxury Explorer: They seek intense feelings, environment, senses and sounds in places not frequented by tourists. Luxury, per se, is not part of their profile but they mostly seek unique experiences.
Satisfied Luxury Admirer: They do not care much about appearances. They are usually older, have money but do not travel much.’
(taken from ‘Luxury Tourism: A Matter for All: http://www.htrends.com/researcharticle9335.html)

 

I have previously stayed in two other hotels run by the same chain as the hotel in Agadir and, of the three, only one (in North America) has truly lived up to my expectations of luxury. In China, my room was great (flatscreen TV in the bathroom and a ‘modesty window’ which turned opaque at the touch of a button) but the room was always a bit dusty and the service was slow. In Morocco, the infrastructure of hotel and grounds were beautiful, and the service was fantastic, but our towels and bathrobes were always just a little bit musty, and the public bathrooms in the hotel were never quite as clean as I would like.

As a competitor in a difficult market I did feel that both the hotel and the town have a little way to go to truly define their USP. Marrakech has already carved a niche for itself as the place to go for the ‘real Morocco’. Agadir positions itself as ‘Morocco’s premier beach resort’; this may work well for domestic tourists, but overseas tourists looking for a high-end beach hotel already have a multitude of destinations to consider. Egypt and Tunisia also offer beach stays with a North African flavour, and the Canaries offer ‘winter sun’. In addition, as is the way with any destination with a fast-growing tourism industry, many locals see the tourists as a way to make a ‘fast buck’ – a couple of taxi drivers tried to charge me up to six times the going rate, which has never happened to me elsewhere in Morocco. In order for the industry to be sustainable, the guest’s experience needs to feel authentic, which I did not feel was particularly prevalent in Agadir – just yet.

I still very much enjoyed my trip, and thought the hotel was beautiful. And now am feeling a little more relaxed in order to put in some serious work to move my project forward before Christmas next week – how time flies!

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