Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deluxe Nomads- how much polishing does it take to make the wealthy glitter when they travel?

Mark Tungate arrives in Monte Carlo to experience how "the other half live", flying into the heliport from Nice Cote d'azur, before being swept into a black minivan and from there into that citadel of 'Deluxe Nomads', The Hotel de Paris, Monaco.
In order to give us insight into how it was that Monaco came to be known as part of the Millionaire's playground, Tungate takes us back to 13th century Italy's warring principalities and city states. In the dead of night one part of the Genoese clan (who were fighting among themselves, as well as with other people, for they were one of the more important states..) led by Francesco Grimaldi, pulled a Trojan horse on the genoese fortress; Disguising himself as a monk on the 8 Jan 1297, Grimaldi gained entry... and then so did his forces, establishing Monaco as a principality. By 1848 Prince Florestan sought to bring money into the city-state by introducing a resort filled with pleasures; spas, hotels, villas and, notably, gambling. The idea did not really catch on, despite his son, Charles III's best attempts. As Jim Ring observed in his book 'Riviera'

Monaco was still four hours away from Nice by Carriage or choppy boat ride across the bay. Why make the effort when there were plenty of glittering diversions close at hand?

It was 'the magician' Francois Blanc, a frenchman who had made a fortune in german casinos, particularly turning the spa town of Bad Homburg into a 'destination'. With transport connections by rail soon to be established between Nice and Monaco, he realised that it could quite easily be so transformed and took up Charles II's quest. Engaging fashionable architects (Dutrou) to transform the area with hotels, Blanc commenced a massive excercise in branding, inviting popular thespians (Alexandre Dumas was one of hotel de Paris' first guests), rigging positive odds, and conjuring an image of hedonism. By his death in 1877, 300,000 visitors a year were pouring in. The organisation founded by Charles III still exists today, as Montecarlo SBM- with an income of 450 million euros, still Majority owned by the Monegasque state, this brand controls the casino, along with other casinos, hotels, spas, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, conference venues and nightspots. It essentially runs Monte Carlo as a pleasure-spot. The brand has formed alliances oversees with Wynn resorts and is opening a 'Monte Carlo branded hotel' in Morocco.

It is branding again that repositioned Monte carlo as a true luxury location, with a marketing director, Axel Hoppenot, hired in 2004. He began promoting the fairy tale image behind monte carlo (princesses, castles, beaches, liberty... the associations were already there, just not promoted) He lists 5 key values as central to the 'brand'.

Thrill, sense of liberty, security, l'art de vivre (pleasurable lifestyle) and aspiration.

It is this combination of hedonism, security and the perceptions of levels of exclusivity that the branding exploits.

Luca Allegri, manager of the hotel de Paris, also notes the importance of a strong brand, particularly with regard to associations with cosmetics companies, as the young wealthy clientele increasingly "judge a hotel by the luxuriousness of its bathroom." Lancome and La prarie are names he throws around as acceptable. He says though, that what really differentiates the realm of high-luxury fits the human dimension of the brand- that every member of a hotel's staff must be creating an ultimate experience (particularly the concierge, who interacts most directly with the clients). At the Ritz-Carlton, staff are allowed to spend up to 2000USD to resolve a guest's problem without consultation, and a guest's requests, consumption habits and requirements are entered into a database so that their room can be personalised. (down to the fruit they took from the fruit bowl)
In luxury hotels, it is all about the double of customer service and branding- from boutique hotels to the massive thematic hotels of Vegas.

The Mark Hotel in New York followed similar tactics to turn of the century Monaco in its branding techniques; hiring a fashionable interior designer, Jaques Grange, to rennovate, and exploiting his connections to the worlds of high fashion, art and interior design to acquire customised pieces, around which the marketing could be centred (reviews glowed on the cloud shaped bar and oversized beds...) The branding played on the french aspect and the old association between France and luxury (stemming back to Versailles, belle epoque and the world of Haute couture), hiring a Fashionable french illustrator, Jean-Phlippe Delhomme to create whimsical press kits filled with franglais slogans. But they did not forget customer service; bringing in James Sherwin as Manager from the Savoy group, who ensures that down to the smallest level the staff will be 'correct; from a uniform off savile row, to the correct use of names vs. sir and madam from the room to the lobby, with himself playing something of an ambassadorial role, exploiting his contacts. The minibars are a full bar, Black tie-emergengy-kits available on demand- the art of a luxury hotel (or yacht or restaurant) is to anticipate demands and possible problems.

The same is true of travel agents- Al Mousim Travel group highlights the importance of personal attention, with Pillai, general manager, saying

"The key is engagement, this is a bespoke service and the client gets one-to-one advice from their personal consultant."

For them, exclusivity and personal touches are key; with private invitations to their concierge service, personal consultants on hand on location, and an infrastructure based on the idea of maximum face-time and engagement with clients.

The way that services like these can exist is shadowy (in the hidden, not subversive sense) networks of communication between concierge's, hotels, restaurants, cosmetic groups (in summation, the luxury industry shares information) examples include
five star alliance and design hotels. They pool marketing cash to create glossy directories, websites and marketing campaigns that can live up to their luxury aspirations. The creation of an image as strong as that of Monte Carlo or the Mark is not inexpensive...

This article offers an insight into the ‘Mechanics’ of luxury hotspots and shows how important the image and brand is to the creation of a luxurious atmosphere. It is a sympathetic expose of the craft and work that goes into maintaining high standards of customer service. The Author is Mark Tungate, a journalist and author whose expertise lies in examining/exposing the processes that occur within the luxury industry, from advertising, copywriting and communications, to the interactions between people at each level of the retail chain/customer experience. He is a successful copywriter (clients such as MTV, Diesel, Coca-Cola, Orange, Publicis, Eurosport, Disney and Initiative Media) a contributing journalist to WGSN, The Times, CNN and luxure, and the author of several books on media and branding (his next will be investigating the beauty industry).

Alexandra Lloyd

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