CULTURE

The business of luxury hospitality

How is the upcoming arrival of millions of novice Chinese travelers changing the landscape of international upscale tourism? Is technological innovation replacing the human factor at luxury destinations? Are savvy, well-heeled global travelers going from ‘having’ to ‘being’?

The challenges facing the business of luxury hospitality with an emphasis on the Mediterranean region was the subject of a two-day conference in Athens on October 13-14. Co-hosted by the International New York Times and the Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne, the event saw a global delegation of industry leaders discussing the future of a sector which although accounting for 10 percent of the world’s travelers, generates about 25 percent of its revenue.

Varun Sharma, host of Inside Luxury Travel, chaired the event.

Luxury is an integral part of Greece’s tourist landscape thanks to the country’s unique features, noted Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni in her keynote opening remarks. The government, said the minister, is currently making efforts toward facilitating the development of high-end resorts – featuring state-of-the-art golf courses and marinas, among other services – through a national zoning plan for tourism. While noting the need for cooperation in the broader Eastern Mediterranean region, the minister highlighted local efforts in terms of the diversification of the Greek tourist product through the promotion of the country as a medical, yachting, religious and culinary destination, among others.

The establishment of more direct air routes to Greece has boosted the local luxury sector, noted Eftichios Vassilakis, vice chairman of Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air, while Dr Andreas Andreadis, president of the board of directors of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), noted that in the last decade, the market share of four- and five-star hotels in Greece had gone up from 25 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, Panos Livadas, general secretary of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), emphasized the efforts being made in order to develop the profile of Athens as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination.

Luxury travel guru MPS Puri, chief executive of Nira Hotels and Resorts, noted that while 200 million Chinese visitors were expected to book trips abroad, it was too soon to tell how many of them would turn out to be luxury travelers.

Qatar has become a major industry investor, with some 7 billion euros going toward luxury establishments, noted Nick van Marken, global head for hospitality at Deloitte LLP, who also highlighted how industry leaders like Four Seasons were now investing in new locations such as Baku, Azerbaijan.

Well-being is a serious business noted Nic Marks, CEO of Happiness Works, who urged delegates to ponder the concept of content employees, workers who are more actively engaged in their work, less absent and not prone to leaving.

The idea of luxury hotels venturing beyond their room inventories and adding to their revenues by offering high-end real estate deals was explored by Katerina Katopis, investor relations and marketing director at Dolphin Capital Partners, while John Spence spoke about how his Karma Royal Group has developed and currently operates 24 resorts on four continents with zero debt through a “hippie luxury” concept.

Also at the conference, Professor Samad Laaroussi and David Sadigh, CEO of the Digital Luxury Group, unveiled the World Luxury Index Hotels 2014, a report showcasing findings from over 485 million online searches on 70 brands in 20 markets. The survey pointed to global consumer interest for the luxury hospitality industry going up 7.7 percent, with major growth coming from China (39 percent). Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt were the most-searched-for luxury hotel groups, while the fastest growing consumer interest (20 percent) was observed by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.

The World Luxury Index Hotel 2014 report also showed that the most attractive destinations in the Mediterranean region are Rome (22 percent), Barcelona (14 percent) and Istanbul (13 percent). There were also some mixed findings for Athens: while the Greek capital draws just 2 percent of total interest in Mediterranean destinations, it is the city with the fastest growing interest at 29 percent. [Kathimerini English Edition]