Luxury travellers are branching out from the old five-star stalwarts, choosing instead to hole up in exclusive residences. But it’s not just celebrities toting millions of dollars in jewels driving the demand for private hideaways
A lot of wild things have been said about Kim Kardashian-West, but especially this week. Following the celebrity’s robbing at gunpoint in her Paris hotel, discussions circulated around her personal security being in on the heist, or around the broader ugly concept that celebrities are more deserving of being physically abused and robbed because they are richer and better known than us.
But from all of the noise surrounding the violent crime, one sensible question emerged again and again: What the heck is L’hôtel de Pourtalès? No one but locals had ever really heard of it, but the break-in pulled back the curtain on one of Paris’s high-end secrets, a haunt of the superrich and the superfamous – other previous guests included Madonna and Leo DiCaprio.
As luxury travel becomes more accessible to a broader number of people, with wealthy, self-made millennials comfortable paying $1,000 a night for a hotel, the top-end of the market is quietly retreating from the spotlight. Private luxury apartments are becoming more popular and the-very-highest-of-high-end hotels are no longer exclusive enough for some exclusive travellers. L’hôtel de Pourtalès is but one of thousands of private residences catering to this crowd.
According to Ann Layton, the founder and CEO of Siren Communications, a Toronto-based luxury travel marketing firm, private luxury rentals are increasingly popular with high net-worth travellers. Layton represents Exclusive Resorts, a membership-based private accommodation-booking service.
“We’re seeing this trend with people who are high net worth because they want the luxury but more importantly they also want to spend time to reconnect with their families,” Layton explains.
“If you’re with your friends and family in a villa, you can still be yourself. You don’t have to put your full face on to go down to breakfast in the morning.”
This is a relatively new concept in luxury travel of – forgive the marketing buzzspeak – “traveller tribes.” That’s the millennial’s desire to move together as a pack, to share a sprawling apartment and self-cater with local food, to feel a part of a place while experiencing the highest luxury and service available.
Pack travellers (and “tribes” include multigenerational families as well as the personal retinues of high-profile celebs) could stay in a traditional hotel, but the tribes are choosing alternatives and driving the booming luxury private-residence industry. Misty Ewing Belles, the managing director of Global PR for Virtuoso, explains the logic of this.
“These residences are really appealing to millennials travelling with friends, and to extended families,” Belles says. “There are times when people are just looking for a different level of experience. Why take four hotel rooms when you can have grandparents, parents and kids all in one big space?”
A report by Amadeus, the travel IT company that provides the booking software used by most major airlines, confirms that tribe-based luxury travel is booming. Over the next 10 years, Amadeus predicts, the luxury travel industry will grow by 6.2 per cent (compared with just 4.8 per cent for overall travel), spurred on by new types of accommodation suited to new tastes. Belles agrees.
“As there are more opportunities – more properties and cities – you’ll continue to see high net-worth clients looking for private residences,” she says.
“But it’s not at the expense of hotels, it’s supplementing hotels. I think that people do a combination of those things, depending on how and why they’re travelling.”
That’s partly down to the values of this segment of traveller. Titled Shaping the Future of Luxury Travel: Future Traveller Tribes 2030, the Amadeus report highlights the key priorities for high net-worth travellers.
While service levels and an authentic, indulgent and exclusive experience rank highly, the chief concerns for luxury travellers in 2016 were privacy and security.
British-based Elegant Resorts, which operates a blend of exclusive properties and private residences around the world, has seen a noted increase in private villa bookings as a result of a desire for more security.
“I think people feel safer in villas,” explains Marie Allen, marketing executive for Elegant Resorts.
“People see that as a lot safer than, say, going into resorts. That’s from more of a perceived threat of terrorism than from a fear for their personal safety, as most of these high-end clients have their own security teams that they bring with them. Our clients don’t tend to feel threatened.”
New York-based luxury travel expert Rabia Shahenshah disagrees with this assessment, however. Shahenshah, who is a principal for Tzell and has been booking for high net-worth clients for nearly 20 years, believes that private residences are favoured by clients with sensitive privacy issues or a huge entourage. “But for short-term, I’ve found that my high net-worth clients will stay in a hotel because they feel that hotel management provides an extra layer of security,” Shahenshah says.
Belles echoes the sentiment, saying that the security of hotels is virtually assured.
“Five-star hotels are very secure,” she explains. “They have a security team there and multiple people on the front desk at all hours. They take security very, very seriously, and especially in cities like Paris. People have a desire for privacy, and to not be seen, that drives the desire for these private residents.”
What does that privacy cost? A basic five-year membership with Exclusive Resorts is $85,000 (U.S.), which entitles members to travel between 15 to 30 days a year at over 400 luxury residences at flat nightly rate of $1,250.
That privacy, explains Layton, still comes to the high spec of a five-star hotel. All residences through Exclusive Resorts include a personal concierge and specialized services. In advance of the guests’ arrival, for example, the pantry and fridge are already stocked with all of the favourite low-fat, carb-free foods.
“When you arrive, every single thing you want is already there for you,” Layton says. “It’s that level of curation.”
Home sweet mansion
When you need a getaway that’s to-die-for, try these operators.
Onefinestay offers a curated collection of private homes in five cities (London, Rome, Paris, New York and Los Angeles) that combines the privacy of a luxury apartment with the amenities of a hotel. onefinestay.com
Properties at Villas of Distinction range from small apartments to 42-bedroom mansions. A “villa specialist” works with guests to find the one best suited to your needs. Most come with maid service; butler and chef service is often available for an extra charge. villasofdistinction.com
Mr and Mrs Smith is the London-based boutique-booking site best known for its hand-picked hotels. It offers around 100 villa rentals, located mostly in the Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Mallorca) and Italy. mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-villas
Membership fees at Exclusive Resorts start at more than $100,000 and don’t include annual dues or nightly costs. What does that money get you? Private villa stays around the world and concierge service that goes far above and beyond most hotels. exclusiveresorts.com
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