“Luxury” has an interesting etymology, originating from the Latin luxus (“excess”) and luxuria (“offensiveness”). In Elizabethan times, the English saw luxury as “lust” and “lechery,” while the French reinterpreted the Latin originals as “wealth” and “indulgence.”
These days, in hotels especially, there’s a true luxus of definitions. At the fantasy end are players like Milan’s Hotel Seven Stars Galleria, which claims the world’s first official seven-star certification. Going one better, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab seduces with unratified “eight-star” luxury.
Industry experts like Anthony Melchiorri of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible and other shows aren’t convinced. “There’s only five-star,” he said. “Those higher ratings do not exist.”
At the other end are claims of luxury from average players. Toronto-based hospitality insider Larry Mogelonsky recently called luxury “one of the most abused words in the hoteliers’ dictionary.”
Then there are the tried and true luxury brands. Virtuously upholding (and evolving) the standard, these include the world’s grande dames and palaces (in France, the latter now carrying their own government-sanctioned five-star designation); familiar frontline luxury hotel groups; independent luxury boutiques; and luxury niches within the portfolios of leading operators.
Yet even in this rarefied segment, “sameness” is a challenge. As the following hoteliers reveal, distinction takes many forms, from the luxury of choice to the luxury of free time.
Founded by Sheila C. Johnson, this privately held luxury hotel management company is continuing its focus on portfolio growth through management contracts. Since 2016, this strategy has involved the company in designing, developing and constructing three new luxury hotels.
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These include the 170-room Henderson in Destin, Florida, offering 30,000 square feet of total meeting space, and the newly opened NOPSI Hotel, New Orleans.
Housed in a meticulous update of the 1927 landmark former headquarters of New Orleans Public Service Inc., hence the acronym for the name, the 217-room gem is Salamander’s first city hotel. Featuring 76 suites and 10,000 square feet of sophisticated indoor and outdoor function space, the property has re-energized the city’s luxury scene with its Public Service restaurant and rooftop pool and cafe.
Next is Charleston, S.C., and the anticipated summer 2018 debut of Hotel Bennett. Featuring 179 guest rooms, 14,000-plus square feet of space and a rooftop pool with cabanas and bar, the elegant property on iconic King Street overlooks historic Marion Square, a gathering spot for signature events such as the Charleston Wine + Food Festival and Charleston Fashion Week.
Joining the company’s flagship, Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Va., these properties comprise the Salamander Signature Collection. John Annicchiarico, Salamander’s regional vice president of sales and marketing, explained the impetus for the expansion and the company’s view on luxury.
“With both topping ‘most desirable places to visit’ surveys, we found New Orleans and Charleston, with many synergies between them, extremely appealing as locations to offer the finest luxury experience,” he said.
“Experience” is the operative word.
“It’s how Salamander defines luxury, one that can be curated, cultivated and captured,” Annicchiarico continued. “Luxury means different things to different people and groups. For us, as an entrepreneurial company founded by an entrepreneurial leader, it’s important to remain independent of inflexible brand standards yet still deliver consistency through immersive experiences and exceptional amenities.”
With “corporate, financial and incentive groups tending to fit the luxury model best,” impeccable service is Salamander’s gold standard. “Without dedicated professionals, a property’s physical attributes mean nothing. Our teams are trained to deliver on that promise.
“We also pride ourselves on offering unique locations for planners, from our new city hotels and beachfront and golf destinations in Florida to our equestrian-inspired retreat in rural Virginia.”
While adhering to the highest standards, Salamander is within reach for groups.
“Luxury isn’t about price in today’s marketplace,” Annicchiarico said. “It’s about authenticity and additive value. At Salamander, that means the enriching, unforgettable experiences that define staying at one of our properties. We attempt to offer not just destinations of distinction, but of discovery, too.”
Like New Orleans, Vancouver was experiencing pent-up demand for luxury hotels. Dramatically answering the call is the $640 million Parq Vancouver. Unveiled in September 2017, this golden-hued “international entertainment and conference destination” features two luxury and lifestyle hotels from Marriott.
Offering 329 guest rooms, including 47 suites and a two-floor villa, the LEED Gold-certified JW Marriott Parq Vancouver is the flag’s first in Western Canada. Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the boutique-style Douglas features 188 stylish rooms and suites.
Together, the properties directly access 60,000-plus square feet of flexible, JW Marriott-managed meeting and event space on one level, including Vancouver’s largest hotel ballroom at 15,600 square feet.
Other amenities include eight restaurants and lounges, a 30,000-square-foot, all-season rooftop park, the Spa by JW and a casino. Excitement for this new luxury product was high, to say the least.
“We sold 60,000 group room nights pre-opening on the renderings alone,” said Amy Ballard, director, sales and marketing for both hotels. “Many groups split their attendees between the properties, which goes with our vision in offering two luxury hotels with distinct personalities within the same building.
“For our clients, it’s the luxury of choice, based on personal styles and preferences,” she added.
The properties’ arrival is timely indeed.
“Sought-after for Canadian and International meetings and events, Vancouver is having a record year in 2018 with an incredible 33 citywide conventions and events,” Ballard said. “And with demand showing no signs of slowing, meeting planners have expressed a desire for new luxury hotel product with significant meeting space."
Marriott is eminently qualified for the job.
“It may surprise some travelers to know that Marriott International, with seven luxury brands, is now the world’s largest luxury hotel operator,” Ballard said. “With the JW Marriott Vancouver offering approachable luxury with intuitive service and the Douglas reconnecting people and place with elegant, sustainable accommodations, we have elevated play in Vancouver."
Both properties have received strong interest from incentive groups, client-focused programs and product launches.
“Programs focused on making attendees feel special and personally cared for fit well within the luxury segment,” Ballard said. “That includes helping clients select off-peak dates to meet their budget.
"Vancouver is beautiful, with mild weather year-round, and the Canadian dollar is presently a great value compared to U.S. and international currency," she added. "Once meeting planners consider the currency savings in room rate, food and beverage, decor and audiovisual, they find their event can afford luxury in Vancouver.”
Acquired by AccorHotels in 2016 along with Raffles and Swissotel, Fairmont steadfastly maintains its global five-star renown. Following its previous acquisition in 1999 by Canadian Pacific Hotels & Resorts, the Fairmont collection gained the chateau-style railway hotels built across Canada starting in the 1880s—including the iconic trio in the Canadian Rockies.
To this day, Fairmont Banff Springs (1888), Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (1890) and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (1922) provide groups with Old World enchantment like few properties anywhere. Along with Fairmont Chateau Whistler in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, fresh off a five-year, $25 million renovation, their luxury is rooted in their near-untouched wilderness locales.
“Our brand familiarity in the luxury segment is a definite benefit when groups are considering where to meet next,” said David Roberts, regional vice president of Fairmont Canada’s Western Mountain Region. "What sets our mountain resorts apart first is their iconic destinations. Marketed globally, these ‘bucket list’ locations create excitement and engagement when announced for meetings and events.
“Banff, for example, welcomes nearly 3 million visitors each year," he added. "So there is certainly allure for international delegates."
Personalized service and customized local adventures—limited only by the imagination—are also key differentiators. “If a group can dream it, we can accommodate it,” Roberts said.
In Whistler, expert guides lead groups to a 1950s-era train wreck hidden away in old-growth forest. In the Rockies, planners can arrange for VIP “check in” by float plane or canoe. Groups are welcomed by Canadian Mounted Police, enjoy outdoor long-table dinners for 1,200 and much more.
The Fairmont dream is within reach.