Experience, value, responsibility and functionality, the key attributes of luxury

Four Seasons Hotel, Prague

Despite the growing international economic turmoil, luxury has remained resilient, with major international luxury companies posting stable financial results. Demand in retail, for luxury fashion, jewellery and watches remains strong driven by Asia, but even the U.S. has been showing significant signs of recovery. This same optimistic tone was expressed by most participants at last week’s International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) which I attended last week, in Cannes.

The receiver of the honorary prize of this year’s edition of ILTM was Isadore Sharp, Founder and Chairman of FOUR SEASONS Hotels, which turns 50 this year. In his address at the Ultratravel Forum, Mr Sharp said that he saw the beginning of a slow recovery in 2010 and 2011 was a little better, yet worse than he spected due to the Arab Spring. Mr Sharp also highlighted that luxury travel is probably the industry sector with the highest potential for future growth in the near future, with more than 4 billion people in Asia and South America wealthy travellers eager to travel worldwide.

In my view, Four Seasons and Hermes are the two international luxury brands, leaders in their own business sectors, which have embodied the key elements for successful, timeless positioning, regardless of turbulences such as financial recessions or political crisis. In his speech at the Ultratravel Forum (ILTM), Mr Sharp spoke about maintaining the integrity of the brand in difficult without compromises, as being the key to the company’s success during tough times.

In contrast with its competitors which have continued to roll out extensive and costly international advertising campaigns especially in print magazines, despite the econimic crisis of the past three years, Four Seasons has chosen to cut down on such costly print advertising and focus on online communications, once again demonstrating its commitment to one of its structural pillars, uncompromised quality of service. Similarly, Hermes, which print advertising budget is half of its immediate direct competitor, has focused on art exhibitions, sustaining and encouraging young artists, as well as organizing a travelling exhibition worlwide, called Festival des Métiers which showcases the craftsmanship of the maison.

Whether staying at Four Seasons Hotel or buying an Hermes bag, consumers seek a genuine and indulging experience, while developing a relationship with a brand they know they can trust. The recent financial crisis has demonstrated once again that consumers have become more responsible about spending and pay more attention to value. For luxury consumers, value has become synonimous with quality, whether it is uncompromised level of service at a Four Seasons hotel or the craftsmanship that is behind every single Hermes product.

With the upcoming opening in St Petersburg, Four Seasons demonstrates once again its commitment to preserving heritage.Opening Spring 2012, the future Four Seasons Hotel occupies the majestic historical palace also known as a the Lions Gate, a building carefully restored to the smallest details. With its elegant neo-classical architectural detailing, the magnificent edifice draws back to the time when the Russian aristocracy lived on a grand scale. In the same way, instead of opening shops in malls and hotel galleries (like its competitors), in Mumbai, India’s largest city and most vibrant luxury market, Hermes has boldly inagurated this year, a street location, in a heritage building downtown, in an area surrounded by museums and banks.

When considering purchasing a luxury product or service, consumers are not only looking for indulgence but also at relevance and functionality. While in the case of Four Seasons this is reflected in all the now considered basic elements of service – high speed internet access, sound proofing, an ultra comfortable bed, a large bathroom with separate glass enclosed shower etc. As for Hermes, quality also means durability, by using the finest raw materials and hand made finishes. Needless to say, in the case of Hermes this applies not only for handbags but for its entire product range, from ready to wear to home collections, jewellery and watches.

Oliver Petcu