Live on Facebook, a viable new trend in luxury hotel openings?

For its 100th anniversary, in June this year, the Beverly Hills Hotel organized a weekend of lavish celebrity parties hosted by Warren Beatty, Bill Cosby, Brett Ratner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and attended by Cat Deely, Mena Suvari, Joe Torre, Tom Arnold, Kristen Bell, Barbara Davis and many more. The anniversary celebrations were marked by the launch of a Girard-Perregaux  limited edition “Beverly Hills Hotel” timepiece.

The Ritz Carlton inaugurated its newest European hotel in Vienna with yet another classic event attended by local celebrities. The lavish event featured performances by Ute Lemper and Dita Von Teese and the hotel was decorated with laser projections. The inagural event of the Ritz Carlton Vienna was hosted by celebrity actress Elisabeth Hurley.

The inauguration of the Four Seasons Baku (Azerbaijan) last week was marked by the classic ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Azeribaijan President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva who visited the hotel and took group photos with the team of the hotel.

In sharp contrast with the classic type of openings or celebrations, the latest W Hotel Singapore at Sentosa Cove has chosen an unconventional launching,  ”live” on Facebook, entitled Whats New/Next in Singapore! YOU+YOU=W . On Thursday (Sept 13), 3 days ahead of the opening scheduled for Sunday (16 Sept) the W Hotel announced on Facebook ”At 8 am we open our doors :) No party, we just celebrate in our own way. If you plan to have breakfast, lunch or dinner at The Kitchen Table, we advise that you reserve a table – the place is filling up fast!”.  Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the hotel posted a casual photo of its General Manager attending the Taxi Awareness Day, meant to familiarize taxi drivers with the hotel.

On Saturday, the day before the opening, the hotel had over 20 posts, including sneak preview images of the hotel as well as pictures of the young GM performing as an occasional DJ. Staff from security, housekeeping and kitchens were also pictured in images, the message being that the entire team is fervently preparing for the opening. The last post of Saturday was ”Just HOURS away from our opening at 8 am … it’s Sleepless in Sentosa!”, with a beautiful night aerial view picture of Sentosa.

On Sunday morning, a large banner on Facebook announced ”We are open”, a photo of the hotel’s glamorous restaurants and cafes was posted ”The Glamour is Unleashed! WE ARE OFFICIALLY OPEN! Capture the glam and style at the bold and sexy grill, SKIRT. The place to see and be seen!” and a photo depicting the team making a count down till 08.00, the opening time of the hotel. On Sunday, the Facebook page of the hotel was flooded with congratulations and the hotel posted photos with the first couple checking in at the hotel and the first family checking in at the hotel (both photos with the GM at the W fountain at the entrance of the hotel).

Four Seasons St Petersburg – official outside plaque, posted on hotel’s Facebook page

I believe that this was a successful experiment, especially given the positioning of the W HOTELS as casual luxury – hip, young and fashionable. The launch was real and succeeded in engaging with real guests who enjoyed the hotel and created the aspirational expectation of soon visiting the property. Showing photos of real customers is rather unusual, but it in this case it certainly achieved its goal. The young, model-look General Manager (otherwise a Frenchman) was a major plus for the online inauguration of the hotel.

Although, at first, such an ”online inauguration” could seem inappropriate for a classic luxury hotel, it isn’t ! Of course, it is a matter of adapting to the positioning of the respective hotel chain, its location and target audience. The best such example is the Four Seasons St Petersburg which launched their Facebook page a month ago, almost 6 months ahead of its opening scheduled for first quarter 2013. It is the first opening of a luxury hotel the calibre of Four Seasons which is built up online. And I realized this, not only from the growing traffic of the Facebook page but by the interaction with its readers.

The Four Seasons St Petersburg hotel has been releasing on Facebook, on a regular basis, images which otherwise would seem inappropriate for a travel website or a blogger – images of staff carrying PCs from a truck inside the hotel, images of various staff working ”behind the scenes” and images ”meet our General Manager”. These posts would sensibly alternate with posts from two other categories – photos of the historical landmarks of St Petersburg (including details on architecture and history) and photos of the hotel. To create lasting impressions and to make readers come back regularly to the Facebook page, the hotel would also post non artistic photos of architectural details within the hotel, highlighting the beautiful restorations of the palace building the hotel is housed in.

I realized the digital strategy of the Four Seasons St Petersburg reflects the very core essence of the Four Seasons Hotels brand, conceived by its Founder Isadore Sharp, as a welcoming, understated luxury. This seems even smarter considering the Four Seasons St Petersburg occupies a heritage palace building, which, to many, could seem intimidating or even over the top. The team at the Four Seasons St Petersburg perfectly understood that Facebook can be an essential tool in creating awareness but most important, engaging with potential and aspirational guests.

Oliver Petcu