Hotels welcoming the pampered guest

Trends

February 18, 2007|By Jane Engle | Jane Engle,Los Angeles Times

The good times are rolling for guests at luxury hotels, and this time it's personal.

Flush with sky-high executive pay and bonuses, plus double-digit returns in the stock market, the super-rich are looking to elite lodgings to satisfy their cravings for pampering and unique experiences.

Hoteliers, eager for their business, happily comply.

The result?

"We definitely are seeing more personalized services at high-end hotels," said Bruce Wallin, executive editor of Robb Report, a 31-year-old luxury lifestyle magazine.

These services may include 24-hour butlers, private city tours, shopping advisers, Rolls-Royce transfers from the airport, pate for guests' pets and much more.

"Decadence is in," said Jennifer Oberstein, spokeswoman for Ritz-Carlton's two New York hotels. "People have the money. They want to flaunt it."

Some recent offerings by luxury lodgings:

The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, has an aptly named "Friends With Money" package for $137,580 a night, which puts 30 of your friends in executive suites and treats them to a custom fireworks display, city helicopter tour, massage and five-course dinner while you overnight in the 2,000-square-foot Presidential Suite.

For $500, guests at the Regent South Beach in Miami can get their own car-sitter, who parks himself by their Bentley or Ferrari all night.

The Peninsula New York will arrange a full day of city activities for children and their parents. One itinerary takes them by private car to peruse the FAO Schwarz toy store, take in a Broadway show with a backstage tour and more. The cost: $675 per person; lunch is extra.

For $680, Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Calif., will assign a "professional personal shopper" to help you choose a gift for a loved one.

Not all these packages have takers.

The Ritz got "a bite" on the "Friends With Money" package, but the customer backed out because it would take two weeks to schedule the fireworks, Oberstein said. He wanted it in three days.

The Regent's car-sitters hadn't had any clients either when I checked last week. But at least one guest chose the new $200-per-night "car turndown," with interior vacuuming, tire-pressure check, wash and hand wax, with "the finest products," which are promptly discarded "so that no paint chip or damage can occur to the next vehicle," and a small gift, such as sunscreen, said Frank Fuentes, director of sales.

Children's packages at the Peninsula are popular, said spokeswoman Regina Wong, although she didn't have numbers. But about half the guests at the Peninsula Hong Kong, she said, choose a $109 airport transfer in a $395,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom, customized with touches such as a compartment to chill hand towels.

Although some over-the-top hotel offerings may be publicity ploys, they speak to a real trend, said Peter Yesawich, chairman and chief executive of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a Florida-based marketing firm that cosponsors annual surveys of travelers.

"Luxury hotels are trying to trump each other in terms of the creativity and exclusivity of the experiences they offer," he said.

That's because, besides comfort and convenience, wealthy guests value unique activities, he said, such as dining at the chef's table or meeting celebrities.

Bill Fischer, chief executive of Fischer Travel in New York, a personal concierge service that charges a $100,000 initiation fee and a $25,000 annual retainer, said he had seen an "unbelievable" jump in clients' spending millions of dollars to book entire hotels and restaurants.

One client, whom he declined to identify, recently flew 27 people on a Boeing 757 to California to take over the 16-table French Laundry in Yountville -- one of the toughest reservations in the business -- for a surprise party.

The escalation in hotel services and amenities is industrywide, bringing fancy bedding and designer toiletries to even modest places, said Robert Mandelbaum, Atlanta-based director of research information services for PKF Consulting, an international firm of hotel and tourism industry consultants.

"In good times the whole threshold of service rises, even in economy and midscale properties," he said. "It raises the bar for luxury properties."

U.S. hotels have plenty to spend because the economic recovery that began in 2004 has increased profits, room rates and occupancies. Top-tier chains have fared best, Mandelbaum said, last year logging the biggest percentage growth in occupancy and rates of any hotel type.

After investing millions in spas and other upgrades in the past several years, these hotels now look to cutting-edge services to rise above the crowd.

"It's not just a butler anymore," said Robb Report's Wallin. "It's a spa butler." Or a surf butler. Or a ski butler.

Anastasia K. Mann, chairman of the Corniche Group, a travel management company in California whose clientele includes people in the entertainment industry, wonders where it will all end.

"Everybody's trying to come up with a new angle," she said. "When does it get ridiculous?"

She and Wallin said some services might not live up to the hype.

"'Around-the-clock butler service' is one of the most overused terms in promotional materials," Wallin said. Mann said she had stayed in many places that claimed to have butlers, "and you have a difficult time finding them."

Besides, Wallin said, any luxury hotel would have 24-hour concierge service.

The key question to ask, he added: How many rooms does the "private" butler, valet or concierge serve?

Jane Engle writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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