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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Why the Hot Springs Movement is Gaining Steam in the United States

The ancient Greeks did it. So did the ancient and not-so-ancient Romans, Japanese, and Chinese. Heck, even some of the founding fathers of the United States did it too. But despite its illustrious past, the idea of taking the waters has never really caught on in the United States, until now. Hot springs could be on the verge of a major wellness moment.

Glenwood Hot Springs

For centuries, many European and Asian cultures have viewed mineral-fed hot springs as a source of health, wellness, and healing. But according to the Global Wellness Institute, the sector is quite underdeveloped in North America, due to a lack of a historic bathing culture that is prevalent elsewhere. The times are changing, however, as more Americans are looking to nature for its power to calm and rejuvenate.
In the United States, hot springs have traditionally been seen in recreational terms rather than as a wellness endeavor, according to Vicky Nash, a tourism consultant who is dedicated to professionalizing the hot springs industry. Thanks to the efforts of Nash and a former U.S. senator, among others, hot springs are suddenly being reframed as wellness destinations across the country.

MOM-AND-POP OPERATIONS IN TRANSITION

According to Nash, about 28 states have hot springs in one form or another, although the majority are in the West and Southwest. Many of these waters are on public land, and a few are contained within fancy resort complexes. But for the most part, hot springs facilities are rustic mom-and-pop operations, solely offering a soak in the forms of mineral bathing and swimming. Some are a little more tricked-out, with extras like massage rooms and dining outlets.
Many of these smaller operations, long in need of a facelift, are in the process of changing hands. According to Nash, “A lot of the smaller hot springs facilities were established in the 1970s. Now those owners are selling, and new owners, including investment groups, are coming in with an interest of revamping them and getting them up to speed” for the growing wellness market.
That’s why many facilities, shuttered for years, are reopening, some with multimillion dollar investments. For example, a Phoenix-based couple, Mike and Cindy Watts, purchased the ailing Arizona Castle Hot Springs in 2014. The original facility was built at the end of the 19th century, but it was abandoned during the 1970s. Earlier this year, it reopened as a luxury healing center for the well-heeled. Some of the bungalows, complete with private outdoor tubs, list at $1,600 per night.
Mark Begich is another person betting on the business. The Alaskan businessman purchased Carson Hot Springs in the late 1990s. His company refurbished the property’s historic buildings, located just a few miles from Nevada’s state capitol. Also added were a restaurant and brewpub, making the facility more of a destination versus a pass-through. He, along with a group of investors, also owns Jemez Hot Springs and Cañon Del Rio Inn and Spa in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

BUILDING A NETWORK

Begich, by the by, is not just your run-of-the-mill developer. He heads up Northern Compass Group, a business and strategic communications consultancy. And he happens to be a former U.S. senator (D-Alaska). After leaving the swamp in 2014, he jumped back into the hot springs arena. First, he purchased those New Mexico properties and now, he’s become the force behind the development of the brand-new (as of October 2019) Hot Springs Association.
Begich pointed out, “In rural areas, local-level mom-and-pop businesses are critical to the economy. In remote areas, developing these facilities brings in money from outside the community and creates jobs.” But for the most part, they have been left to their own devices  By creating an association, individual operators will experience strength in numbers.
“There are so many layers of the business, but no one is coordinating information,” said Begich. Having an association to bring together hot springs operators across the United States “means these small businesses can pool resources, joining together to have purchasing and marketing power.”
Schawna Thoma is vice president of Begich’s Northern Compass Group. “Most hot springs are family-run, and people often feel isolated or intimidated about reaching out. We will serve as a network for these people, and offer tools and serve as an information resource.” The organization will allow small properties to band together to build awareness, while also doing less sexy things, like helping to negotiate water rights, share new technology, and develop affordable insurance programs. It will also start tracking visitor numbers and economic impact.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR GROWTH

The latter, said Begich, will be of immense help to operators seeking loans. “Right now, hot springs are difficult to finance,” according to Begich, “because the classification is difficult. That’s why the data is critical; it’s for financiers to understand the business.” That understanding may lead to a simpler lending process.
Vicky Nash is another person bringing together resources for the hot springs community. She helped develop the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which links five hot springs destinations in the western part of the state. During its five years in existence, each of the five communities has experienced an increase in tourism.
Nash last year launched the Hot Springs Connection. It’s the first conference in the United States dedicated solely to the needs of hot springs operators. The conference, the second of which is scheduled for November, allow operators to exchange ideas and get educated on topics ranging from water sanitation to tourism marketing.
Now that the industry has its own trade association, its own annual conference, and, to a certain degree, a new generation of owners, hot springs may be destined to become the next hot thing in wellness tourism.

This article originally appeared on Skift. I am Skift's luxury editor and wellness correspondent.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Embracing the Role of Romance in Luxury Marketing

Romantic love and a night at the opera might seem the stuff of chick flicks and cheap paperbacks sporting Fabio’s bare chest. But one expert says luxury marketers should pay heed to both subjects if they want to build deep and lasting relationships with their clients.

This article originally appeared in Skift New Luxury, for which I am the editor.

A luxury hotel’s relationship with a guest is a fragile and many splendored thing.
“Luxury is like love,” suggested luxury branding expert Dr. Daniel André Langer. “When we go for a luxury brand, it’s like falling in love. We are not deciding on rational points like functional value, but on a strong emotional connection.” Because of that, the founder of Équité, a luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand consultancy, said high-end brands have to understand the emotional nature of their appeal, first by defining it, and then by swooping in to woo the consumer.

Courtesy Hyatt Hong Kong
Any relationship at the luxury level has to start with developing a distinct brand journey. In the hospitality world, said Langer, “most hotels provide us with a category journey, but nothing is brand-distinctive. All are giving me the same journey and brand names are interchangeable. When that happens, then customers have no reason to pay a premium.” In essence, the brand’s rooms become just another commodity.
So what’s a hotel company to do?
Langer said brands should be defining key attributes and then developing distinct brand journeys around them. “Ask what do we sell? What do we inspire? This is the most fundamental task,” said Langer. “Saying you sell ‘dreams and experience’ isn’t enough. All luxury brands do that. A brand needs to be specific about which dream it sells and which experience. It needs to be defined in every marketing detail, it has to be actionable for every staff member, and surely it has to do something different than what any other brand is doing. Then, no one else can replicate the brand.”
Once luxury brands develop a brand-distinct experience strategy, it has to design a customer journey that reflect the brand proposition at every touch point. That’s why proper staff training is essential. “Service must be based on the defined brand experience,” said Langer. “The staff must understand its role in bringing the brand positioning to life. If it doesn’t know its role, and if staff is not empowered, the whole effort will collapse.”
“The difference between an okay experience and a premium one is in the human factor. It’s making the customer feel special. It’s seamless service. It’s a conversation, knowing who the guest is. Absolute personalized service is what creates the luxury experience and this is what hotels don’t get right. They rely too much on design and a brand name and a loyalty brand, and they forget the most important thing–human interaction.”
That human interaction creates an emotional connection, which ideally, should be felt at every brand property. For example, Langer gave a shout out to Andaz Hotels by Hyatt. While locations may vary from city center to resort, Langer said the brand has created a customer journey that’s all about care and relaxation.
In particular, Langer cited that time he walked into the Andaz Tokyo, soaking wet from an unexpected downpour. The staff greeted him warmly by his name, told him not to worry about checking in and served him hot green tea. They even took pains to dry and clean his luggage. “It was that personal touch,” he said, “They knew who I was and they empathized. They took care of me.”
Having experienced similar service at Andaz properties from Scottsdale to London, Langer is a brand loyalist. Call it love.

KEEPING THE SPARK

Just like a real life relationship, though, maintenance is required. “Once a brand has a love relationship with us, it’s up to brands to nurture, strengthen, and maintain that relationship,” said Langer. If it becomes routine, or a consumer feels taken for granted, “the relationship can easily cool off, and the customer will move on to another brand. Even worse, if customers feel they were cheated, they won’t leave silently. Instead, their love will turn to hate.”
What can cause the dramatic break-up? “All it takes is one negative touch point to damage a customer’s relationship with a brand,” said Langer. “That’s why training people is critical. Proper luxury training must include fundamental insights about luxury and make clear the role of each individual in providing the branded luxury proposition.” He compared the situation to an opera performance. “If we are listening to an opera, the people in the orchestra and on stage have to be in sync. If one musician is off-key, everything is ruined.”
A lack of brand-wide consistency can also nullify a relationship. If someone who is devoted to a particular brand while visiting New York City has a bad experience with that brand in another locale, he or she may decide to stay elsewhere during the next stay in the Big Apple. It’s a matter of one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch.
Why can this happen? “A dramatic breakdown in experience within the same brand can be one of the weaknesses when hotel groups in the luxury space try to grow quite fast. My suspicion is they are not training sharp enough…especially compared to first locations.”
Consumers at the luxury level are likely to have stronger emotional reactions to subpar situations than the average due to their high expectations and the amount of money invested. “If someone makes me pay $300,000 for a car or $1,000 a night for a hotel room, and then I feel neglected, I am not just going to have a neutral response. Maybe the customer is willing to forgive one or two things, but after that, they don’t come back.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

California Leads U.S. Destinations in Marketing to The Middle East

In the effort to attract high-spending tourists, states often look overseas. That’s a good idea — international visitors typically spend more than domestic travelers. But certain international markets present a more complicated consumer landscape than others. That’s what Visit California has discovered as it starts wooing more travelers from the Middle East.

This article originally appeared in Skift New Luxury, for which I am the editor.


While international tensions simmer, Visit California is extending an olive branch to the Middle East. The action is part of Visit California’s initiative to drive ultra-luxury travel to the state.
The Middle East is one of the fastest growing outbound tourism regions in the world, according to UNWTO’s Tourism Towards 2030. Outbound travel from the region has quadrupled during the past 20 years. The region also delivers big spenders. Per capita outbound tourism spending from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar) is 6.5 times higher than the global average.
People living in GCC countries are also responsible for 60 percent of Middle Eastern travel to the United States. That’s why, when it comes to high-end product, this is a logical market for American luxury marketers to approach.
Beachside in Santa Barbara
"A few years ago, we launched a super-affluent initiative. This market is very attractive since it falls squarely within the nexus of the KPIs we are trying to develop,” said Caroline Beteta, CEO of Visit California.
In 2018, California welcomed approximately 259,000 Middle East visitors. In 2019, 264,000 Middle Eastern travelers are forecast to visit the state and by 2022, growth in travel from the Middle East is projected to approach 300,000 visitors. Last year, GCC visitors stayed in California an average of 13.5 nights with a mean spend of $2,422 per visitor. That compares with the Chinese at $1,968 and the British at $1,360.
However, California’s net growth from the region has been down the past two years. According to Beteta, the state started experiencing “a significant drop-off from GCC after the Trump travel ban went into effect.” James Bermingham, chairman of Visit California’s Board of Commissioners and executive vice president of operations for luxury hotel and resort management company Montage International, says that fact helped spur the state to action.
“Travel bans and equally some of the rhetoric coming from the U.S. was off-putting for many travelers from the region,” he said. “So we decided as Visit California that we wanted to correct the declines, to send out a message to the GCC that California is an extraordinary destination and that all are welcome here.”

UNDERSTANDING THE MARKET

While Visit California has been attending the Arabian Travel Market, the region’s premier travel trade show, for the past four years, it decided it needed to take another step to increase the state’s visibility in the market.
In April, Visit California embarked on its first diplomatic mission in the region to explore the potential for business. Beteta, Bermingham and the chief executives of ten of the state’s destination marketing organizations took part in meetings and networking events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, designed to help the group understand the GCC’s nuances.
The first lesson learned is that the market is very complicated. The regional population includes both nationals and expatriates. In the United Arab Emirates, 81 percent of the population is expat, while Saudi Arabia is more reflective of the region writ large, with a little more than a third of the population being expat.
“These are two very different markets, with different styles of traveling,” said Leona Reed, associate vice president global marketing for Visit California.
For example, expats are more likely to opt for less-expensive luxury accommodations (no, that’s not an oxymoron), while the nationals prefer five-star all the way. The expat will be more likely to do a self-drive holiday, while nationals prefer their vacation cars equipped with drivers. Nationals may take religious practices into account while traveling, while the expat is less likely to deal with such matters.
These differences mean dual strategies will run concurrently in each market, one aimed at expats and one at natives. But there are other things to consider as well.
Our challenge is figuring out how to market to region holistically when each country has nuance in terms of destination and experience preference,” Reed said.
For example, Visit California research found that Kuwaitis are more well-traveled than other Middle Eastern nationals. Qatar nationals and those from the United Arab Emirates are more conservative travelers. Saudi nationals get education abroad and are more sophisticated travelers. Generally, nationals from Gulf countries tend to opt for a more classic, hands-on style of luxury. And they are bigger spenders than expats.


Aside from their tendency to spend, the market presents other factors that make it extremely lucrative. GCC travelers go on long vacations, in part to escape hot Arabian summers. Trips to the United States average 28 days, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The family-market segment dominates GCC leisure travel and most Arab families are large. Three-quarters of GCC nationals belong to households of five or more. Moreover, many family groups bring along extended members of the clan, and also their staff.

UNVEILING THE STRATEGY

After doing the research, Visit California is unveiling a two-year market strategy aimed at creating strong relationships with strategic trade, media and airline partners in the GCC, and at educating California destinations about the nuances of travelers from this area.

“Establishing representation in the market is the biggest objective for this year,” said Beteta.
At the moment, Visit California has on-the-ground representation in 13 foreign countries and this baker’s dozen account for 87 percent of the inbound international traffic.
After that, it’s a matter of getting the product right for the market. According to Visit California’s research, travelers from the Middle East are looking at destinations which are safe for Muslims, as both real and perceived safety have become a high priority at destinations with high levels of services. They also opt for places which consider their unique needs.
Poolside at Ritz-Carlton Bacara 
The provision of Halal food is by far the most important service that a Muslim traveler requires, Reed said. At the very least, she added, food outlets trying to appeal to this market will have to ensure all ingredients are clearly labeled.
There’s also the matter of prayer. According to the Pew Research Centre report, 63 percent of Muslims perform the five daily prayers. To cater, facilities frequented by Muslim travelers need to be equipped with prayer rooms.
It’s also about providing the right kind of luxury. “Luxury for this market is about being treated with a lot of deference. Exclusivity and pampering are key. This market is all about old luxury – it’s less about experience and more about luxury product,” Reed said.
Bermingham added, “There’s a maturity to their affluence, and with that comes a higher level of understanding and a much higher expectation of service.”
Providing both the appropriate products and service levels for this market will take significant training and implementation. That’s why Visit California is focused on taking the steps needed to reduce the gulf between existing product and the demands and needs of travelers from the GCC.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Story Behind the Color Choices of Luxury Hotel Logos





What is the color of luxury? If you assess the answer by looking at the logos of luxury fashion houses, the answer is literally black and white. Chanel and Prada and Dolce & Gabbana and nearly all the others sport black type against a white background.
Image result for fashion brand logos
thebrandpool.com
“Black is a symbol of power. With its diametric partner in crime, white, black stands for sophistication, weight, and seriousness. Black is timeless and effortlessly stylish. Think the little black dress,” said Brian Lischer, founder and CEO of branding agency Ignyte,
However, when you look into the world of luxury hotel brands, the color palette broadens just a tad. High-end hotels that venture into the spectrum frequently use gold or blue either as an accent or as a primary color. The reason for these choices becomes apparent when one digs into the world of color analysis



Image result for pantone chart
Pantone Chart
codingsolutions.net
“A fundamental aspect of neurobiology is that there’s a sequence of cognition – how the brain processes information,” said Dr. Bevil Conway, a scientist at the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
“Color is a primitive form of information. It’s an emotive cue, so it’s an important differentiator for brands. It signals identity; it tells people what team you are on.”
Because so many brands employ wordmarks rather than shapes and symbols, color ends up becoming the visual component people remember most about a logo.
According to countless color psychology studies, blue is frequently the most common favorite color among the world’s population, especially with men.
Image result for blue
homespage.neiu.edu
“This global preference and environmental omnipresence makes blue non-threatening, conservative, and traditional. Brands are not taking any risks when they call on a shade of blue for their identity,” said Lischer, “as it is seen as a sign of stability and reliability.” Hence why so many airlines and banks use it in logos.
The same goes for hospitality. “Blue has long been associated with reliability and trustworthiness. For example, blue chips are stocks you can depend on. What do we want from hotels? In part, you are trusting them with your safety,” said Conway.
Gold and silver are other colors regularly incorporated in luxury hotel brand logos.
“Hospitality brands often opt for classic colors like black, gold, and blue to create a mature, trustworthy and sophisticated impression on potential customers. Gold and silver, as the colors of precious metals, create an impression of wealth, prosperity and success that resonates well with audiences targeted by luxury brands,” said Pam Webber, chief operating officer of global creative platform 99designs.
Image result for mandarin oriental logo
kisspng.com
Taking a look at luxury brand logos, one discovers that Capella and Kempinski use blue. Jumeirah uses blue and gold. Gold is a component of the logos of Conrad, Viceroy, Langham, St. Regis, Mandarin Oriental and InterContinental. Silver/Gray pops up from time to time, often when logos are replicated in monochromatic ways.
It seems this type of color clustering is common among various industries. “It’s convention, doing what everyone else is doing,” said Conway. “Logos of similar industries tend to cluster. It’s not because it’s hard-wired, but we have established a convention (the use of particular colors) imbued with social meaning.”
Interestingly, there are a few outliers among the bunch. Virgin Hotels, a brand that always dares to be different, uses bright red, a color of power, passion and energy. According to digital marketing firm WebFX, “A red logo shows that your brand is powerful and high-energy.”
Image result for virgin hotels logo
worldvectorlogo.com
“Virgin, with its unique and immediately identifiable shade of red, is a perfect example of this: it reflects passion, playfulness and energetic modernity – all elements that encapsulate Virgin’s brand personality,” Webber said
Image result for six senses logoAnother outlier is wellness hospitality brand Six Senses. A company spokesperson said the logo contains purple, but the Pantone chart indicates that the color used is deep magenta. Either way, the color interpretation works.
“Magenta is a color of emotional balance and physical harmony. Magenta is redolent of compassion, support, and kindness, and is associated with feelings of self-respect and contentment. It’s a color of transformation, suggesting the sloughing off of old ideas and the embrace of new ones,” said Lischer. Perfect for a wellness resort, right?

Image result for andaz logo
seekvectorlogo.com
Meantime, if the eye perceives the Six Senses logo as purple, that works, too. “Purple is among the rarest colors in nature,” said Lischer. “It’s imbued with spirituality, contemplation, and mediation, suggesting creativity and imagination.”
One other big outlier in luxury logos is Andaz. The brand opts to use a different color for each letter of its name. Lischer calls it “a childish logo. It’s criticized in the design world as looking dating and childish, like building blocks. The logo does not represent luxury…it looks like a logo for a preschool.”
Ouch. Interestingly enough, Hyatt is “revisiting the color palette,” according to a spokesperson, while clarifying that “no work is being done to change the brand logo or colors for now.”

This story originally appeared in Skift, where I am the publication's luxury correspondent.