Special report: Luxury is unique experiences, extreme landscapes and fresh eyes

Special report: Luxury is unique experiences, extreme landscapes and fresh eyes

Luxury travel buyers from around the world gathered at the Conrad London St James hotel for a bespoke business networking event organised by Connections Events. Rose Dykins reports

The event

Connections’ first white-label event showcased two travel suppliers – the five-star Conrad London St James hotel and HL Adventure, a bespoke Icelandic tour operator.

Utilising the Connections format of focused business meetings based around memorable experiences, buyers and representatives from the two host suppliers met while trying out Conrad London St James’s Stay Inspired 1/3/5 programme.

The event culminated in a five-course Icelandic-themed dinner, supported by HL Adventure and created by the Conrad London St James.

‘How about ladies’ bootmaking?’

Offering travellers a luxury experience need not break the bank, according to staff at the Conrad London St James.

“Simple luxury costs nothing, because it’s about emotion,” said sales director Delia Monfrecola.

Conrad’s Stay Inspired 1/3/5 destination experiences offer guests authentic local experiences that last one, three or five hours.

“Most of the 1/3/5 experiences are complimentary for guests,” said Monfrecola. “1/3/5 is not something we are doing to make money. It’s something that we hope will be the starting point of a guest’s journey in London.”

Hotel manager Simon Drake explained how the 1/3/5 experiences originated.

“We started with our director of inspiration at Conrad’s head office in the US,” he said. “They went across all of the properties in the Conrad portfolio and picked 10 to 15 unique experiences for each hotel.

“We also did an internal competition where we asked staff from every department in the Conrad London St James what their families liked to do when they visited London, and we had a number of unique experiences come back that most Brits wouldn’t think of doing.”

He added: “Most concierges would say ‘Buckingham Palace is that way, and have you been on the Big Bus Tour?’

“Nobody says: ‘Do you fancy ladies’ bootmaking this afternoon? Or do you want to try the best coffee in London – it’s a tiny little cafe in Brixton, where the owner roasts coffee beans in his cellar?’

“Our 1/3/5 experiences came from our staff being creative and thinking outside of the box.”

Iceland’s HL Adventure says ‘money can’t buy a unique landscape’

Luxury travellers account for an increasingly large share of the market for adventure operators in extreme landscapes.

Jon Olafur Magnusson, owner of bespoke Icelandic tour operator HL Adventure, said: “Most of our business came from the Mice sector until a few years back. We understood we were handling high-end FITs [fully independent travellers] without knowing it. We’d be doing an incentive for a corporate group, and the chief executive would ask if we could take care of their family on a private trip. So, five years ago, we started to promote ourselves as a DMC for not only Mice but also FITs.”

Magnusson admitted Iceland’s lack of luxury accommodation was a challenge, but said: “We decided to find our own way to make five-star accommodation by finding old farms and private properties where we added our personal touches.”

He added: “A unique landscape is something money cannot buy. We believe that for the new way of luxury travel, the guest needs to go home with a story to tell.”

Top hotels ‘gain from a fresh pair of eyes’

Selecting staff from outside the hotel industry and giving them ‘ownership’ is key to product innovation and retaining young talent, according to Simon Drake, hotel manager of the Conrad London St James.

“Youngsters nowadays have a lot of choice,” he said. “What we do is provide something different for them. So we give them a lot of ownership. On week one, we say: ‘Welcome to the business; you’ve got a fresh pair of eyes, here’s your project and if it’s successful, we’ll implement it into our business.’”

At a time when Brexit could have a huge impact on the British hospitality sector– workers from the EU make up 15% of the national workforce, according to the British Hospitality Association – Drake spoke about one of his resources for finding local, young workers.

“We are now one of the largest employers of the Prince’s Trust’s successful students in London, and 10% of our workforce came through the charity,” he said.

“These are kids aged 16‑20 who’ve come from disadvantaged backgrounds. All of them are Brits; a lot are from south London. Some 80% of the bar and floor staff have come from the Prince’s Trust alone.

“We try to take people that have never necessarily had a pre‑conceived idea of what a hotel is, and we give them the tools and knowledge to create a life for themselves as well as creating experiences for guests.”


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