As someone who has flown pretty much every airline and stayed at hotels around the world, is there anything you’re still waiting to see from a luxury travel brand?
I want a luxury brand not to say to me, “I’m your butler.” I dread that. What I really want from a brand is an ‘invisible wife.’ I want someone who can do all those little things that happen when you’re travelling.
For instance, I bought a new pair of trousers along Robson Street in Vancouver and the pockets were all stitched up. I had to ask my hotel concierge to bring me a pair of scissors, which meant waiting around for them, and then I’m sitting there picking them myself. I want a luxury brand to be able to do that. I want a luxury brand to send me a simple e-mail two days ahead of my trip saying, “What can we do for you?”
You’ve said that hotels should teach their staff “thoughtfulness” instead of “service.” What do you mean by that?
You might want to ask somebody at Fairmont; they are doing an amazing thing at the moment. I was at their new property at Boston’s Battery Wharf, where they get the most amazing TripAdvisor ratings. They don’t have any concierges. Instead, every staff member is trained and empowered to act as an unofficial concierge for any guest. Now that’s thoughtfulness.
I experienced the same thing on an Oberoi ship on the Nile. Every staff member was so alert but not in an intrusive way. They just noticed, and then quietly did. I took a day trip down into the tombs and a staff member noticed a little spot on my leg that was beginning to bleed. I hadn’t even noticed it. He quickly ran after me and asked if he could put a Band-Aid on it. When I got back to our cabin there was a supply of new Band-Aids for me.
They also have a beautiful breakfast buffet. On the first day of the cruise I helped myself to various fruits – put in certain places on the plate – and a big portion of yogurt. The following morning a waiter with a big smile presented me with an exact replica of what I’d helped myself to the previous day! Now, this is the Oberoi school of thoughtfulness, which is interpreting body language and thinking ahead without making a song and dance of it.
Is there such a thing as brand loyalty these days? Should there be?
This is where we have a big difference between the airline world and the hotel world. It makes sense to work toward one airline’s loyalty program and get its benefits.
Hotel groups just don’t get it, frankly. Hardly anyone is loyal to a brand. They’re loyal to a particular hotel in a particular destination. Most Transumers have dozens or more hotel cards. They just have to remember to take the hotel card with them.
I am totally loyal to my Porsche wheelie bag because I only ever travel hand baggage and my Porsche wheelie is just the perfect size and I love it.
What are some of the challenges of your lifestyle? How do you maintain some semblance of routine when you’re away from home 300 days a year?
It’s essential to keep your body in tune with where you are and how you are feeling. I always exercise as close to a flight taking off as I can and as soon after arriving as I can. I do not go to bed. I go to a gym. I always swim at Heathrow before I fly out. If worst comes to worst I just find some stairs to run up and down, which I remember doing in Minneapolis in the snow. I also like to be vegetarian when I’m flying and immediately after I land.
I believe in getting to airports early because I don’t like stress. I have never yet missed a flight but I nearly have and I don’t want that situation again. I’d rather have extra time at the airport because I can always work there.
If you’re an ultimate Transumer you have to be in control of your body and in control of your life. You can’t expect travel agents to do it all for you. You certainly can’t expect airlines or even concierges to do everything for you. It’s easier and safer to do things yourself.
How has the world of luxury travel changed since you started doing this and what are you most excited for in the future?
The biggest change is the demise of bell men. It was only a decade ago when no one carried around their own suitcase. Now it’s perfectly acceptable that you take your own wheelie and look after it yourself.
We’re getting toward the last frontier: the perfect coffee. It’s now becoming the norm that every luxury property should have not just a Mr. Coffee but either a Nespresso machine or a FrancisFrancis! coffee maker. I’m looking forward to guaranteed fantastic coffee in every room.
I’m looking forward to the day when the purveyor realizes that it’s not about how much money you spend. It’s about getting the best.