In today’s modern world of hotel spas, long weekends, holiday resorts, design and boutique hotels, the term luxury has seemingly become commonplace. Even within the more terrestrial housing industry the word luxury has been debased to simply denote any kind of new build flat or house. In the hotel business, every four star hotel today claims to be a ‘luxury’ hotel, but real luxury is hard to define, and harder to find.
While the straight grandeur of a five-star Grande Dame hotel offers its guests the overt luxurious opulence that many crave, they are often too de rigueur in their quest for lavish extravagance and frequently lack the subtle frisson of individuality which can be found in the more intimate surroundings of a boutique or design hotel.
The term boutique hotel traditionally describes a type of hotel which is generally small, and which sets out to become a destination in its own right. Boutique hotels can come in many different flavours – design boutique, romantic chic, and even classic 5 star luxury boutique. In order to qualify as a genuine boutique hotel, a particular sense of innate style must be evoked to ensure an exclusive sense of individuality which generally goes hand in hand with a relatively low number of rooms to help turn a simple stay into an event and an authentic experience which is unique to that destination.
Like ’boutique hotel’, the phrase design hotel has become widely used to describe a variety of hotel styles since the concept first burst upon the hotel scene in a meaningful way ten years ago. Today many hotels which do not refer to themselves specifically as ‘design hotels’ have nevertheless incorporated spectacular design features, while others which do call themselves design hotels have nowhere near the level of detail to put them amongst the best. However, the concept goes beyond simply the architectural detailing – it is a much deeper shift than that, reflecting the emergence of what has been termed the ‘experience economy’. Today, travelers seek transitory experiences of the highest order, and hotels have become the canvases on which these experiential diatribes and fantasies can be lived. Ian Schrager compares his hotels with a play: the lobby is the prelude, the first act of the hotel’s drama, which has its finale in the guest rooms. These are places where one’s personal identity can become changed, uninhibited, where for a short while and surrounded by undreamt of luxuries you can pretend to be different from who you are in everyday life… The hotels which embody this new trend of leisure as entertainment and experience are the new breed of design hotels.