Not so long ago, the best one could hope for in extraordinary hotel service was an unusually fluffy imported duvet, express dry cleaning and perhaps even fulfillment of a random late-night food craving. But as discerning travelers spend more extravagantly, they have become increasingly demanding. Luxury hotels are responding with all kinds of new, over-the-top amenities from decadent sundaes dished up in guests' rooms to poolside tanning butlers or canine room service.
"Seasoned travelers have more expendable income than ever, and when they take a break from their hectic lives, they want to be totally catered to," says Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Indeed, guests' spending at luxury hotels increased an estimated 14% just from 2005 to 2006 from $8.2 billion to $9.3 billion and increased nearly 57% from 2001 to 2006, according to Robert Mandelbaum, director of research at Atlanta-based PKF Hospitality Research.
Luxury hotels are also playing the service card to attract specific groups of travelers such as families, expectant moms and pet owners. At the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, guests can buy the new Kids in the City package for $520 a night and, among other things, enjoy a visit in their room from the Ice Cream Man, who arrives with all the fixings to make any concoction they desire.
"The trend has been moving toward more marketing to smaller and smaller niches who can afford to indulge their wants and needs," notes Doug Shifflet, president and CEO of D.K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd., a McLean, Va., consumer-research firm that specializes in travel.
At the Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., expectant parents can purchase the "Bundle of Joy" Babymoon package, which includes a 24-hour Cravings Chef service, a couple's massage and breakfast in bed. The hotel even created a new position in April called the director of fun one of the few in the entire lodging industry. With a background in the cruise business, Joshua Riffe has a mission to oversee the creation of leisure activities and programs. Part of his job begins up to two weeks before a guest arrives, with a phone call to inquire about any special reservations or amenities and inform the individual of local events that will be taking place during his or her stay.
"This is a new level of pampering we're seeing in the hotel industry, where anything and everything can be taken care of for you even before you arrive," says Sue Brush, senior vice president of Westin Hotels & Resorts, which has 139 properties and is based in White Plains, N.Y.
And if taking care of guests isn't enough, more and more top-notch hotels are putting on the dog, so to speak. Trendy W Hotels, with 21 locations in its portfolio, offers pet beds, food and water bowls, floor mats and pet treats and toys, says Ross Klein, president and chief experience (yes, that is correct) officer of Starwood Hotels' Luxury Brands Group, which is the parent company of W Hotels as well as of sister brand Westin.
Even independent hotels are getting into the four-legged-service act. The Benjamin Hotel in New York City provides dog beds in a variety of styles and doggie bathrobes, as well as food and water bowls, canine room service and DVDs for dogs, says John Moser, chief marketing officer of Denihan Hospitality Group, which owns the 209-room hotel.
"True luxury means that everything is waiting for me when I arrive. It's totally hassle free, and I can go about enjoying myself," says Debra Delduchetto, 53, a regular guest of the hotel from Syracuse, N.Y., who often travels with her 18-lb. Norfolk terrier, Jack.
In addition to serving special groups of travelers, luxury properties are currently experimenting with the concept of butlers. The 375-room Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, in Miami Beach, Fla., offers sun worshippers a one-of-a-kind tanning butler. This employee circulates around the pool deck and beach Thursdays through Sundays during peak tanning hours, offering free sunscreen, cool water misters and eyeglass cleaners.
Or, for $5,000 a night, a stay at the Presidential Cottage at the Montgomery Marriott Prattville Hotel and Conference Center in Alabama entitles you to a personal butler, chef and heliport. You need only ring the chimes in one of the five suites in the 10,000-sq.-ft. cottage, and the butler will draw your bath or bring your favorite snack. "As long as it's legal and ethical, our butler will get you anything you want," says Walter Kennedy, the hotel's general manager.
Butler service reaches a new pinnacle at the Falling Rock, one of three hotels at the 3,000-acre Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa. The 42-room property has 10 butlers available to guests 24/7. Should guests want it, the butlers provide morning wake-up service entering the person's room at a specified time, opening the blinds, serving breakfast in bed, laying out clothing, drawing a bath and reviewing the itinerary for the day.
And if that isn't decadent enough, how about dropping $100,000 for an extravagant weekend in Vegas? At the Ritz-Carlton in Henderson, Nev., the Love at Lake Las Vegas weekend package includes two nights in the 2,400-sq.-ft. presidential suite, helicopter and gondola rides, a champagne-tasting dinner on a yacht complete with rose petals strewn about and a string trio, use of a luxury car throughout the stay, in-room couples spa treatment, a $5,000 casino line of credit, a $50,000 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus, 14 dozen roses and a butler-drawn Cristal champagne bath.
And while personal service is the name of the game for well-heeled travelers, some hotels are testing new and revolutionary high-tech services. Wireless Internet connections are nothing new, but how about ordering a sandwich from your poolside lounge chair without having to summon a waiter? The W Los Angeles will test a service in June that allows guests to place an order for food, drinks, late checkout or anything else via touch-screen technology on pool furniture. Once the order is placed, it is wirelessly transmitted to the desired destination and someone delivers the requested item right to the guest. "Having something take no effort at all is becoming the ultimate amenity to luxury travelers," Starwood's Klein says.
Want to live the life of a celebrity? At the Hotel Sax Chicago, guests can buy the Celebrity Rider package and receive the same VIP treatment their favorite entertainers get in their contract riders when they travel for a performance. J. Lo's white-flower obsession? Madonna's need for workout equipment in her room? The hotel will research whatever the requested celebrity is entitled to and provide those extras to travelers, says Mark van Hartesvelt, president of Gemstone Resorts International, based in Park City, Utah, which owns the property. The cost per stay could be in the thousands, depending on the celebrity-rider request and who you want to be that day.
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