One of the often unseen things about luxury hospitality is how quickly things go from the extraordinary to the expected. Just as hedge fund traders are always looking for some small optimization to find “alpha” and beat the market, hoteliers at the highest end are in the same boat. They’re constantly fighting to find the strategies and tactics to stand out in a world of very high competition and very high expectations.

Simply put: Luxury travelers today see more scenarios. They are more mobile, have seen more at every level of the game, and have ever-rising expectations on what they get for their money.

The idea behind this piece for my blog struck me as I was having a chat with the Irishman John O’Sullivan not too long ago a fine hotelier who thinks out of the box and is a fusion of the modern hotelier with traits from the past who in my opinion along with his team are competing at the Olympian level of the game  when it comes to managing a luxury resort.

As we chatted in the hotel’s bar over a coffee ( in the past that would have been a Tequila however we are both slim and terrific these days ) I couldn’t find anything amiss. Everything down to how I was greeted on arrival, to the hue of the lights, the sound of the music, and the presentation of our drinks was pitch-perfect. Later that day I had a dinner in the evening at The Four Seasons when I was catching up with a friend in the hotel’s bar, I asked a waiter about how high the standards were. He playfully replied: “You’d have to look very hard to find something out of place here.” It’s important to remember that I was but one part of a choreography of things happening at the hotel that day, but each interaction had to uphold the level of distinction. And this happens day in and day out.


With John we discussed how the expectations at the high end of the industry are always elevating and that he tells his staff they need to look outside the immediate realm of hotels to figure out how to adjust and optimize the customer experience. He revealed that one of the pieces of guidance to his team is to look to the outside world a few times a day and “take note of what inspires you.” Indeed the idea of having an open aperture is what other hoteliers have told me is necessary to stay an inch ahead.

If this doesn’t seem hard enough, the other ironic fact here is that even if you exceed expectations once for a guest, it quickly becomes the norm. The knockout arrival or incredible room amenities or thoughtfully executed special occasion becomes the table stakes for your interactions in the future. It seems like a Sisyphean task, to say the least.

To better understand this dynamic, I recently spoke to my dear friend Achim Lenders CEO of Rosewood Hotels a brand known for having some of the most devoted guests around — who are also the most demanding in terms of their expectations. The constant desire to adapt and adjust is one of the hallmarks that makes Rosewood what it is and that ultimately the creative innovation is the ultimate competitive advantage you can create. Lots of people can create incredible real estate plays and the perfect design, and hire great people. But the idea of constantly evolving — and having the ethos and the culture to do so — is actually a differentiator. 


I am a firm belilever that “culture beats strategy.” There’s an ethos deeply embedded in those staff members and general managers who feel empowered to make the calls they need to make and to intuit what is right for a given context. The most important attributes here are empathy, intuition, and skill sets that cannot be supplanted by technology. I love the approach “enter as a guest and leave as a friend.” And over the years so many of dearest friends today came through that channel – Aaron, Brad, Charles, Eduardo but to name a few

A friend told me he was staying at the Four Seasons recently and was swimming at the pool here in Punta Mita and magically slippers and a robe appeared when he was emerging from the pool — with zero sign of anyone coming in to place them there. Viva Punta Mita I say !!

A frequent St Regis  Punta Mita guest recounted his experience: “Nearly everyone we have interacted with has been aware of our daily schedule of tours and excursions, and we never once have had to state our room number, explain who we are, or even sign a single bill at lunch, dinner, or the spa. Earlier we made an appointment at the spa and asked if she needed our villa number to confirm the reservation. With a smile, she said ‘Of course not, I know.’”


It is these surprises, the subtle touches and delightful gestures at turndown service, the feeling of discretion and privacy, as well as the lack of friction with interactions: booking cars, figuring out what to do, that can add up to something that impresses even the most jaded and road-weary traveler. At the highest end, this service can be an important synapse linking experiences to personal fulfillment through transformative travel – certainly a luxury megatrend

Empowerment is key with the goal being to operate in a open, intuitive, and fluid manner , relying on very talented people to do their jobs in the way they see fit. This very much depends of the leadership and style of each GM and their teams – as in a large chain this all greats translated or articulated into brand pillars such as privacy and balance and more  – empowering people to be creative is essential to for success in luxury hotels  and if one gets  that right we can continue to innovate & create delivering experiences for a lifetime