Is ‘Authenticity’ The New Buzz-Word Of Luxury?

The new-age luxury consumer hankers after the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’, while still expecting to be pampered; are hospitality brands ready to deliver?

When the Tata-owned behemoth Taj Hotels embarked on a massive-repositioning exercise in 2016, to find relevance among an evolving customer-set, it decided to dip into history for answers. In an earlier interview with BE, a Taj Hotels spokesperson said, “We started defining experiences that the guest would go through and termed them as ‘Tajness’.” It comprises anything that a guest can see, smell, feel, taste and touch at the hotels, he added. As the new-age luxury consumer craves authentic experiences, hotels and restaurants are in a huddle to serve this up on a platter in as unique a way as possible. At stake is a consumer who now stands to be wooed away by everything from a boutique luxury hotel to maybe even a luxury apartment from Airbnb which gives them an experience (or the illusion of an experience) that feels more authentic to the city or country they are in.

A cookie-cutter approach is passé, in luxury at least. “The consumers are incredibly well travelled and looking for authentic experiences”, says Neeraj Govil, area vice president – South Asia, Marriott International which has become the world’s largest hotel chain – post its merger with Starwood Hotels. Currently, it has 4 luxury-brands in India: Ritz Carlton, St Regis, JW Marriott and W – each trying to have a distinct play within the segment. St Regis the world over has been built around its American heritage and offers bespoke and immersive experiences like the afternoon tea, midnight supper, a dedicated butler service etc.

Another brand W, launched in Goa last year, is positioned as a hip-luxury brand and is all about pop-culture, futuristic design, and engaged associates. Very optimistic about the segment, Marriott’s Govil firmly believes “the price-tag of luxury today is decided by how singular and compelling the experience is.”

Chicago-headquartered hotel-chain Hyatt too has been working across the globe towards making its offerings authentic and pushing forward brands where the local element is paramount, as is the case with Andaz, the group’s lifestyle luxury brand with the tagline “arrive a visitor and depart a local”.

At the first Andaz property launched in Delhi, experiences have been designed so guests know their surroundings more intimately. “We aim to deliver experiences that immerse guests in local communities and create a point of distinction”, shares Kurt Straub, vice president – operations (India), Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. Recently Hyatt launched its first redemption offering focused solely on experiences – AFAR experiences Tokyo – a three-day immersive itinerary in the Japanese capital for its loyalty program members.

What was impersonal luxury some years back is becoming both personalised and localised. According to Dipak Haksar, chief executive – ITC Hotels & WelcomHotels, true luxury is no longer about ‘possessing’ but ‘experiencing’, and about seeking status by ‘doing’ rather than ‘owning’. ITC has 11 luxury hotels currently in its portfolio. They aim to weave in the destination and curate indigenous encounters, through architecture, local and regional cuisine, indigenous art, and wellness traditions. At the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, for example, artisans from Mahabalipuram were employed to replicate the carvings seen in a temple of that period, to add to an authentic touch to the hotel’s Chola-inspired architecture. At the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai guests are recommended heritage walks to Khotachiwadi, Mumbai’s last surviving heritage village and on prior request, can also experience the traditional East Indian cuisine at a resident’s home.

It’s not just hotels: restaurants too are bending over backwards in an attempt to be more authentic. POH (Progressive Oriental House) will open its first outlet in July this year, the 18th eatery at Kamla Mills compound (located in the once-grungy mill-land of central Mumbai). According to Avik Chatterjee, head-innovation & new formats, Speciality Restaurants which owns Mainland China among other brands, this marks the group’s venture into progressive luxury through an amalgam of authentic Asian flavours and could “define the future of Asian food.” The experience includes a first-ever Yaodian bar and Omakase (chef’s choice) of a sushi bar. The Yàodiàn bar would be all about handcrafted sensory mixology deploying vintage herb pharmacy traditions of China.

According to Zorawar Kalra, founder & managing director of Massive Restaurants, the company behind upmarket eatery Masala Library, “Luxury consumers have the spending capacity to travel to different parts of the world and wish to recreate the same experience in their home country as well.” Accordingly, Kalra’s company has launched Made in Punjab, Pa Pa Ya, MasalaBar which are luxury concepts matching latest global food trends.

Is this fetish for authentic experiences a fashionable fad, like many others, that have come and gone? Kurt Straub doesn’t think so. In his view, the need for hotel brands to personalise stays and experiences and develop human connections will continue to grow. Even if that means a lot of hard work, and ensuring things don’t get authentic to the point of being uncomfortable. There is such a thing as too much authenticity. 
Source: http://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/, 14 June 2017

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