Meet Ana Brant, director of global guest experience and innovation at Dorchester Collection, who will give a keynote presentation on the second day of the Best Stay 2017 conference.
Dorchester Collection has a portfolio of hotels with “worldwide reputations as places offering the best and most sought-after experiences of good living, charm, elegance and service.” What is the company’s approach to providing unique luxury experience to each guest?
Our brand promise of “Iconic Hotels in Iconic Places” calls for a very authentic experience in each of our properties, and our vision statement promises to “honour the individuality and heritage of our iconic hotels”. Dorchester Collection properties are well established community institutions, and the guest experience we provide reflects this. Guests at Hôtel Plaza Athénée, which opened its doors in 1913, seek an elegant “haute couture” Parisian experience, while guests at our Gregorian country house in Coworth Park, Ascot seek relaxation and private escape. While we do have Dorchester Collection core experience principles, we encourage our hotels to keep the local charm. We trust them to use their best judgement and express their personalities while delivering bespoke experiences.
How has the idea of luxury experience changed through the last couple of years?
The overwhelming need for discretion, privacy and relaxation. Doesn’t matter if you are you are running a hotel or a resort, the pursuit for calming, stress-free and relaxing experiences is in high demand. The days when relaxation meant sipping on a cocktail under the sunny skies are no longer enough. Our guests want that particular feeling to be replicated in a city environment where luxury hotels provide an oasis from hustle and bustle. There are many ingredients we need to have just right to enable our luxury travelers to relax – from the room layout and noise isolation and healthy dining options to non-intrusive, seamless and many times invisible housekeeping service. Most importantly, not making our guests work!
When speaking of ‘ultra luxury experiences’, what does that really mean for today’s guests?
Luxury can only be defined by the moment you are in. As Dr Seuss says, you never understand the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. That is the essence of luxury. Deeply understanding the circumstances and the context surrounding today’s traveler is the only way to deliver the luxury experience. For instance, luxury can mean a non-intrusive service in the restaurant during a power lunch, or it can mean extremely attentive and anticipatory experience during a special occasion dinner such as birthday or anniversary. Luxury means discrete and protective service to a popular celebrity and over-the-top recognition to someone who wants to make an impression.
Luxury guest’s expectations are constantly rising and, surely, cause a lot of challenges in providing to their needs. What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in satisfying luxury guest’s demands?
The real distinction is between what we feel is important and what the customer thinks is important. To become a customer-centric organization, companies have to let go of their ego. And that is difficult as in the luxury world where the glamour of the offering or products often bedazzles us. The opportunities to improve often go unrecognized, causing luxury business to miss chances to gain competitive advantage. Take breakfast for instance; we learned that this is extremely important to our customers, yet our main focus ends up being on dinner experience. The breakfast experience alone won’t earn you a Michelin star. So everyone focuses on dinner. When was the last time you saw a Chef meeting the guests during breakfast?
How do you see the future of luxury travel?
The key for keeping up with the luxury sector’s changing customer expectations is our ability to learn and lead with interdisciplinary skill sets while enhancing front line employees’ craftsmanship to curate and deliver a unique experience. It is no longer enough to be an expert in sales and marketing only; one needs to understand the psychology behind human insight and the basics of human capital and then connect it to service design. It is no longer important how deep you go in a certain discipline, it matters how widely you can connect the dots. Only in this way can we push the boundaries and anticipate the future of luxury.
Do you think Croatia is efficiently developing its luxury travel aspect?
I am not the expert of destination development, but I can say that luxury market does not only require an uncompromising strategy, alignment and trade-offs, but more importantly, it is a mind-set. Croatia has all the natural beauties and resources to become the leader in luxury travel. Some destinations, like Hvar, have been more successful in capturing that market.
And in the end, Ana, tell us what are you most excited about your participation at Best Stay 2017?
This is my first keynote in my home country of Croatia and I am thrilled to hear what local experts have to share. As one of my mentors said: “You always learn and never graduate!” I see the Best Stay 2017 as a platform for growth, self-reflection and action. Thank you for putting it together!