A growing trend in luxury tourism is the consumer’s desire for highest levels of customer service and full range travel experiences that combine first class transport, excellent accommodation and location, gourmet dining, outstanding entertainment and superior relaxation. As a consequence to the rapidly evolving consumer demands in a competitive business environment, luxury hotels seek innovative ways to create the ultimate guest experience and memorable holidays. Against this backdrop, the article focuses on a multisensory approach to customer experience management in the domain of luxury tourism.
Considered as one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, the travel and tourism industry is constantly evolving. Despite continuing recession in the western world, the number of international travelers is continuously increasing. Even faster than financial services, transport and manufacturing, the travel and tourism sector is forecast to continue growing at 4 percent annually.1 In particular, the upscale or luxury market of international travel and tourism is rapidly expanding. In this context, luxury tourism is understood as “travel to exclusive tourist resorts, tailor-made packages, including private jets, and an emphasis on comfort, service, relaxation, sumptuous quality, attention to detail and exacting standard. (…) More important (than the price) are the wider value-added elements, the exclusivity of the experience, and above all, the uniqueness for the consumer”.2
A growing trend in luxury tourism is the consumer’s desire for highest levels of customer service and full range travel experiences that combine first class transport, excellent accommodation and location, gourmet dining, outstanding entertainment and superior relaxation. As a consequence to the rapidly evolving consumer demands in a competitive business environment, luxury hotels seek innovative ways to create the ultimate guest experience and memorable holidays. In a multisensory approach that promises the ultimate luxurious experience, sensorial stimulation of the guests’ sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch is provided by the use of appropriate colors, tunes, scents, flavours and materials. Against this backdrop, the article focuses on a multisensory approach to customer experience management in the domain of luxury tourism. In accordance to recent trends in the upscale travel and tourism market, the importance of delivering a fully sensual client experience is presented as an opportunity for generating customer value.
Luxury Tourism – From Decadence to Exclusive Experiences
Taking into account the subjective and multidimensional character of the luxury concept in general, the meaning of luxury in the tourism sector depends on the subjective perception and individual needs of the consumer as well. While the luxury travel and tourism industry has formerly focused on materialistic attitudes, status and decadent lifestyles, nowadays, authentic and exclusive experiences are in the center of attention. Representing service excellence in a combination of travel, accommodation, wining and dining, wellness and events, more than other service industries, luxury travel and tourism has the potential to stimulate consumer emotional reactions in a holistic, memorable experience. A useful approach is a multisensory marketing concept as outlined in the following section.
Appeal to all Senses – Multisensory Communication in Luxury Tourism
Due to the rising number of brands and the convergence of product quality, it becomes increasingly essential for brands to stand out from their competitors. Thus, marketing communication needs to be more effective. An adequate approach to better appeal to the consumer can be found in multisensory marketing. According to Krishna (2012)3 multisensory marketing can be defined as ‘marketing that engages the consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgement and behavior’. So far, brands still predominantly focus on conveying advertising messages merely through the visual channel and, if any, the acoustic channel. However, consumer perception evolves from the composition of all five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste). Therefore, a holistic multisensory communication concept is needed. This enables not only to exploit the potential of all senses separately but also to benefit from multisensory enhancement, i.e., the positive interaction effects between the senses. So, communicating an advertising message congruently through multiple senses will strengthen consumers’ perception. Hence, using all five senses may yield the maximum impact of communication. Especially with regard to the luxury industry, having the focus on an exceptional brand identity, it is of major importance to create a comprehensive and unique multisensory experience. In practice, a few luxury brands have already quite successfully adapted this approach, e.g. Burberry by impressive flagship store openings, Rolls-Royce by interactive exhibitions or Singapore Airlines by an overall multisensory communication concept compassing stimuli of all five senses, from the stewardesses’ make-up to a brand-specific perfume that is exuded not only in the cabin but also in hot towels etc. In particular, luxury travel companies, and above all, luxury hotels have to carefully set various sensory stimuli, so that an extraordinary experience addressing all five senses of the consumer can be offered leading to superior customer experiences.
They will remember how you made them feel – Creating Memorable Customer Experiences
Traditionally, companies have focused on physical and functional aspects of products such as quantity, quality, price or availability. However, competing successfully in a global market requires more than a sole concentration on those usual elements. As consumers’ emotions and value aspects were hitherto neglected, businesses need a greater understanding of consumer behaviour. Consumers no longer merely buy products and services, but rather pay for the experience being offered. Therefore, the customer experience concept has gained increased attention among marketing scholars and practitioners. A good experience is an excellent way to add value to the customer and differentiate from the competitors, as it affects, generates and strengthens customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and contributes to repetitive purchasing.4 The entire experience a company creates for its customers is not simply represented by the product or service, but includes the whole experience creation process such as pre-purchase, moment-of-truth and post-purchase. The concept of experiential marketing has been successfully applied to many businesses in different industries. Especially for luxury brands, possessing the highest level of quality and symbolic value to the customer in all touch-points, the adaption of this holistic approach is more than suitable. As an example, luxury airlines, e.g. Etihad Airways or Emirates, offering an exceptional personal treatment for first class passengers, such as inflight massages or personal chefs, can be mentioned. In particular, experiential luxury marketing can be found in the hospitality and tourism industry providing the highest experiential products such as dining and staying in a luxury hotel or visiting a hotel destination.
A Value-Based Perspective on Multisensory Customer Experience Management
The orientation on customer experience as a key component in luxury travel and tourism has led to a shift in the concept of value creation. Following the principles of experiential marketing, value is co-created by hotels and guests in high-quality interaction processes. As illustrated in Figure 1, consumers evaluate products, services and experiences they are getting based on a multifaceted spectrum of values. Especially in the luxury travel and tourism market, where traditionally the price component has always received specific attention (e.g., as cue for status, prestige and value for money), it has been shown that luxury consumers with different desires are less driven by costs, but driven by the individual perspective on a multifaceted value composition that includes financial, functional, individual and social components:5
Figure 1: Conceptual Model
In this context, the financial component of luxury value focuses on monetary aspects and prestige pricing as a signal for exclusivity and uniqueness. Even if the price may be a subordinate criterion for luxury consumers, they want good (or better: excellent) value for money. They are willing to pay a higher price, however, they know what they want and expect superior service in all respects. In a luxury travel and tourism context, customers prefer to get their money’s worth with an all-inclusive package compared to a solution with extra charges for add-on-services such as internet usage, spa treatments and entertainment. Closely related to these expectations, the functional value dimension refers to the core benefits such as superior quality and excellent performance. A hotel that claims to be in the luxury category and promises superior travel experiences has to deliver on this promise to its guest and has to fulfill the high expectations with excellent facilities, accommodations and the local tourism environment. Besides, reasoning that the service industry is a people business, excellent service means excellent personnel who anticipate consumer needs and are enthusiastic in creating personal relationships and memorable brand experiences from the guest’s arrival to departure. Due to the fact that luxury is a highly subjective concept, the individual value of luxury brands represents a customer’s personal orientation toward luxury consumption related to self-identity as well as materialistic and hedonistic buying motives. Aspects such as customisation and individuality have particular importance in the context of travelling. Some tourists are looking for rest and relaxation, others prefer adventure and excitement. Luxury travelers have an especially high demand for personal enrichment, privacy and authentic experiences that are very special, unique and distinct from mass travel and tourism. The passion for the exceptional, personalised travel experience can be seen in the desire for highly exclusive destinations (e.g., private islands, villas, suites, or a private beach, and pool) and personal services (e.g., a private chef, host, nanny or tour guide). Finally, the social dimension of luxury value addresses prestige orientation and status consumption. As differentiated the motives for the purchase of luxury have become, as diverse is the group of luxury tourists and travelers. Covering multiple age ranges and family situations, the market for luxury travel and tourism targets highly heterogenic segments such as the business traveler, the honeymoon couple, affluent families with children and adolescents, retirees – some of them are wealthy, others are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In sum, reflecting the subjective and multidimensional character of the luxury concept, the different dimensions of luxury value have to be addressed simultaneously in a sophisticated marketing concept to fulfill the luxury consumer’s expectations.
The value-based orientation on multisensory approaches and memorable customer experiences has an enormous potential, especially in the luxury travel industry. Some high-end hotels are already quite successfully operating in the field of multisensory marketing. For example, the Six Senses Group, obviously positioned by its name, addresses the gustatory sense by locally inspired and sustainably sourced cuisine offering an exceptional taste experience in unique backdrops. Moreover, an emerging trend in the luxury hotel industry is given by signature scents. So do Thompson Hotels, which spread their custom-designed perfume ‘Velvet’ in rooms and open spaces. Moreover, all elements in the Armani Hotel are personally designed by Giorgio Armani, so that visual and aesthetic qualities are centered. In order to appeal to the acoustic sense, the Burj Khalife, for instance, plays Zen ambient relaxing music or Arabic sounds. For haptic stimulation, the Four Seasons goes for the communication of warmth through light, e.g. in terms of phototherapy or a ribbon of 500,000 LED lights. In addition, the interior is equipped with notions of the surrounding natural area.
For the creation of memorable experiences to the customer, some luxury hotels have already been updating programs to do so. For the implementation of a sensory experience, the Armani Hotel Dubai works with delicate Armani fragrances across the hotel, exquisite and culinary food at the restaurant or panoramic views from the rooms. To affect and stimulate customers’ emotions, a hotel in Singapore has karaoke screens in their limousines, which take the guests from the airport to the hotel to elicit delight and happiness. Impeccable services, 24-hour care and amenities at Hamilton Island make sure that guests feel absolutely best. Whether desert hiking or downhill skiing offered at the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, there are a lot of activities and special programs people can enjoy that will provide a physically active and memorable experience.
Conclusion and Outlook
The dream of luxury is shared on a global level and refers to all categories of products and services. One industry where consumers have particularly high demands is the luxury travel and tourism market. Being an escape from everyday life, a holiday is often the once-a-year opportunity to relax and recover. Consequently, consumers’ expectations are high – in particular in the upscale and luxury market where world-class service and an outstanding accommodation experience are expected. The luxury travel and tourism industry has to balance the preservation of traditions and heritage and the necessity to innovate according to a contemporary understanding of the luxury concept. In the rising tension between the claims of ‘be true to your values’ and ‘innovate or die’, luxury hotels have to create superior experiences and memorable holidays. In a luxury context, sensory stimulation is not a hunt for ‘the next big thing’, but rather a concentration on the subtle refinement of colors, tastes, fragrances, sounds and textures in an orchestrated holistic concept. Especially in an age of information overload and sensory overstimulation, a true luxurious experience provides a calming relaxation – a perfect example is the global trend of ‘tech-free zones’ and ‘digital detox’ holidays. The primary goal of a value-based perspective on multisensory customer experience management is to translate the brand’s true values into a sensory customer experience that soothes the senses and relaxes the soul.
About the Authors
Prof. Dr. Klaus-Peter Wiedmann is a Full Chaired Professor of Marketing and Management and the Director of the Institute of Marketing and Management, Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. He has many years of experience as a management consultant and top management coach, and takes a leading position in different business organisations as well as public private partnerships. Main subjects of research and teaching as well as consulting are: Strategic Marketing, Brand & Reputation Management, Corporate Identity, International Marketing, and Consumer Behaviour.
M. Sc. Franziska Labenz is a Scientific Research Assistant at the Institute of Marketing and Management, Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. Her main subjects of research and teaching as well as management consulting are: International Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Consumer Behaviour, and Luxury Brands.
M. Sc. Janina Haase is a Scientific Research Assistant at the Institute of Marketing and Management, Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. Her main subjects of research and teaching as well as management consulting are: International Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Consumer Behaviour, and Luxury Brands.
Dr. Nadine Hennigs is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Marketing and Management, Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. Her main subjects of research and teaching as well as management consulting are: International Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Consumer Behaviour, and Luxury Brands. She is the author of several publications on luxury marketing and – in collaboration with Prof. Wiedmann – the editor of Luxury Marketing: A Challenge for Theory and Practice at Springer Science + Business Media.
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