Travel Case Study – What Does Luxury Travel Really Mean?

Luxury travel blog

Nomads, backpackers, flash packers, DINKs, family travelers, GLBT travel, solo travel, multigenerational travel, agritravel, ecotravel, sustainable travel, voluntourism – these are just some of the many different phrases we use to describe a rich variety of different travel styles. One of the oldest terms is also perhaps one of the least understood, luxury travel.

Luxury travel blog

What is luxury travel?

Like most things in life luxury travel is open to a certain level of subjectivity, but to twist a quote from the great US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it. I used to think that it was just a certain level of grandeur; one thinks of massive hotel lobbies and rooms designed with a flair of style and elegance. But as I get older and frankly experience more luxury travel, I’ve come to realize that it in fact is much more than just the aesthetics.

That’s not to say they aren’t important, of course they are. One might even say luxury hotel aesthetics are critical. But they are also easy. If one has the right idea, right amount of money and right location, a gorgeous hotel can be created. But what really sets the luxury hotel apart from the rest is the service and attention to detail.

I put the question of what defines a luxury travel experience to my Facebook fans and my favorite definition came from Christina who’s also the owner of My View from the Middle Seat. In her words luxury travel is, “having your needs taken care of before you even know they’re there. Having experiences that go above and beyond what you would be able to do on your own.”

I think that this is the perfect way to describe the unique combination of luxury facilities with unparalleled customer service. The two must coexist in order to create the true luxury travel experience, as best seen in my trip to the Four Seasons Lanai.

Luxury travel blog

Four Seasons Lanai

Lanai is the smallest of the visited Hawaiian islands, located a short ferry ride from Maui and within sight of nearby Molokai. There are three hotels on this enchanting island, two of which are Four Seasons properties: Four Seasons Lodge at Koele and Four Seasons Manele Bay. Both are completely different in their style and offerings, but share the same attention to detail and service that make all Four Seasons properties true luxury offerings.

I could go on about how beautiful the properties are, how the staff was always smiling and helpful – heck, I even loved the L’Occitane bath products. But an episode that transpired the first night of our trip to the Four Seasons Manele Bay highlights what I mean when I say that luxury travel depends on going above and beyond.

It was late by the time we landed on the puddle jumper from Honolulu to Lanai City. Puddle jumper is putting it nicely actually, it was more like a minivan with wings; the pilot got in and out through his own driver’s door. The resort shuttle van met us at what must be one of the smallest airports in the world, and we made the short drive to Manele Bay.

Like many visitors to Lanai, we had decided to split our time between the two Four Seasons properties. It’s a great way to experience the two very different sides of the island. Desperately in need of a tropical paradise though, Manele Bay was first.

We arrived at the lush and grandly designed lobby of the Four Seasons Manele, welcomed with a kukui bead necklace and escorted to the front desk. We went thorough the normal pleasantries, inwardly dreaming of a shower and dinner. But there was a problem. They didn’t have us arriving that evening. We were supposed to arrive the next evening. A mistake had been made somewhere, most likely my fault, and there we were in one of the best hotels in the world without a room when they were fully booked.

Luxury travel blog

There was some confusion, calls were made, staff came over, it was like performing a delicate surgery on the computer, coaxing it to do the right thing. Finally, a question was asked, a nod given and we were met with a round of matching smiles and bright, white teeth.

“We have a room for you Mr. Long, it’s a suite though, I hope that’s ok?”

Yes, yes that was ok. I felt like I had won the travel lottery. Not only was I in what can very accurately be described as paradise, but I had just been given a suite at a five-star hotel.

We retreated to our room, yearning for both a comfy bed and a hot shower after more than 13 hours of traveling. After refreshing, we sat on the balcony with its amazing views of the ocean and listened to the waves crash and the sounds of a uke player wafting gently from the hotel lounge.

Just as we were about to order room service, the phone rang – it was the front desk. “Mr. Long, we’d like to apologize for the issue at check-in and would love to offer you dinner from room service.”

I couldn’t believe it, I was in pure shock. I made a mistake and the hotel had made up for it with a better room and a nice dinner. At that moment, they had completely won me over. Was it a big lift for them? No, not really, but it created a customer for life.

That’s the real difference between luxury and non-luxury travel. Yes, you need all the trimmings, but if all you have is a nice marble lobby with poor staff, then you really don’t have anything at all. Luxury travel moves beyond the tangible, into the great ether of service and pride and that is why it’s such a remarkable experience.

What do you think makes for a great luxury travel experience?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

13 Responses

  1. Kirsten Alana

    Absolutely it’s about service. It’s not only about service however, that’s the largest part of the equation for me. I’ve been in beautiful hotels with a complete lack of customer service or attentiveness. You could have the most beautiful hotel in the world but if your service is so horrible that’s the only memory I am left with, it matters little how many stars you have. A good bed is high on my list as well. After all, what do we spend the most time doing in hotels while traveling: sleeping.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well said, beds are a sticking point with me. I particularly detest lots of little pillows. Just give me human sized pillows, please! 🙂 Not a hobbit

      Reply
  2. Kelsey

    I agree with this assessment, and Kristen’s. It’s definitely all about service. The hotel I’m sitting in right now is nothing special, but the staff was super friendly and super helpful, which feels like luxury to me. I had mentioned going to Carcassonne when I checked in, and when I went out this evening, they had found the relevant trains on the schedule and circled them for me. A small thing, but I didn’t even ask for it, and it was really helpful.

    Reply
  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I think Christina defined it as succinctly as possible!

    Reply
  4. Debbie Beardsley

    I think its the small things, going the extra mile even if it is small. Your hotel anticipated your needs making you feel that you mattered.

    Reply
  5. Erin

    For me luxury travel does not necessarily mean that you have to pay more, but you do have to get more.

    The “more” may be a higher level of service, nicer amenities, better food, etc. So you could stay at a five star hotel and not have it be a luxury experience, or you could stay at a two star bed and breakfast and feel like it was truly luxurious. It depends, in part, on how well the offerings align with your travel needs and goals.

    Great thought-provoking post Matt. I will continue to mull it over..Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Tim Brooks (@Hotelwiz)

    Great definition, great service you experienced at Four Seasons Lanai. Now consider all the training, smart hiring, leadership, and daily enthusiasm required to make each and every guest’s experience at the resort just as fulfilling. These are the luxury service Moments of Truth that make, or break, a luxury travel experience.
    Every moment you interacted with their staff was a projection of their Brand and now you, a very satisfied customer, have become a high-profile Ambassador for that hotel.
    This should be the goal of Social Media strategy for every luxury travel supplier – to engage, excite, enthuse and make evangelical their most satisfied customers so that more potential customers may be welcomed and wowed by their business relationship before, during, and after their own guest experience.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Tim, you are right on. It’s amazing how a little more attention or going to extra step can really transform an entire experience. Amazing staff they have there on Lanai.

      Reply
  7. Kate

    I agree that luxury travel isn’t just about presentation but about the needs and wishes of the guest being anticipated before they have to ask or before they’ve even thought of them! My recent luxury travel experience was at the Maia Luxury Resort in the Seychelles. We’d return to the villa to find a freshly run rose petal bath or have a candle-lit dinner prepared. Service as it should be!

    Reply
  8. Casol Villas France

    Great article and photos. Thank you Matt.

    Reply
  9. Vivienne

    Completely agree about the level of service being the main identifier of a luxury travel experience. Also note that we only marvel at “great customer service” when things go wrong and the staff are empowered to make things right immediately. Again, just as hardware and aesthetics are important, the amount of time and money that luxury hotel companies invest in their staff selection process at point of recruitment and their non-stop training (to ensure not just guests get great service, but they get it all the time) are what set them apart from those with merely beautiful products and facilities.

    Reply
  10. TravelSort

    It’s hard to beat Four Seasons service at its best. I recently was at the Four Seasons George V in Paris, and inadvertently forgot my camera in a restroom off of the lobby. A staff member found it and turned it in, and minutes later I had my camera again. While not a suite upgrade, I was so incredibly grateful, not least to have all my photos back as I hadn’t yet transferred them to my computer. http://travelsort.com/blog/le-cinq-at-four-seasons-george-v-paris-restaurant-review

    I’ve also heard of a guest whose reading glasses had a broken hinge, and housekeeping took it upon themselves to have it repaired while the guest was out, then replaced exactly where she had left it. Moments of Truth indeed!

    Reply
  11. Linda

    I think you captured the essence perfectly. One of the nicer things about getting older is that you have a lot of experiences to look back on and make comparisons. My fortunes have gone up and down over the years, and I’ve stayed in almost every type of hotel (probably leaving out the very extremes at each end), and it’s definitely the service which makes the difference. I thought I was going to get lost in a rambling London city center hotel a few weeks back, but they had thoughtfully stationed staff at junctions to guide guests, as they do in some airports. I was rushing to find the office to print off my boarding card, and that made the difference between me getting panicky and bad tempered, and it just going smoothly, and, as you say, given the money, that’s where I will stay the next time!

    Reply

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