Why Luxury Travel Is More Than Just a Nice Bed

I routinely take a virtual stroll through the blogosphere, reading posts, looking at pretty pictures and getting ideas for future trips. Lately though I’ve seen a trend that I don’t like. When covering luxury trips, many bloggers and writers focus almost exclusively on hotel rooms and fancy drinks next to a pool. While these can certainly be part of a luxury trip, they don’t even start to define what a true luxury vacation should be about and I think most hotels would agree with me.

Whether it’s Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons or the One and Only Resorts, luxury properties have a few things in common. And no, it’s not just the high thread counts and nice smelling amenities. It’s two separate concepts that often get ignored by reviewers: service and the experience.


Service is a tricky animal. Everyone wants to boast amazing service, but few actually can; at least with a straight face. Luxury properties have created cultures where attention to detail and service isn’t just a goal, it’s the norm. And it can’t be just opening doors and smiling, this service has to extend to levels of mind-reading. Luxury properties excel at what they do because the employees anticipate guests’ needs and then find ways to accommodate them. As an example, while staying at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, I mentioned to the Club Lounge attendant how much I liked the oatmeal raisin cookies. I left not really thinking about it, but the next day the same attendant presented me with a little bag containing three giant oatmeal raisin cookies. Her boss didn’t tell her to do that and no one in management will probably ever know, but that one small gesture completely and utterly won me over. For an investment of a couple of bucks, an entire hotel chain went up a few notches in my opinion of them. That’s luxury, that attention to customer needs and wants and in an increasingly impersonal travel world, it’s what we as travelers don’t just appreciate, it’s what we crave.

Spa Bangkok Thailand


The luxury market has slowly shifted over time as the demographic of guests has changed. Gone are the days where a crystal chandelier and a Rolls Royce were enough to win over luxury travelers. Now it’s all about the experience, just as it should be. This week I’m traveling to a luxury resort in Mexico that instead of highlighting its amazing suites (which are exquisite) they first bring attention to the experiential adventures patrons can enjoy. From swimming with whale sharks to private meals and spa time, the hotel assumes you know that the rooms are nice and instead wants to make sure that you know about the unique experiences the hotel can provide.

This phenomenon is happening across the travel spectrum as companies try to differentiate themselves from competitors, one-upping each other with more amazing, and unique travel experiences. Private jets, volunteering with elephants, skydiving and deserted islands are just a few of the many ways luxury brands have entered the experiential and even adventure travel markets.

So when people decide to highlight a hotel’s nice bed or selection of fruit, that’s ok I guess but also realize that EVERY nice hotel has these things. Instead what both writers and the properties themselves need to highlight is how they are truly different from their competitors, how they answer the clarion calls of service and experience and what this means for the guest.

How do YOU define luxury travel?

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.

14 thoughts on “Why Luxury Travel Is More Than Just a Nice Bed”

  1. So true. A fancy room doesn’t always equal a satisfied customer. Enjoy Mexico! A few years back I stayed at Esperanza Resort in Los Cabos and the great service made the whole stay worth it in my opinion.

  2. I love that story about the cookie – at a high-end hotel where my family has been going for a long time (since before it was high-end, really), the staff have taken the time to get to know us. It’s so sweet – I’m not up there very often, but when I am, there’s always a kind word or someone asking after my mom or sister. It’s those little things, that don’t necessarily cost any money but really make you feel cared for, and like you can relaxxxxxxx.

    1. It’s amazing, isn’t it? They probably spend millions on advertising, but a $3 cookie won them a customer for life. Attention to detail and simple kindness are so rare we soak them up whenever we get them.

  3. Very true. It’s all about the special attention you get, too. A lot of newer hotels kind of do a mix of both. Where it’s very chic. They have great toiletries. Beautiful rooms, etc. But, they aren’t totally bending over backwards.

  4. To me, luxury travel as it applies to hotels isn’t only a high standard of service, but it’s personable. As in one-on-one. I’ve noticed this more and more in my travels, and it’s wonderful to have a single point of contact as I’m at the property. It makes everything fall in line.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Matt. That’s what I was getting at when I said service is so important, but perhaps didn’t go into enough detail on.

  5. You’re exactly right that luxury is all about the service, this is what sets certain hotels apart. At one hotel I had such an early morning flight that I called to cancel the room service I set up. Unbelievably, without my asking, an attendant with a large glass of fresh orange juice was waiting for me at checkout and handed me a coffee and croissant to go!
    If you haven’t tried QM2’s Queen’s Grill suites this is another must do experience. Try playing “stump the chef” because they are known to make you anything you want, off the menu, whenever you want. The couple at the table next to us heard many of the cooks were Filipino and had them make a full on Filipino spread one night. I’m sure I must have made up the cost of the cruise in the caviar I had my butler bring to me every night before dinner.

    1. Great anecdotes and thanks for sharing them! I have sadly not been on the QM2, but it sounds amazing. Although I think my stumping would consist of grilled cheese sandwiches whenever I wanted :)

  6. Essentially, luxury occurs when the hotel, or the one carrying out your service over-delivers. The hotel could just provide you with whatever it is you booked and it would be just fine. But if they provide little extras such as a free glass of wine or just a warm smile, you are pleasantly surprised about getting more than what you paid for. I think that is true luxury and being surprised by getting these extras is what we hope to find when we book a luxury hotel instead of a regular one. We like to feel surprised and just a little bit special.

    So, yes I do agree. Luxury is far beyond facilities or even material things at all. Luxury only comes from experience and perception. Nevertheless I writing a post now on fancy hotel entrances, very materialistic..

  7. I agree with the definitions others’ mentioned in their comments, but I would like to add that a sense of privacy/intimacy is also part of the luxury experience. It can be for example, access to a private beach so you don’t need to go to the crowded public one. Or feeling like you and your company were the only guests of the hotels, even if you are not.

    1. Absolutely, I had that experience while staying at La Residence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang, we felt like we were the only people there and it was awesome :)

  8. Luxury is far more than nice hotel rooms, or even ‘nice’ hotels. One example that really comes to mind is the Big River Inn, in Big Sur CA. Very simple hotel, no TV, no phones in rooms, etc. Basic amenities really.

    However, the pleasant friendly service, gorgeous location among redwoods and a creek, and the superb restaurant makes it more luxurious than most anything else I’ve experienced.

    It’s certainly not just about the 5 stars.

  9. Great piece! The personal touch and attention to detail by the staff (concierge, housekeeper, waiter, bellhop, etc.) make the whole travel experience so much more special. A warm, friendly smile, the anticipation of your needs and wants, the travel tips and stories you’d get from someone who lives there… These things don’t even cost money! Travelling is not just about the sights and activities. The cultural exchange is often the highlight of the trip, especially when you go somewhere exotic! Another great thing about luxury travel is the exclusivity of the location. Here in Tanzania, the Singita Grumeti Reserve (bordering the Serengeti) can only be experienced in luxury, similarly for Mnemba Island (off the main Zanzibar Island).

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