The English Hotel - InRoom Bar Cart — Photo by Sightline Hospitality

Historically, the idea of "luxury" in the travel and hospitality space has typically been associated with all the pleasures of staying at five-star hotels such as the Ritz Carlton's or Four Seasons' of the world, who are widely popularized and known for offering the most posh travel experiences.

The value was originally found in the creation of ease and feeling of complete and utter relaxation, highlighted by pampering and ultra upscale amenities.

As some may still find this ideal to hold true, over the past few years, we in the hospitality space, have seen a significant shift in the industry that has transformed and redefined what "luxury" now means in today's standards for the current travel consumer.

What is Luxury?

The dictionary defines the word "luxury" as a state of great comfort and extravagant living. What that means for the travel and hospitality industry, is the idea of offering extravagant and sometimes over-the-top accommodations, married with creating the ultimate level of relaxation and comfort for guests while they are traveling. Traditionally, there has been a very materialistic approach to what defines luxury for the discerning traveler, with the expectation that these experiences should mirror the living situation found in the homes of the uber rich. Upscale guestrooms, top-tier amenities, exceptional fine dining, high-end spas and treatment options, along with other material offerings have become standard across the luxury hospitality space.

Luxury services for hospitality have traditionally been associated with notable five-star brands that offer an exceptionally high level of quality, comfort, and exclusivity. The idea that the average consumer could not afford this level of service created even more demand and excitement, as guests are willing to pay a high price tag for the limited nature of the product. This idea of luxury was designed to appeal to people who are willing to pay extra for these exclusive experiences that are truly special by nature - as not everyone can afford to appreciate it.

Although the luxury traveler still enjoys the comforts and exclusivity associated with staying in a high-end property, the expectations and wants from their stay have begun to shift away from high-end accommodations with well-known brands and instead to prioritizing unique and meaningful experiences.

The Shift in Market - Luxury Redefined for the Modern Traveler

The most discerning travelers are less focused on luxury through materialistic offerings. There has been a significant shift in the market for a new emerging thought process and perception that has allowed additional brands who were not specifically categorized in this luxury space before to now enter.

Luxury travel is no longer solely defined by extraordinary physical spaces and exclusive material offerings. Today's luxury travelers yearn for unique experiences that are immersive, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding and sense-of-place in a more hands-on and interactive way. Sightline Hospitality is a great example of a company that is paving the way with multiple ownership groups in this newly defined view of luxury. Although Sightline Hospitality isn't known to be a "luxury operator," in traditional terms, the third-party management company committed to truly living the lifestyle of this newfound definition for "new luxury" travel. Consumers are not looking for only the high-end leisure offerings, but are also interested in unique, out of the ordinary experiences – and are willing to pay a higher price for it.

This altered landscape has brought about a new definition of luxury travel, one that goes past upscale guestrooms and fine dining and focuses on the intangible elements of unforgettable moments. Luxury is getting transformed and redefined from physical spaces and material offerings into experiential travel and Sightline Hospitality's vast portfolio of unique, independent hotels are now fitting the bill on what is considered luxury. Focused on highlighting the culture of each property and using each property to create a sense of place, the San Francisco-based company's executive team and creative trailblazers are inspired to push the limits of possibility to deliver individualized solutions and big-ideas that embody the individuality of each property that also serves the needs and earnest curiosity of guests.

Sightline has recognized the value of highlighting the specific DNA of each property and encourages out-of-the-box thinking, innovative ideas and experiences to meet the evolving demands of luxury travelers. Calistoga's original wellness resort, Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs known for its quirky nature and mud baths, evo Hotel's evo campus featuring world-class amenities such as a bouldering gym (Bouldering Project), a skate park (All Together Skate), and even a large 100,000 square foot evo retail store, and Celebrity chef Todd English's culinary offerings and adult-friendly entertainment at The English Hotel, are great examples of this, as they are not what a typical 5-star hotel would offer, but are now nontraditional luxury products that satisfy the modern luxury traveler's new desires for extraordinary and memorable experiences.

Mud Bath at Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs— Photo by Katie NewburnMud Bath at Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs— Photo by Katie Newburn
Mud Bath at Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs— Photo by Katie Newburn

Materialism, No More. It Is All About the Experiences

Connectivity has become key with discerning travelers. Whether it is a desire for personal growth, genuine connections, or experiential learning, luxury travelers are increasingly in search of unique opportunities to connect with destinations-and the people and culture amongst them-on a deeper, more authentic level. This has been seen through the rise of the "experience economy." The experiential value of one's trip has been shown to be held to a higher regard than cost attributed to it – and the luxury traveler is willing to spend more for those experiences that they deem truly one-of-a-kind and special.

One experience that has reigned supreme for discerning travelers has been activities that are cultural-focused. Cultural immersions have become a cornerstone of what luxury travel is today. Guests aren't just looking for a comfortable place to stay while visiting an area, instead, travelers are looking for hospitality stays that offer more. Hotels are expected to act as an integral part of the communities and reflect the local culture in which they reside. From hosting wine tastings in Napa Valley to catching one of San Francisco's Cable Cars or offering surfing lessons in Waikiki's crystal-clear waters, Sightline Hospitality's diverse portfolio focuses on the essential experiences that welcome guests not solely to their room, but into the fabric of the local community and culture.

The focus on highlighting and celebrating each property's individuality brings together people, places, and possibilities - which in return, will ultimately create soulful stays that make a lasting impression on visitors long after their departure. This cultural immersion can include a number of aspects, but one that reigns true time after time is incredible culinary experiences. Food is the heart and soul of a destination and allows travelers to really learn about traditions through tasting and learning about authentic dishes. Having culinary offerings at a property can bring guests a fresh perspective and deep connection and understanding of the place they are visiting.

But, culinary is not the only way to bring this feeling; offering opportunities to further connect with the local community through volunteer work or educational experiences like Sightline Hospitality's International House Hotel's striking second floor MAGDALENA Gallery and the nation's largest BANKSY mural – sharing the rich history of New Orleans – can also bring this sense of cultural appreciation.

Another experience that stands out for luxury travelers that hotels can incorporate in their programming are personalized experiences. As every traveler is different, one size does not fit all, therefore tailor-made itineraries are imperative with a luxury expert to create customized experiences that cater to every guest's unique interests. This will ultimately make that once-in-a-lifetime trip that travelers are yearning for with this new definition of what luxury properties are. Hospitality is all about building these deep connections with guests. This customizable offer will create big moments that truly resonate with the luxury traveler and, as a result, will make them want to come back to stay year after year.

Luxury Hotels in Today's Standards

Luxury is no longer defined solely as materialistic offerings, but rather unique and authentic experiences. The expectations and desires of discerning travelers will continue to redefine and evolve what luxury travel is, however, the importance of unique and extraordinary experiences will continue to be a strong focal point for hotels to offer travelers for years to come.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from