Spain is the second world tourist power, but when the magnifying glass is put on the luxury segment, this leadership falls to seventh position. According to a report prepared by the consulting firm BCG, high-end travel will grow by 7% per year over the next five years. For this reason, if the country manages to close this gap between general and premium tourism, this industry could be an important engine for the Spanish recovery.
Luxury is completely subjective, what for one person has a high value, for another it does not. This is where customization comes into play. “Luxury is no longer something with a lot of perceived value, but rather a unique experience designed specifically for you, even if it has little economic value,” said Sonia Prieto, vice president of marketing at Hesperia, during the presentation this week of the master’s degree in tourism marketing management from ESIC.
A context in which the most disparate options can be found, such as the Star Wars hotel at Disney World (Florida, USA), which would be unimaginable as a luxury destination a few years ago, but where staying for a weekend costs more than 6,000 euros. “What tourists want are unique experiences and fans of the saga were delighted because the rooms sold out right away,” says Julio Mangas, consultant and professor at the aforementioned business school.
Intangibles are the most complicated to generate artificially and, in this sense, Spain has an important portfolio of assets: gastronomy, cultural heritage or artistic institutions. “We have everything to compete in the first league of luxury tourism,” insists Prieto. An idea that Marcos Franco, spokesperson for Observatur, also stresses: “We have more than 200 establishments with Michelin stars, an exceptional hotel offer, historical heritage, a splendid climate, without forgetting the hospitable and welcoming character of the Spanish, which confers to this experience a value difficult to copy”.
The latest openings of luxury hotels that have been opened in the city of Madrid help to place the destination in this line. This is the case of the inauguration of the Four Seasons hotel, but also the renovation of the Rosewood Villamagna and the Mandarin Oriental Ritz. “It is a very important commitment to the city and it was about time it was made,” says Francesc Escánez, executive director of Atlantida Travel.
High-end hotels are a necessary condition, but not enough to attract this profile. Rafael Pérez Arroyo, director of the master’s degree in tourism marketing management at ESIC, is clear about it: “Luxury is not only good accommodation, but also exciting experiences must be offered. More and more emotional tourism is sought”. One aspect in which it is so important is to have a worked and defined strategy, such as promoting communication to be able to place the destination before these audiences. “We have the ingredients, but you have to package these experiences to capture a great customer,” he continues.
A challenge in which the search for sustainability, which has been put under the magnifying glass more than ever, has a lot to say. “Not only from an environmental point of view, but also from a social and economic point of view,” Prieto claims. An idea that Escánez also emphasizes, who recalls that while mass tourism has a more limited impact, high-end tourism influences all kinds of fields, even those not directly linked to tourism, since they are visitors who they move by taxi, go shopping or consume culture. “In Spain we have always gone to massification, but sometimes it is not a matter of quantity, but of quality,” summarizes the businessman.
Innovation must be the basis of the strategy. “The travel industry and digital transformation are now more united than ever,” says Mangas. The data is the clearest case, companies have more information about customers than ever in all phases of the trip, from the moment before the reservation to once they have checked out of the hotel.
Another differentiating element is found in the renovation of physical spaces. In this sense, the expert highlights the case of Meliá, which took advantage of the closure due to the pandemic to change its hotels and incorporate software robots in 30% of its areas. Thus, in the new rooms there are everything from voice assistants to 4D projectors for immersive experiences. Even at the KViHotel in Budapest, this transformation does not go unnoticed. Everything that happens in the hotel is managed from the mobile phone, from the cafeteria to the rooms. Its motto is queues are over. Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact that “technology is useful as long as it serves the human being”, recalls Mangas.
In this context, in addition, the consumer has become more demanding than ever, acknowledges Prieto, since while in 2019 traveling was one more thing to cross off the list of experiences of the year, in 2022 going out has become an urgent need. “We have had a lot of time to think about the kind of trip we wanted to do. Now is the time to stop dreaming and make dreams come true”, celebrates the Hesperia board. But the change does not come overnight, especially with the current situation. “Luxury tourism could be a lever for growth, but in the short term it is complicated,” admits Adriana de José, BCG partner responsible for the travel and tourism specialization area. The main reason is the dependence of this segment on China and Russia. In the medium term, however, it will be a possibility, she clarifies.