Why shouldn't hoteliers spread their wings?
Something to declare
Mark Jones started writing about travel for The Evening Standard in the 1990s and has been a regular contributor to the travel pages of The Independent since 2011. He edited the British Airways magazine High Life and now divides his time between that publication, the Best Western Magazine Do Not Disturb and writing. He is a past Travelex Magazine Writer of the Year (for Krakow) and in 2013 won the AITO Travel Writer of the Year award for a piece on the Galapagos. He divides his time between the Chiltern hills and the Andalucian mountains. Geographically, he specialises in – everywhere and nowhere.
Monday 02 June 2014
The Four Seasons luxury hotel group is going into aviation. Not in a big way just yet: it is leasing a single Boeing 757 to fly 52 people on 16- and 24-day, multi-city tours. Still, the plane is being repainted in Four Seasons colours and refitted by the group's designers: it sure looks like an airline. A Four Seasons marketing person said it was "a natural extension of what we've been doing for more than 50 years".
I wonder if the in-flight experience will be like most hotel rooms. If so, I can see myself spending half the flight working out the lighting and the rest trying not to pay $20 to watch a movie.
Mild facetiousness aside, you can see the logic behind the Four Seasons move. Airlines and hotels have a lot in common. They take a necessity – the need to get or stay somewhere – and turn it into a luxury and (in theory) a pleasure. As consumers, we are at our most sensitive and critical. Details matter. Brands have tremendous power – to delight or disappoint.
Hotels and airlines have been swapping ideas and people for decades. You now get business/VIP lounges and "club floors" in your InterContinental or Hyatt. The new generation of pod hotels is introducing airport-style automatic check-in machines. In some airline lounges, meanwhile, you get a "guest services" desk. On board, there are early experiments afoot with destination experts – concierges. They should, and probably will, take the experiment further.
Airlines have always owned hotels – as SAS did before it sold its clutch to Radisson – so it's conceivable you might get Holiday Inn Air taking on easyJet or Shangri-La Wings targeting Cathay Pacific. But it's highly unlikely. They wouldn't want the hassle. Hotels have an easy business model compared with airlines. They don't get closed by fog or stymied by unions.
According to Frank van der Post, now British Airways' brand boss and formerly of Jumeirah and InterContinental, the airlines can learn at lot from the consistent standard of services that hotels offer; and hotels can learn even more from airlines about giving the customer the right price at the right time. As for which he prefers: airlines, he says pointedly, "are more of an intellectual challenge".
It's not the airlines that should be worrying. It's the cruise lines. Looking at the Four Seasons proposition, it's essentially a cruise without touching the water. Its "Around the World" 24-day trip starts in LA, ends in London and stops in Hawaii, Bora Bora, Sydney, Bali, Thailand, Mumbai and Istanbul (all places with, you guessed it, a Four Seasons hotel).
The price is $119,000 (£70,800) per person. It seems a lot – but not when you are after the UHNWIs. UHNWIs – Ultra High Net Worth Individuals – are worth $30m or more and love spending some of it on travel. There are 53 per cent more of these people than in 2003. For expansion-minded luxury hotel groups, there may not be enough private jets to go around.
Mark Jones is editorial director of the British Airways 'High Life' and Best Western's 'Do Not Disturb' magazines
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 2 Caitlyn Jenner car crash: Driver who died in collision sued by surviving passengers for $18.5m
- 3 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 4 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
Natural wonders in the UK: From Giant's Causeway to Durdle Door
Flight from Britain to Turkey delayed by 7 hours after champagne cork damages ceiling
What's it like on board North Korean airline Air Koryo - the worst in the world?
Exclusive Escapes: Upmarket holiday company goes bust on the eve of bank holiday weekend
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says jobless migrants should be banned from entering the UK
£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...