Let's Talk: The Luxury Consumer with Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel

This article is part of a larger collection of interviews that have been transcribed specifically for the Flourish Collaborative blog. In effort to facilitate meaningful conversations, Flourish is sitting down with industry leaders to ask thoughtful questions and share their expertise.

Marketing to the Luxury Consumer

Interview with Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel, a Luxury Collection property located in Savannah, GA.

Photo by Flourish Collaborative for Perry Lane Hotel

Photo by Flourish Collaborative for Perry Lane Hotel

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Erica: Let’s start out by defining what it means to be a luxury consumer or even a luxury traveler.  If you could pin point certain traits or commonalities amongst all of these different types of consumers that fit in the luxury category, how would you describe that type of target?

Pritpal: A luxury customer is an affluent customer who is well travelled.  A luxury collection customer is one who explores and collects. They want to hang out with the locals, they want to know the city, they want to be immersed into an experience.  The most important thing to a luxury customer is time.  They don’t have time to plan things; they sort of expect you to have it planned.  That’s where the connoisseurs become so, so important in our segment.  A luxury guest has been to places and might or might not want to go back to a particular place twice within a 12 month span because they are explorers.  At the end of the day, expectations is everything.  Luxury is not one thing; it’s a combination of numerous things that are seamlessly integrated into an experience. Time is more valuable to a luxury customer than money, so when they walk into a property, experience is paramount, aesthetics need to be interesting, most importantly, the overall experience in totality.

The most important thing to a luxury customer is time.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel

E: How does a location (specifically, Savannah) play into marketing to a luxury consumer?

P: What does the city have to offer?  What does the hotel have to offer?  What do you do differently than a regular standard hotel?  And how do you work towards immersing your guest into the city or into the picture? Specifically, talking about Savannah, we as a luxury collection hotel have been able to do it through our partnerships, through our various experiences that we provide.  So, for example, if the guest wants to go play golf we don’t get them just to any other golf resort, or golf course, we send them to the Ford Plantation.  It’s got the stamp of history on it.  They get picked up from the hotel, they get dropped off, lunch is served, the chef comes out and they talk to him and then once they get to the golf course it’s a picturesque setting which is historical.

Photo courtesy of   Perry Lane Hotel

Photo courtesy of Perry Lane Hotel

E: Let’s talk about their decision making process in maybe selecting Perry Lane or selecting another Luxury Collection property hotel. Obviously, time is the most valuable asset, but, what are maybe some things that a luxury consumer is thinking about when they are on the hunt for a hotel or some kind of experience? What’s going through their mind?

P: Unique experiences. Today, a luxury traveler wants to be able to talk about culture, wants to be able to talk about architecture, wants to learn about the history of a particular location.  They don’t want to be at a hotel that’s just another hotel.  So there are historic properties within the Luxury Collection portfolio that tell a story in itself. We as a brand new build out tell the story of Savannah, so that’s paramount to that. 

Luxury is not one thing; it’s a combination of numerous things that are seamlessly integrated into an experience.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel

E: How do you touch on those desires through a digital platform, like social media?

P: It’s an interesting concept to bring forth in front of two different generations.  Say you have a well-travelled corporate client who is in their mid-forties - the presentation to them is a little more different.  They might or might not want to be on Instagram, but they have authentically been involved in the experiences that’s been offered.  You give it to millennial who is also interested in similar experiences but they are also interested in capturing a lot of assets, you know, and putting them on Instagram; telling their story. So that field is very interesting, however, the number one thing that you have to focus on is unique experiences.

E: How has the luxury travel market shifted and grown over the past decade?

P: Economy tourism is a thing which is taking off now and hotels have gotten behind it. Thirty years ago or twenty years ago, I think a leisure traveler would fancy eating in a hotel restaurant but now they want that experience to be unique as well.  So, hotels have to create this environment where it is not a hotel restaurant, it has an independent vibe to it; it has an independent entity.  The menu needs to be interesting.  The whole concept of farm to table has taken off these days, and it’s going to the next level.  Now they want to know more about the grower: where is the food that has been served on my plate coming from?  What’s the inspiration behind the recipe?  Who is the producer, do they have a story?  And they want to visit those farms, they want to make sure that they are involved in the cooking classes and that whole experiential back end step the hotel offer.  

Bars, you know cocktail bars, is not just about having a recipe on a menu.  The guest and the visitor want to be involved in the making of that cocktail.  They want to interact with the bartender.  They want to hear the story of the bartender.

Now, these are things which have evolved in the past decade or so which have clearly differentiated a luxury within two segments: one (especially speaking about the hospitality industry), there are luxury brands which are pretty well defined like the Ritz Carlton, the St. Regis, Four Seasons, Mandarin Orientals.  And there is a specific clientele that’s loyal to those particular brands. However, there is an evolution of new brands like the Luxury Collection or The Peninsula and a few others where we have been able to create a unique experience within a city that sort of immerses the guests into that experience.  And time, again, is crucial to that particular traveler. They are only in for a particular amount of time and they want well planned itineraries so they can touch on various aspects of the culture.  

E: I love what you said about luxury consumers being collectors at heart because what you just touched on - in terms of the bar telling a story, the restaurant telling a story - they truly are collectors of stories, collectors of experiences, and collectors of objects as an affluent consumer.  Maybe they have more of a “curiosities” type of approach to the way they furnish a home or space and so what I think you touched on beautifully was the fact that decades ago a hotels was a place to stay, a restaurant was a place to eat, a bar was to get a drink, but I think as consumers become more well-traveled and they started to pick up on these very unique experiences. Maybe it was the first time they were travelling abroad and had finally really gotten to know a bartender or the owner of a hotel and hear their story. I think once you have that thirst quenched, once you finally experience what that is to not just “stay” at a place, not just eat at a place, it’s what you expect.  And I think it is a beautiful thing that hotels like Perry Lane are completely immersed in the local history of what Savannah has to offer so that when a consumer says, “Hey, I want to visit Savannah.” they expect to see the full Savannah on that one trip and you guys are basically giving it to them.    

P: Exactly. Guests, particularly within the luxury segment, want a residential experience. They want to be comfortable; they want the ease and comfort of their home within a hotel.  And that’s the fascinating part - it’s easier said than put in place.  The notion of luxury being well defined and, you know, sort of “boxed in” is behind us.  Now luxury is more personalized. They’re asking questions like:

Did I get a call from the connoisseurs ahead of time?
What are my interests?
Did you do the research on me? 

You know, that whole sense of anticipation when you get to a hotel.  And within the luxury segment, you have got young couples travelling, you have got a corporate traveler, you have got some incentive groups traveling, and you have got young families, you have got reunions…  So there are various segments, and the expectations sort of differs, and that’s the deciding part about being in the luxury segment. But, you know, this is the segment that really gives us the opportunity to connect with the guest and that I think is exciting.

Photo courtesy of   Perry Lane Hotel

Photo courtesy of Perry Lane Hotel

The notion of luxury being well defined and, you know, sort of “boxed in” is behind us.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel

E: One of the questions I wanted to ask you was kind of how to speak directly to that consumer, but from what you are saying, and in our experience working with the hotel for social, really the best way to speak to consumers is to listen first.  And that’s really what you are getting at: knowing how to do your research and figure out your cues based on the traveler or the guest and then being able to surprise them, almost like these delightful surprises, to where they feel  seen, they feel important, and they feel like you took time for them. With time being that most valuable asset, it’s almost like this trade off where you say, “I’m going to give you my time which is my valuable thing and then you are going to in return make sure that I am not wasting my time.  I am making sure that you are maximizing my time while traveling.”

P: Exactly, and that’s the differentiator: there is a difference between service and hospitality. In luxury you have to focus on hospitality, and we have a deep focus and attention to detail.  Service is something which is adequate. You pay for something and you expect it.

E: It’s reactive; hospitality is proactive.

P: Exactly. Proactive and personalized. So in our hotel you ask for a wake-up call, yes we do confirm the time that you want it, because we don’t want you to miss the wake-up call,  but the next question is, “Would you like a cup of tea or a cup of coffee delivered up to your room?”  Now, that’s something which you don’t expect, and then when you do get that wake-up call in the morning and you are welcomed at the door with a cup of coffee, we ask you in the morning when we wake you up, “What kind of newspaper would you like?  Would you like Wall Street Journal or would you like something else?” and so on and so forth.  I think that’s what brings that sense of personalized stay into the picture and that’s something which my connoisseurs,  the house team, are well trained on and what they are excited about and that’s what differentiates us from the other segments.

E: Let’s say a business that’s not in the hospitality realm, once you attract that luxury consumer it’s that anticipation of what they might want next. It’s anticipating those needs and it’s not just a wake-up call but also, “I would love a cup of coffee, I would love a paper, can you let me know what is happening in Savannah today?”  It’s those type of things would you say that, no matter what the industry that’s trying to attract the luxury consumer, it really does come down to that kind of personalization, that proactive service.

P: Exactly, and keep in mind, in a subtle way, one has to understand what the guest wants and then what the guest really wants but doesn’t know. So, how do you educate them in a subtle way where you are coming across as gracious, polite and, you know, all of the above, when it comes to a luxury service but there are aspects that the guests might not even know that there are needs that we have with travel as a human being.  You know, people have been traveling for various reasons for many, many years, however, the notion of luxury travel and the experience of travel, it’s a broad term to use these days.

E: How do these same principals apply to businesses not in the hospitality sector?

P: Other industries could also encapsulate that essence with simply one thing: that deeply attentive hospitality. If you truly think that you are welcoming somebody into your home, and that could be any industry, you could have your family member - your mom, your sister, you brother, your dad - calling you and asking you for something, what kind of interest would you take in that conversation? Would it just be generic or would it really be an interaction versus a transaction?  So that's the key to any industry, because the traveler within the luxury segment is one who has high expectations, is demanding, rightly so, and the answer cannot be no. Now, there could be a price tag to it; there should be a price tag to it, but the answer is never no in luxury.

E: Talk a little bit more about this kind of “yes factor” with luxury travelers and never saying “no”. Is it a “say yes and then figure it out later” approach in some ways or is it a “I have had anticipation of all the things that they could want, need, or ask for and I am able to say yes”.  How does that work from a guest perspective?

P: I think it starts with a simple conversation.  Again, you are taking genuine, personal interests in the guests.  Why are they coming to the hotel? Why are they are coming to your destination and not just remain specific to the hotel or to your property.  Think about the guest in totality; what do you have to offer?  And then it sort of becomes a bond and a relationship, in a conversation where you can start asking the right questions. And then everything takes off organically.  But the number one thing that we have encouraged among our team members is this sense of involvement where I tell every single team member who walks through the door from day one that they are authorized to spend up to $2,000 per person per incident to satisfy them and make it right.  No questions asked.  

E: Wow, that’s huge.

P: Exactly, but I will tell you, looking in our books, no one abuses it. We have never had an incident where you know a team member has gone on and actually spend $2,000, but it’s all mental.  If you take a sense of ownership in the guest and place their experience as most important, and you create that bond, then I think, you know, you have just started the conversation as far as a luxury experience is concerned. So, you know, empowerment is really the big thing, and the responsibility, as a business owner that we have is training our team members. 

We offer the same service to our team members that we expect them to offer to the guests and that’s what keeps us in business because it creates loyalty.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel
Photo courtesy of   Perry Lane Hotel

Photo courtesy of Perry Lane Hotel

E: How do you ensure that your staff maintains that level of service and commitment to hospitality?

P: If we are to immerse our guests into the city and into our luxury experience, the team member really has to know.  So on day one at our hotel, when a team member starts, they don’t get a thick manual or, you know, rules of regulations. The first day when they arrive, they get a confirmation number, they check in at the front desk, they explore the hotel, they order amenities, they get to dine in a restaurant, they get to experience the bar, we take them on an immersive tour of the city and that’s an investment that we made in our team members, but can you imagine if we did not do that?  

First and foremost you have to encourage the team member to be themselves. You cannot box them into an experience, and that journey only starts with exploring the destination, exploring the hotel, and exploring the offerings that we have.  The most important thing here is the bond that you create with the team member first.  Our philosophy is: we offer the same service to our team members that we expect them to offer to the guests and that’s what keeps us in business because it creates loyalty.  The biggest impact that all the above has is on that relationship of trust with the team member. And it’s not for everyone, and I will be honest with you, it happens where a team member comes in and half way through the first day they go, “Well, this isn’t for me.”  And we appreciate that.

E: Is there a way to bring those values into a systematic process?

Our hiring and recruitment process is pretty intense where we ensure that there is a realistic job preview.  The team member who is joining us understands the responsibility that they carry, and a sense of ownership, then starts breeding into that team member, and the connections that they build amongst themselves is just something which is remarkable.

You hear so many stories every morning when you are in a huddle - we call it a huddle - it’s our morning meeting.  It’s inspiring to the rest of the team.  You know there are team members who have actually gone to as far as Charleston or Atlanta to get something for a guest?  And the joy that they see on the face of the guest, because that’s something which is unexpected.  You know there are industries that do have that type of service? And it comes with a price tag and we are not shy to say that we offer the same luxury experience here in Savannah. But it does come with a deep sense of passion for hospitality, and again, either you have it or you don’t but once you do have it we encourage them to  sort of inspire the rest of us.

Human interaction in the luxury segment is so, so important.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel

E: Explain to me what goes on if I were to join a huddle tomorrow morning.

P: So what you would expect is when you walk in the entire team gathers around in a room and we talk about authentic moments.  So, every department has a responsibility before they go into the details of what today looks like, they talked about what was so special about the guest or any team member experience that they had.  So, the restaurant team talks about a spectacular meal that was served to a guest.  Some sort of discovering work was done - maybe a couple was celebrating their anniversary.  You go and celebrate your anniversary at a restaurant, you expect a little desert or a little champagne but it’s the follow up after that.  We have had instances where our team members have actually gone to their home and delivered something the next day. We have had front desk agents take a picture of the entire team and send it to a guest who celebrated their birthday with us.  The stories are endless, we had a guest who celebrated a family reunion, and it happened to be the 90th birthday of their grandfather and we went ahead and we handed out the card, delivered it with the pictures of the hotel, and that was so meaningful to them.   And we have had guests who have taken team members to the super bowl with them.  So that’s the bond that we create.  These huddles are really important for us because information sharing is done…we have a lot of channels these days.  There is electronic technology, notice boards, there are letters, there are memos, but that human interaction is something that in the luxury segment I think is so, so important and that’s what our huddles are for.  

The luxury customer doesn’t want marketing in their face, it has to be subtle, but it also has to match their lifestyle.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel
Photo courtesy of   Perry Lane Hotel

Photo courtesy of Perry Lane Hotel

E: What are the two most important things to consider when speaking directly to a luxury consumer?

P: When I am speaking to the luxury customer, there are two most important things, one is the experience and second is lifestyle assets. The luxury customer is not looking for a deal.  The luxury customer doesn’t want marketing in their face, it has to be subtle, but it also has to match their lifestyle.  So, you know, some of the social posts that Flourish has done for us, the assets that are projected in those posts and some of the messaging has to be so on point with what a luxury customer wants.  They want to explore, and they want you to discover the destination.  So those two things are really important. 

And then, a close one would be getting in the right publications. Make sure that you understand your target market.  What is your target market reading?  When it comes to a luxury customer, in our case, as far as the hotel is concerned, we go after Conde Nast,  we go after Travel and Leisure, Departures Magazine, The Goop Magazine, along with a few within the region: Coastal Living, Garden & Gun, and so on and so forth. So once you get to that forum, the assets that you are going to put, the messaging that you are going to put in front of the luxury customer, that’s really important.  And if it is not a hotel and if it’s some other industry, let’s say you greet them and you are talking to a customer, the customer wants to know, what is your story? 

So, focus more on your story versus the price point or the value or the deal. Luxury consumers do not focus on any of these three; they focus on, “What’s your story? What’s unique and different about you?” and then, “Let’s talk.”

E: Absolutely. It all comes down to a brand understanding, “Where is my target consumer looking and breathing and living life, and how do I position my brand in those publications to get their attention?”

P: As a business, you have to remember that the messages you are projecting is who you are.   So, Flourish has done a great job as far as ensuring that the messaging is on brand, and I think you and I have talked about this many a times: we want to project and evoke an emotion within that luxury customer, that “this is where I want to be and this is the lifestyle I want to be associated with".”  So, those two things have been extremely important to our success together as a team.

E: It’s important to note that there’s a Luxury Traveler and an Aspirational Luxury Traveler, both of whom frequent Perry Lane. Can you expand on the differences there?

P: The latter is more inclined towards recognition and they want to be recognized so they can associate themselves with a particular brand or a particular lifestyle. And the former is someone who remains the inspiration for this aspirational luxury customer, and that’s where content is king.  You have got to have the right assets, you have got to make the right investment in the content, because, yes, there is a price tag associated with it but is so, so important to the core of that brand identity that you have. 

At the end of the day, what you are projecting to your asset on social media or video marketing is who you are.
— Pritpal Singh, General Manager of Perry Lane Hotel

E: From a content standpoint, what has been the most effective way of attracting the luxury consumer?

P: The video content that Flourish has done for us has really evoked that right emotion within the customer.  Like you have always said: the emotion needs to be not “we are here come, join us” but “we are already here and come join us.”  So at the end of the day I think that particular emotion is important within the customer. The experience that you want to showcase has to come from these assets.  video becomes so important and then a photo shoot, a professional photo shoot - this is very important because it cannot just be a picture taken with an iPhone or with somebody’s personal Instagram - at the end of the day, in the luxury arena, you really have to have a deep sense of responsibility towards your brand.

And the photos can be fun. They have to be lively; they can project a certain level of excitement and they should be able to inspire the viewer.  At the end of the day, what you are projecting to your asset on social media or video marketing is who you are.

Be sure to check out the Perry Lane Hotel Instagram and website.

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