It is easy to get the feeling that ‘luxury’ is an overused word in the travel and tourism industry. Every other hotel you look up proudly describes itself as a ‘luxury’ destination, leaving would-be guests with a very valid question – what actually counts as luxury?
When you look up the definition of luxury, the Oxford Dictionary has it as: “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense.”
So, it’s no great surprise that so many hoteliers would want to describe their establishment as a luxury venue. Comfort, after all, is surely one of the non-negotiables when providing accommodation. And as for ‘elegance’, well a great many hotels trade on being able to provide surroundings and experiences above and beyond what guests would enjoy at home.
That, after all, is surely one of the great pleasures of enjoying a break in a hotel?
As for the part about expense, well that is also useful. Hotels are often classified by price into three groups – budget, mid-range and luxury. So in the latter, most expensive group, as a guest you should expect to pay more, but in return get comfort and elegance above and beyond what you would get elsewhere.
Paying for luxury is fine. But you still want to feel you have got value for your money, that the quality of the experience you get will be worth that little bit extra. So what really makes a hotel ‘luxury’, and how can you spot those places that are simply throwing the word out there as a lazy tagline?
Here’s what to look out for when making a booking.
The decor says it all
Fortunately, with online bookings these days you get plenty of opportunity to browse pictures of accommodation before you make a reservation. The decor says a lot about a venue’s pretensions to luxury, especially in the rooms. Ask yourself – is this somewhere that looks and feels above the ordinary? Would I feel like I am spoiling myself staying here?
Quality, luxurious decor can, of course, come in all sorts of styles – contemporary, classical, bohemian, avante garde – but comfort and elegance should shine through whatever the aesthetic. Look carefully at the pictures – does everything look clean and well maintained, or are there signs of things being a little rough around the edges? Do the decor and furnishings look expensive, or is it just an imitation?
And what about the extra touches that really do elevate a room out of the ordinary – maybe a four-poster bed, a balcony, a hot tub or a classic roll-top bath tub in the room? These are things that really make a room special and will potentially help make your stay one to remember.
Amenities make a stay
Of course, memories are not made by the quality of decor alone and you will probably want more to do than just sit and admire the walls of your room for the duration of your stay.
A hotel’s amenities are ultimately what separate good mid-range hotels from those that genuinely are offering a luxury experience. That’s reflected in the star rating system, with five and top-end four-star hotels being those with the best claims of offering a luxury experience.
There are some obvious things to look out for. Genuine luxury hotels will nearly always feature an on-site restaurant and/or bar, often offering meals, snacks and drinks around the clock, including via room service. Check out the credentials of the head chef and browse the menu online to get a feel for the type and quality of food served.
Another mainstay of a luxury hotel is spa and gym facilities, ranging from a simple swimming pool and keep fit equipment, to the availability of complete health and wellness packages.
Don’t overlook the importance of the smaller things, either. For example, does the hotel provide free newspapers or have an on-site library in case you want to spend a little downtime relaxing and reading? Do you just get towels in your room or are robes and slippers provided, too? Are the drinks-making facilities just instant packets or real coffee and a cafetiere?? Small touches add up to make a difference.
Service makes you smile
Of course, you can’t really judge the quality of service until you have been somewhere and experienced it for yourself. But what you can do is read as many online reviews as you can – again, readily available these days, especially on accommodation booking sites. As well as confirming whether the place lives up to the pictures, the big thing user reviews will tell you is the quality of service, as this is usually the main thing that guests either rave or complain about.
Location can be a big point of difference
Finally, where a hotel is located can have a huge impact on the quality of your stay and therefore shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating luxury. Of course, you find a great many high-end luxury hotels right in the middle of bustling cities, and ‘location’ then becomes more a matter of access to everything the city has to offer as well as the building the hotel is located in itself.
There’s no doubt that beautiful surroundings can add something special to a hotel though. Hawkstone Hall, in Shropshire, is a classic example of this – a repurposed Georgian stately home set in magnificent formal gardens, surrounded by gorgeous countryside.