Balancing Heritage and Modernity
3 min

Luxury travel is expanding rapidly and our customers' requirements are becoming more and more precise. From design to restaurants, they define all the conditions for a perfect stay by pushing brands to reinvent themselves. Skift focuses on SO/’s case in its « European Hospitality’s Creative Renaissance » report.

After analyzing JO&JOE and Mama Shelter, Skift focuses on the luxury sector, and more specifically on SO/ - a playful and audacious brand - which has recently welcomed the SO/ Vienna to its ranks.

New luxury travelers

As luxury hotel accommodations go up in price, customers have greater expectations. But according to Justenlund, as hotel companies reinvent luxury, “they shouldn’t assume today’s customers are playing by the old-school rules.” Luxury is providing people what they need right now, like high-speed Wi-Fi and a comfortable bed.” It’s not as much about what’s in the room anymore, at least not in Europe. “What do you really need in a room?” asks Anders Justenlund, associate professor of International Hospitality Management at University College of Northern Denmark in Aalborg. “In America, traditionally, the higher up the price scale you go, the bigger the room. But in Europe, luxury is more about adding amenities.”

Duncan O’Rourke, Chief Operating Officer AccorHotels Europe – Luxury brands, has the challenge of overseeing classic luxury brands like Raffles, Fairmont, and Sofitel, while also attending to new lifestyle luxury products like SO/, SLS, and Delano. He notes that for the classics, “Brand directors are charged with protecting the DNA, the culture, and the spirit of each brand.” Still, he says, “these older brands have to continue to reinvent themselves. Of course, they should never forget their history, but as the world is becoming so small, these legacy brands have to continue to grow. They need to present luxury differently to meet the expectations of today’s high-end traveler.” 

Long Bar, Raffles Europejski Warsaw

As a prime example of how this is done, O’Rourke cites how Sofitel is reinventing itself to portray modern French luxury throughout the guest experience with innovative food and beverage concepts, partnerships with luxury houses like Hermès, Lanvin, and Dumas, and developing events like La Nuit by Sofitel, which combines music, design, and mixology.

Style and audacity

AccorHotels saw a gaping hole in its luxury portfolio. So, it went on a purchasing spree, buying FRHI Hotels & Resorts, spanning the Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissôtel brands in 2016, and partnering with luxury brands like Banyan Tree, Orient Express, and recently communicated the SBE lifestyle luxury brands. It also decided to build a new lifestyle luxury brand, SO/, from scratch. The first SO/ opened its doors in 2011. “This is a luxury lifestyle brand we developed because we needed to fill a specific niche,” says Duncan O’Rourke. The brand is “vivid, expressive, full of personality, and fashionable. It’s a rebellious interpretation of luxury.”

SO/ Vienna

To guarantee a lively hotel experience, SO/ takes the essence of a destination and blends that with a generous dash of playfulness. It also oozes style. As a highly creative and fashion-forward brand, each SO/ property develops a unique look by collaborating with designers who are internationally known –– including Christian LaCroix, Viktor & Rolf, and Karl Lagerfeld –– to define the contemporary, avant-garde nature of the brand through the design of everything from the rooms and the public spaces to the staff uniforms. SO/’s music programming is very much part of the brand’s DNA. Most SO/ hotels have rooftop bars, where world-famous DJs and electronic artists are brought in to add more notes to the SO/ zeitgeist.

Download the full “European Hospitality’s Creative Renaissance” report here.