By focusing on the personal, luxury hotel and restaurant association Relais & Châteaux has really found its niche.
We chat with Tracy Neureuther, Head of Sales, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Benelux for Relais & Châteaux, about emerging trends in luxury travel, the challenges facing luxury properties in today’s market and why she’s looking forward to our AI-powered luxury travel festival, TFest.
Relais & Châteaux was formed in 1954 when Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, music-hall artists who owned a hotel and restaurant on the banks of the Rhône, came up with the idea of advertising eight properties under the slogan ‘La Route du Bonheur’. This pre-internet marketing alliance was a huge success. “Together they had more focus to find clients, because back in the day you had to be a bit more creative,” says Tracy. Relais & Châteaux has now grown to include 580 hotels and restaurants in over 65 countries; and has become one of the most successful hospitality associations in the world.
Relais & Châteaux has seen the definition of luxury evolve considerably over its 65-year history. “Everybody’s life is becoming faster. People seem to have less and less time,” she says. That means the freedom to switch off has now become the epitome of luxury. “Everyone is always so accessible and overwhelmed by information. Luxury is really about taking time for yourself, taking time off from the world and hiding away – while having memorable experiences too.”
The challenge for properties is that it’s no longer enough to simply focus on a beautiful setting – especially when experiences are so personal. “Clients are looking for things that really add value to their lives. It’s important to have a nice hotel room, but what really makes a difference are the memories – the intangible elements that stick in people’s minds.”
This focus on personalised experience has helped Relais & Châteaux to find their niche: “Our properties are privately owned and privately run, which gives an extra dimension to the guest when they are staying with us. That’s what we get a lot of compliments for. Our USPs are the levels of service that we offer, the personalised elements.”
Relais & Châteaux is unique in that it has standalone restaurant members as well as hotels. They currently incorporate 91 freestanding restaurants, with 366 Michelin stars across the entire association. “We are the only association of hotels and independent restaurants – that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” says Tracy, and dining is where some of the most immersive experiences are offered. “We have a big focus on wine, interactions with the chef, a focus on local produce. It’s these elements that give value to our clients, they can join in and be part of it.”
The desire for regional produce and seasonal eating are also drivers of a more personalised experience across the board. Earlier this summer, Relais & Châteaux partnered with Slow Food, the grassroots organisation that links food with a commitment to the environment, hosting a series of events with innovative menus and chef participation around the world to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.
“We have a lot of chefs and property owners who focus on regional products,” she explains. For example, Gut Steinbach in the south of Germany uses the ‘80/80 rule’. “This means that 80% of all their products are from within 80km of their property,” says Tracy. This allows guests to get to know the region through the dining experience. “They support the local environment and the community, which is more and more important to guests. We have a large amount of hoteliers who are really focusing on that.”
The environment is a growing concern for many Relais & Châteaux guests, as it is for most of us. “We ran a massive campaign about honey this year – to help people understand just how many of our properties have their own beehives producing their own honey.” Understanding the importance of bees for the environment, using home grown produce where possible, and focusing on sustainability is becoming more and more important to the luxury traveller. And it’s not just younger guests who are looking to add this element to their stay, it’s universal: “I see it across the board,” Tracy says. “I don’t think it’s to do with age - it’s because everybody’s life is becoming faster.”
The Relais & Châteaux portfolio is constantly growing, adding more personalised experiences for guests around the world. “We now have the Bath Priory, a lovely property in the UK,” says Tracy. “We also have Blackberry Mountain in Tennessee – an amazing addition to the brand. In Marrakech we have added the beautiful Le Palais Ronsard and Weissenhaus on the German coast – just to highlight a selection of lovely new additions to the portfolio.”
A number of Relais & Châteaux properties have already signed up for TFest in February, and Tracy is looking forward to seeing how the festival will change the trade show format. “TFest is a new concept, I am excited to see how the whole set up and system is going to work. We are seeing quite a lot of interest from our properties to join TFest.”
The TFest philosophy is a good match for a brand that is constantly evolving and changing with the times, says Tracy. “We are excited to see how the network is developing, and how the TFest team is looking to the future. It’s not about just sticking to what has worked in the past – it’s about seeing how these kinds of trade shows are developing.”