SINGAPORE (June 3): The term ‘luxury travel’ no longer ascribes to flying first-class or private, Champagne and caviar, or presidential suites with gilded interiors. Rather than jetting off to an exotic island resort for the weekend, even the most well-heeled and discerning of modern travellers are now turning their attention to another realm of exploration: The self.

Bryce Ryde, Vice-President, Luxury Brands & Brand Marketing, Marriott International Asia Pacific, describes this rising consumer trend as a “search for meaning” in travel experiences – be it a company’s founding history and the stories that come with them, or even brand values that resound with the consumers’ own.

Luxury travel is no longer just about lavish comforts, says Marriott International’s Bruce Ryde

“Since a couple of years ago Marriott International has been working with the notion that luxury consumers seek global experiences [through their choice of accommodation]. More recently, we’ve further redefined this with transformational experiences – authentic stories, authentic connections provided by the hotel, to its brand history or storyline,” says Ryde in an exclusive interview with Options.

“Our insights tell us that luxury consumers increasingly want connections to the world that they live in, whether it’s sustainability or simply focusing on making themselves better people. And it’s amazing that hotel stays can [play a big part in creating] that connection.”

The Hong Kong-based industry veteran last spent 15 years with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) before joining Marriott International in late 2017.

He was recently in Singapore to attend the city state’s second annual edition of the ILTM Asia Pacific (International Luxury Travel Market) trade show held at Marina Bay Sands from 27-30 May, as well as to expound on Marriott International’s plans to open 13 new luxury properties in the region this year.

Four openings are expected under The Ritz-Carlton in Australia (Perth), China (Xi’an and Nanjing) and India (Pune) over the second half of the year, hot on the heels of the April 2019 inauguration of The St. Regis Hong Kong.

The Ritz-Carlton, Perth, will mark the brands return to Australia

Another five new properties are expected to be rolled out under the JW Marriott brand this year including Asia’s first JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Shanghai Pudong (main image), which is slated to soon open its doors to the public on 8 Aug.

Following Marriott’s The Luxury Collection debut in Okinawa, Japan with Iraph Sui, the group is anticipating two more hotels in Nanning, China and Kolkata, India, to open under the soft brand in the year ahead.

Experiential storytelling

In line with the overarching Marriott portfolio strategy, Ryde is confident that the group’s properties – both upcoming and existing – aptly reflect their respective brand stories to provide luxury travellers with the transformative experiences they seek.

JW Marriott, for instance, pays tribute to its parent company’s founder John Willard Marriott by offering more luxurious, higher-tier rooms and amenities than traditional Marriott Hotels. Ryde shares that the brand recently adopted a new mindfulness-centric positioning which involves concepts like the JW Garden – where herbs are grown by the hotels’ restaurant chefs to be used in their cooking – as well as incorporating green plants into the property’s décor rather than using cut flowers. 

The St. Regis Bar at the recently-opened The St. Regis Hong Kong

“Meanwhile, the St. Regis brand has this extraordinary story of the Astor family in New York City. That’s why you’ll the Astor Ballroom [in several The St. Regis hotels across the world], The Drawing Room [a tea lounge in every hotel under the brand due to Caroline Astor, the founder’s mother], and Astor Bar in Singapore,” says Ryde, referring to the hotel chain whose roots can be traced back to 1904 when John Jacob Astor IV founded the first The St. Regis hotel in New York.  

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities

Another recent introduction to the Asia Pacific region is Marriott’s newest travel programme, Marriott Bonvoy: a travel experience that unifies all of the group’s 31 property brands to provide its members access to thousands of personalised, exclusive experiences using their accumulated Bonvoy points.

Ryde shares that some of the most dazzling ‘Bonvoy Moments’ in recent months included opportunities to get up-close and personal with American singer Gwen Stefani as part of the 2019 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Festival, as well as participate in meet-and-greet sessions with band members of Maroon 5 as they toured the region. He adds that the group is currently in the midst of “planning something exciting” for the upcoming Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix due to take place in Sept this year.

“Asia Pacific’s luxury travel industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world, driven by markets like China and India. On top of this, global luxury travelers today are seeking more than just the opportunity to indulge, they want experiences that deliver personal meaning and significance,” says Peggy Fang Roe, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Asia Pacific, Marriott International.

“In response, Marriott International continues to grow its footprint and experiential offerings in Asia Pacific, providing highly contextualised and carefully curated experiences, allowing luxury travelers to explore their passions and grow on a personal level.”