As Travel Booms, Fashion’s Hospitality Ambitions Heat Up

Travellers visiting Paris this fall in search of a très chic experience now have one more hotel to add to their itinerary.

In October, the international office of fashion magazine Elle will open Maison Elle, a boutique hotel in Paris’ 17th arrondissement, near the Arc de Triomphe. The 4-star hotel’s 25 rooms will be decorated with vintage French furniture and home goods from contemporary French design houses. It will also have a bar, spa and an extensive fashion library, where guests can peruse Elle’s 77-year-old archives, as well as books on French designers.

The hotel is the product of Elle Hospitality, a new arm of the fashion magazine launched today by parent company Lagardère Group (the American version of Elle is owned and operated by Hearst). As Elle International has looked to diversify its portfolio beyond the notoriously difficult print magazine business, it has opened salons and cafes in China and Japan and sees hotels as its next moneymaker. Following the Paris hotel debut, it will open an eco-conscious beachfront destination in Jalisco, Mexico’s Pacific coastline in spring 2023. More hotels in Brazil, France, Europe and China will follow.

“As travel [picks up] more and more, travellers want to come to a hotel for an experience and we… believe we can attract Elle readers and fashion lovers,” said Constance Benqué, chief executive of Elle France and Elle International. “All the big groups of hotels are trying to find ideas, concepts for hotels, but we have a great concept as a magazine and we will be really focused on design in the forefront and… cultural immersion.”

Fashion-branded hotels like Elle’s are not a new concept in the industry. Partnerships between fashion and travel bring benefits to both sides: fashion brands carry a level of name and brand recognition—think Versace hotels’ gold-tiled lobbies and crystal-chandeliered rooms or Armani hotels’ sleek grey colour base and silk linens— while hotel operators are experts at providing experiences more in-depth than a store visit.

But as travel bounces back after two-plus years of limited trips, fashion-branded hotels have gained fresh momentum. Brands like Bulgari, Armani and Fila are opening new properties, and earlier this month, LVMH hired a new hospitality chief (following the departure of former Luxottica CEO Andrea Guerra). Companies hope that these hotel experiences will allow devoted clients to immerse themselves in their brand universe, as well as attract new ones — in addition to providing an additional revenue stream.

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“There’s a whole fantasy world around a brand and who’s wearing it, and when you apply it to the hospitality and travel space, it just lets more people live in the fantasy,” said Erin Florio, executive editor at Condé Nast Traveler.

Fashion’s Opportunity in Travel Now

The hotel sector nearly cratered during Covid but is well on its way to recovery. Hotel occupancy in the US was at 65 percent in April, according to hotel analytics firm STR — only slightly down from 67 percent occupancy in April 2019 and up from 57 percent occupancy in April 2021. In Europe, the UK, Ireland and Poland all have hotel occupancy over 80 percent, per STR, while in March, Paris hotels reached profit levels last seen during 2019.

There’s also increased financial opportunity. The average daily room rate is up 14 percent since 2019, and hotel groups are collecting 10 percent more revenue on room bookings, according to STR. Post-pandemic travellers are searching for distinctive hotels and are willing to pay extra for them.

“The Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, they are focused on the business travel, so the hotels are boring, for a boring business demographic,” said Brian Kelly, founder of travel and lifestyle site The Points Guy. “At a Bulgari or Armani hotel, you just know it’s going to be chic.”

Brands are seeing a similar uptick and capitalising on the opportunity. Bulgari opened its first hotel in Milan in 2004 and now operates seven across Europe, the United Arab Emirates, China and Bali. Its hotels have seen occupancy surpass pre-pandemic levels and revenue double since 2019, said Silvio Ursini, executive vice president of Bulgari Hotels and Resorts. In the coming three years, Bulgari will nearly double its footprint, opening five more hotels in Moscow, Rome, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Miami Beach.

In March, Armani, which has two hotels in Milan and Dubai, announced it is set to open a third location in Saudi Arabia in 2025. Earlier this month, LVMH, which owns over 50 luxury hotels through its Hôtels Cheval Blanc and Belmond Hotel Group brands, appointed a new hospitality executive, signalling its own focus in the space.

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The Armani bar inside its Milan hotel.

It’s not just storied luxury brands taking part. Fila, the Korean-owned sportswear brand, announced in March that it would be opening a branded hotel in Shanghai in 2024. Value Retail, the company behind the outlet villages Bicester Collection, opened two hotels in Southern California last year, Mission Pacific Hotel and the Seabird Resort, and is opening another hotel in New York in 2024 as part of the luxury outlet village the company is building at Belmont Park.

A Marketing Opportunity

Fashion companies view their hospitality plays differently. Benqué said hotels are expected to become a significant revenue source for Elle, as well as a chance to pick up more magazine subscribers. (The latest edition of Elle will be placed in every hotel room.)

Similarly, Scott Malkin, founder and chairman of Value Retail, believes hotels are a strong driver of customer loyalty, which can translate to other projects within his existing portfolio.

Bulgari, on the other hand, sees its hotel business — a licensing deal with Marriott International — as a marketing opportunity more than a financial one.

“The amount of money is… immaterial in our business, but the image is huge,” said Ursini. “There is a lot of crossover between hotel customers who become jewellery customers and vice versa. The great experience in the hotel makes a customer a loyal jewellery customer eventually.”

The lobby of the Mission Pacific Hotel, a new hotel in California from Value Retail, the operator of shopping villages the Bicester Collection.

Fashion-branded hotels attract plenty of loyal customers, but travel experts say the post-pandemic travel boom is also a ripe opportunity to attract guests who might become future shoppers. Bulgari hotels often have handbags or jewellery on display in lobbies and hotels in Dubai, Bali and Shanghai also have boutiques on-site (plus, every hotel has teams that can book guests for private appointments at local boutiques). A satisfied hotel guest might impulse-buy a luxury item on their holiday, and eventually turn into a loyal buyer down the road.

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And even guests who can’t afford luxury jewellery still might be able to save up and splurge on a night at a brand’s hotel. A company like Bulgari counts on $6,000 Serpenti watches and $3,000 B.zero1 rings as best-sellers, but its hotels offer a chance to open the universe to more aspirational customers, and in that way is analogous to luxury brands expanding into eyewear and fragrance.

Hospitality and the growing market for fully-immersive brand experiences have ignited brands like Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Dior and Fendi to open restaurants and cafe activations, and as Millennials and Gen Z prioritise experiences, these brand immersions are only becoming more important.

Benqué knows travellers visiting Paris or Mexico have endless options for hotels, but hopes the Elle name, as well as the interior design credibility it has with Elle Decor, will draw in fashion enthusiasts. The group will also be pricing its hotels at lower rates than competing luxury destinations to win over aspiring fashion enthusiasts. Benqué said the company is considering offering perks like guest discounts for certain fashion brands as another way to appeal to the fashion-conscious consumer.

While the magazine might have strong name recognition, successfully building a hotel experience is not as simple as having an Instagrammable lobby and making sure the pillows are fluffy. The fashion hotels that are successful are the ones that feel distinct. Ursini said Bulgari treats its hotels like “little Italian embassies” to provide a unique experience, all the more important in today’s travel landscape.

“People are ready to splurge and they want an experience that… feels sumptuous and is visual on social media,” said Kelly. “They don’t want a cookie-cutter hotel.”

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