Here is your new buzz phrase: Rational indulgence.
In a still-recovering economy and a post-AIG world, luxury for luxury’s sake is out. But combine it with responsibility, relevance, and value, and luxury is very much in. So said the planners, suppliers, and speakers at The Ritz-Carlton 2011 Luxury Meetings Forum held earlier this year at the brand’s Laguna Niguel resort in Dana Point, Calif.
“The need to say, ‘Don’t tell anyone we’re at The Ritz-Carlton’ has disappeared,” says Patricia Kerr, director, distribution sales support, for Manulife Financial in Toronto. “What’s important, though, is the justification of the spend. Everyone knows behavior drives business results.”
Mark Miller, chief strategy officer for Team One–USA, a Saatchi & Saatchi “ideas agency,” says, “Luxury is not dead, it’s just been reframed.” People are now “rational indulgers,” and modern luxury experiences must be delivered with purpose, and with sustainability in mind.
What does this mean for planners? They need to work with suppliers to create exceptional experiences but also meaningful connections. For example, social responsibility activities at meetings are increasingly a part of the luxury experience. In 2010, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, partnered with Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society to bring his Ambassadors of the Environment initiative to the resort, offering 15 eco-adventures led by expert naturalists.
And there is the brandwide corporate social responsibility program, Community Footprints. “In New Orleans, Ritz-Carlton still offers 15 differentprograms for groups, six years after Katrina,” says Marcus Pennington, area director of operations for the Americas. “It’s still the No. 1 choice for activities, ahead of spa and golf. People want to give time instead of cash.”
In the area of food, planners are balancing luxury, cost, and health.Deanna Latson, nutritionist at the Good Thinking Company, advised: “Use 10-inch plates instead of 12-inch. On average, 22 percent less food will be consumed. And use tall, thin glasses, which feel like they hold more liquid.”
Many attendees today recognize the value of seasonal, local, organic food, which is both a luxury and a sustainable choice. Chefs can help stretch budgets by preparing smaller portions, plating creatively, and providing wow factors, such as Ritz-Carlton’s “20-20-20” meeting break—20 minutes, 20 items, at 20 calories each. All choices are healthful, delicious, and energizing.