- A rise in millionaires throughout the world has created a market for luxury suites
- These swank rooms can cost as much as $83,200 a night
- Perks include everything from private NBA-size courts to a Bentley rental
At $83,200 a night, the Royal Penthouse Suite at Geneva's Hotel President Wilson is the most expensive hotel room in the world. Guests are not left wanting for much: the suite has 12 bedrooms and 12 marble bathrooms, plus a wraparound terrace with views of the Alps that have been said to move a handful of famous musicians to song (there's a Steinway piano, should the backdrop not be enough). VIPs traveling without an entourage can make use of the private staff -- butler, chef, personal assistant.
While such super-premium suites are nothing new, it used to be that they were a one-off. These days, luxury hotel are clamoring to turn over space (and a lot of it) for these ultra-luxury abodes.
"There were five-figure rooms in the '90s, but there were fewer," acknowledges Nikhil Bhalla, vice president of equity research in lodging at FBR Capital Markets.
"Since then, the world has produced many more millionaires than what existed 20 or 30 years ago, so clearly the number of people who can easily afford these rooms has gone up many fold," he says.
Last year, as part of a $140 million renovation, the New York Palace Hotel unveiled a couple of specialty suites, including a penthouse overlooking Central Park for $28,000 a night. According to Paul James, the global brand leader for Starwood's luxury brands, of the 40 or so new properties the hotel group has in the pipeline, about half will be outfitted with premium rooms.
"We call them our e-wow suites -- short for 'extreme wow,'" he says, referring to suites at the W Hotels.
Bhalla says that emerging markets are helping to push the demand for luxury rooms to new levels.
"There's more money in the world today than there was five, or even two years ago. In countries like China or India, there's a whole new class and level of people moving up the economic ladder who can afford these luxury experiences. As other parts of the world get developed and their economies get bigger, I imagine that will continue to be the case."
A new class of amenities
Given the price point, it's important these premium rooms offer more in the way of perks than generic shampoo bottles or a pillow chocolate. In many suites -- which these days mimic apartments, or even mansions in size -- bath products range from L'Occitane to Hermes. Butlers, private chefs, personal trainers, drivers and masseuses are on call (and often included in the price). There's usually extra bedrooms, dining and living rooms for hosting and offices for conducting work. Exceptional views and a prime location are a must, as is discretion (most suites have private entrances).
According to Christopher Noton, the president of hotel operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the Four Seasons, the real worth of a luxury stay is the service, not the space.
"Our clients go from having multiple expectations to hyper-expectations, and what that means is that we must know who they are, how they act and what they want," he says.
"If you want to be left alone, I sense that, and I make sure that happens. If you want to be fussed over, we'll fuss over you. Really, it's the total custom experience."
Of course, when someone's dropping that kind of money on a hotel stay, the pressure to make it perfect is heightened.
"There are very high expectations, but then, there's a very high level of personal service," says James.
Bhalla adds that the higher the price tag, the greater the importance of adding experiential elements to the package -- everything from stunning views of sporting events to NBA-sized basketball courts.
"It's almost a funny thing to say at this price range, but at the end of the day, what people are looking for is value. If I'm spending $25,000 a night at a hotel, am I getting an experience that makes me feel it's worth it?" he says.