Design Hotels’ global nomads define luxury customer engagement

Dorina    October 26, 2015

Organization: Design Hotels (TM)

DH logo

Industry: Luxury boutique hotels

I’ve been a traveler my entire life…from summer vacations in my parent’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon coasting I-75 to traveling the globe on work projects, I’ve always enjoyed exploring neighbourhoods and meeting the locals wherever I go. Travel gives me meaning and understanding. Travel always represented a freedom to go anywhere, for a short period of time, and feel like I was part of community, home. This is what Design Hotels represents for me and it’s why I became a member of the global nomads community.

In their words
Founded by Claus Sendlinger in 1993, Design Hotels AG is a full-service hospitality consulting company, offering customized services to its 280-member hotels; in fact, it derives about 31% of revenue from these services (according to their March 2014 annual reporting). Its member hotels can choose from a variety of integrated communications, marketing and consulting services including brand management, public relations, global and sales marketing, revenue and distribution, digital marketing and global reservations. The company is headquartered in Berlin and has branches in London, Barcelona, New York, and Singapore. Its shares are listed on the m:access segment of the Munich Stock Exchange.

Redefining luxury travel

travel landscape today

“As a marketing platform Design Hotels™ represents and markets a hand-picked collection of more than 280 hotels in over 50 countries across the globe. The member hotels are independently owned but united by a commitment to individuality, progressive design and cultural authenticity. Design Hotels™ embody the most advanced ideas in the hospitality industry and offer cosmopolitan travellers new options for both travel and inspiration.”

Design Hotels caters to a luxury-minded, authentic clientele who travel anywhere, believe in sustainability and support the local design community. Along with the hotel proprietors, these clients share the same values, same brand ideals and voice. Both are labelled “originals”. Both crave an original experience. Design Hotels in some way is an alchemist of the boutique hotel industry.

In his ITB Conference presentation, CEO Claus Sendlinger distinguishes his customers by defining luxury as, “the freedom of choice…luxury as in intellectual property, resources and access to information.” He explains the formula of Design Hotels at 13:56 in this video.

The luxury clientele, is defined as having specific needs at five distinct stages through life:
1. Stage one – Acquisition & Value

Stage 1 Acquisition & Value
2. Stage two – Discernment & Worth

Stage 2 Discernment & Worth
3. Stage three – Emotion & Experience

Stage 3 Emotion & Experience
4. Stage four – Responsible & Aware

Stage 4 Responsible & Aware
5. Stage five – Intellectual & Poetic

Stage 5 Intellectual & Poetic

The Design Hotels approach moves along with its clientele as they go through these five stages. This is explained in their video entitled: why we do what we do.

Tangent: A high-five to leadership expert, Simon Sinek and his leadership theory that always has start with why. Listen to the SoundCloud clip at the 12:53 marker where Sinek remarks that leadership is present when it paints a vision that doesn’t yet exist, but gets us passionate to share that vision and commit to creating that vision that leads to creating an environment of belonging. #leadership

Nowadays, he remarks, it’s all about content, all of the “things that surround the experience”. Another way to think about it: “if boutique hotels have been getting attention for their good looks, now they’re having to grow up and show they have something substantial to say about their favourite themes of art, fashion, and music.” Again, he’s referring to the five stages of the luxury life cycle.


Design Hotels concept

Creating a new community who values luxury (freedom)

According to Matthew Latkiewicz’s (Mashable) description of the five styles of customer engagement, Design Hotels is not only the friendly neighbourhood rep but it also is the community builder.

Design Hotels builds community in three distinct ways:

1. Connecting like-minders
This strategy is clearly demonstrated by the partners that Design Hotels keeps. They carefully select partnerships for events, communication and long-term collaborations including access to exclusive products that fit the community profile. These partners, or originals, are the voice that inject dialogues into the community. Finding, shaping and telling story is essential to establishing a voice on social media and Design Hotels has led the way in storytelling.

2. Community portals
As a recent member of the Design Hotels community I’m encouraged to customize my experiences by completing my profile and browsing (wandering) through the beautiful videos and photos of their 280+ hotel collections, throughout their website and the community portal page.

Connection with the Originals is available through multiple social media platforms including the Company’s:

Facebook Design Hotels

Instagram Design Hotels


YouTube DH

Pinterest Design Hotels
and several
Twitter accounts, namely:

3. Seekers of original content by Finding Infinity and Going Green

“More than a collection of hotels, the company is a collection of stories. Each property reflects the ideas of a visionary hotelier, an “Original,” someone with a passion for genuine hospitality, cultural authenticity, thought-provoking design and architecture. Each “Original” stands for the individual, aesthetic and service-driven experience that his or her hotel provides.”

The storytellers at Design Hotels are always searching for the rare…the originals, the artisans in the local neighbourhoods who are living responsibly. They are connecting the community with what matters by informing and sharing notes from the community. The video series posted on the Finding Infinity website are stories of these hotels, their owners and the neighbourhood practicing the art of living responsibly.


These powerful stories by originals for originals culminates in an annual book, the 2015 Design Hotels Collection and is promoted on the Company’s Facebook page. Both book and video of the making of the book illustrate one of the ways to improve customer engagement with social media: develop a content arsenal that simulates the experience your customers are looking for when they visit the platform.

In addition, Design Hotels has a strong partnership with EarthCheck, the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for travel and tourism. Sidenote: The Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel in Selfoss, Iceland hotel is hauntingly gorgeous. It’s on my wishlist and it also happens to be one of the 18 properties on the Company’s green hotels list.

EarthCheck fact

Continuing with the customized approach while adopting new technologies

Mobile technology offers more customized experiences for upscale clients.

“Design Hotels has discovered that 99 percent of its consumers bring one mobile device with them on their travels, and 40 percent carry more than three.”

According to the same article, guests are also likely to spend higher than their initial budget if they find lodging matching their personal preferences, culminating in highly personalized service. Hence, the Design Hotels community portal.

Design Hotels offers guests to check-in via their smartphones prior to their arrival at the hotel, during which they confirm personal details and receive access to the suite of possible upgrades. This practice is on trend with customer engagement practice.

Even after 22 years, Design Hotels is still the gold standard in the luxury hotel market specifically for offering, “spaces that no one else can replicate. And as brands approach design projects, they need to tap into the heartbeat of what makes a guest feel extraordinarily special and deliver on that message.” This is according to an August 10, 2015 article posted on the International Luxury Hotel Association website, re-affirming that design leads the way for success in the luxury boutique business.

Design Hotels has been creating and designing to their standards and found unique ways to narrate their story. Their success endures because of their singular organization focus, a concept in branding paramount to brand affinity.

The reward for loyalty is a consistent, high value experience, a luxury indeed. Loyalty is built-in by offering their community of globe nomads:

  • Best rates, best deals, best values
  • Price matching guaranteed
  • No booking fees
  • No prepayment required (you do not pay until check out, unless otherwise stated), and
  • A wide selection of community perks

Design Hotels™ wants you for life as you progress through your own stages of luxury and they want to meet your every need at each stage. This approach is well documented in social media practices today as the benefit and value of creating your own niche community. The premise goes like this: the more loyal you are, the more engaged you become and the more value you receive; the more revenue the Company makes.

When I am ready, they will have the ideal experience, hotel and neighbourhood for me…this is the making of fabulous travel.

Lessons for marketers

  • Know why you create community. Without the why, how can you do the what?!
  • Know your customer intimately and integrate all platforms where they seek and share information.
  • Focus on a single organizational focus, vision or concept.
  • Acknowledge the power of community to redefine, reshape and create value
  • To be customer-centric is to be community-focused


Art Berlin; Design Hotels AG; 2013 ITB Berlin Convention; 33voices podcast; DailyLife; Mashable; Social Hospitality; Maximizer; EarthCheck;Mobile Commercial Daily; The TIBCO Blog; International Luxury Hotel Association; Design Hotels press site

Submitted by: Dorina Belu, University of Waterloo

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