A Lighter Direction for Hospitality

Category: Hospitality & Travel
29 May 2024
Read time: 5 MIN
An exploration into how three luxury hospitality brands are breaking the surface in the sea of sameness through lighter, less serious approaches to brand, creative and art direction.
Written By
MOF Team
MOF Team

In June 2023, KesselsKramer, a creative comms agency based in Amsterdam, teamed up with citizenM, a “misfit among boring hotels”, to highlight the essential human element of the guest experience in an unexpectedly insidious way: with AI.

In one of the first ads to use today’s most pervasive tech, the nightmarish film campaign showcases what the luxury hotel experience would look like if left to artificial intelligence. According to a take by CreativeBloq, AI-generated video is leveraged to showcase “the terror of outdated, carbon-copy hotels. There are cloned concierges, nightmare guests, nausea-inducing buffets and, of course, a shower scene that's more disturbing than the one in Psycho.”

The business’ Chief Brand Officer, Robin Chadha, who featured in the second series of Matter Of Form’s What The Luxe podcast, explained: "We want to encourage people to look past the dreary realm of AI-generated mediocrity and step into the vibrant embrace of a citizenM hotel, where genuine human connection awaits”.

Until a few years ago, competition among luxury brands was healthy rather than exhaustive. It was also limited to the real rather than the artificial. But as of 2024, the category has proliferated, with everyone and their pandemic puppies pushing out so-called ‘luxury’ businesses. As a result, everything, across hospitality, retail, wellness, finance and real estate, looks and feels the same. Completely lacking in distinction – caught in a labyrinth and unable to find any meaningful direction or way forward.

The key out of the maze – Theseus’ spool of thread if you will – is narrative. No matter the vertical, story must be the board creative directors spring from. Without it, even the most striking visuals can fall flat.

Belmond – Legends

Everyone knows The Cadogan, Hotel Cipriani, the Orient Express. Be it through dinner party stories, headlines or experiences firsthand, they’re names that carry cultural weight and social significance. Our work with Belmond was about balancing individual destination exposure and hype with master brand equity. Belmond is a global collection of 47 properties, many of them iconic in their own right, spread across 28 countries. More than that, they’re the artisans of stories. Through the curation of incomparable experiences, from hotels and trains to river cruises and safaris, their journeys connect discerning travellers with the world’s most remarkable destinations.

In April 2023, to honour this heritage, they launched Belmond Legends: a campaign celebrating six of the portfolio’s properties through the lens of contemporary artists. In October of the same year, the second chapter of the campaign launched with the most recent rendition being an ode to the mythical pull of the Eastern & Oriental Express, as seen by Japanese photographer Keizo Kitajima.

Though the Belmond Legends overarching creative is an amalgamation of many different artists and styles, what connects all is a vibrancy rarely replicated by others in the industry, even those claiming to be innovators and tastemakers.

Whether it’s dining on bowls of spaghetti in azure pools, a waiter submerged or a concierge playing hide and seek, each destination’s aesthetic flirts with the boundaries of what’s expected, an occasional eclectic addition surprises spectators while delight is found in palettes abundant with colour. Vivid, tonal and playful, Belmond are a far cry from the sea of sameness so many are desperate to escape.

Further proving the brand’s dedication to the intensely original, in May 2024 the business announced the launch of the Belmond Photographic Residency – an annual international jury-led award challenging conventional ideas of travel photography.

In the age of the ubiquitous image, travel photography has become familiar and expected. The Residency seeks to reclaim it as a space that can be insightful, thought-provoking and inspirational. Restrictions are light – entries are open to independent photographers of any nationality, working in any genre with a focus on people and place. Briefs span the following:

  • An artist's interpretation of a place
  • Expressing something beyond the literal
  • A personal and original point of view
  • A clear sensation and understanding of place
  • More than a literal documentation
  • An individual visual language

At every turn Belmond moves further away from its competitors, plucking narrative threads from its brand world and following them to creative that aims to charm or thrill rather than sell.

LUX* – Life Extraordinary

With a portfolio of remarkable hotels across the Indian Ocean, Middle East, Europe and Asia Pacific, LUX* Resorts & Hotels has spent the decade since their founding challenging the status quo. Having proved themselves beyond the disruptive challenger brand they were initially, our partnership with them focused on carving out a white space –  away from the sea of sameness that plagues travel and hospitality sectors, especially in the Maldives and Mauritius where every asset is all azure waters and a faceless couple with a glass in hand.

We synthesised a rigorous market review with experience mapping to find that point of difference, answering questions with deeper questions to unlock gold:

How might we turn the sector on its head? How could we shatter the veneer of overly posed, oversaturated visual language? What rules can we rewrite?

We asked what the brand is today and what it will be tomorrow, ensuring creative was iterative enough to take LUX* into an even brighter future. What we created was a campaign that heightens the brand’s purpose to celebrate life: a campaign that encourages guests to live every moment, big or small, extraordinarily. 

That sentiment became each campaign film’s raison d’être — to translate the dual spirit of adventure and peace that is uniquely LUX*, told through voice notes to loved ones, either in the moment, before arrival or back home. Because in a market where so many campaigns centre on the same stories, far more about the businesses themselves than the guests they host, we wanted to flip the script; channelling authentic stories made up of extraordinary moments that feel true to life. Stories our audience could really experience, with friends, family or individually, along as they’re with LUX*.

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For LUX* Grand Baie, our film depicts three friends reuniting after years apart. Tapping into the prior anticipation, the exhilaration of long-awaited reconnection and the sense of belonging one can only get with good friends, the short follows the beauty and joy friendship can bring. Magnified by magnificent surroundings. Authenticity, passion and imagination informed the creative tone and the evolution of the existing style to one that felt casual and emotive, all complimentary colour and soft, natural light.

Dorchester Collection

Dorchester Collection hotels are home to a host of vibrant characters – a community of fascinating people with fascinating stories. Stories we’re proud to be a part of sharing through our work on the Collection’s Belong To The Legend series – bringing audiences the tales of twelve extraordinary individuals over twelve months, each a master of their craft and ever-curious, whose stories are a pleasure to watch unfold.

The properties within the Dorchester Collection portfolio are indisputably iconic, established as quintessential luxury. Guests expect remarkable service, high quality is a given. Because of this established reputation, we needed to be braver.

By focussing on guests and their unique perspectives, you are humanising what is otherwise a material venture. We are not just selling hotels, we are selling membership to a community of legendary people that swim against the current and live authentically. The guests of Dorchester Collection are what makes it so special – they are its legacy. By championing them we frame Dorchester Collection as the home of legends.

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The documentary-style series sets the tone for the whole campaign, ensuring uniformity in every visual and narrative connection made between the subjects and the hotels. Between the interviews and b-roll, we appealed to a desire for heritage and nostalgia with archive footage, providing essential context to how the subject’s past has shaped them. Integrated in a bold and contemporary way, it holds great cathartic power.

Because the Collection’s legends are so varied in background and discipline, each story naturally took on a slightly different pace and tone – a war photographer’s story is going to differ in sentiment to a ballet dancer. It’s the aesthetic approach that links them, just like the legendary set Dorchester Collection offers. Our creative direction was committed to creating naturalistic scenes, captured majestically. Graphic, painterly framing, utilising negative space and abstract composition set the films apart with a sense of wonder and mystery. A combination of vivid, filmic colouration nod to classical cinema, while full-frame cinema lenses will keep us firmly in the present.

The result is twelve films that tell beautiful stories in beautiful ways. Not at all narratives to be forgotten but to be passed on, all of which are at home with Dorchester Collection.

Levity Is The New Heavyweight in Luxury

As luxury experiences become increasingly homogenised, many are opting to go deeper into elitist aesthetics, highly conceptual or meta directions, leaving their audiences confused and searching. Psychologically we crave meaning, and meaning only comes from compelling narratives. That’s where value lies. 

The lightening up of luxury we talk about doesn’t have to equate to playful humour, it simply captures a move to authenticity. It refers to those taking themselves less seriously in a world that feels heavier and heavier by the day. Brands that locate themselves, their spirit and their expression on the lighter sides of luxury will win distinction; a place in the mind of the savvy consumer and, with any luck, their loyalty too.

Designing what’s next for timeless brands is what we do – across brand, digital and CX. Our work is always underpinned by spirit and story, a weaving together of every touchpoint to ensure meaning for our clientele, and in turn, theirs.

Get in touch with one of our consultants via hello@matterofform.com to talk about what’s next for your brand, whether it’s brand strategy, content and campaigns, art direction or more. 

MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a London-based Brand & Experience Design Agency delivering second-to-none experiences for forward-thinking luxury brands with something to say.

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