Luxury in the age of cost-consciousness


Tightened purse strings are nothing new in the current dampened economic climate. Conferences have become shorter with fewer delegates attending as budgets have become stricter and leaner. Liesl Venter set out to determine if there is still space for luxury conferences and events in these times of tight budgets.

 

Budgets – or rather the lack thereof – have been a topic of discussion for longer than most organisers like.

“Budgets remain under tremendous pressures,” says Megan Mcilrath, md of Event Affairs. “Corporates have been reluctant to spend too much and have been opting for more low-key functions in general.”

This has impacted on the luxury sector significantly - but does it mean the days of luxury are over?

Not at all, says Karla Oetler, luxury event specialist. “There will always be a space for luxury, albeit a smaller luxury market than was the case a few years ago.”

Avukile Mabombo, group marketing manager of Protea Hotels by Marriott and African Pride Hotels, agrees. He says luxury continues to stand its ground. “Firstly, not all clients are having to tighten their belts.”

But, says Mabombo, even these clients are keeping a firm eye on the bottom line. “We are seeing most clients negotiating due to the fact that they know most hotels are offering very good deals. We have found that clients would rather exclude unnecessary items and pay more for high impact features that will create the wow factor.”

With an  an increase in competition in the eventing environment and more private conference venues coming into the market as well as hotels increasing special offers, the ability to deliver luxury has also somewhat changed. “Budget consciousness is not only being experienced in South Africa, but around the world. Therefore the need for luxury has also automatically declined, but luxury will never disappear. How we deliver luxury is changing though, and clients are more selective in what luxury they purchase for their events,” Mabombo says.

Both Oetler and Mabombo agree that luxury is not only about cost. Other factors like service, creativity, environment and attention to detail are all part and parcel of what constitutes a luxury offering – and these will always be important to consumers, no matter what the budget is, says Mabombo.

Delivering the high-end event requires far more innovation from planners than ever before, says McIlrath, adding that a luxurious feel can still be created even if the budget is smaller.

According to Mabombo, much can be achieved if the budget and the kind of event is discussed upfront. Oetler agrees, saying while planning in itself can be considered a luxury, event planners come with long-standing suppliers where relationships have been built over years, allowing for most budgets to be met.

“There is a fine line between wasting money and delivering luxury,” she says. “Just because a lot of money was spent on an event or a conference does not mean it was luxurious. It is also possible to deliver luxury with less money, but to do that you need a planner who is not only innovative but also able to spend money wisely.”

She says while the luxury market has been cut somewhat, it has also, in other ways, remained intact. “Style and luxury are still being delivered but it is not necessarily on the grand scale of a few years ago. It is all about simplicity, small enhancements to the experience, better service and all-round attention to detail where the luxury element really comes into play nowadays,” Oetler says.

Mabombo says this has transferred to clients who are becoming far more particular about being unique and wanting an offering that stands out. “There is definite pressure to deliver features that have not been seen before and that will create talking points long after the event or conference has concluded.

“The idea of luxury has really evolved over the years. Previously it was associated with old money and a stiff, traditional behaviour and etiquette. New luxury is free-spirited and does not want to be boxed. There are no rules. Anti-luxury is becoming the modern luxury,” Mabombo says.

 

Latest trends

Guest lists are becoming more targeted and selective, say the experts, and people invited have to add value to the overall outcome envisaged.

Although brand ambassadors and celebrities are still very much part of the guest list, clients want to know that they are going to get value from the people they are networking with. Social media following may get you noticed but if you don’t have anything else to offer then it won’t get you far.

Now more than ever, they say, there are opportuniteis to partner with stakeholders such as retail brands, galleries and comedy houses for more creative and unique events. At the same time the demand for simpler and healthier food options is also trending in the luxury sector.

“Clients do not mind paying for high-priced events as long as it is something different and they will get the exposure from the spin-off during and after the event. It has to be newsworthy or carry snob appeal,” says Mabombo.