The truth about hotel suites
Just who pays £20,000 a night for a suite in a hotel? And what are they getting for that? The answer to the first question is simple: very, VERY rich people. The answer to the second is: whatever they want. There’ll be a fully stocked proper wine fridge and an invite to help yourself. You’ll get a kitchen, dining room and superior bathroom products.
The reason people are willing to pay fortunes is straightforward – if you’re in the one per cent and don’t have a house in the city you’re visiting (because a house is an asset, not a tax deduction), you want the utmost luxury that replicates the dynamic of a mansion for yourself and staff.
While working for a fancy fashion magazine many years ago, I was upgraded to the $20,000-a-night (£16,330, these days) Presidential Suite at the St. Regis on New York’s East 55th Street, the hotel built by John Jacob Astor (which he never got to enjoy for long because he was enticed by a cruise on the Titanic).
The thrill of spending a night in the space that doubled as Miranda Priestley’s Paris hotel room in the Devil Wears Prada was significant, but I realised, as I pilfered the Aqua di Parma products from the numerous bathrooms, that this wasn’t my world. It was a brief glimpse into another universe. I didn’t make use of the kitchen, dining room, or various other rooms. But the people who do inhabit this world are numerous and growing in number.
The Grand Manor House Wing at Rosewood London costs £20,000 a night, has seven bedrooms and its own postcode. That price is fairly standard. The new Yabu Pushelberg-designed Ritz Carlton New York NoMad opened a $25,000-a-night suite in February. “It includes a private wellness room and media room, separate living and dining areas, a 200 sq ft dressing room, Terrazzo marble bathroom with soaking tub and double rain shower,” explains GM Bastian Germer. “It also includes five complimentary culinary offerings throughout the day, all curated by Michelin star-winning chef José Andrés.” Curated means José won’t actually be in town, but he’s had a look at the menu.
To those of us agog at inflation, the growth in the mega suite market seems bizarre, but there’s a reason behind it. Marc Speichart, Chief Commercial Officer of the Four Seasons brand, says we’ll see $68 trillion of family fortunes pass from Boomers to Millennial offspring in the next five years, creating a 50 per cent increase in HNWIs (high-net-worth individuals). These people aren’t pondering sleeping pods when they travel – they want bragging rights over a penthouse with a butler.
“Our Signature Suites offer residential-style living,” says Vlad Doronin, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Aman Group. “Our guests feel as if they are staying in the comfort of an exceptional home.” The average Aman guest doesn’t register the cost of a suite because they feel it represents value. These are people who are happy to pay in excess of £50,000 for an Hermès bag, despite the design existing in countless units, because they believe that’s what it’s worth. Cost is reassurance. A hotel doesn’t have to justify anything, because it’s just what the market dictates as acceptable.
The business model around super suites is fascinating. Back in 2018, the Mark on the Upper East Side in Manhattan launched a 10,000 sq ft penthouse with a rack rate of $75,000. Occupancy cruised at a steady 50 per cent. Hardly impressive. And yet, it achieved its goal. If you have 10 rooms and an additional suite that has the footprint of the other 10 rooms, and there are 50 hotels in the neighbourhood, each with the equivalent of those fairly similar standard 10 rooms, then it’s the mega suite that makes the money. It’s like selling a single diamond a week. Even if you keep that penthouse empty half the time, it’s still making bank the rest of the year.
There’s another reason why these suites exist: Buzz. Only Elon Musk would take their mother to the suite at the Rosewood for a birthday treat, but you might have read about it somewhere and decide to take her to David Hockney-themed £140 afternoon tea downstairs with a glass of Dom Pérignon. Suites equal stories. Who wouldn’t want to stay in the room at the Hassler in the Italian capital where Audrey Hepburn lived while filming Roman Holiday, or the one in the same building that Karl Lagerfeld used to stay in? It’s about alignment.
A rock star might stay in a suite for four nights on tour (and an insider at one of the most popular hotels in New York for music clientele tells me they never discount to stars – “they’re rich so they can pay, we only offer deals on the entourage when there’s at least another eight rooms being booked”), but Middle Eastern royalty might stay for a couple of months. That income is major. But the mega suite is a marketing tool as well as a money spinner. If 50 magazines write about a lavish new penthouse, that equates to an equivalent of £650,000 worth of advertising space. It’s also about making the news.
Super suites are also often booked for PR events and photoshoots rather than overnight stays. I once met a member of a band’s entourage who told me how they customarily lingered in a booked room after the stars and management had left, and invited friends over for ruinously expensive debauched evenings, all signed off on room service. Which brings us to the ultimate abuse of these rooms: There are numerous super-modern-looking super suites blessed with great natural daylight, and vast beds.
If you’re renting a small studio to film adult entertainment, you have to pay to dress the set. If you whisk your team up to a ready-styled room, all you need is your camera and the talent. Every suite has a story. And not all of them are family friendly.