The sound of luxury hotels

By Jessica Weiss, a Branding and Communications Specialist at the sonic branding agency DLMDD.

Contemporary luxury is a wide playing field. Eschewing cliche, it shows (rather than tells) how exceptional the brand is. Contemporary luxury is not stuffy or elitist, but engaging and multi-layered, drawing you into a rich brand world. This is where sound can be a real differentiator, creating authentic and enriching brand expressions.

In the world of hotels, luxury does not mean service with a ‘posh’ accent. A luxury tone of voice should be the sonic articulation of how a brand feels; an emotional resonance conveying that you understand the customer and their lifestyle perfectly, making them feel completely at home in the different physical spaces and facets of the brand. Sound is an emotional trigger, bringing to life the values of the brand to create a deeper impact.

Sound and luxury

Sound in hospitality spaces has the power to create emotions, awaken memories and inspire actions, so it’s extremely important to get it right. Sound installations provide a kind of immersion that can only be experienced in person, rather than via social media. This is a meaningful evolution of music: adding context and elements of the hotel’s surroundings, allowing high-concept and layered meaning to bloom.

At its most successful, sonic branding has the opportunity to really shape a brand. This is particularly applicable in the luxury area, where progressive and art-centric programming feeds the cool and aspirational energy, but every hotel or public space can make use of music to augment our experience, subtly yet significantly levelling up the guest experience.

So which hotels are carving their own sonic pathway?

Silena and storytelling

Silena hotel in northern Italy has also created a site-specific sound installation. Everyday at 5pm, guests using the sauna hear a disembodied voice with a local Bolzanese German accent. For 15 minutes, he speaks an intriguing tale of a death by horse in the Alpine pass between South Tyrol and Austria, a cruel act that cracks open several family secrets.

The voice is Lenz Koppelstätter, author of a bestselling murder mystery series set in the local area. This is a bespoke reading commissioned by the hotel, and one of the details most mentioned by guests during check-out. The three novels on loop are available in the hotel library for guests intrigued by the day’s 15 minute sample. It is an intervention that achieves the goal of intriguing and entertaining in a way that is easily explained and emotionally digested. It is a site-specific installation that is charming and unexpected, and could only exist in the Silena saunas, adding depth and a memorable talking point to guest experiences.

Sister City and AI lobby music

Sister City, a tech-focused hotel in New York from the founders of Ace Hotel, are investing in unique sonic experiences, blurring the line between high-end hospitality and high-concept performance. In January 2020 they collaborated with Björk to produce a lobby music installation based on the artist’s choral music. Björk worked with Microsoft AI to create Korsafn, an ambient piece generated by algorithms that study patterns of clouds and birds from a rooftop camera. The hotel’s creative team wanted to ‘see what new shapes music can take as a site-specific, living extension of place and space. How it can orient us in the world in new, exuberant ways.’

The piece is a perfect example of a brand offering something imaginative and unexpected to their young, culturally astute and tech-savvy guests, promoting real connection to the brand.

W Hotels and music festivals

W hotels have sought new ways to build out their sonic brand world, incorporating live music programming, a record label (W Records, who have worked with artists including Perfume Genius, St Vincent and Japanese Breakfast) and fully equipped recording studios at their hotels, W Sound Suites. With a dedicated Director of Music at the helm of these projects, this represents a brand that understands their cool, tastemaker audience and creates unique opportunities for sound and music to populate their brand world.

Hôtel de Crillon and subtle sonic branding

More subtle expressions of sonic brand identity could include hold music, sonic icons and making decisions around where sound is a focal point, a background texture, or simply not needed at all. When Specter were creating the sonic branding for Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, they wanted to mirror the modern, edgy, and yet timeless experience of the space. Tailormade playlists evolve with rhythmic intensities dictated by the highlights of the day, seasons, and each space, capturing the spirit of incomparable luxury with eclectic, art-driven spaces, elegantly expressing the spirit of Paris.

Hotel Saint Cecilia and playlisting

Music is a powerful tool to elevate the hotel experience, adding depth and personality to a place. The Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, has a meticulously crafted soundtrack playing in the bar and common areas. The playlist takes in the psychedelic rock heritage of Austin with Roky Erickson and more modern, dreamy pop from the Allah-Las, while cherry-picking shades of Texas country music. Created by taste-making curators, rather than a Spotify algorithm, the soundtracks make inspired rather than expected choices, adding local context, atmosphere and making a statement.

Marriott International and smart speakers

Many upmarket hotel chains now boast signature scents, with the expectation that the scent will reinforce the likable characteristics of the hotel, and encourage guests to return in the future. A signature hotel ‘sound’ may be the next step. With the increasing popularity of smart speakers, there are opportunities to integrate voice technology more fully into guest experience. Marriott International Group plans to outfit many of their new hotel rooms with voice controlled smart speakers. The potential for the audience to speak directly to the brand is a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate the qualities the hotel wishes to personify, requiring significant consideration.

Jessica Weiss is Branding and Communications Specialist at the sonic branding agency DLMDD.

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