Exploring the websites of travel agencies, a sure-fire search word is “luxury travel” for finding offers of top-class hotels. But often, the word “luxury” no longer comes up, and for good reason, according to executives such as Timo Kohlenberg, managing director of German travel company, Feinreisen.

“We no longer use the term ‘luxury’ when we’re talking with customers. This is only used for marketing purposes and the search engine,” Kohlenberg says. Instead, his company promises exclusivity, anonymity and top service. Anything but luxury.

“Some people are scared away by the word. Others simply yawn,” he says. “Luxury has become kind of inflationary.”

Ideas about what makes a hotel luxurious are now widely divergent, notes Stephan Braun, director of Windrose Finest Travel. “Twenty years ago, ‘pomp and splendour’ was the only kind of luxury being offered,” he said. But now the demands of travellers have changed.

Old status symbols have lost their appeal.

At Airtours, the upmarket travel segment of tourism giant Tui, executives have noticed a change of demand away from the large, often internationally-standardised luxury hotels toward smaller and individually designed inns and resorts. Quietude, proximity to nature and sustainability are now what many guests ask for. Architecture, design and presentation: In the luxury class segment, there is a lot to be found between the extremes of an old-fashioned Grand Hotel and the ultra-modern, glass-and-stainless steel building.

The Villa dEste is a legendary luxury hotel on Italys Lake Como. But few hotels are using the word luxury when dealing with customers these days. Photo: Bernhard Krieger/dpa

“Regionalism and authenticity are clearly the trend,” Braun says.

However, the new style of luxury is more difficult to define than the conventional. Key words now are lifestyle, design, and individual wellness. “The guests expect a concept, an idea about what the hotel wants to say,” Braun notes.

What has become very important is dining.

“In the luxury segment there are no mediocre restaurants any longer. When in doubt, a hotel will refrain altogether from its own gastronomy.”

In the past, the clientele wanted quiet, first-class service and classic luxury, Kohlenberg says. “Today, things are different. There are more and more young rich people who are not so interested in all that.”

As to the customers of his company Feinreisen, for example, some are professional footballers.

“Everywhere they go they have a red carpet rolled out for them anyway,” Kohlenberg says. These guests now want something special, extraordinary and exclusive. “It no longer has to do 100% with the hotel, but rather the experience behind it.”

And something else has changed: For many luxury travellers a hotel must deliver beautiful images for social media. “This is a very strong argument,” Kohlenberg says.

All the same, there are still the classic luxury travellers. “These fly first class anonymously, have an eye for detail and are absolutely not susceptible to recommendations from outside,” Kohlenberg notes.

“These people also don’t post anything on the Internet.”

Braun, at Windrose, says his company also has such clients. “They are above all the older travellers,” he said. “But more are coming along. There are also younger people among them who have learned from their parents and value the same things.”

In the process, some of the “hardware” has developed further in luxury hotels. “As recently as 10 years ago, a giant television was synonymous with luxury,” Braun says. “While WLAN only came free of charge in the top hotels.” Today, every second hotel offers Internet access for free.

“In the past, you also needed a butler who adjusted the light and the sound,” he said. Today, this is regulated with a tablet. “The ‘pomp and splendour’ hotels have also caught up. They still have gold-plated water taps,” Braun says.

“But today they have electronic controls.” – dpa/Philipp Laage