This time, we meet Julian Hagger (executive vice president global sales & marketing, LUX*), a young French and British national with sixteen years of sales and marketing experience with major brands like Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Belmond. We go over how these big brands function and the space that it creates for boutique brands such as LUX*. And as some of you may know, LUX* is opening a new property in the Maldives very soon, which is something we touch upon during the interview. We also talk about LUX*’s ethos, the potential for growth in the Maldives’ luxury tourism market, and more. Read on.

Hotel Insider: It seems like there’s so much competition these days among resorts, properties have to do a lot to stand out 

Julian Hagger: Yes indeed, resort operators are nervous because there are many resorts entering the market within a short period, however should the destination play its cards right, there is a lot more scope for growth in tourism. Naturally this growth must not come at the expense of this beautiful and unique destination.

Hotel Insider: So you think there’s still room for growth in the luxury segment? 

Julian Hagger: Yes there is, absolutely. LUX* has identified a niche. We saw a window of opportunity at the very top end of the market for a resort operator that wasn’t as predictable and static as more conventional luxury brands. The latter brands tend to offer a very formal and a somewhat expected type of luxury experience. We wanted to turn that on its head by delivering the finest levels of service, food and beverage experiences and design however doing so in a much more relaxed, creative and fun way. We want to constantly surprise our guests with unique touchpoints, which have branded as “Reasons To Go LUX*”, which are delightful pop up treats like the red London-style phone booths on the island (where you can make a free call to anywhere in the world), an enchanting Banyan Tree of Wishes where guests may write on gold and red ribbons and hang their fortunes, a wanderlust library in the middle of nature or an impromptu cinema on the beach. This level of creativity and unique experience is appealing to our clientele who seek new types of holiday experiences and this has resulted in significant growth in demand for our brand. Likewise, the Maldives needs to diversify its offering if it is to grow demand.

Hotel Insider: Was that the rationale behind LUX*? This sort of relaxed, unconventional approach to luxury?

Julian Hagger: What we noticed when we created the [LUX*] brand seven years ago was that we were swimming in what we identified as the ‘sea of sameness’. The only point of difference in a tour operator brochure was the price. This means the industry was turning our industry into a commodity. This was a big motivation for us to create LUX* and deliver on the promise of a different kind of Luxury –  hospitality that is ‘lighter and brighter’ and splashes out from the sea of sameness, all under a new monolithic brand identity. Prior to LUX*, Naiade as the company was called, operated different hotels under different names with a very vanilla type of holiday experience. This needed to change.

Hotel Insider: Because you weren’t capitalising on the brand. 

Julian Hagger: Yes, we felt it best to create a monolithic brand identity with LUX* in order to capitalise on the brand name. “Lux” comes from the word ‘lucis’ in Latin, which means ‘light’, but is also short for luxury. We added an asterisk next to the brand name, to signify the promise of a lighter, brighter type of luxury experience, one that is designed to help our guests celebrate life by turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Hotel Insider: Lighter and brighter – that’s the brand ethos then I suppose. 

Julian Hagger: We want to surprise and delight, continuously, day in, day out. That’s our drive. Time on this earth is very short, our guests have awarded us their most precious gift, that of time. Our mission is to make each moment in our guests’ stay matter by helping them celebrate life.  

Hotel Insider: You’ve also worked with some major brands prior to this like Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Belmond. What are some of your observations on how these brands operate?  

Julian Hagger: I started my luxury hospitality work experience with Ritz Carlton, which is an amazing institution for learning about service and hospitality. They’re all about processes, procedures and exceeding guests’ expectations. Today, mature travellers want an experience that is less fabricated and a lot more real. Our guests seek real, down-to-earth experiences that do away with the formalities of yesteryears; they want to be surprised and delighted throughout their stay and to do away with the expected. Don’t take me wrong. The quality of service is still our number one priority. However, ours is somewhat more personal, less scripted and certainly more real. Our guests love it, check TripAdvisor. If you look at wherever LUX* operates, Mauritius for example, where we have three LUX* resorts, all three are in the top five on TripAdvisor with LUX* Belle Mare as number 1 out of over 180 hotels. In the Maldives, we’re number four on TripAdvisor.

Hotel Insider: Was that why you were drawn to LUX*? Because it wasn’t as procedural and more spontaneous, more real?

Julian Hagger: Absolutely. The ability to be part of the creation of a new type of luxury is what attracted me to the company. Sky is the limit with LUX*. It’s about reinventing a hospitality experience, which the big brands can’t do, at least not as fast as we do. The big brands offer very thick operating manuals to abide by, in terms of operating processes and procedures and that’s what they do. It’s completely the opposite with LUX*. Our people are more innovative, responsive and very progressive. To maintain this continuous strive for innovation, we hold a yearly ‘innovation challenge’ with all 3500 team members that we have in the group. Every team member is encouraged to participate and come up with ideas on how to wow our guests at every moment. The winning ideas get implemented across the group.

Hotel Insider: I wanted to get your thoughts on marketing, which, today, is very much tied to social media and how you present yourself on the web. You need to come up with stories to engage your customers. 

Julian Hagger: Our group has a strong focus on marketing. We’re very detail oriented in these matters, to ensure that all of our communication tools such as the website and social media pages completely reflect the identity of the brand. We have a strong central corporate team in our Mauritius head office supported by global marketing partners, who make sure that we have one brand identity, tone of voice and personality. It’s different from most other larger hotel groups where each operation runs their own marketing and, with that, contribute to the dilution of their brand identity. Therefore, with LUX*, everything to do with the website, the content, the copywriting, the tone of voice is centrally managed. This helps us maintain a strong consistent brand image.  

Hotel Insider: You’re about to open a new property in North Male Atoll. What can we expect of it? What’s your vision? 

Julian Hagger: It’s an incredibly exciting project. The property will be accessible from the [Velana International] airport, it’s just a 30 to 40-minute boat ride. It’s going to be very different from this resort; it will only have 67 keys so it’ll be a boutique property, but extremely chic. The size of the rooms is spectacular. You’re looking at 350 square metres even at the entry level category. Over water, we have 40 keys, on land we’ve got about 20 keys. It’s really unlike any other resort, each penthouse has its own rooftop with luxury BBQ, private pool, library, etc. It’s going to be niche, but with LUX*’s jovial and welcoming energy running through it. We say it’s going to be the Maldives elevated.  

Hotel Insider: A penthouse paradise eh? It’s catchy. 

Julian Hagger: It does have a South Beach vibe because of the strong urban design feel to it. The architect injected a strong nautical feel too, so from afar it’s very striking. It’s all in white, with a touch of pink, so it’s screaming with energy. It’s is going to appeal to people who’re looking for privacy, exclusivity; people who want a real modern take on the destination.

Hotel Insider: That’s great Julian. All the best with the new property and thanks so much for your time.