From Primitive Technology to Luxury Travel – and Back Again

We had just returned from our family holiday (a stay at a lovely hotel in Spain with multiple pools), and I was checking the news before turning out my light when an article on the rise of interest in “primitive technology” lead me down an enthralling YouTube alley.

“What are you watching?” my perplexed wife asked from the other side of the bed.

“It’s a 15-minute tutorial on how to build a Siberian All Night Log Fire,” I responded.

There on YouTube that night I witnessed the magnificently-bearded Lonnie demonstrating how to build a fire that can burn all night in the snow-covered tundra. Watching the video, I had a thought: this could be great for our next HKS resort project. Let me explain.

Over the last 12 months, the Hospitality Group at HKS has been commissioned by at least three extraordinary clients to work on confidential studies that each requires us to think outside the box to take luxury to a new level. One day we’ll no doubt be able to share more about these projects, but for now it’s a case of thinking beyond market expectations.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who rolls his eyes when a client talks about “beyond 7-star” development, but that’s the new now. Personally, I’m quite happy to stick with 5-stars and make a few readjustments regarding categorisation as having scales without boundaries makes me nervous and gives me a headache.

So how should we define luxury or super-luxury today?

When you start looking into the subject — and believe me it’s one that’s getting talked and blogged about more and more in the hospitality sector — you find references to things that you might well expect such as:

  • Exclusivity — where you can only visit by appointment
  • Scarcity — where there may be only five rooms available
  • Service — where there are five members of staff to every guest

But increasingly now you will find references to “customised experiences” — where a resort will have a range of extraordinary activities for guests to try; and we are not talking wind-surfing or scuba-diving in the swimming pool here. We mean adventures and amenities such as helicopter tours, one-to-one culinary courses and private dining on your own secluded beach or mountain top.

Aside from remarkable buildings and exemplary design (taken as given when commissioning HKS), there is a trend emerging at the luxury-end of the market for memorable ‘experiences’ that have transitioned from observation to participation. Whilst it used to be sufficient to lay on an acrobatics air display, if you want to impress a client today you need to get them a seat in the plane.

Anything should be possible for those prepared to pay for it. For example, US$130,000 will buy you a VVIP trip up Everest regardless of your age or physical condition. And for those without as much cash to splash, just US$9,000 will get you into the cockpit of a fighter jet in the skies above California.

All of which brings me back to my Siberian Log Fire.

In the highly automated and increasingly wired world in which we live there still seems to be a yearning to equip ourselves with skills that could help us to fend for ourselves. Sure Bear Grylls is partly to blame, but the Primitive Technology Channel has had more than 600 million hits and most of the time you’re watching a guy banging rocks together and using fire as a tool for survival. Maybe we should be looking at Robinson Crusoe and Cast Away for the next wave of luxury resort development tips.

To that end, I have an expanding list of things for me and my wife to try.

“Darling, how about basket weaving at the Six Senses in Fiji next year? It’s meant to be very good according to TripAdvisor.”