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Inaugural Luxury Hotel Index Shows U.S. Still Leads in Hospitality Brands

The study separates the luxury-hotel market worldwide into three tiers:

Luxury major: This includes luxury brands of a major integrated chain such as Sofitel, Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott. It's the fastest-growing category of luxury hotels, according to the study, showing 12.1% growth since the first quarter of 2012.

Luxury exclusive: These are luxury brands of a small/medium size and include exclusive luxury chains such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Kempinski.

Upper upscale: This category is primarily integrated chains such as Hilton and Sheraton. It's the most popular category, capturing three-quarters of total global interest.

Hilton is by far the leader in many ways, according to the study. It's the No. 1 Upper Upscale Chain hotel brand, snagging 22.8% of global demand in its category. It also ranks first in four out of 10 markets studied -- Italy, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States.

The reason Hilton is such a strong market force, according to the study, is strong brand awareness and brand recall, giving it a distinct competitive edge.

Among the Luxury Exclusive category, Four Seasons is the clear leader. The Four Seasons benefits from an outstanding level of online awareness, according to Florent Bondoux, head of strategy and intelligence for Digital Luxury Group.

Meanwhile Ritz-Carlton is the top Luxury Major brand in the world, capturing 4.6% of global demand for luxury hotel rooms in its category. It is most popular in Japan. Ritz has become a leading hotel luxury brand because of what the report calls rigorously developed and implemented standards. One such policy cited is Ritz Carlton's allowing its employees to spend up to $2,000 to respond to guest's wishes to make any single guest satisfied.

Bondoux said all three hotel chains have several advantages that keep them in their top spots

"They all have a wide presence worldwide (30 to 80 countries) and thus benefit from strong brand recognition globally," Bondoux says. "They are innovators in their field and able to craft bespoke experiences for their clients -- both leisure and business travelers. Finally, successful luxury hotel brands significantly rely on digital communication and technology to further grow. It's estimated that the Four Seasons invested $18 million to reinforce its brand's online presence."

Also worth noting: Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts is the fastest-growing luxury group of hotels -- with a 14.8% growth since 2012. In 2012, Jumeirah launched five hotels across Europe and the United Arab Emirates. The group now operates 20 luxury hotels in nine countries. During the past 18 months, the group has doubled its portfolio and has another 16 properties under construction, according to the study.

New York remains the top destination among luxury hospitality destinations worldwide, while London, Dubai and Paris are the fastest-growing international destinations.

"If you look at Paris and London now, they benefit from having iconic names, especially among Asians," Sadigh says. "There is a huge level of Chinese, and Asians in general, traveling out of China and going to Paris and London, to a point where if you look at the sales of the duty-free shopping in Paris and London, some estimates are that 50% of sales of those global boutiques is from Asian customers. China is huge opportunity, and we can expect Asian growth to remain steady."
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