What services are missing for women and what defines luxury now? We talk to the CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World to find out.

Shannon Knapp is the CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, an independent luxury collection of about 400 hotels in over 80 countries.

What is your background?

I have been with The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) for just over ten years. I joined as the chief marketing officer and was elevated to CEO in 2019. Before that, I spent 16 years at American Express where I got a great education in marketing, customer centricity and the power of data and analytics, with seven years in the leisure travel division, managing various programmes including Platinum and Centurion card members.

How do you select properties for LHW?

We have three criteria: 1. Are they remarkable, with quality products and experiences? 2. Are we working with remarkable owners and visionaries of independent luxury hospitality? 3. Do they deliver uncommon experiences and authentic connections to the destination? We also have annual ‘Mystery Shop’ inspections, where our hotels are evaluated across more than 800 standards of luxury.

What are your personal three definitions of luxury?

It depends on which ‘me’ is travelling. As a business traveller, I need to be conveniently located near where I’m doing business. I also want a comfortable bed, somewhere to work, and I don’t want to be down on my hands and knees looking for a plug to charge my devices.

Do you think the definition of luxury has changed?

The concept of luxury is always evolving. Ten years ago, the industry dictated what luxury was. Now, luxury means personalisation. My idea of luxury is flip-flops, no make-up and generally being left alone. What’s beautiful is no one’s telling us what it is any more, we’re able to define what it means for ourselves.

What other trends are you seeing?

Technology is helping luxury hoteliers do what they do best, which is serve the guest. We’re seeing the digital transformation of operational systems, which means we know more about guests and it’s easier to personalise the experience. Years ago, your best GMs had a Rolodex of information about their guests that only they could access. Now guests feel welcomed and understood without having to explain their preferences 47 times to 47 different people.

What are your pet peeves?

When hotels are designed with form over function. By that I mean: the room is very dark, there’s little light in the bathroom, there are no full-length mirrors, no plugs in the bathroom besides the shaver! I get that men need to plug shavers in, but I also need to blow-dry my hair. And the rooms are often beautiful, they’re stunning, the design is outrageous – but when you’re trying to get ready for a business meeting and you’re wandering around carrying your hairdryer looking for a mirror, it’s frustrating.

Which hotels are getting that right?

I was at the Ritz Paris recently, which is a stunning hotel in form and design as well as function. In the bathroom was a great hairdryer and a straightening iron – it was fantastic! And the lighting was exquisite, with flexibility on brightness. Plenty of mirrors. It was a great example of form and function working together and creating a really comfortable stay.

What do female business travellers need most?

Probably one of the most important considerations is safety. Being in the luxury space, I am fortunate to feel well looked after when I’m travelling – you always have doormen and active staff around the hotel.

Favourite hotel in the world?

It’s such a hard question, it’s like choosing one of my children! I recently visited Gleneagles in Scotland, which is just an extraordinary hotel. A great family hotel with programming for all ages, an amazing spa, stunning scenery, obviously the golf – it’s an extremely beautiful hotel. One of my all-time favourites is the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, with one of the best service experiences I’ve ever had. The Palazzo Avino in Ravello is a beautiful hotel owned by two sisters – you have spectacular views over the Amalfi Coast and the food is just extraordinary. I mean, we could talk forever.

Latest developments at LHW?

We relaunched our app in 2023 with new automated services and processes, such as a ‘call the concierge’ feature. We launched our Sustainability Leaders collection to celebrate hotels that are truly leaders in sustainability. And Leaders Club, our loyalty programme, continues to grow. Our members asked for more utility of points – and we recently partnered with the financial services company Citi and its ThankYou programme so members of each can now transfer points and enjoy increased redemption options.

Top travelling tips?

If you have flexibility, consider your destination wisely and be aware of the neighbourhood that your hotel is in. Also factor in some time to rest and recharge. One of the things I’ve done recently is have a morning where I’m not running to a meeting. Maybe sleep in till 7am, go to the gym, have a good breakfast. I try and do that in the middle of my trip, so it gets me ready for the second half. I also always try and walk a city, for the health benefits and because it’s a great way to see a place.