Louis Vuitton, the renowned luxury Maison, has unveiled its first-ever branded lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha. Lovely as it may sound, travellers have found themselves leaving dissatisfied and unexpectedly light on cash…
With all the unexpected speedbumps that travel can bring — from a man urinating all over business class to a disgusting sock-stuffed seat, from a woman being publicly weighed in the airport to a hostess being beaten with an in-flight phone — carving out a few minutes of rest and relaxation in an airport lounge can be a game-changer when you’re on the move. If that lounge was sponsored and designed by one of the world’s leading luxury brands, then that’s all the better. Or so you might have thought…
The newly opened Louis Vuitton Lounge, introduced last month, shares space with a range of luxury boutiques including Bulgari, Fendi and OMEGA. Moreover, Hamad Airport itself holds a prestigious five-star rating from Skytrax and serves as a major hub for Qatar Airways, so you’d think that the combination of two luxury heavyweights would be a surefire winner in terms of adding some much-needed indulgence to the often exhausting experience of long-haul travel.
On the surface, this is certainly true, with the new lounge showcasing some of the most exclusive and closely-curated experiences an airport lounge can offer… But there’s a catch.
WATCH: Maybe Louis Vuitton should stick to what they’re good at, celebrity photoshoots included…
As reported by Simply Flying, the lounge “offers Qatar Airways’s first and business-class passengers a wide range of benefits” which include “various food offerings, drinks, and shopping at [Louis Vuitton’s] luxury store”. On top of all this, the entire experience has been carefully assessed by one of the biggest names in luxury restaurateuring, Yannick Alléno.
As well as boasting undeniably exquisite interior design — Vogue reports that notable features include India Mahdavi’s stylish low tables and Martin Eisler’s Costela armchairs, flanked by stacks of iconic Louis Vuitton trunks — the lounge quickly gained attention for its unrivalled food offering, with a menu that showcases Alléno’s three-Michelin-star skills and all the rich flavours of Qatar, honing on saffron, nuts, limes, and cinnamon amongst a whole host of Middle Eastern flavours. Despite the criticisms to come, it seems Alléno crafted the space with the best of intentions:
“I wanted to create a place that would be open at all hours of the day or night to make any traveler feel welcome, whenever they happen to pass through. That was a real challenge. It meant reconsidering what sustenance means in that context to propose a modern definition of it. My own version of Lost in Translation.”Yannick Alléno
Despite all of this, however, it seems that some customers have been leaving the lounge feeling fleeced thanks to an age-old marketing trick that no amount of perfectly percolated cappuccinos — and yes, they come with signature “LV” foam — can atone for.
Taking to the Flyer Talk forums, disgruntled visitors to the lounge describe how their experience had unfolded…
“There is a menu and all drinks and meals are chargeable. We paid for two glasses of Moët and two bottles of water, [it came to] around 110 EUR. I think staff should inform customers before entering the lounge that these are for free… they don’t do that and many customers leave the lounge confused… I paid because I didn’t want to make a scene.”@urbanity
You may retort with the age-old truism that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch… or glass of champagne”, suggesting these visitors should have kept their wits about them a little more readily. However, not only is that a pretty tall order after hours — sometimes days — of travelling, but given the industry-wide benchmark that sees almost all lounges offer free food and drink as part of your ticket cost, you can understand why customers might make that same assumption here.
The issue here, in my mind, is that this is evidently a brand-led restaurant experience that comes with all the usual charges one would expect from any eatery on the street, but it has marketed itself as a lounge in order to attract the attention of travellers and travel journos alike; in reality, as impressive as the look and feel of the “lounge” may be, it’s not really a lounge in the way we usually understand it. Immanuel Deber of Flight Hacks seems to agree:
“The LV cafe — let’s be honest, it’s an airport cafe — is a perfect example of brand direction gone wrong. Qatar Airways already offers a la carte dining and free champagne in the lounge, no doubt cooked by the same caterers.”Immanuel Deber of Flight Hacks
Before going on to add that:
“While the LV cafe loves to harp on about Yannick Alléno and his many Michelin stars, that doesn’t mean anything of quality other than his name… Sure, the interior design might be fun but that’s the only thing this ‘lounge within a lounge’ has got going for it.”Immanuel Deber of Flight Hacks
Another disgruntled traveller piled in behind the original poster:
“I find the whole development ridiculous. Qatar Airways has no need to create a shop-in-shop (lounge-in-lounge) concept. They should be focusing on the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan brand and experience for those travelling in business class. Full Stop.”@SullyOfDoha
While I can’t deny that the thought of a designer coffee and Michelin star meal to break up a day-long journey from Australia to Europe — or wherever you find yourself heading — is a hugely appealing one, the notion that I might be unknowingly charged for such an experience is not.
While I’m all for big brands coming together to create a product or experience that is greater than the sum of its parts, the customer experience must always come ahead of the brands’ urge to further its own reputation, lest travellers take an unwelcome detour on the journey to satisfaction.