By Sally Howard  www.forbes.com

With the news that Aston Martin is entering the ‘branded destination’ market with a collection of Aston Martin villas, hotels, apartments, residences and sports clubs, the trend in luxury brands making moves on the hospitality sector shows no let-up.

Armani Hotel Dubai
Armani Hotel Dubai

Easy to see why such glamorous brands – notably Armani, Missoni and Bulgari – are diversifying into bricks and mortar.

Despite a fillip in consumer confidence in the first quarter of 2011, global spending on consumer goods has been subject to a rocky ride since the first glimmerings of recession back in 2007.

Meanwhile, the hospitality sector, which took a knock in 2008/9, is looking vigorous, with European markets exhibiting an occupancy rate increases of eight percent in the first quarter of 2011 and a gold-rush underway in the BRICs, with an $11 billion investment promised for the Indian hotel sector in 2012 alone (including the stampede of 40 new-to-India global brands).

In a recent interview with the Financial Times Chris Nassetta, chief executive of Hilton Wordwide, claimed to be “pretty darned optimistic” about the growth of the hotel sector worldwide, adding that he’s seeing “the best fundamentals in my career to date.”

Thus the stage is set – or perhaps the metaphorical suite prepped with artisanal candies – for the arrival of the luxury brands.

But how to choose between an Aston Martin golf weekender and a Missoni city break?

THE BRAND: Aston Martin

THE PORTFOLIO: Currently on a global buying spree – undertaken by First Logic – for properties suitable for the marina, beach, ski, golf and polo markets.

THEY SAY: “Power, beauty and soul.”

WE SAY: Bond-era glamour, shaken and stirred for the five-star business traveler.

THE BRAND: Armani

THE PORTFOLIO: A flagship in the brand’s steel-grey palate, looming over Milan’s Via Manzoni; a Dubai hotel, launched April 2010 with construction partner Emaar Properties. More hotels planned for Paris, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai. In talks to build a $600 million London hotel within sashaying distance of Harrods in London’s Knightsbridge.

THEY SAY: “A world of sophisticated beauty awaits.”

WE SAY: No frills the literal sense. Sharp-edged suave that will fit male go-getters like a bespoke suit.

THE BRAND: LVMH, the international group of 50 luxury brands (including Moet & Chandon, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and De Beers).

THE PORTFOLIO: The LVMH Group’s 2010 acquisition of Princess Yachts has borne first fruit in a 32-metre yacht with interior design by LVMH member Fendi. More yachts, with brand-designed interiors and Louis Vuitton luggage, to follow.

THEY SAY: “The LVMH lifestyle experience.”

WE SAY: Playboy at the helm.

THE BRAND: Missoni

THE PORTFOLIO: First hotel in Edinburgh in 2009, with a launch of a 169-room, luxury hotel overlooking the Persian Gulf in Kuwait in May 2011; properties in Oman, Brazil and Turkey in the pipeline.

THEY SAY: “Bold, passionate, fashionable: uniquely Missoni.”

WE SAY: Gold-trimmed glitz and prints charming, to befit an Arab prince.

THE BRAND: Bulgari

THE PORTFOLIO: Flagship hotel in Milan, seafront resort in Bali, restaurant in Tokyo, London hotel launching in 2012 (in super-rich nice of Knightsbridge, with suites all topping 200 square metres).

THEY SAY: “Weightless elegance, with the Bulgari finish.”

WE SAY: A cut above; garden oases for strung-out oligarchs.

THE BRAND: Elisabetta Gucci

THE PORTFOLIO: An 80-suite hotel in Dubai’s Media City to be inaugurated in Dubai later this year, followed by 40 hotels – chiefly in developing countries, with a focus on the BRICs – over the next 15 years. The launch is somewhat contentious with current owner of Gucci – luxury conglomerate PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), who bought brand rights from the family in 2004 – trying to block Elisabetta (the daughter of Paolo Gucci and  great-granddaughter of the founding Gucci) from launching.

THEY SAY: “Absolute luxury with rare, precious and stylish materials.”

WE SAY: Dedicated follower of world spending fashions.

Sally Howard

London-based travel and reportage writer Sally Howard compiles high-end travel blog Forbes Fast Track.

For the past decade, Sally has martyred herself for the five-star travel cause, experiencing high-end haunts from West Indies to Indianapolis.

Beyond a bathroom cabinet overspilling with shampoo miniatures and pointless tiny loofers, Sally has taken home an appreciation of the finer points, and local idiosyncrasies, of high-end hospitality.

Sally’s worst hotel moment of 2010 was being photographed by a unnamed hotel shortly after her arrival on the red-eye from London to Mumbai. She awoke the next morning to an A4 framed commemorative picture of gummy-eyed, disheveled self grimacing from her breakfast tray.

An chronic sleep-eater, Sally has to call ahead to ensure the contents of her hotel mini-bars are removed, for fear of waking up in a landscape of Pringle-crumbed scatter cushions.

A long-time contributor to The Telegraph and The London Times, Sally is currently working on an India travelogue, The Kama Sutra Diaries.

Recent surreal moments on-the-road include a reportage story on a Ukrainian women’s movement who style themselves as ‘girl scouts with nunchucks’; and the spectre, at the birthday party of a major hotel group in a largely Muslim Indian city, of indomitable sexagenarian Grace Jones gyrating her bikini wax at eye-line for 90 minutes.

Sally’s worst hotel meal was a banquet in Beijing, where an appetiser of carved goose fat was followed by an opaque grey soup reminiscent of used dishwater which – when probed with a spoon – relinquished rubbery white silk-worms (served only to the women of the party by way of rebalancing our errant yang).

Few know… Sally is distantly related to Canadian pop star and leopard-print fan Shania Twain.

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