Language of Luxury: Interview with Journalist Sophy Roberts

Bespoke. Paradise. Breathtaking views. Hidden Gem. Exclusive. Cutting-edge facilities.

If you’re familiar with the luxury travel sector you’re probably familiar with these phrases. You’ll find them, along with other overused expressions, clogging up hotel brochures or gathering dust among the pages of luxury travel websites.

When a hotel website is renovated we often see a great deal of attention given to ensuring its technology, design, photography and video content are innovative and on trend while the copy is not given the same consideration. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Sophy Roberts is a travel journalist and co-founder of copywriting company New Vellum. Clients include COMO Hotels and Resorts, for whom she produces the brochures and in-house magazine, as well as The Ampersand Hotel in London, Alpina in Gstaad and Indian ground handler, Banyan Tours. We spoke to her about reinvigorating the ‘language of luxury’ and giving it meaning beyond the cliché…

Sophy-Roberts-profile


As a travel journalist and editor, how did you get into content creation and copywriting for luxury clients and hotel sites?

It came off the back of my journalism, with a frustration among hoteliers that their products sounded like everyone else’s. The photography told one story and their writing another. That’s what luxury does. It tends to erode specificity. The ‘language of luxury’ is ridden in cliché and dangerous words like ‘bespoke’ and ‘exclusive’. They start to mean nothing when everyone is claiming them.

You have to go back to old storytelling techniques of showing not telling. Telling is using words like ‘bespoke’ and ‘exclusive’, while showing is describing the incredible, specific experience that can be had. It is about transporting the reader rather than talking of transportation.

 

If you were giving a luxury copywriting masterclass, what would be your three top tips?

I just ran one for a UK-based tour operator.  I gave the audience three luxury hotel cuttings from three major magazines, taking away the name of the hotel and asking them to identify it. All of them were specialists and would know the hotels but only one of them managed to identify one of the cuttings in a room of forty. It’s because the writing was utterly interchangeable – all had infinity pools, holistic spas and private butlers. These hotels become part of the morass. Yet we expect readers to make decisions on the information they have been given.

So my tips are: be very specific – you have to name and confidently cite fabulous staff members and describe a view that isn’t ‘breathtaking’. Be very succinct. And use simple language – the domination of the English language in this sector means you have to be really straight talking, especially considering the copy might get put through translation.

Journalistic travel writing aims to inspire experiences and tap into emotions. As a travel writer do you feed these techniques into your hotel copywriting?

An important point to make firstly is that I don’t take on copywriting clients that I then write about in the press. That would be a conflict of interest.

When I copywrite I try to approach my work from an editorial point of view, to raise the spirits and emotion of the text. I try to explain to the hoteliers that the hotel isn’t enough anymore. You have to sell the destination. You have to copywrite the whole story, not just the room and design, because that gives you a much more powerful presence online. That generosity comes back to you in terms of SEO but also in owning a bit of the world.

What are your copywriting bugbears?

There is a lot of cliché out there and there is a lot of bad poetry that goes on too. If you are going to write something lyrical, it has to be very good, otherwise it reads as pretentious. There’s been a trend in resort copy in particular to create this dream world – and it doesn’t always come off. Last but not least, bad punctuation. It amazes me how many brochures go to press without being checked properly.

quote-1How do you have to adapt your language when writing for online?

I’ve taken endless instruction on SEO and informed leadership from people like Occupancy Marketing. These days Google seems to be respecting good writing, which is different to three or four years ago. I don’t pretend to be able to do it better than anyone else, but I find that writing simply, in the terms that people think of the place that you’re writing about, is a simple rule that seems to work.

It’s not trying to be super clever but going back to a simple place: Why are people looking at this and what do they want to know? The language should be obvious, not contrived.

How closely do you work with the client and the web company, like ourselves, when writing site content?

I’m very involved with the client at the beginning and the sign off at the end. Because I have industry knowledge I tend to start the job and work very comfortably with building and brand agencies. The buck rests with me but to be honest, I’m not always doing the writing. I will often go on to pinpoint a specialist copywriter for the job. There’s no point getting a copywriter to create copy for the Maldives when they haven’t been. It rings as completely inauthentic.

What are your predictions for the next big trends in the world of luxury travel?

Africa will be huge. It’s just taking off in the business world. More and more people will be going there and discovering that there are completely untapped travel experiences. I think the boating sector is going to get bigger, not the super yachts but the sort that are comparable to a $500 a night room in the luxury hotel market.

In terms of digital trends? Well tour operators are under threat from the digital matrix. I’m already seeing African guys going direct to markets through the web, whereas before they always relied on the interface of the tour operator. It is dangerously erosive in terms of the old market models but I think it can also be empowering for the consumer.

Also, less of a trend and more of a wish: I wish there was a luxury Trip Advisor, like a Net-a-Porter for travel.

Posted on December 4, 2013 in Travel, Web design, Website Launch

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