The art of ac­com­mo­da­tion

How to get your­self a ho­tel life­style

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRISTINE MCCABE

CHOOS­ING a ho­tel is not as straight­for­ward as it was a cou­ple of decades ago, when five star was a one-size-fits-all propo­si­tion.

These days we have bou­tique, hip and de­sign ho­tels. There are luxe lodges and spa re­treats. The five-star sec­tor has frag­mented and lead­ing ho­tel brands are di­ver­si­fy­ing, es­tab­lish­ing chains within chains. These new brands — or la­bels, in the pre­ferred mar­ket­ing par­lance — might of­fer more affordable lux­ury or sim­ply tar­get a dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic, of­ten a younger and more de­sign­fo­cused clien­tele.

Did you think it was all about fluffy tow­els and bathrobes, turn­down choco­lates and lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion?

Well, it still is for Ho­tel Indigo, a brand launched by the world’s largest ac­com­mo­da­tion chain, In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tels Group, in the US in 2004. But not down­town lo­ca­tions, as might be ex­pected.

Rather, Ho­tel Indigo is neigh­bour­hood-based, pro­vid­ing easy ac­cess to the arts, cul­ture and restau­rants of an in­ter­est­ing ur­ban bor­ough, be it Padding­ton in Lon­don, the Bund in Shang­hai or Chelsea in New York.

‘ ‘ Ho­tel Indigo is an up­scale propo­si­tion but wouldn’t be con­sid­ered a lux­ury prod­uct,’’ says David An­der­son, IHG’s vicepres­i­dent for brand de­liv­ery in Asia, Aus­trala­sia and global re­sorts. ‘‘Its ap­peal lies more in its lo­ca­tion and the way it brings that lo­ca­tion to life. Indigo guests are well trav­elled, well ed­u­cated, with above-av­er­age in­comes, and want a rea­son­ably priced ho­tel stay that is well de­signed around the neigh­bour­hood story.’’

He says Indigo guests ‘‘ don’t con­sider them­selves on the cut­ting edge of cool but they are de­sign savvy and they don’t nec­es­sar­ily need or want to stay in a CBD even when trav­el­ling on busi­ness, and will tend to­wards staying in a bor­ough in­stead’’.

In De­cem­ber, IHG cel­e­brated the launch of its Shang­hai Indigo prop­erty on the Bund ( and its Asia-Pa­cific de­but) by screen­ing a 3-D film about the area’s his­tory, cre­ated by one of China’s up-and­com­ing direc­tors, on the facade of the ho­tel.

This ‘‘think lo­cal’’ ap­proach is prov­ing very suc­cess­ful for IHG, which launched Indigo as a niche brand and has since watched it go vi­ral. There are al­ready 37 neigh­bour­hood-savvy Ho­tel Indigo prop­er­ties, with an­other 63 planned. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Phuket and Riyadh will open soon and IHG has plans to ex­pand the sta­ble to in­clude 250 by the end of the decade.

Ho­tel Indigo’s suc­cess, An­der­son be­lieves, lies in pro­vid­ing a ‘‘bou­tique ex­pe­ri­ence’’ with the ben­e­fits a brand brings, such as the abil­ity to earn loy­alty points and air­line miles (in this in­stance with the in­dus­try’s largest pro­gram).

It’s im­por­tant to note that for Indigo guests ‘‘style doesn’t mean be­ing cov­ered head to toe in de­signer la­bels’’, says An­der­son.

‘‘They’re more likely to take a high-low ap­proach — match­ing a la­bel piece with some­thing easy and affordable.’’

This sen­ti­ment is echoed by the Hy­att Ho­tels Cor­po­ra­tion’s An­daz brand, launched four years ago and slot­ting in some­where be­tween the up­scale Park Hy­att and Grand Hy­att tiers. Cater­ing to ur­ban pro­fes­sion­als and of­fer­ing a stylish prod­uct mi­nus the lux­ury price tag, An­daz has also gone down the neigh­bour­hood route. For ex­am­ple, in Lon­don the An­daz Liver­pool Street is housed in one of the city’s orig­i­nal rail­way ho­tels.

Guests can check them­selves in on a lap­top in the lobby or ask an as­so­ciate bran­dish­ing a hand-held de­vice to help out. Room rates have been stream­lined to in­clude in­ter­net ac­cess, lo­cal phone calls and in-room non-al­co­holic bev­er­ages and snacks.

A newly avail­able app al­lows guests to check in, or­der room ser­vice or mon­i­tor mes­sages from their iPhone.

The five ex­ist­ing An­daz prop­er­ties are in Lon­don, Los An­ge­les, New York and San Diego, and more are un­der de­vel­op­ment in Am­s­ter­dam, Delhi, Costa Rica, the Hawai­ian is­land of Maui and Turks and Caicos Is­lands. DIVER­SIFY OR DIE Even within up­scale brands, ho­tel mar­keters are seek­ing to diver­sify. Take Sof­i­tel Lux­ury Ho­tels, the flag­ship brand ( and sep­a­rate busi­ness unit) of the French Ac­cor group, which op­er­ates 120 fives­tar prop­er­ties world­wide and has re­cently in­au­gu­rated two new la­bels — Sof­i­tel Le­gend and Sof­i­tel So — to sup­port the pri­mary brand.

The Le­gend la­bel in­cor­po­rates his­toric and one-of-a kind prop­er­ties such as Hanoi’s evoca­tive Metropole ho­tel (where Graham Greene com­pleted The Quiet Amer­i­can and Jane Fonda protested in style dur­ing the Viet­nam War) and The Grand Am­s­ter­dam; Egypt’s ro­man­tic Old Cataract at Aswan is sched­uled to re­open next year with a Le­gend brand­ing fol­low­ing a three-year ren­o­va­tion.

Sof­i­tel So, on the other hand, is a bou­tique, de­sign-driven la­bel — Kenzo Takada and Chris­tian Lacroix have had a hand in the first two prop­er­ties — deemed res­o­lutely con­tem­po­rary by Sof­i­tel’s mar­ket­ing gu­rus.

The first So has opened in Mau­ri­tius, and a 238-room hitech, thor­oughly con­tem­po­rary ho­tel is set to open in Bangkok, over­look­ing Lumpini Park, next Jan­uary. Lo­cal de­sign­ers have cre­ated in­te­ri­ors based around the five el­e­ments (wa­ter, earth, wood, metal and fire), with Lacroix pulling the whole look to­gether.

But it’s the Ap­ple-based dig­i­tal plat­form that will make this Bangkok ho­tel rev­o­lu­tion­ary and res­o­lutely con­tem­po­rary. All gue­strooms will be equipped with an Ap­ple Mac mini com­puter, to­gether with a high-def­i­ni­tion 40-inch LCD TV, wire­less key­board, track­pad, free high­speed in­ter­net ac­cess and a full range of of­fice soft­ware.

Guests staying in suites will also have the use of an iPad.

This mul­ti­me­dia plat­form ( al­low­ing ac­cess to TV, ra­dio, movies, mu­sic, DVDs, CDs and even the room-ser­vice menu) will op­er­ate across the en­tire ho­tel, in­clud­ing all pub­lic ar­eas, the busi­ness cen­tre and meet­ing rooms.

Gen­eral man­ager Giles Cre­tal­laz says it’s all part of what the Sof­i­tel So brand rep­re­sents — ‘ ‘ the recog­ni­tion of a new gen­er­a­tion of ur­ban ho­tels that are tech­no­log­i­cally in­no­va­tive and de­sign ori­ented’’.

The go-ahead So tem­plate com­ple­ments Sof­i­tel’s goal to op­er­ate 150 ho­tels world­wide.

As well as ad­vanc­ing in-room tech­nol­ogy, Sof­i­tel in­tends to ramp up the luxe fac­tor and when open­ing new prop­er­ties or ren­o­vat­ing ex­ist­ing ones, will in­crease the num­ber of suites and vil­las in each ho­tel to be­tween 15 and 20 per cent of the to­tal room in­ven­tory.

But across all Sof­i­tel la­bels the pre­vail­ing mood is con­sis­tent: a very French art de vivre. THE SCHRAGER EF­FECT When Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional de­cided to broaden the five-star con­cept be­yond its Ritz-Carl­ton and J.W. Mar­riott top-end brands, it went to Ian Schrager, the ac­knowl­edged pi­o­neer of hip ho­tels. Schrager talks not of la­bels but of a ‘‘new genre, the next phase in the story of life­style ho­tels’’.

He notes, ‘ ‘ We would call it bou­tique if ev­ery­body else wasn’t call­ing their ho­tels bou­tique.’’

Mar­riott’s life­style brand is called Edi­tion and, with Schrager as cre­ative ad­viser, de­buted last Oc­to­ber in Waikiki to in­stant ac­claim. Mar­riott has fol­lowed up with an Is­tan­bul Edi­tion and plans to open a Lon­don ho­tel next year and an­other in Mi­ami dur­ing the north­ern spring of 2013. Barcelona, Mex­ico City and Bangkok prop­er­ties are thought to be on the draw­ing boards.

Each is a ‘‘cus­tomised, one-ofa-kind’’ ho­tel, re­spond­ing to ‘ ‘ newly emerg­ing cul­tural and so­cial im­per­a­tives, and lo­ca­tion is key’’. In Is­tan­bul, New York-based ar­chi­tects Ga­bellini Shep­pard have cre­ated an ur­ban re­sort com­pris­ing a 13-storey tower fea­tur­ing 77 large guest lofts where the smooth-as-silk in­te­ri­ors take their colour cue from Is­tan­bul’s ven­er­a­ble vil­las, with ceil­ings and floors of rose­wood and soaped oak, and bath­rooms of stone and mar­ble.

This lat­est Edi­tion fea­tures a restau­rant by Cipri­ani, spa by ESPA, a sump­tu­ous Gold Bar, a pri­vate screen­ing room as well as a night­club.

Great looks are one thing but great ser­vice — a rather old­fash­ioned no­tion in cer­tain hip ho­tels where the staff are of­ten bet­ter dressed than the guests (and know it) — is a cen­tral plat­form of the Edi­tion ethos. As Schrager has said, ‘‘We don’t re­ally care if your cof­fee gets served in the finest ster­ling sil­ver, we just re­ally care [that] it gets served quickly and it’s good and it’s hot.’’ TRAD­ING ON YOUR LOOKS Other well-es­tab­lished de­sign brands in­clude Star­wood Ho­tels and Re­sorts’ W, while Hil­ton’s Con­rad off­shoot is the more de­sign-fo­cused of its two lux­ury brands. The Con­rad Bali, for ex­am­ple, fea­tures a knock-out spa and glam­orous all-suite wing where each guest is as­signed a per­sonal as­sis­tant.

The Shangri-La Ho­tels Group op­er­ates a style (and cost) savvy mid-mar­ket brand called Traders, with 13 prop­er­ties lo­cated in main busi­ness cen­tres in Asia, the Mal­dives and the Mid­dle East. The brand was es­tab­lished to meet grow­ing de­mand from both the cor­po­rate and leisure sec­tors, and of­fers well-priced, well-de­signed rooms that aren’t short on pizazz.

These rooms are prac­ti­cal but warm and con­ve­nient lo­ca­tion is deemed es­sen­tial, par­tic­u­larly for the busy road war­rior.

New Traders ho­tels are planned for Jo­hor Bahru in Malaysia, Chen­nai, Doha and Sin­ga­pore. icho­tels­group.com an­daz.com sof­i­tel-le­gend.com edi­tion­ho­tels.com star­wood­ho­tels.com con­rad­ho­tels1.hil­ton.com shangri-la.com

Ho­tel Indigo brand prop­er­ties are neigh­bour­hood-based, pro­vid­ing im­me­di­ate ac­cess to the arts, cul­ture and restau­rants of in­ter­est­ing ur­ban bor­oughs, be they in Lon­don’s Padding­ton or on the Bund in Shang­hai, above

An ‘earth’ room at the So Ho­tel in Bangkok, which is due to open in Jan­uary

Mar­riott’s The Waikiki Edi­tion opened last Oc­to­ber to in­stant ac­claim

The An­gelina Lounge in Hanoi’s evoca­tive Metropole ho­tel

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