The art of accommodation
How to get yourself a hotel lifestyle
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