More Than a bed

Ho­tels serve up choices to suit ev­ery taste

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Har­vey Chip­kin

For busi­ness trav­el­ers de­cid­ing on where to spend the night, this is the best – and most frag­mented – of times. New ho­tel brands are be­ing rolled out at as­sem­bly-line speed, bear­ing trendy names that read like smart­phone apps but with the vow­els in­tact, like Haven, Cordis, Quorvus and Un­scripted.

A boom­ing lodg­ing in­dus­try is in the midst of a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion whirl­wind as it tar­gets a new gen­er­a­tion of trav­eler that might be de­fined by age, mind­set or crav­ing for ex­pe­ri­ence. Com­bine that with a resur­gence of in­de­pen­dent ho­tels and the ex­plo­sion of shar­ing op­tions like airbnb and it makes for a boun­ti­ful but po­ten­tially blurry menu of lodg­ing op­tions.

“There are busi­ness trav­el­ers who func­tion sim­i­larly to the way they did a decade or two ago,”says Bjorn Han­son, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor at NYU’s Tisch Cen­ter for Hos­pi­tal­ity and Tourism.“But there is a new busi­ness trav­eler and the chal­lenge for lodg­ing is to re­spond to both de­mo­graph­ics. The tra­di­tional brand was all about uni­for­mity and stan­dards no mat­ter where you are,”says Han­son. “The same color pal­ette, art, room ser­vice menu and wine list. To­day even for more tra­di­tional busi­ness trav­el­ers, that same­ness has be­come a neg­a­tive. To most trav­el­ers the ho­tel is the high­light of their stay.”

One rea­son for all the ac­tiv­ity is that busi­ness is good. A sur­vey by PKF-HR Ho­tel Hori­zons re­ported a record 70.4 per­cent oc­cu­pancy for ma­jor mar­kets in 2014, eclips­ing the mark set in 1996. And the con­sul­tants fore­cast that record will be bro­ken again this year and in 2016. So de­spite a ramp-up in sup­ply af­ter years of stag­nant growth, the re­sult will be in­creased pric­ing for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Tap­ping into the Ex­pe­ri­ence

While Con­rad Hil­ton’s clas­sic lodg­ing credo of“lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion”still holds, it now part­ners with“ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­pe­ri­ence”as ho­tel op­er­a­tors seek to make even a busi­ness travel stay mem­o­rable by es­tab­lish­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion with guests.

“We cre­ate re­la­tion­ships,”says Sa­muel Leizorek, man­ag­ing part­ner for Las Al­cobas, a bou­tique ho­tel in Mex­ico City,“and those re­la­tion­ships are al­ways bet­ter than what’s new and flashy. We don’t op­er­ate on there be­ing a dif­fer­ence be­tween the leisure and busi­ness trav­eler. They may spend a few hours a day do­ing dif­fer­ent things but they all want a good rest at night, a fan­tas­tic break­fast and amaz­ing ameni­ties.”

Ac­cord­ing to Toni Stoeckl, Mar­riott’s vice pres­i­dent of life­style brands,“For Mar­riott, it’s about go­ing be­yond the func­tional as­pects of a ho­tel stay and in­fus­ing that stay with an ex­pe­ri­ence that con­nects with you on an emo­tional level, that you want to share with oth­ers. We would love for our guests to be rav­ing fans of their ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Christie Hicks, se­nior vice pres­i­dent, Star­wood sales or­ga­ni­za­tion, agrees that the ho­tel stay is about hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the in­di­vid­ual.“Do you have the right tech­nol­ogy for that spe­cific per­son – whether they want to be con­tin­u­ously con­nected or not. One busi­ness trav­eler might be so­cial and want the op­tion of ac­tive public spa­ces while the more soli­tary trav­eler will want a room that gives them ev­ery­thing they need. We have to sat­isfy all of them.”

Food and bev­er­age (F&B as hote­liers say) have taken cen­ter stage in the ex­pe­ri­ence game as mil­len­ni­als are per­ceived as the first gen­er­a­tion of food­ies.

At AC Ho­tels, a Euro­pean chain ac­quired by Mar­riott last year,“the fo­cus is on B&F rather than the tra­di­tional F&B,”says Stoeckl,“as trav­el­ers seek out craft beers and cus­tom-made cock­tails.“He adds,“It’s about the sto­ries guests can take with them – dis­cov­er­ing new drinks or lo­cal artists whose work is ex­hib­ited in the bars and restau­rants.”

At Hil­ton’s new life­style brand, Canopy, there will be com­pli­men­tary nightly tast­ings of lo­cal craft beers, wine or spir­its. The café bar will take the spot­light for serv­ing small bites and bev­er­ages. And the ho­tels will be pro­vid­ing free bikes.

And while bou­tique/life­style ho­tels have trum­peted the im­por­tance of de­sign and hang­ing wall art, Jim Holt­houser, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, global brands for Hil­ton, says,“We have iden­ti­fied the need to

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