Lead­ing by De­sign

Awe-in­spir­ing aes­thet­ics, thought­ful dé­cor and com­pelling con­cepts make these ho­tels the stays of our lives

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - By Cle­ment Huang

Awe-in­spir­ing aes­thet­ics, thought­ful dé­cor and com­pelling con­cepts make these ho­tels the stays of our lives

If you pay at­ten­tion to travel prod­ucts, you may have heard of the term“de­sign ho­tels”or“de­sign-led ho­tels.”It has be­come such a trend that there is even an al­liance ded­i­cated to it. The De­sign Ho­tels group, es­tab­lished over 20 years ago, pro­vides small, in­de­pen­dent prop­er­ties with the much-needed sup­port that these ho­tels would oth­er­wise be un­able to re­ceive, in­clud­ing sales, mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions, along with yield rev­enue man­age­ment and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment deals. The group started with ten mem­ber prop­er­ties, which has since blos­somed into a col­lec­tion of some 300 de­sign ho­tels.

But what con­sti­tutes a“de­sign ho­tel”? The term first emerged in the 1980s in North Amer­ica and Europe, where it was most of­ten used in re­la­tion to small, in­de­pen­dent ho­tels. Be­yond that, there is no cookie cut­ter def­i­ni­tion for this ho­tel con­cept, be­cause the whole point is that these ho­tels are, by def­i­ni­tion, not cookie cut­ter. Mem­bers of the De­sign Ho­tels group range from Sex­tan­tio Le Grotte della Civita – a five-star ho­tel built into an­cient stone caves in south­ern Italy – to Mira Moon, a 91-room ho­tel lo­cated in down­town Hong Kong, which high­lights Chi­nese tra­di­tions as its main theme.

Per­haps it’s eas­ier to high­light what a de­sign ho­tel is not – con­form­ist, generic or ap­peal­ing to the mass mar­ket. How­ever, things have be­come a lit­tle cloudier with the en­try of large ho­tel groups into the arena. The suc­cess of the pi­o­neers has re­sulted in com­mer­cial ex­po­sure, with multi-na­tional ho­tel groups latch­ing on to the at­trac­tive­ness of the con­cept, and launch­ing their own“de­sign” brands.

Small Trend Goes Big

At the end of 1998, Star­wood opened its first W ho­tel in NewYork, with the goal of re­defin­ing“the lux­ury and de­sign-led lifestyle ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence .” These prop­er­ties take de­sign, mu­sic and fash­ion as their core themes, and of­ten spon­sor rel­e­vant events to boost their brand im­age.

The first Ho­tel In­digo, de­vel­oped by IHG as“a brand ho­tel with the de­sign cache and ser­vice per­son­al­ity of a bou­tique,” opened in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia in Oc­to­ber, 2004, and the port­fo­lio has since grown to an even 100 prop­er­ties around the world (as of April 2018), in­clud­ing ones in Man­hat­tan, War­saw and Hong Kong.

The Hy­att group opened its first An­daz in Lon­don in 2007, and in 2011, the brand en­tered Asia with An­daz Xin­tiandi Shang­hai. Glob­ally the brand now has 18 prop­er­ties, with new open­ings in Delhi, Am­s­ter­dam and Palm Springs. Ac­cord­ing to the group,“Each An­daz ho­tel is unique in de­sign, ameni­ties and cui­sine, but all share a friendly at­ti­tude and warm, per­sonal ser­vice.”

De­spite how these brands are be­ing mar­keted, they do not seem to ad­here to the tra­di­tional view of de­sign ho­tels. Af­ter all, their prop­er­ties are nei­ther small, nor one-off prop­er­ties – even if each boasts a dif­fer­ent de­sign. In­stead, they are part of larger ho­tel chains, which tra­di­tion­ally fo­cus on the mass mar­ket and prof­itabil­ity, rather than a pur­suit of in­di­vid­ual de­sign con­cepts for dis­cern­ing cus­tomers, thus fur­ther blur­ring the line be­tween a com­mer­cial and niche cat­e­gory.

While de­sign ho­tels de­vel­oped by large hos­pi­tal­ity groups have to fol­low“brand DNA,”Ber­lin-based De­sign Ho­tels, as a ho­tel al­liance, prides it­self for tak­ing a more flex­i­ble ap­proach when as­sess­ing new ap­pli­cants. Nonethe­less, the group finds ben­e­fits in its con­nec­tion to Mar­riott through its long-stand­ing part­ner­ship with Star­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts, which has held a stake in De­sign Ho­tels since 2011.

W, Ho­tel In­digo and An­daz prop­er­ties also have to fol­low the re­quire­ments set by their par­ent com­pa­nies, such as in-room ameni­ties and con­fig­u­ra­tions. For many trav­el­ers, par­tic­u­larly those on busi­ness, this is a pos­i­tive thing. Hav­ing a room that is fa­mil­iar can be im­por­tant when choos­ing your ac­com­mo­da­tion. No­body wants to waste time fig­ur­ing out where the switch for a par­tic­u­lar light is, and it is com­fort­ing to know ex­actly the ser­vices that you’re guar­an­teed to re­ceive at an IHG ho­tel, re­gard­less of whether you’re stay­ing at an In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, Crown Plaza or Ho­tel In­digo.

By Pop­u­lar De­mand

The rise of the de­sign ho­tel trend may also have to do with peo­ple trav­el­ing more in gen­eral. A re­cent study by Ox­ford Eco­nom­ics and com­mis­sioned by travel ser­vices and so­lu­tions provider Amadeus, fore­casts travel to grow by 5.4 per­cent per an­num over the next ten years, out­pac­ing global GDP by 2 per­cent. The up­ward trend is largely driven by emerg­ing mar­kets such as China, Rus­sia, Brazil, In­dia, In­done­sia and Turkey. As their pop­u­la­tions be­come more well-trav­eled, they also be­come more ad­ven­tur­ous.

“The art of trav­el­ing to­day has be­come so pro­lific and com­mon­place that [the] cookie-cut­ter fa­mil­iar­ity is no longer enough to fuel the as­pi­ra­tions of road war­riors and hol­i­day mak­ers to­day,”states Anthony Ross, Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for Asia Pa­cific, Mid­dle East and Africa.

Within Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group is the com­pany’s sub-brand, Ster­ling De­sign, which re­flects dis­tinct ar­chi­tec­ture and bold in­te­ri­ors. Ac­cord­ing to Ross, the col­lec­tion was“spe­cially cre­ated for trav­el­ers that yearn to ex­pe­ri­ence a de­sign-fo­cused ho­tel with­out a hefty price-tag or the need for high-end lux­ury”.

The Casa sull’Al­bero in Mal­grate, Italy, per­son­i­fies the traits of the Ster­ling De­sign brand. Over­look­ing Lake Como, the prop­erty is de­signed with lo­cally sourced stone, wood and glass. It com­bines mod­ern ameni­ties such as un­der-floor cool­ing and mod­ern heat­ing fa­cil­i­ties with an­tique wood fur­ni­ture that has been worked by crafts­men in Bri­anza. Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a restau­rant and bar, meet­ing room, li­brary, out­door pool and gym.

Other Ster­ling De­sign prop­er­ties in­clude the BLVD Ho­tel & Suites in Hol­ly­wood, The Times in NewYork, the Olivia Balmes Ho­tel in Barcelona, and the Mo­saic Ho­tel in Noida, In­dia.

Mean­while, Pre­ferred Bou­tique is an­other brand that brings to­gether a se­lec­tion of ho­tels and re­sorts, each con­tain­ing 100 rooms or less. The col­lec­tion pro­vides a sense of in­ti­macy with a de­sign style and per­son­al­ity that is dis­tinc­tive.

For ex­am­ple the Lv Gar­den Huanghuali Art Gallery in Bei­jing of­fers 38 rooms that show­case the beauty of Chi­nese artistry and crafts­man­ship through the many cul­tural ar­ti­facts from the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties that are on dis­play. To em­pha­size this con­nec­tion, the sur­round­ing ex­te­rior is filled with clas­sic Chi­nese court­yards fea­tur­ing land­scaped koi ponds and wa­ter­falls.

Fash­ion­ably Com­pli­cated

As if the topic weren’t murky enough, an­other re­cent trend to emerge is that of “de­signer ho­tels”– as op­posed to“de­sign ho­tels”or“de­sign-led ho­tels – which are not only de­sign-fo­cused, but ac­tu­ally have taken on the per­sonal style of a note­wor­thy fash­ion icon. Al­though typ­i­cally smaller, these de­signer ho­tels need to have the big bud­gets of large hos­pi­tal­ity gi­ants be­hind them to se­cure the names of Ar­mani or Bul­gari.

Ac­cor’s Sof­i­tel So brand is one such brand mar­keted as a“de­signer ho­tel.”Renowned de­sign­ers such as Kenzo Takada, Chris­tian Lacroix and Karl Lager­feld have con­trib­uted to the de­signs of Sof­i­tel So’s prop­er­ties in Mau­ri­tius, Bangkok and Sin­ga­pore re­spec­tively. Their in­flu­ence ex­tends

be­yond the look and feel of guest rooms, it also en­com­passes ameni­ties in­clud­ing staff uni­forms, ce­ram­ics and even the guest’s sta­tionery and col­lat­er­als.

Ac­cord­ing to Siri­nate Meenakul, global di­rec­tor for Sof­i­tel, this brand of­fers a com­pletely dif­fer­ent de­sign con­cept to the main­stay Sof­i­tel brand. By hav­ing wellestab­lished fash­ion de­sign­ers in­cor­po­rat­ing their in­spi­ra­tion and sig­na­ture flair into the de­sign of a ho­tel, Meenakul be­lieves that this dis­tin­guishes in­di­vid­ual Sof­i­tel So prop­er­ties one from an­other.

“Fash­ion de­sign­ers of­fer a dif­fer­ent de­sign per­spec­tive. Each of our ex­clu­sively de­signed dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects, ho­tel spa­ces, and ameni­ties heighten the guest ex­pe­ri­ence and emo­tions within each Sof­i­tel So en­vi­ron­ment,”she says.

As to whether Sof­i­tel So could be classed as a“de­sign ho­tel,”Meenakul cer­tainly thinks so. Ac­cord­ing to her, a de­sign ho­tel is a prop­erty that uses de­sign as one of its core el­e­ments, which is what Sof­i­tel So is all about.

“A‘real’de­sign ho­tel is a ho­tel that is con­cep­tu­ally planned with the con­cept re­flected through­out the ho­tel, such as the build­ing, in­te­rior, uni­forms, food and bev­er­age of­fer­ings and ser­vice el­e­ments, to pro­vide guests with a unique ex­pe­ri­ence through­out their stay. A true de­sign ho­tel fo­cuses not only on the ar­chi­tec­ture, but en­com­passes all as­pects of the ho­tel’s of­fer­ing.”

So it seems, that by its very na­ture, a “de­sign ho­tel”is with­out re­stric­tion. While the name has been latched onto as a mar­ket­ing term by larger groups (much in the same vein as“bou­tique”), it’s in­cor­rect to say that large groups can­not of­fer a de­sign ho­tel brand. The term is a bit of a chameleon; it can change its ap­pear­ance de­pend­ing on the si­t­u­a­tion.

Good for Busi­ness?

The next ques­tion, how­ever, is if the fo­cus re­mains fix­ated on in­di­vid­u­al­ity – can these de­sign ho­tels cater to the needs of a busi­ness trav­eler? The an­swers tend to be di­vided, with some ready to em­brace the idea of a de­sign ho­tel pro­vided it of­fers the same qual­ity com­fort, lo­ca­tion, and ameni­ties that they would get at the big brands. Oth­ers, how­ever, would still pre­fer the re­li­a­bil­ity of cor­po­rate gi­ants such as Mar­riott and Hil­ton.

It seems that it all boils down to what the ho­tel it­self of­fers. The newly opened Mira Moon ho­tel in Hong Kong, for ex­am­ple, of­fers perks busi­ness trav­el­ers need. It is also lo­cated down­town.

How­ever, be­ing a rel­a­tively small ho­tel with 91 rooms and an in­te­rior in­spired by the legend of the Chi­nese god­dess of the moon Chang’e, Mira Moon seems to strike a good bal­ance be­tween style and sub­stance.

Brands such as W, An­daz and In­digo, on the other hand, strike a bal­ance be­tween in­di­vid­u­al­ity and fa­mil­iar­ity. While each prop­erty has its own style of­ten in­spired by the sur­round­ings, the experiences they of­fer – not to men­tion the loyalty ben­e­fits – are backed by large ho­tel groups.

And if your com­pany has a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Mar­riott, Hy­att or IHG, why not pick one of these de­sign-led ho­tels just for some­thing dif­fer­ent? Whether or not you are a con­vert to this trend, hav­ing a choice is never a bad thing. BT

From top: Lv Gar­den Huanghuali Art Gallery; Mira Moon's lobby and en­trance

Clock­wise from top right: Ho­tel In­digo Lon­don-Padding­ton; So Bangkok

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