Features

Lifestyle hotel brands: Changing rooms

28 May 2015 by Jenny Southan
A new breed of lifestyle hotel brands aims to help you balance work and leisure – but are they right for the business traveller? Jenny Southan reports The world’s ten largest hotel chains now offer a combined 113 brands, 31 of which didn’t exist a decade ago, it was recently reported. A portion of these, such as Hyatt’s Andaz and Marriott International’s Edition, are “lifestyle” concepts that are designed to appeal to urbane, 21st-century travellers – cultured, young, tech-savvy mobile workers. And the trend is gathering momentum, as the number of new brands being unveiled is reaching a crescendo – this year there are a flurry of arrivals, from Canopy and Even, to Vib and Jaz in the City. What are they? Lifestyle properties embody a more boutique feel than their traditional “cookie cutter” counterparts, and are a way for multinational chains to express a sense of individuality and personality that people are looking for, along with – to a greater or lesser degree – uniform facilities and standards of service. They can also be differentiated from collections of independent, individual properties that are being “curated” by big chains, such as Tribute Portfolio by Starwood and Curio by Hilton. The modus operandi seems to be for hotels to provide more informal service, value for money (although some are at the luxury end of the spectrum), convenient locations and a sense of place through décor and locally sourced produce. In the past, the fact that brands prided themselves on providing the same environment whether guests were in Moscow or Manila was a comfort – nowadays, not everyone wants to be so cocooned. Travel writer Anna Hart says: “My generation doesn’t aspire to chain-hotel, five-star luxury; we possess no brand loyalty. There is far more social kudos in sourcing an under-the-radar find. Travel is still about showing off, but we want to show off our good taste and travel smarts, not our salary bracket.” A lot of it is marketing, of course. In reality, many of the new arrivals aren’t offering anything wildly innovative – just more colourful design, open-plan lobby lounges and free wifi, for example – but they are trying to tap into a new mindset, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Parag Vohra, general manager for hotels at Sojern, a data platform to help brands engage with travellers, says: “It used to be that consistency trumped everything, but lifestyles have changed. If you do all this research into changing tastes and alter the lodging experience [accordingly], then you should go out and have a narrative to explain what you have done.” He adds: “Sometimes it is easier to build a brand from scratch than to have an audience unlearn perceptions.” Is there a limit to how many sub-brands a chain can have? Fred Finn, “the world’s most travelled person”, according to Guinness World Records (he has flown 22.5 million kilometres and made 718 flights on Concorde), says: “All of these brands are confusing – I suppose they are trying to get every angle of the marketplace from the lower to the upper end covered. But how many can the market take?” Marriott International has 19 brands in total, from Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance in the luxury segment to Courtyard and Fairfield Inn at the select-service end. It also has four lifestyle concepts. Markus Lehnert, vice-president of international hotel development, says: “You want to avoid any of your customers drifting, so wherever your customer goes, you want to have a hotel.” He adds: “In Europe we have about 50 per cent of our rooms in lifestyle brands and the other 50 per cent in more traditional brands; worldwide, it is 15 per cent lifestyle. So Europe is showing the way to go.” But Vohra warns: “As these chains introduce more brands, they should take a hard look at which ones they could retire, as every one of them requires resources to maintain.” At age 75, what kind of places does Finn stay in? “I prefer traditional, full-service hotels that know I am coming,” he says. “I just sign in and within a few minutes someone is calling to ask if my room is alright. I like Marriott because they are pretty much everywhere and I have stayed with them since they started. I also stayed in the new Conrad in Dubai recently and it was fantastic.” On average, Finn spends 15 to 20 days a month in hotels – and reckons he has slept in more than 7,000 hotel beds since he started travelling in 1958. He doesn’t just go for major chains, however. “I regularly stay in a boutique hotel in Kiev with 150 rooms,” he says. “It has superb service – you can put your shoes outside your door and they are clean by the morning. It’s a little old-fashioned; everyone smiles, staff are polite and helpful.” So would he consider a lifestyle hotel? “I’m always ready to give something new a try,” he says. Marriott International launched its Moxy brand last September, at Milan Malpensa airport (click here for a review). Lehnert says that targeting young people exclusively is not its intention. “There is a continued blur between business and private life,” he says. “You may sit there at 9pm working on a presentation but in the afternoon you may be on Facebook. We want to make sure Moxy appeals not just to the millennial, but to the kind of people who live this life.” More to the point, he says: “Fifty per cent of our overnight stays are from reward-card holders and there are very few millennials among them.” Behind the scenes, Moxy has also taken a fresh approach to operations. Lehnert says: “We have fewer staff [than traditional hotels] – we run a 170-room property with 15 FTEs [full-time equivalents]. There are no departments – everyone does everything so they have to be specially trained. There is no office for the general manager – they have a lockable drawer but they are in the public space – and staff all eat with the guests.” This helps to offset the extra money invested in the design and facilities (such as 42-inch flatscreen TVs), which are decidedly “not budget”, meaning people get a better experience. Will lifestyle hotels be successful? Hart thinks so: “My prediction is that the hotels that will thrive are those that cater to this new breed of working traveller – we want sumptuous, interesting décor, personality and a dose of luxury. We also want our partners and families catered for if they’re in tow, as well as super-fast, free, hassle-free wifi, great public spaces for meetings and hot-desking, and sharp staff that respond swiftly to our needs.” Yet this doesn’t mean the demise of cookie-cutter operations. Amir Segall is vice-president of international for booking app Hotel Tonight, which has 13 million downloads and a 50-50 mix of business and leisure customers. He says: “The younger generation likes to be spontaneous, to try something different. But I think the traditional chain will always be around – people like places that are familiar.” Ultimately, travellers will have more choice, and can earn points at the same time. THE LIFESTYLE HOTEL BRANDS HEADING YOUR WAY SOON… MOXY Marriott unveiled “fun, edgy, social” three-star Moxy last September at Milan Malpensa airport. Sexy digital prints feature throughout the property, and there is an Instagram wall in the open-plan lobby lounge. There are Scandi fixtures and fittings, Tom Dixon pendant lights, Vitra tables, colourful Fat Boy cube stools, stacks of art books and raspberry-coloured rugs. Another 150 Moxys are set to arrive by 2020, with five in Germany, one in Aberdeen and two in London next on the list. There will be 30 in Europe in the next three years, as well as at least eight in the US. moxy-hotels.marriott.com CANOPY BY HILTON In October, it was announced that Canopy by Hilton would arrive this year – the 12th brand for the company. A statement reads: “We are all about being local, through design, food and beverage, art, and local know-how. No two Canopy hotels will be the same.” A promotional video adds: “Travel should be fun, even on a business trip. We get you. Mobile check-in, tastings every evening, [and an] artisanal breakfast is included.” Canopy will be developing new-builds and conversions, with letters of intent signed so far for one property in London and ten in the US, including Washington DC, Miami and Portland. canopybyhilton.com HYATT CENTRIC Hyatt has designed its full-service Centric brand “for multi-generational modern explorers”. The first two to open were in Chicago (the Loop) and Miami (South Beach) in April. Occupying a repurposed historic building, the former has 257 rooms, while the latter houses 105 rooms in a glass tower. All will have free wifi and Bluetooth TVs. Hyatt says: “While each hotel will be custom-designed to its market, the brand will be characterised by certain common elements, including spaces like the Corner, where guests can work, socialise and peruse a curated collection of local books and magazines.” A dozen will arrive by this summer in destinations such as Paris, New York, Atlanta and Houston. hyattcentric.com EVEN HOTELS Intercontinental Hotels Group’s ninth brand has two properties so far in the US and three in the pipeline. They are aimed at “business and leisure travellers who maintain a healthy and active lifestyle and are looking for a complete wellness experience at a mainstream price point”. IHG hopes to fulfil this need by providing rooms with enough space to do a workout, plus group exercise activities, free filtered water, gyms and healthier food. There will also be free wifi. evenhotels.com HOTEL JEN Shangri-La’s four-star Hotel Jen is “inspired by the virtual persona Jen, a professional hotelier who loves life, travel and the adventure of discovering new places”. The first ten properties opened in Asia-Pacific between September 2014 and March 2015. Jen is replacing the company’s outdated Traders brand – the first transformation was the Orchardgateway in Singapore. Free wifi, plenty of mobile charging points, and complimentary coffee and snack kiosks are brand standards. hoteljen.com CORDIS HOTELS AND RESORTS  Langham Hospitality Group’s upscale brand Cordis (“high-end but without the opulence”) was announced in February. The first opening will be a rebrand of the Langham Place Mongkok Hong Kong in August. A mix of new-builds and conversions, Cordis will be focused on cities in Asia and North America – agreements have been signed for the launch of eight (five in China) in the next three years. Chief executive Robert Warman says: “Each Cordis hotel will be individual in style, architecture and design, all of which will be reflective of its location and culture, and tailored to the requirements of our guests.” cordishotels.com RADISSON RED Carlson Rezidor hopes to have 60 Radisson Reds worldwide by 2020. The first open next year in Cape Town and Shenyang Hunan. Rooms are affordable, with the option of being personalised (for a fee) with pre-selected minibar drinks and sandwiches from a 24-hour deli, plus family photos on the TV. The reception will be a gallery-like space, and some rooms will have bunks. Guests will be able to check-in and use a “glocal” concierge via an app. radissonred.com VIB Best Western’s Vib is a new “urban boutique concept focused on style, technology and engagement”. Interiors will be bright with LED lighting. There will be media walls, as well as smart TVs in the rooms for streaming content. “Grab and go” food will be available around the clock, and there will be Zen Zones, virtual concierges, gaming pods and free wifi. Construction begins this year in Miami, Chicago and Seoul. bestwestern.com JAZ IN THE CITY “In tune but offbeat”, this new brand from Germany’s Steigenberger Hotel Group will launch with an Amsterdam property in September featuring 11 suites and 247 rooms (all 26 sqm with smart TVs). Guests can expect rotating exhibitions of local art, gigs, state-of-the-art technology and urban design. jaz-hotel.com
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