Markus Lehnert, vice-president of international hotel development at Marriott International, discusses the emergence of 'lifestyle' hotel brands and why they are not just for millennials.
Marriott International launched its new "lifestyle" Moxy brand last September, at Milan Malpensa airport (click here to read a review of the property).
Here, we find out what it is and where it fits in with the trend for major hotel chains launching similar types of concepts aimed at the 21st century traveller.
Why did you decide to launch Moxy?
"Marriott in Europe hasn't got anything in the economy segment so this was a white spot. Moxy was to some extent a coincidence and to some extent a design to try and launch a pan-European brand to address the needs of what we feel is a new traveller.
"Initially, this was a co-operation with Inter Ikea [now Vastint], which is the property and investment arm behind Ikea, but now they are really only a passive investor, and not an exclusive one either."
Who is your target audience?
"We all talk about millennials [people born after 1980] but I don't want to overstress that term because we also know that birth rates go down all over the western world so we may not end up with as many millennials as we think we might.
"I think this is more to do with the lifestyle we lead – there is a continued blur between business and private life.
"You may sit there at 9pm in the evening working on a presentation but in the afternoon between 2pm and 3pm you may be sitting there on Facebook. People have their professional and private lives in their hands — they have their laptops, their iPads and one or two telephones.
"Therefore, any kind of lifestyle hotel needs to be a kind of platform. What do these guys need? They need sockets because these machines are always running out of juice. They also need a coffee, a bed and something to eat – not a gourmet meal, that is what the addresses in their iPads are for – I am talking about something to sustain them.
"On the other hand, if we want to launch a brand within the budget space we want to make sure it [appeals] not just to the millennial but the kind of people who live this life.
"These people might be 50 or 40 – to some extent we all live this life and we all have a requirement to be mobile and perhaps carry our office in a trolley bag behind us. Those are the target customers for Moxy.
"Another good point is that 50 per cent of our overnight stays are from reward cardholders, which is another reason we wouldn't just do something for millennials – there are very few millennials among our loyalty scheme members. We don't want to be in any way ageist at Moxy."
What kind of experience will customers have at a Moxy?
"The public areas are segmented into four parts – for working, for having a quiet conversation, for all-day dining and for partying. All areas are used for breakfast.
"We think [all kinds of] people will be comfortable at a Moxy as we have designed a pretty clever room which is not a budget room. A 42-inch TV is not budget. A clear width of the room at 3.13 metres is not budget. And a 12-inch thick mattress is also not budget.
"In Europe, we will have this room type. We launched Moxy in the US in January and there are 25 projects there at the moment. It will be slightly different out there.
"Milan was a pre-prototype so it was already under construction before we had our [actual] prototype fully configured. I would say that it is 80 per cent prototype – we will see some slight improvements [in future openings].
"Some of the areas need to be more harmonious. People want a little gym and a good facility to store their luggage. They may also want a wider or smaller selection of food and drink depending on whether the hotel is in an urban area or not."
How much do rooms cost?
"We expect prices to be between €65 and €95; if we are in central locations in Paris or London it may go to €120 or €130. It is good value because we have a totally different approach to the staffing and this is where the change of times has mostly manifested itself."
How is the way a Moxy run different to a traditional hotel?
"We have fewer staff – we run a 170-room hotel with 15 FTEs (full-time equivalents). These staff also have to be specially trained as they have to be hosts – everybody does everything. There are some specialist functions such as accounting and human resources but these are done in a headquarter.
"Staff are called the 'crew'. There are no departments and there is no office for the GM – they have a lockable drawer but they are in the public space. And staff eat in the public space with the guests."
How are Moxys being constructed?
"Initially, we said we would do all new-builds and that is why there are some hotels at airports as it is easier to find the sites. In city centres it is going to be much more difficult and we are now looking at adaptive use of old office buildings.
"To convert an old hotel to a Moxy is going to be very difficult, you see, as the typical budget properties have a much narrower room (2.95 metres) and we are very reluctant to compromise on that."
Marriott has 19 sub-brands. Is this too many?
"The aim for a brand or a system behind a brand is that you want to avoid any of your customers drifting. You want to be able to always have the right property in the right spot for them, so wherever your customer goes you want to have a hotel.
"We also know that people have different requirements – Monday to Friday someone might be happy to stay in a fairly uninspiring hotel, but when it comes to holiday times with the family, they may want something really lavish. I think we have a very interesting basket of brands.
"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 the lifestyle brands. So Europe is showing the way to go.
"AC by Marriott, for example, is another of our lifestyle brands. It is the lifestyle answer at the same quality level to Courtyard by Marriott, which is more of a performance brand.
"You have Marriott and Renaissance being paired off as well; and you have JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton paired off with Edition. We have a very fine balance of different brands.
"Would you have to have so many? I don’t know. There is certainly a limit because at some stage the messages begin to blur. I think we now have reached an optimum number of brands. I don't think we will end up with 40, but that is my personal opinion."
How many hotels are in the pipeline?
"We have about 30 projects approved or signed, and all of these will hit the market in the next three years, in Europe. Construction time is about six months. The US they will probably beat us on that."