Limited Service and High Design Changing Hotel Branding

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | November 26, 2017

When I walked into the new Hyatt Place in Legacy Village near Cleveland a few weeks ago, it was apparent a shift had taken place. This was no limited service brand designed for low-cost and convenience. Gone were the ho-hum finishes and swath of industrial materials. Instead, I was greeted by a sophisticated palette that complimented the interior's modern furnishings, including a light fixture that I recognized as that of an admired British designer.

Noticeable improvements in limited service brands' interiors and guest experiences aren't especially new, at least when it comes to select independent brands. But the advance of thoughtful design across an increasing line of conventional big brands' limited service properties is. And it's a welcomed change.

Much of the high design now seen in limited service brands stems back to about a decade ago when two independents opened the way for design innovation in the properties; Alex Calderwood's Ace Hotel and Andre Balazs' Standard Hotel. The brands' fresh interiors combined with their of-the-moment vibe and attention to art belied each property's reasonable rates, treating guests with an unexpected experience that they embraced from the start.

When the Ace Hotel Portland opened in 2007 (one of my favorite places to stay), it featured inexpensive tiles and other materials used with a sense of style, along with a $60-to-$70 tab for an overnight room with a shared bathroom, $100 for room with a bathroom and $130 for suite. The combination of thoughtful design with low-cost rates was extraordinary. After all, guests of limited service brands like Choice Hotel, Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn had come to expect low-cost rates at another kind of cost – uninspired accommodations with few amenities, save a kitchenette for complimentary breakfasts and, perhaps, a bar. But at Ace, even the option of sharing a room or bathroom, which, while not everyone's ideal, tied into the burgeoning millennial generation's desire for accommodations that promoted sociability, including the presence of public areas outfitted for spontaneous mingling. By providing an environment that offered the community of youth hostels with the inspired design of an elevated property at an affordable price, Ace captured the loyalty of young adult travelers, especially with its later openings in New York and London.

What Balazs did with Standard Hotel and Calderwood with Ace Hotel was shift the focus of a brand from a commodity to a desire. They realized that guests don't want to forgo design and inspiration for price and their victories at providing both proved the sentiment. So much so, in fact, that low-cost now is viewed by many business and other travelers as an unsuitable exchange for interiors put together without much thought for their design. It's no wonder that Ace Hotel's success at targeting and attracting the younger demographic through considered design, style and experience was picked up by big brands' limited service properties, including those of Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood, whose Aloft hotel was one of the first limited service properties by a big brand to step out of the traditional thought that low-cost accommodations negated the need for high design. At the time, the hotel, which had an urban vibe contained in a suburban box, had rethought its brand, looking more closely at the business traveler's needs. It found what Ace and Standard already knew – that travelers wanted something different than the ready availability of tired, cookie-cutter hotels. As a result, Aloft adopted a modern, more sophisticated design for its rooms and public spaces, not only elevating the brand to an aspirational level but also fully embracing an urban loft ethic. In essence, Aloft used less expensive materials in a more thoughtful way, demonstrating that low-cost design didn't have to feel cut-rate.

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Coming up in January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.