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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Sales & Marketing: Opinions Matter

Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors manage a complex mix of strategies to attract and convert customers into guests. Part of their expertise includes an awareness of customer behavior during the reservation process, so they can make sure their hotel is favorably positioned. One such trend is the growing popularity of travel review sites. According to one recent survey, 61% of prospective customers consult online reviews in order to validate information about the hotel before making a purchasing decision. Another survey found that the average hotel customer reads between 6-12 reviews across 4-10 properties before making a final decision on where to stay. Similarly, other studies have shown that consumer reviews are a more trusted source of information for prospective customers than other kinds of marketing messaging. In fact, reviews are often considered to be as influential as price regarding whether a customer decides to complete a purchase or not. Plus, travel sites with the most reviews - including recent reviews from satisfied customers and thoughtful responses from staff - were also found to be the most appealing. So having positive reviews on a travel website is essential and can help to increase a hotel's conversion rates dramatically. Of course, there are all kinds of additional marketing strategies for sales and marketing directors to consider - the importance of video and the emergence of live streaming; the implementation of voice search; the proliferation of travel bots; and the development of Instagram as an e-commerce platform. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.