Historic Hotel Properties Are Unique, And So Are Their Challenges

By Kurt Meister Senior Vice President , Distinguished Programs | May 13, 2018

Frank Sinatra lived there. Every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama and numerous global heads of state stayed there. And now, after 87 years of elegance on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the famed Waldorf Astoria New York is receiving its own brand of star treatment.

Late last year, amid much fanfare, the Waldorf Astoria began an extensive renovation project at the cost of nearly $2 billion. To accommodate the renovation, the iconic structure closed its doors last March. The two-to-three-year project will transform the Waldorf Astoria into a mix of guest rooms and condominiums. It also will restore and preserve much of the buildings' interior Art Deco design features.

The massive Waldorf Astoria renovation has created plenty of buzz, bringing historic properties – and historic hotels in particular – into the spotlight. Guests love historic hotels for their uniqueness, and hotel owners and operators enjoy the status and prestige a historic hotel can bring to their portfolio. Yet while each historic property is distinct, repairing or replacing historic elements within those properties bring some shared challenges.

A Potential Growth Market

You might think the market for historic hotels is finite. After all, how many buildings could possibly qualify as historic? The answer might surprise you.

The National Register of Historic Places, operated by the National Park Service, maintains an active database of historic U.S. properties. Their database includes more than 95,000 listings, and more than 1,100 listings were made active in fiscal year 2017 alone. Every county in the U.S. has at least one historic property on the register.

To qualify as historic, a hotel (or another property) must be at least 50 years old and must look much the same as it did in the past. That means even buildings from the postmodern era are beginning to qualify as historic.

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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.