Brand Flexibility Builds Better Designs, and Lasting Partnerships

By Alan Roberts Global Head, Embassy Suites by Hilton | November 11, 2018

This article was co-authored by Gregory L. Steinhauer, President American Life, Inc.

How can hotel brands and owners work together to create properties that embrace their unique surroundings and respond to distinct site challenges? More specifically, how can they launch new hotels (or renovated and re-branded structures, for that matter) that are designed to be true to both the brand and the location, all while achieving strong ROI and customer satisfaction? Our shared story in a complex and historic urban setting, in one of the fastest growing cities in the country, offers some valuable insight, along with useful principles for getting the job done the right way, from the very beginning.

With the design, build, and branding of Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square, we arrived at a property and an experience that is genuinely different, and yet entirely familiar to returning Embassy Suites by Hilton guests. The success of our joint effort derived not from a formula, but instead from a willingness to look beyond formulas. It came not from a rigid set of design standards, but instead from a desire to infuse flexibility into brand programs, prototypes, and our whole working partnership.

From a hotel brand perspective, Embassy Suites by Hilton recognizes that guests, whether leisure or business travelers, increasingly seek environments and amenities that connect them to the special places they are visiting. Therefore, it is essential that hoteliers have the flexibility to develop unique properties that reflect neighborhood histories, styles, and attractions. Designs must be allowed to respect site-specific requirements, construction challenges, and regional development trends. And when it comes to specific finishes and interior elements, local flavor is important, as well as the general expectations of visitors to the region.

In a booming metropolis like Seattle, for instance, guests might expect an urban feel, beautiful downtown or water views, top amenities, and a property that is integrated with local attractions. But they also expect to pay a bit more for it than they might in a rural location or smaller city. And that brings us to a critical point in the design flexibility equation: while interior finishes and quality should reflect the local aesthetic, they also should account for local economic realities. That means, for instance, a high value property in a dense urban setting should most likely offer top design finishes that can command rates to offset the high cost of development – in turn promising strong ROI.

Of course, the right brand affiliation brings serious benefits, including powerful reservations delivery, streamlined technology tools, and the lasting loyalty of guests around the globe. As a result, fully customized properties like Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square must achieve a delicate balance, delivering the new environment while adhering to the spirit and standards that define the brand and delight its customers. Together, we realized this goal through lasting cooperation, adaptability, and consistent communication.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.