By all accounts, the on-going economic meltdown has been the most punishing to hotels since the 1930s. Interestingly, it seems that some independent hotels and smaller chains with less uniform properties such as Kimpton and Joie de Vivre have been weathering the storm better than the huge chains.
Perhaps recognizing that, several of the large chains have rolled out plans to capture new business with products aimed at travelers interested in a different experience.
Starwood: Aloft and Element
Starwood isn’t a brand itself but is home to some of the world’s best known hotel chains including Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, and the newer,edgier W Hotels. W Hotels itself has been very successful and is growing substantially, but Starwood has rolled out a smaller, stripped-down version of W called Aloft. The name implies an airport hotel and while a number of the hotels are by airports, you can also find them downtown and in the burbs. Aloft appears aimed at younger business and leisure travelers who want plenty of gadgetry but don’t need fine dining or lavish public spaces. You can already stay at about 40 Aloft locations in the U.S. with more on the way, plus quite a few outside of the U.S. The closest locations to us are at near the Portland airport and in Rancho Cucamonga in southern California.
Like Aloft, the Element is an offshoot of an existing Starwood brand, namely Westin. Element’s seems targeted at an older traveler who needs an extended stay property, as the rooms all have kitchen facilities. Additionally room options include two-bedroom suites suitable for families. Only a handful of Element hotels are now open, none in California. The closest is in Las Vegas-Summerlin, Nev., with a Palmdale, Calif. Location to debut in 2011.
Common to both Element and Aloft is the lack of full-service dining, but both brands offer a “grab and go” pantry with a decent selection of prepared foods and beverages.
Hyatt’s new brand, Andaz, appears to be a lot like Starwood’s W Hotels: striking design, mid-century modern on steroids, maybe just a little less ostentatiously hip. Like W, they are aimed at sophisticated big cities and there are just five now open including two in California (West Hollywood and San Diego). Two more are in New York (Wall Street and Fifth Avenue), and one in London. They look exceptionally nice; I wonder if there are plans for a lot more. Like other Hyatts, they offer a “business plan” rate that bundles internet access, breakfast, and other amenities into a single attractive rate.
Marriott: Edition and the Autograph Collection
I respect Marriott for delivering a very reliable product. In my business I probably book more rooms for clients from its various brands than from any other chain, but I have to admit it’s not a company that is in the vanguard of creating cutting edge hotels.
But they are looking to change that when they introduce Edition. Edition is a partnership between Marriott and renowned hotelier Ian Schrager.
Schrager will design one-of-a-kind hotels designed to appeal to business travelers not interested in Marriott’s standard products and seems aimed at the same clientele now drawn to Starwood’s W Hotels. These will be boutique hotels with 150 to 200 rooms, located in top-drawer cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, Las Vegas, New York, and so on. The tanking economy led to specific locations being shelved, so when – and where – the first Edition will open are still in doubt, but it’s clear that Marriott wants to tap this market.
What is solidly underway is the launch of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. While Edition will involves building new hotels from the ground up, this is something altogether different: the gathering of existing independent hotels under the Marrott Autograph Collection brand.
The first hotels to become part of the Autograph Collection are the seven properties of the Kessler Collection. With one exception (Taos, New Mexico), the Kessler hotels are all located in the southeast. They are luxury properties located in very desirable destinations.
What Marriott gets is a collection of unique hotels that do not conform to the rigid identities of Marriott’s regular brands (Marriott, Courtyard, Residence Inn, etc.) and can attract a different traveler. Hotels that become part of the Autograph Collection gain access to the huge marketing power of Marriott Hotels and the large number of travelers – business and leisure – who belong to its Marriott Rewards loyalty program. Guests can both earn points in the Rewards program by staying at Autograph Collection hotels as well as redeem points for free stays.
Much like many a business traveler flies routinely in markets such as Chicago-New York but cashes his miles in to fly to Hawaii, many Marriott program members may earn their points at Courtyard and Fairfield Inns in Dallas and Houston but cash them in for a stay at the The Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Marriott has said it plans to add another 25 properties to the Autograph Collection by the end of 2010.
Autograph and Edition are smart moves by Marriott to capture younger and more independent travelers, as well as change the perception of existing guests of what the Marrott brand is about.