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Style Driven Hotels, The Millennial Way

The increasingly important Millennial Generation will grow by more than 120% by 2020. Are you ready to meet their design desires?

Monday, April 01, 2013
Harriet Edleson
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Good design sells. That’s what hoteliers at every level know. Stylish lodging appeals to hotel guests no matter what the room costs. In order to attract today’s newest travelers – the millennials – as well as everyone else, the hotel has to look good and meet the specific needs of guests. Otherwise travelers will go elsewhere.

Whether it’s a moderately priced hotel or a more expensive one, hoteliers are aware of the value of good design. “The demand for style at lower price points is enormous,” says Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels International, Inc. “Particularly with the millennials. Regardless of the price point, they expect a level of style. We’re reinventing both Sleep and Comfort around style,” he says.

Marriott echoes that sentiment. “All brands are being challenged to look at their design aesthetic,” says Janis Milham, vice president, global brand manager, Courtyard by Marriott. “The consumer today is much more interested in design at the Target level and the Ethan Allen level and in between. Everyone wants smart design.”

Courtyard by Marriott, is in the midst of a re-design, which began in 2007. So far, 650 Courtyard by Marriott properties have been completed, and Milham expects the rest to be finished by the end of 2013.

Though style is important it doesn’t have to be expensive. “You can get some great looking stuff but you don’t have to pay as much,” says Janis Milham.

What she calls “emerging travelers” want “fresh and progressive design” in neutral tone-on-tone colors. They want the furniture design to accommodate their laptops, notepads, and other tech products, and better lighting with some dramatic impact. In addition, they want the bathroom to be an “upscale” experience. The result is an all-glass shower, playful accent colors such as teal, and a shower “nook” where travelers can store, and easily reach, their shampoo and bath products. Guests want to “relax first, work second,” says Milham.

One of the key aspects of the Courtyard by Marriott re-design that has been in progress since 2007 across all properties is the Loungearound sofa designed for Courtyard. Design has to be durable as well as look good as hotels tend to be redone every six or seven years. “We try to get high-quality, high design at a reasonable price,” says Milham.

The cost goes beyond materials to construction cost. “It’s more construction costs,” she says, and those “were much more reasonable in 2007 to 2010” when some of the re-design work was done. The re-design was already on the radar screen when the downturn hit, and it worked to the advantage of the project, she says.

Talking with the owners and using local construction crews helped contain the cost of the re-design. “We had a budget that we all agreed on -- $500,000 to $800,000 per property,” says Milham. One benefit of the economic downturn was lower construction costs, she says. Another factor is the number of properties that Courtyard by Marriott has. “We try to leverage that scale, too,” says Milham.

Marriott continually researches what their guests want. Through a combination of qualitative research – in person -- and quantitative research – with surveys – guests told Marriott what they wanted when Courtyard by Marriott launched back in 1983. It has grown to include more than 900 properties in 37 countries. What did travelers say they wanted? They didn’t need room service, bell staff, three restaurants, “grandiose” lobbies, a spa, or an action bar or disco, says Milham.

They still wanted the pool, good service, and friendly people. Cobblestone Hotels, which aims to bring “quality lodging to rural America,” is a new player in the hospitality field, and has taken its cues from successful existing brands, “We design it to make it look like our competition,” says Brian Wogernese co-owner of Cobblestone Inn. Granite countertops, flat-screen TVs, and pillow top mattresses are among the design elements Cobblestone Inn brings to its design.

Launched in 2008 as a moderate-priced brand, Cobblestone properties have at least one distinct feature: While major brands have at least 60 to 70 rooms, Cobblestone properties have 30 to 31 rooms, says Wodernese. Typically, it is budget brands that have a smaller number of rooms. The focus is on the public space, which has a convenience store and a beer and wine bar adjacent to the front desk. Among the design features are higher headboards, more art on the walls, and smaller pieces of clustered art. “We’re moderate but stylish,” he says. The brand “had to come out of the gate looking like it knew what it was.”

Hilton Garden Inn launched Project Grow at the beginning of 2012 to refresh its lobbies with elements that “increase revenue and profitability,” according to Hilton Garden Inn. The HGI lobby has evolved from a place of transaction to a space for guest interaction. The design features include open space that encourages guests to relax and linger longer, cabana draperies in the cupola area as well as pendant light and lanterns, and planters with live plants to create a garden atmosphere. In addition, there a cart and table showcase the hotel’s food and beverage options. Finally, there are communal breakfast and bar tables and seating that is suitable for meetings and social interaction throughout the day.

Choice also took advantage of the downturn in redesigning both Sleep and Comfort brand. “It would have been too expensive otherwise,” says Choice’s Joyce, who noted the re-design was under way in 2009 and 2010. “It was the upside of the recession,” he says. The re-design focused on every aspect of the two brands from breakfast and bedding to lobbies, front desks and fitness centers at Comfort’s 2,000 domestic hotels. Choice enlisted input from more than 10,000 guests, franchisees, and developers to determine the priorities. Comfort’s new look means ROI for franchisees. Research from Choice shows that overall intent to stay at Comfort hotels nearly doubles in response to the new design. Guests are willing to pay more on average per night at the hotel’s with the new look.

For the Sleep Inn brand, 100 hotels are expected to feature the new design called Designed to Dream during the first half of 2013. In addition, revPAR for the redesigned Sleep Inn properties have gained almost $10 increase on average compared to the non-renovated Sleep Inn hotels. Design is a marketing tool because travelers today are used to good design. “They care about design,” says Joyce. “They’ve got design in their homes,” and expect it on the road, too.
Harriet Edleson
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Harriet Edleson is author of The Little Black Book of Washington, DC: The Essential Guide to America's
Capital (Peter Pauper Press, 2007, 2010, 2012) and a contributor to the Itineraries section of The New York Times.
She was Washington Correspondent of Travel Agent magazine from 1993-1999, and creator of "Two Tickets to Paradise," a monthly travel segment on WMAL-Radio, the ABC affilate in Washington, DC. She now lives in Manhattan. Harriet333@aol.com
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