Autograph at 11 and Counting With Hotel Duval

Although Marriott’s not even halfway to its year-end goal of 25 members for its new Autograph Collection, Kip Vreeland, the collection’s vice president, is confident the number is within reach. Hotel Duval, a 117-room boutique hotel in Tallahassee, FL, became the 11th member to join Marriott’s collection of upper upscale and luxury properties on July 22.

A guestroom at the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee, FL.

A 12th member could be announced as soon as next week, and Vreeland says three others in major markets are on the verge of signing contracts. “And I’ve got 18 we’ve turned and are in active engagement with,” he says, adding that many are in gateway cities and major markets up and down the East Coast.

Marriott announced plans for Autograph at the end of 2009 and introduced its first seven members—the entire Kessler Collection—at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit this January. The collection allows members to remain independent, but with the backing of Marriott’s vast resources.

For Hotel Duval that was the biggest selling point. “It’s an opportunity to amplify our own brand, Hotel Duval, to 32.5 million Marriott Rewards members as well as take advantage of the global reach of Marriott and align ourselves with the other Autograph Collection properties,” says General Manager Marc Bauer.

After the Kessler Collection—seven properties primarily located in the Southeast—
The Hotel Minneapolis, the Glenn hotel in Atlanta and The Henry in Dearborn, MI followed to make up the first 10 members. The collection is broken into sub categories and open to many different types of properties as long as they meet some basic standard levels, mostly to accommodate the expectations of the vast Marriott Rewards network of frequent travelers.

Hotel Duval is classified as a Boutique Chic property and the other current categories available are Boutique Arts and Iconic Historic, which could be split into Iconic Legends for nationally known hotels and Historic Heritage for more regionally known properties, Vreeland says. Urban Edge, Spa and Lodge and Sensual Luxury are other planned categories yet to be populated as the collection continues to evolve.

Vreeland says the early returns have been impressive: Within the first five to six weeks of properties coming online, they’ve ramped up to 40 percent of roomnights booked by Marriott Rewards members. Marriott’s group channels have sent almost 300 leads to members already. “We’re seeing market share growth in these hotels and the cost of booking through different channels as an independent can be expensive,” he says. “Our .com is very powerful and a very inexpensive channel to book through.”

Even Bauer says the hotel has already seen plenty of Marriott Rewards members booking rooms in just the first week. “It’s exciting because it allows them to experience something a little different in their business travels,” he says.

Hotel Duval, which originally opened as the Duval Hotel in 1951, has been a fixture in Tallahassee for half a century. It became office space and student housing for Florida State during the 1970s and was a Radisson through the 1980s and ‘90s until local owners Chad Kittrell, J.T. Burnette and Frank Whitley bought it in 2007.

They closed it in 2008 for almost a year and spent $15 million on a top-to-bottom renovation. The eight-story property has a different color palate option on each of the six guestroom floors tailored for different mood preferences. Allowing for creativity and individuality like that is a major reason the owners chose Marriott’s new collection.

Bauer says the ownership group originally planned on continuing the relationship with Carlson and converting the hotel to a Park Plaza, but “there was a real vacuum for a product of this kind in the capital city. We are really the only independent boutique property in Tallahassee.”

He says business has been very strong—year to date occupancy is at 68 percent and was 75 percent in June, typically an off-peak time, and the decision to join Autograph wasn’t one of need.

Vreeland says interest level for Autograph is also very high internationally and there could be members in Europe or Central and South America by year’s end and possibly in Asia by the end of next year.

Marriott’s new boutique brand Edition debuts later this year in Hawaii, but Vreeland says it won’t be direct competition to members of the Autograph Collection. “That’s a whole different experience,” he says. “Any overlap in customers? Sure, there is in any hotel, but that’s a totally different experience. These are independent hotels in our system where the hotel is the brand. With Edition, Edition is the brand.”

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