Lodging's Lifestyle Landscape

Over the past several years, a gang of lifestyle hotel brands has surfaced, refreshing an industry that used to value predictability above all as key to its success.

These brands, by contrast, bank on originality to appeal to guests comfortable blending business and leisure, work and play. Their target is the traveler who values fun as much as functionality.

Hyatt Place, for example, targets “people at their kids' soccer games on weekends who are also on their BlackBerries making sure things are okay at work,” says Alison Kai, Hyatt Corporation's vice president of marketing.

Besides Hyatt Place, Lodging Hospitality spotlights Hotel Indigo, InterContinental Hotel Group's entry in the lifestyle sweepstakes; Cambria Suites, Choice Hotels International's new brand; NYLO and its extended-stay spin-off, XP by NYLO; and aloft and element, Starwood Hotel Group brands scheduled to debut this summer.

Style, technology, modern design and public spaces geared to networking characterize these brands, the more affordable progeny of branded boutique, upscale trailblazers W, the Kimpton Hotel Group portfolio and Joie de Vivre.

HYATT PLACE

As of early March, 110 Hyatt Places were open, all conversions of AmeriSuites. The first new-builds will open this summer in Lexington, KY and Jacksonville, FL. “When we created the hotel, we created something that appeals not necessarily to a generation or demographic but to a lifestyle or mindset,” says Hyatt marketing executive Kai. “We found that talking in terms of generations is very limiting and what people tell us today is that age is just a number.

“There is no more separation of your personal time and your professional time; you're constantly toggling between both.”

At Hyatt Place, access free Wi-Fi from your L-shaped Cozy Corner sofa sleeper, working on your laptop while watching the game on your 42-inch high-definition television. After the game, go to sleep in the Hyatt Grand bed.

Response has been overwhelmingly positive, says Kai. The main complaint is there aren't enough Hyatt Places.

“People go out of their way to commend a particular associate at a hotel or to say Hyatt got it right when it created Hyatt Place,” Kai says. Despite the nation's economic doldrums, she is upbeat, predicting that by year's end, there will be 130 Hyatt Places.

HOTEL INDIGO

Jim Anhut, who was instrumental in developing Hotel Indigo, says InterContinental Hotel Group's lifestyle brand is “spot-on” with IHG's expectations. Recently promoted to senior vice president, franchise development for IHG, Anhut says there are three “ingredients” for such a successful franchise hotel brand.

The first is a compelling consumer proposition, and Hotel Indigo's “position as branded boutique is a proposition whose time has come.” Indigo hotels, which feature nature motifs that reflect seasonal change, along with hardwood floors, speak to “prevailing consumer trends, including democratization of design and trading up toward affordable luxuries.” Indigo resembles retail brands like Target, Ikea and Pottery Barn in this way, he says.

The second key is economic: Anhut says that at the 14 Indigos open today, “our ability to drive upscale to upper-upscale rates in an operating model that is more akin to select-service hotels…is a compelling offer for the owner.” More than 60 Indigos are in the pipeline or in final negotiations.

The third ingredient is sponsorship: Being an IHG brand inspires franchisee confidence that it will be around and have corporate support.

As for the current economic situation, Anhut says he is “watchful of the data…because we have a huge pipeline.” At the same time, not one deal in that pipeline has “fallen out because of financing,” tourism remains a growth business, and the weak dollar helps “people who are coming with stronger currencies.”

CAMBRIA SUITES

The economic downturn represents an opportunity for Cambria Suites, Choice Hotels' new all-suites brand, says Brad LeBlanc, vice president of franchise development. Not only do costs of land, labor and construction materials soften during such periods, business travelers are likely to trade down from full- to select-service hotels, he says.

Cambria Suites are new-builds featuring full-size Refresh fitness centers and an f&b menu with “healthy alternatives,” says LeBlanc.

“Starting a brand is great because it gives you the opportunity to have a clean slate,” says Cambria Suites President William Edmundson, noting features of the brand are based on research on Choice Privileges members and others. “Using knowledge of partners like Wolfgang Puck coffees for our Barista bar and Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG) for our food and beverage operation was beneficial as they really knew the target's wants and needs,” he says.

Guests like to stay in new properties and “take their lifestyle with them when they travel,” Edmundson adds. “Being an all-new-build brand…keeps us consistent and delivers on our brand promise in all our locations. The topper is that part of our culture is the Cambria Pledge — an unconditional, 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.”

NYLO/XP by NYLO

Urban loft design, business orientation and upscale amenities at midscale rates are hallmarks of NYLO Hotels, launched in 2005 by lodging veteran John Russell. Extending the NYLO brand is XP by NYLO, a smaller, select-service sibling, and more brand extensions might be in the works. The first NYLO, a 176-room, $22.8-million property, opened in Plano, TX in December; two more are to open this year, in Las Colinas, TX and Providence-Warwick, RI. Ground is yet to break on the first XP, set for the Raleigh-Durham (NC) Airport. Russell says he has applications for two XPs and one NYLO, “with 42 in the pipeline.” Building an XP is expected to cost about 30 percent less than building a NYLO; inclusive cost for the Plano NYLO was $125,000 a unit.

“NYLO is a full-service, lifestyle, upscale hotel, whereas XP is a select-service, midpriced hotel,” says Russell. A typical NYLO is 177 rooms. A typical XP is 127. A typical NYLO has a restaurant, bar, game room, lounge, library, business center and a fitness center with men's and ladies' steam and sauna and changing rooms. The smaller XP has no 24-hour restaurant bar, but like NYLO, has a wine bar and fireplace. “What Courtyard is to Marriott, XP is to NYLO,” he says.

Texture is key to NYLO. Many walls are unadorned brick, and the construction is concrete, brick and glass. Guestroom ceilings are 11 feet high, and The Loft — NYLO's expansive public space — features ones double that height.

“You want a NYLO to be in a lifestyle kind of community near an upscale mall, an area with a million and a half square feet of office space, an airport, whereas with an XP you can go almost anywhere,” Russell says. Typical cost of a NYLO: $23 million; for an XP, it's $11.4 million.

ALOFT/ELEMENT

A front desk at lobby center and a curtain wall at the back are but two of the facets of aloft, the upper-midscale brand Starwood Hotels & Resorts will debut this summer. A “vision of W Hotels,” aloft and element, its Westin-inspired, upper-upscale extended-stay sibling, stress flow, energy and “smart design,” says Brian McGuinness, vice president of both brands.

Alofts in Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Lexington, MA; Rogers, AK; and Beijing are scheduled to open by Aug. 8, the start of the Olympics. Another 12 are in the pipeline for 2008; Starwood plans to open 55 in 2009 and have 100 by 2010. An element — featuring, of course, the Westin Heavenly Bed — will open on “the same pad” as the Lexington aloft.

Like NYLO, aloft features a loft-like feel, with nine-foot ceilings, walk-in showers in oversized bathrooms, and large windows. David Rockwell, who designed the W Union Square in Manhattan and parts of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, collaborated on aloft design. “From training to design to the way the hotel is laid out is a completely different experience,” McGuinness says. So is construction: Part of the bed headboard doubles as the back of the bathroom wall, minimizing carpentry and cabinetry requirements. Plug-and-play technology will rule.

Open spaces, high (and highly engineered) style, natural lighting, custom music and staff “talent” will make for a “completely different experience,” McGuinness says. Among other elements of aloft: “re:fuel,” a fresh, 24/7 interpretation of grab-and-go dining. “We have as many hotels going into urban markets as we do suburban,” McGuinnes says. “You'll find alofts in New York City, Chicago, Boston, Altoona, Brussels, Bangkok, Beijing.”

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