What Makes Kimpton Cool

Experienced travelers know when a hotel feels right. They also know when the hotel is unusual, even special. We're not talking about properties that blatantly miss the mark on cleanliness, friendliness and exterior appearance. We're talking about ones that feel inviting, where the vibe is on the money.

“There are a lot of hotels you walk into and say, ‘Wow, great design,’” says Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, “but you may not feel like you belong. You may not feel welcome. On a very fundamental level, Bill Kimpton always understood the strong sense of belonging that people need to feel when they're traveling.”

Empathy is at the heart of Kimpton, the original boutique chain. Kimpton is not precisely a brand, but it's very much a sensibility. Kimpton's perpetual, ever-evolving cool is the reason Lodging Hospitality is recognizing it as the industry's top chain.

And Kimpton is anything but cookie-cutter.

“They surprise and delight their guests,” says trend-spotter Peter Yesawich, chairman of marketing services firm Ypartnership. “They are by nature unpredictable but in a light-hearted, enjoyable way. It begins with architecture and interior design; they are not in any way formulaic. And,” he laughs, “it's evident in their service culture, which borders on the frivolous.”

A brand of “individual and distinctive assets,” Kimpton represents “counterculture to more traditional concepts of branding,” Yesawich adds. “I think its kind of offbeat sensibility is refreshing.”

When Leondakis talks about what makes Kimpton cool you begin to understand why she's passionate about the hotel chain former investment banker Kimpton founded in 1981. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants now manages 42 hotels in 19 markets; approximately 18 deals for new Kimpton hotel projects are slated for completion in three years.

In July, Kimpton announced new partnerships with sustainable, organic and natural spa products from Kerstin Florian and with Cooking Light, a wellness-oriented magazine that will offer its subscribers discounts at Kimpton properties, along with Supper Club events.

Such alliances underscore the collection's long-standing, earth-friendly orientation. Kimpton was environmentally progressive long before “green” became the trend du jour.

Even three years ago, there were “eco-suites” in the Hotel Triton, one of the earlier Kimptons. That San Francisco hotel won an award from the state of California for recycling 60 percent of its waste.

Those partnerships also help explain why the National Restaurant Association this year honored Kimpton with its Faces of Diversity Award, recognizing Kimpton's ability to “tap into the creativity and self-expression of its 6,200 employees,” according to a NRA news release. (Kimpton has seven regional diversity boards, annual diversity poster contests and its own gay and lesbian employee network.)

Kimpton also recognizes special interest groups, like women, with programs such as WomenInTouch, encompassing guides, travel essentials like contact lens solution and fashion tape, and designer pajamas.

“This is a company that gets it,” says Lalia Rach, divisional dean, Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, New York University. “They understand they have to manage all the details of their brand in order to be meaningful.”

What Kimpton does so well is make the guest feel connected to it. “A brand is about the people who buy the brand, who use it,” says futurist Rach. “That's the attachment, the loyalty.” Kimpton is highly rated because “they really are a company that understands who they are.”

In May, Kimpton won the highest customer satisfaction rating for the first quarter of 2008 from Market Metrix Hospitality Index. It's 92.3-percent ranking even exceeded the previous hospitality industry top overall score, 2007's 90.6 percent — for Kimpton. It beat Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Fairmont Hotels.

“Do you know who you are? Do you understand what you stand for to your consumer?”

Rach suggests Kimpton has the answers.


Empowerment, connection and self-improvement are key to Kimpton's culture. So is what could be called internal tradition.

Although Bill Kimpton died seven years ago, his philosophy “is very much alive,” Leondakis says. It starts with a drive to “make people feel good about themselves. It's about ‘I'm staying at a Kimpton hotel and when I flip on the TV, I see they have yoga, Pilates and meditation, along with core strength training. This is cool; I can do it in my guestroom, and they send up a complimentary basket with a yoga mat.’”

Wellness is another Kimpton tenet. Whether its manifestation is in-room spa treatments, environmental sensitivity or its multi-faceted diversity program, the Kimpton culture aims for sensitivity and engagement.

Take its approach to training. “Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is very visible and we're very vocal about it,” Leondakis says. “One of the things we do at employee orientation is talk to every one of our employees. Once a year, I and one of our senior executives travel around the country on the Kimpton Nation Tour and bring together all the employees at each hotel.

“We talk about the culture of care. It means caring for your co-workers, caring for our guests, caring for the environment, our community, our investors,” she says. “If we care for the employees, they're going to care for the guests.” And as for vendors, she says, “we're well beyond the old days about beating

“It's about relationships, about creating win-wins for everyone.”

“You might think it would be difficult to have a formulaic approach to lodging that was non-traditional,” says Ypartnership chief Peter Yesawich. “But Kimpton seems to have done that with great success.

“Kimpton is not for everyone,” he says. “Many travelers find that degree of unpredictability unnerving. They want that formulaic look, feel and performance. The market is big enough to accommodate both and more. But *Kimpton was probably the first brand to explore the market appeal of the power of individuality.”

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