Oh, What a Year It's Been
As we approach the holidays and the close of another year, it's a good time to review the events of 2005, a year that was prosperous for many, disastrous for some, but never dull for anyone. A number of major trends that blossomed in the last 11 months will have impact on the hotel industry in '06 and beyond:
New brand mania
Depending on how one counts, seven or eight new or recast lodging brands have launched so far this year. New brands are usually the result of new ways of thinking about the industry and the changing needs of guests. The outcome often — and in the case of most of the new brands introduced this year — is product that greatly enhances guest satisfaction and creates healthy ROIs for developers and owners.
Not all new brands reach maturity, however; some stall at a handful of units in the portfolio; others are absorbed by larger chains; a few just disappear. The trick, of course, is to hitch your wagon to the new flags you believe will eventually become industry icons, a process that must be done the old-fashioned way: a lot of due diligence and number crunching combined with gut-wrenching instinct.
Alternative lodging products
Condo-hotel mania — as well as enthusiasm for all types of mixed-used alternative lodging products — is alive and well in the hospitality industry. In October, both Interval International and RCI sponsored well-attended conferences that focused largely on the burgeoning condo-hotel, high-end fractional and private residence markets.
Scores of developers with and without experience in hospitality or leisure real estate are looking for ways to create or convert property into some type of real-estate-oriented lodging product. That fact alone should sound alarms for clear-thinking people. These product types have been and will continue to resonate with leisure-oriented baby boomers, but you need to make sure the development you're planning makes sense and certainly isn't the last one to debut in the market.
Some say guestroom technology is the new bedding. Just as Starwood ushered in the era of continually upgraded beds and bed linens, the current mantra for new and existing brands is TV-based technology. And it's not just flat-panel screens, although they're quickly becoming an industry standard. The winners in the technology race will be the brand developers who can integrate the technologies guests want — MP3, DVD, HSIA and more — in packages that are seamless, easy to use and inexpensive or better yet, free.
The HGTV effect
Chicago interior designer Merilee Elliott has a theory that one cable network — HGTV — and perhaps another one — The Food Network — are driving the current trends in hospitality design. As Elliott says, everyone watches HGTV, the network of do-it-yourself and wish-list design programs, and then applies the principles they learn to their own homes and expect the same furnishings and fixtures, or better, in their hotel, condo-hotel and timeshare units.
The influence of The Food Network, she says, is more evident in condo-hotel, timeshare and high-end fractional products. Whereas developers of these kinds of properties traditionally looked for ways to compress and value-engineer the kitchen components, today's consumers demand large, high-end kitchens, complete with granite countertops and high-end appliances.
The irony, of course, is that vacationers still want to eat out a lot more than they want to slave over a hot stove — even a Viking Range — when they're on holiday. I know first-hand: My wife and I and another couple recently spent a week in Key West in a fabulous Hyatt timeshare unit with a full kitchen. The sum total of the use of our kitchen: two breakfasts, one lunch and zero dinners in seven days.
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