Special Focus on Guestroom Design

New InterContinental San Francisco gets help from meeting planners

Every hotel courts business travelers and the InterContinental San Francisco is no exception. The new hotel took it a step further, asking for input on the guestroom design from area meeting and event planners.

The goal was to create the “ultimate guestroom,” and according to the hotel's director of sales and marketing, Gail Gerber, the mission was accomplished. A bonus: The focus group of 28 meeting and travel planners, highly sought-after clients, became very familiar with the hotel.

The 550-room, 32-story glass tower is the largest hotel built in San Francisco since 1989. The guestrooms feature rich wood and marble, striking contemporary art, luxurious and comfortable furniture and the latest high-tech amenities. After the first model rooms were built, IHG and the ownership group brought in area meeting and travel planners to get their feedback and suggestions. The late addition to the team was a curveball to the interior design firm, Brayton Hughes Design Studio, but the end result was a homerun in the eyes of Gerber, IHG and the owners. Accolades and bookings have followed since the February opening.

“No doubt it comes from the focus group because their first initial reaction was ‘Oh,’” says Gerber, the first employee hired at the hotel, while she was doing double duty with the same position at the sister property, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco. “Afterwards, it was a ‘Wow.’ It was the best thing we could have done and it changed the course of the hotel. The feedback was incredible, and anytime you're involved in a project, you become a piece of it.”

The original two model rooms were completed in early 2006 and the idea for the focus group came from Lewis Fader, IHG's vice president, operations for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. Gerber then hired research company B/R/S Group to independently survey the planners. Calling it a focus group is actually a misnomer, says Mark Engel, a partner with the B/R/S Group, since the tours were done individually.

“We had them give their first impression of the room, then (BHD) walked them into every part of the room,” Gerber says of the process. “We sliced it up like a pizza.”

The pizza was cut into six slices: the hallway and closet area, bed area and nightstand, work area (desk and credenza), dresser area, sitting area and bathroom.

One by one, the planners walked in and gave their reactions “on how to make each slice a better slice,” Engel says. B/R/S recorded all the responses, asked some specific questions after the tour and eventually turned it into a comprehensive report for Gerber, the builders, designers and IHG officials to sort through.

Some of the changes made were:

  • Drawers were added to the bathroom vanity;

  • The 42-inch plasma TVs were moved from the credenza to the wall;

  • More outlets were added around the nightstand and lamp;

  • A footrest for the ottoman chair was added.

The biggest change was in the wood, switching everything from Eucalyptus to a darker Mozambique.

“InterContinental's traveler skews more conservative so I think our initial design was a bit too contemporary for them,” says Rachel Fischbach, a vice president with Brayton Hughes Design Studio. “(Eucalyptus) is a lighter wood with interesting figuring and the trees are found all over San Francisco. The focus group found this to be a little too modern.”

Criticism, she says, is part of the process of any project with a model room and always tough to take, but hearing the furniture compared to Ikea wasn't easy. Ultimately, Fischbach was pleased with the darker wood and overall project, but feels between the design firm and the hotel group (owners, IHG, asset manager, purchasing agents, etc.), they would have come to the same conclusions.

“Since we build an actual room, it's much easier for people to have an opinion,” she says. “So much time is spent perfecting the room and so many people get involved that the rooms end up being so different from our original concept.”

Janice Peters, manager global travel services for Adobe Systems, was happy to be a part of the focus group, but says the hotel isn't necessarily any higher on the travel rankings for the San Francisco-based company: “It's a business decision based on location, product and price.” The hotel, though, is on Adobe's preferred directory.

Design Elements

The 15-story Westin Alexandria opened last November with 319 guestrooms and sales have now begun for the 79 condominium units. The hotel is at the center of The Carlyle, a massive urban mixed-use development in the historic town of Alexandria, VA. Architect Cooper Carry, Inc. and interior designer Design Continuum brought the $70-million project to life… The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, a member of the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, is undergoing a multi-million-dollar restoration of the restaurants, lounges, beach area, pool, spa, fitness center, guestrooms and landscaping. The guestrooms will blend European and Polynesian décor and the bathrooms will be highlighted by European frameless shower enclosures…Driftwood Hospitality Management debuted its new boutique hotel concept, The Avenue Hotel Chicago, in May after a $16-million construction and renovation. The hotel, with 150 one-bedroom and junior suites and 200 spacious guestrooms, also offers special Tech Rooms for business travelers. All rooms are highlighted by signature ultra-plush zebra-striped chairs…The InterContinental Boston earlier this year unveiled Monumental Works, an art exhibition featuring sculptures, bronze bas reliefs, lithographs and sketches from Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Quinn… HVScompass completed the interior redesign of the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, VA. The project, which covered the lobby, restaurant, bar, guestrooms, ballroom and meeting space, integrated modern elegance without losing the hotel's historic charm.

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