Boutique concerns, part 3: Adaptability and collaboration as keys to success

Delivering a cutting-edge, well-rounded product in the hotel space has become increasingly difficult. In the last month, we have seen Wyndham unveil a new Days Inn prototype, pushing for a sharp guestroom aesthetic even in the economy space, and Hyatt launch a system-wide focus on sustainable, chef-driven cuisine. But as heralded restaurateurs and fashion moguls venture into the hotel space, the bar continues to be set higher to command consumers’ attention in all aspects of hotel development.

Looking back, we can cite some of the monumental strides in our industry. March marked the 20th anniversary of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, which can be credited with starting the fine-dining movement in Las Vegas. Now, a celebrity chef’s name is not only front and center in each new Vegas hotel/casino restaurant, but also in new hotels from New York to Detroit.

In August 1999, Westin, in collaboration with Simmons, launched what would become a hotel bedding revolution in the form of the Heavenly Bed. Now sold by retailers such as Amazon, Pottery Barn and Nordstrom, the Heavenly Bed made comfortable mattresses and clean, white linens standard for upscale hotels. 

More often than not, developers, designers and brands take the follow-the-leader approach. However, as descriptions such as “boutique,” “lifestyle,” “farm-to-table,” “chef-driven,” and “sustainable” become so overused that they have lost their meaning, what’s next? Beyond FF&E and restaurant menus, how does one redefine the norm?

Those fortunate enough to have visited Conde Nast’s top U.S. hotel, the Elysian in Chicago (now Waldorf Astoria), may understand the intangibles that separate it from traditional luxury. When it opened, the 1920’s Chanel-inspired design was classic luxury, yet excitingly fresh. The non-tipping “ambassador” check-in process was comforting and seamless. Was it the Michelin starred-restaurant and enormous rooms that made it the new face of luxury? No. It was all the elements of traditional luxury with the non-traditional core of exclusive approachability. This did not go unnoticed, as U.S.-based and international luxury brands jumped at the opportunity to make it their own.

There are other exciting projects happening — from those in gateway markets to ones you would never imagine. AJ Capital is shaking up Chicago with the recent opening of Joie de Vivre’s first Midwest hotel, the Hotel Lincoln, and the recent announcement of the first U.S. SoHo House outside of New York. Many would argue these are risky plays. I believe they are the sorts of fresh concepts Chicago needs.

In New York, Sydell Group is delivering standout hotels in the most difficult market to do so. What makes Sydell so unique is its willingness and ability to partner and collaborate to deliver a hospitality product perfectly tailored to their target consumer. Sydell and Ace Hotels seems like a match made in heaven. The Opening Ceremony boutique (one of Fast Company’s 2010 Most Innovative Companies), Stumptown Coffee, the April Bloomfield restaurant and many collaborations with fashion designers and artists allow Ace New York to frequent the web’s hottest blogs. This has carried through to the Saguaro-branded hotels in Arizona and the NoMad Hotel just one block from the Ace New York, where Daniel Humm’s F&B program has come to be the talk of the town this year. Hotels aren’t the only targets, as Sydell has teamed with Ron Burkle’s Yupaica Companies to redefine the U.S. hostel industry.

There are exciting projects happening in our industry, albeit at the expense of many more mundane, done-before projects. This development cycle is far from its peak. Take appropriate time to think outside the box, and if your internal resources don’t allow you to achieve certain goals, partner with those that allow you to get there.