Five-and-a-half years after the Denizen debacle, Hilton’s Canopy focuses on an ‘accessible’ concept that gives developers flexibility. Is Canopy by Hilton a game changer? According to Hilton Worldwide Global Head of Luxury and Lifestyle Brands John Vanderslice, if successful the long-awaited upper-upscale lifestyle brand launch from Hilton will redefine lifestyle. “This is what consumers want in lifestyle, and I don’t think the big brands are delivering it,” he says without hesitation. The “it” is a brand that is more accessible and more approachable than what is in the category today, Vanderslice explains. He says Canopy will be more comfortable, have a friendly and open lobby, comfortable and ergonomically friendly guestrooms, and guest directed service functionality. This is supposed to add up to a brand promise of creating a “positive stay.” “Bigger chains have decided luxury and lifestyle are the same thing, and we could have gone down that road,” Vanderslice adds. “But our research said there is an opportunity for a more accessible concept. As a result, we expect to attract more people (not just Millennials and hipsters), and with tighter investment costs (on average US$100,000 per key) we can get to more markets.” Eleven deals were announced when the brand launched in mid-October — surprisingly, nine of which are new-builds for a brand conceived as more of a conversion opportunity — and more were close to MOUs. One of the initial deals is in London, and Vanderslice expects to see more global deals as the development team expands its effort. The broad expectation is to grow the brand to 30 hotels by 2017 and perhaps 100 within five years. Construction of the first Canopy by Hilton franchise property is expected to start as early as January with hopes for an initial opening or two in 2015. Vanderslice says 2016 will see a big surge in activity, and eventually the brand will become an equal mix of franchised and managed properties. The mindset Hilton’s research to develop a lifestyle brand targeted an audience based on preferences and needs, not demographics alone. In fact, Vanderslice says Hilton tested eight concepts before choosing Canopy. Among discarded concepts was a “modern B&B” and another was a “thrill and chill” work hard, play hard idea. “We worked with our owners to define the specifics,” Vanderslice adds. “We are investing in some surprising extras and found out what owners would embrace. We did the same for Home2 by Hilton.” At the end of the day, among other things, Hilton came up with a value proposition that includes a locally inspired gift upon arrival, tastings at happy hour and a complimentary artisanal breakfast delivered in an abridged fashion to guestroom door latches for guests who want a grab-and-go option. “We tested these amenities and they played very well, and they celebrate the neighborhood, which is what people want in this category,” Vanderslice says. “It’s a value proposition. For a small investment developers can have huge return in satisfaction, deliver a feeling of value and, therefore, deliver a higher ADR.” Hilton also identified the need to take the emphasis off capital-intensive design and offer flexibility to developers. Conversions are expected to account for half of the brand’s pipeline, so Hilton will adjust to minimum requirements of 350-sq-ft (33-sq-m) guestrooms (guestroom furniture is estimated at US$14,000 to US$17,000 per key) and 5,000-sqft (465-sq-m) lobbies with a 50% emphasis on local flavor. In some cases, if the market requires, Vanderslice says the F&B component could be more of a white-tablecloth operation and include a rooftop bar. Developers are not required to include meeting space, but can do so based on need. “Our philosophy is to work with owners to keep costs tight and add modules to make it better,” he adds. Vanderslice would not comment on projected average daily rate but says it will fit into the upper-upscale space with a bit of a premium, adding, “If we do this thing right margins should offer an improvement versus traditional full-service hotels and approach focused-service.” And the name? Hilton considered more than 100 ideas, according to Vanderslice, only to decide on Canopy because, among other things, it is a nod to the idea of “we have you covered.” WHAT CANOPY COVERS Five elements are expected to define Canopy: • Market-driven approach: Hilton will explore with owners potential for amenities such as destination dining, rooftop bars, meeting spaces and pools. • Great neighborhoods: The brand will embrace being local through design, food and beverage, art and local know-how. • Comfort and design: Open, welcoming lobby spaces and comfortable rooms will characterize the brand. • More included value: Basic Wi-Fi and an artisanal breakfast are included. • “Positively yours” culture: “Enthusiasts” will deliver a one-stop approach to front-of-house service, and guests will be given more control with amenities such as mobile, straight-to-room arrival with smartphones acting as room keys. HHM’S GRAND PLANS Hampshire Hotel Management (HHM), the New York-based company that currently operates 11 properties under the Dream, Night, Time and Chatwal names, has new leadership in brash industry veteran Eric Danziger, who until earlier this year was president and CEO of industry giant Wyndham Hotel Group. Danziger says he plans to dramatically extend the reach of the current portfolio and establish HHM as a full-service management company. A new 5-star luxury brand is in the works, and a third-party management deal for another New York luxury hotel is in place. Danziger also wants to create a “lifestyle light” upper-midscale brand. “We’ve designed it in a way that they don’t have to spend any more money to do that than they would to stay up with the PIP of the current brand,” he says. In terms of existing brands, another upscale boutique Dream is being developed in New York, and one is under construction in Hollywood, California. HHM is doing a 500-room Dream in Chicago, and Dreams are under development in Long Island City, New York; Dallas; Houston; and Austin, Texas. Danziger is also working on a Dream in London. The Time brand will evolve into an upper-upscale brand to complement Dream, Danziger says, with David Rockwell reinterpreting Time as an elegant, quiet lifestyle product. The Night brand will target the upper-economy segment. “Maybe for US$6,000 a key you can be lifestyle,” Danziger says of the revamped Night. “You don’t have to have food and beverage, the front desk turns into a bar at night and rooms convert from daytime to nighttime settings.” HHM also has plans to develop a third-party management and asset management expansion strategy and will place sliver equity of loans where needed. Danziger — who owns 25% of the company alongside the 75% owned by the Chatwal family trust — is projecting “several hundred” hotels in six years. He predicts, “I think Dream’s going to be the leader, and I have to say that number could get significantly larger if I were to do something like franchise Night and the other brands.” VIRGIN SNEAK PEEK With the January 15 Chicago launch of Virgin Hotels around the corner, its leadership finally revealed some details about the concept, and in true Virgin fashion, it is a bit irreverent. It also focuses on eliminating customer “pain points” with free Wi-Fi and no bandwidth restrictions, street-level minibar pricing and no hidden fees at check-out. Rooms divide into chambers for privacy and cater to women travelers with a sit-down makeup vanity outside the bathroom featuring an oversized mirror. A custom-designed hybrid bed features an ergonomic headboard and erectable footboard, and an app controls the room environment and overall guest experience. CONNECTING THROUGH CONTENT Marriott International has made a huge commitment to own the travel space with the launch of the Marriott Global Content Studio, which is dedicated to publishing, distributing and sharing original content across various platforms including film, television and digital. “We want to engage with people through content that informs and entertains, and we just happen to sell hotel rooms that are part of the travel experience,” notes David Beebe, who spent time at Disney-ABC Television Group before joining Marriott to lead this new initiative. “Consumers today don’t want to be interrupted listening to a brand talk to them about how great it is. They want content that is about them and that solves a problem.” To deliver that content, Marriott has partnered with talent such as travel vlogger Sonia Gil and Substance Over Hype, which has signed on to produce a short film — “Two Bellmen” — set at JW Marriott L.A. Live. “It’s built around an art heist that may or may not have taken place at the hotel,” Beebe explains. “The hotel merely serves as part of the story, as part of the platform that enabled the story to happen.” Beebe says Marriott is not focusing on a traditional return on investment for the studio’s projects initially, but instead is focused on building a relationship with consumers and measuring content engagement. “Engagement — commenting, sharing, talking about it on social — really shows we’re building that relationship,” Beebe notes. “They’re essentially becoming brand advocates.” Future new business initiatives in conjunction with the studio may include licensing content to other distributors, Beebe adds. “We’re moving fast,” he says. “This was not just about us announcing it and saying we’re going to do it — we’ve got content we’re already doing. The time is now.” FLEDGLING PHILANTHROPISTS What young people may lack in experience they can make up for in spirit, and to demonstrate that, Montage Hotels & Resorts for the second straight year is honoring young humanitarians — 13- to 17-year-olds making impactful changes in their communities. The Montage Memory Makers contest began last year as a way to mark the Laguna Beach, California-based company’s 10th anniversary, explains PR Director Alyssa Bushey. The initiative awards five winners a US$10,000 college scholarship. Last year around 200 entrants submitted a short essay and an optional video online to enter the contest, and this year that number grew to more than 500. Montage also received almost 2 billion media impressions thanks to the program, according to Bushey. Winners have included 14-year-old Lulu Cerone, who founded LemonAid Warriors to use lemonade stands to help Haitian earthquake victims. This year’s judges included Montage CEO Alan Fuerstman; Premal Shah of Kiva.org, which aims to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty; Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org, which addresses educational equality; and Darell Hammond of KaBoom, which focuses on bringing active play to all kids. Plans to continue the contest next year are underway. “There are a lot of great causes, but kids maybe don’t have as many resources or the tools adults may have,” Bushey says. “Their creativity and pioneering spirit was inspiring to us. Internally, learning, development and mentoring are really big in the company — this is an extension of that.” JINJIANG JUMPSTARTS METROPOLO With the addition of the Bestay, Goldmet and MetroPolo brands to Jinjiang Group’s freestanding Jinjiang Inns, in February Jinjiang MetroPolo Hotel Management Co. was created as an umbrella for the four brands. The emerging lifestyle, select-service brand in this mix is MetroPolo, which has 33 hotels open (30 owned) and nine under development. Christopher Sheldon, MetroPolo’s vice president and general manager of international affairs, says MetroPolo has been split into two segments: Classiq for boutique chic in historic buildings or major downtown locations, and Select for the business traveler. Sheldon characterizes the MetroPolo guest as sophisticated, educated, traveled and fashionable — and a great many are female. Amenities include an East-meets-West MetroPolo breakfast buffet, a free-to-guest evening social and free Wi-Fi. Classiq has a small gym, and both segments have small meeting rooms and three-meal-a-day cafes. There are just three Classiqs to date, and Sheldon does not see this as the main brand for development. Room rates for Select seem so far to be RMB 300 to RMB500 (US$43 to US$81), and the rates for Classiq range from RMB 500 to RMB1,000 (US$81 to US$162). Jinjiang Group has given MetroPolo six hotels to redevelop and rebrand, including the namesake Metropole in Shanghai. The current plan is to refurbish and reopen the six hotels by spring 2016. Sheldon, whose main job has been writing and implementing standards, procedures and coaching, says management is looking for development partners and franchisees throughout China for conversions. There is also a goal to grow all four brands of the management company internationally. “The key for the brand development will be the business models we draw up to incorporate the cost of conversion or new build, and the cost of operating these hotels day to day,” Sheldon says. “The big goal for MetroPolo is 100 contracts by the end of 2015 — a tough one.” As for growth outside China, Sheldon says when 100 hotels are under contract, the group will turn its attention to international markets, starting in Asia. IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ’EM … Madrid-based Room Mate Hotels, owners and operators of 18 design focused hotels in 12 cities worldwide, is trying to participate in the sharing economy culture by launching BeMate.com, a travel service in 10 cities that combines the amenities of a hotel for consumers staying in local apartments. Initially launching with 2,500 apartments across Europe and North America, BeMate apartments will be located within walking distance of Room Mate or partner hotels so guests can access hotel services and concierges. In addition, apartment guests booking a BeMate apartment arrange their entire trip through the company rather than coordinating with the apartment owner. Room Mate Hotels Founder Enrique Sarasola says his initial investment was US$5 million, and in late October another round of financing yielded US$15 million from investors who will own 15% of the company. The goal by the end of next year is to be in 150 to 200 cities with as many as 80,000 apartments. THE GOSTELOW REPORT Tony Fernandes, the powerhouse behind Air Asia and the budget Tune Hotels brand, has six U.K. hotels — including four in London — but wants to add another 25, and he is prepared to invest US$300 million in doing so. Prime Investors Capital, London, is led by Rafael Serrano, who developed the highly successful London Bulgari. Thanks to successful bidding against more than 20 competitors, he has won the lease to convert London’s Admiralty Arch. Serrano says his planned luxury hotel will open with some 100 keys, of which 38 are suites. The actual arch itself will house a restaurant with unique views along The Mall. There will be a subterranean ballroom, spa, pool, private members’ club and — so rare for London —private parking for 30 cars. He also is conceiving what will be a supreme collection of historic hotels as he invests in outstanding heritage properties elsewhere. Rob Cheng, vice president of marketing, The Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels, says there are no plans for Peninsula resorts. He prefers to have informal alliances with resorts near Peninsula hotels. The Peninsula Manila, for instance, works with The Farm at San Benito, Batangas, which happens to be co-owned by Nepal’s best-known global hotelier, Binod Chaudhary, chairman of the food-to-real-estate Chaudhary Group conglomerate. Chaudhary’s own brand is Zinc Hotels & Resorts, and he is working on a chain of Zinc properties down the east coast of Africa. Now, he says, he is looking for a partner for West Africa (the cost of borrowing money for anything in Africa is 10% less than other destinations, he says). He also thinks now is the time to expand in India, and he is keen on Myanmar. RLHC GETS INTO LIFESTYLE RLHC in October launched a 3-star hotel conversion brand targeted for the top U.S. urban markets. Hotel RL is a lifestyle brand inspired by the spirit of the Pacific Northwest coffee culture and designed for consumers with a Millennial mindset. Coffee in the lobby will be free in the morning, and there will be no coffee makers in guestrooms. at the core of the modular conversion package — pricing out between US$10,000 and US$14,000 per key — is a public space called The Steps, a gathering space where guests can mingle and work. The Steps will also feature local artistic performances and lectures that will be broadcast in real time to other hotels in the system. Executives are targeting tired, full-service hotels that need to be repositioned without big redevelopment price tags, and they expect to have six deals done before the end of the year with two dozen in the pipeline in 2015. ON HOTELSMAG.COM INTERVIEW: CHEF SHARES THE VALUE OF BRAND-BUILDING At just 27 years old, Brandon Frohne — executive chef at Mason’s at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee — has already spent a decade in the restaurant business, not to mention overcoming personal challenges such as drug addiction. These days, Frohne is busier than ever, not only serving up Southern food with a twist at three-meal restaurant Mason’s, but also building his own personal brand and raising three young kids. Nevertheless, Frohne also has made time to do plenty of publicity, including appearances on national television shows including Food Network’s “Chopped” and Travel Channel’s “Chow Masters.” “We’ve seen more than 50% growth in business this year versus last year, and we directly attribute that to anything that’s come out in print, TV or social media,” Frohne said in support of his aggressive PR strategy. “Any time we have a piece that comes out, we’re busy.” BLOG: TECHNOLOGY IS NOTHING WITHOUT SERVICE Obviously technology can be hugely useful, but it can also inspire frustration without customer service, wrote HOTELS bloggers Tony and Jason Potter of Malta-based consultancy Braveagle. When technology combines with humanity, however, the results can be impressive. “One of us made an error in signing up to a service and gave an email to that service that was not to the business address needed,” the Potters blogged. “It was easy to unsubscribe for future emails but not easy to change the email to receive the service. A request was made outside business hours for help on the Internet. Within immediate response time we had a reply, human contact, an appreciation of the difficulty and a statement confirming the issue had been fixed. That’s service.” BLOG: THE EVOLUTION OF PET-FRIENDLY HOTELS Donna Quadri-Felitti, academic chair and clinical associate professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University, once dismissed pet-friendly hotels as overhyped. Today, Quadri-Felitti believes a pet program — done properly — can differentiate a property, as she wrote in her HOTELSMag.com blog. Quadri-Felitti blogged about her stay at the Four Seasons Washington, DC with her dog, Pisa the Puppy, who was pampered with a special bed, toy, puppy treat, bottled water, ceramic bowls and a menu of doggie-food items that could be ordered compliments of the hotel. “The total pet service was consistent with the other delights that have made the company one of the leaders in luxury,” Quadri-Felitti wrote. “It reinforced everything you might imagine the Four Seasons to be.”
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