7 Hotel Industry Experts on What It Means to Be Relevant Right Now

Brands refreshes are nothing new in the hotel industry, but what qualities make a hotel relevant today? Several industry experts weigh in on things like technology, design and how consumer behavior affects the ways in which trends get implemented.

Alexandra E. Petri

The reinvention of and refreshing of a brand s image is no new phenomenon, but there are some key markers making this particular stretch a particularly interesting competition to watch.

The difference between having this conversation 20 years ago and now is the fact that the pace of change is exponentially faster, says Peter Yesawich, vice chairman, MMGY Global.

The other reason we re really excited is that the industry is more focused on this now that for the first time I think in a long time, the owners, operators and developers of hotels are beginning to realize that the next generation of customers is really quite different than the generation of customers that they traditionally catered to. Skift spoke with hotel industry experts to assess what it means to be relevant in today s hotel industry and what are some of the factors driving those changes.

Ron Vlasic, regional VP, Kimpton Hotels: I think that there are two very distinct type of hotels in the U.S. right now. There are great, high-design hotels, and then there are generic hotels that get people in and get out. There s no attention to the style, and that s an unfortunate experience in my opinion when there are so many great hotels that really offer more of a residential stay or something that has a unique touch or flavor to it that is memorable.

Frances Kiradjian, founder, Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association: What is really important to a customer is taking care of them before they even leave their home or their offices.

And really connecting with their client, so they can get excited, know about the destination, be aware of offers and order things or request things so they are more organized or more comfortable when they arrive.

Paula Benesch, partner, P3 Design Collective: There are always new things that all these different brands are trying out, and I think it s very good they do try it out. There are things like less closet space, more open concept things in the room. They ll put things in place, try it out, see how it works, and then adapt. They re trying to get more creative on their options depending on the brand and the traveler and what suits that particular hotel. That s refreshing to see.

Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor, NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism: People are looking for time efficiency, and often those core things remain at the center of hotel choices. Again, it s become an issue of negatives holding back some of the demographics from embracing some brands. Some brands don t have congregation areas in lobbies and good high-speed internet access in the lobbies. That s a negative rather than it being a plus. It s become more expected.

It s more a failure to keep up with trends.

Jennifer Gribble, vice president, Americas, Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express: What we at Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express also noticed is our guests aren t looking for our public spaces to really facilitate social connections per se, but they really look for the design to help enable it. As an example, we have a lot of variety of seating looks in our public space now. We have communal tables; we have two-tops and four-tops and different types of seating arrangements so that guests, when they want to, can connect with one another. There s power down there if they d prefer to work down there. It s kind of solitary, but in a more open social environment.

Matthew Carroll, vice president, global brand management, Marriott Resorts: Marriott is focused on converting from the shower/tub combinations to a much more upgraded bathroom experience with walk-in showers. We re also looking to move from carpet to hard-surface floors. Then a much more modern, locally-inspired design aesthetic. I think one of the things that, not unique to Marriott, but I think unique to brands these days is, how are we responding to technology and how that s impacting customer behavior in the room. Obviously, that s a big focus for us, and how these designs get implemented.

Peter Yesawhich, vice chairman, MMGY Global: The more elusive piece, and it s the one that I think would make the difference to a good degree, is the attitudinal piece.

It s really more of the personality. That puts you into things like you know brand image. Takes you into things like the kinds of people that you see there, the kinds of customers that patronize the place. It s reflected in the compounding of the advertising. All of these ways to be kind of accessorize other two critical pieces, which is the ambiance, or the design and the furnishings, and the technology piece.

Hotels Tried To Eliminate the Traditional In-Room Desk But Created a Backlash

Marriott and Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express experimented with removing the traditional desk inside guest rooms and the moves triggered a backlash. Lots of guests, it turns out, still want a desk. It s an important piece of furniture in the opinion of lots of their customers. Marriott s new work surface was geared to forge a connection with the millennial market but the brand found out the change caused a generational rift within the ranks of its guests.

Yahoo! Sports National Columnist Dan Wetzel wrote a scathing Tumblr post1 about the absence of a traditional desk at the City Center Marriott in Charlotte, North Carolina, saying there was a little table with no corresponding chair. Wetzel s shock led him to find an entire Internet community2 indignant about Marriott robbing them of their beloved piece of furniture3.

The Idiots Who Designed Marriott s Hotel Rooms 4 is a forum on FlyerTalk, a website that hosts discussions on travel topics. The thread, which is 23 pages long, is inundated with users posting more grievances than approvals about tiny ledges that had to pass for desks, among other complaints. (It should be noted that there were users who are satisfied with the new work spaces too.)

It was a bad decision by Marriott on the design. Especially the lack of a desk. Seriously? What do they think us road warriors are gonna do, hang from the ceiling? Sounds like they re going to fix it, but unfortunately you may have to find another hotel to frequent until they do, one user, flyerfmaz, posted in May 2014.

To be clear, Marriott is not removing desks from hotel rooms, says Matthew Carroll, vice president of the Marriott brand.

What we are doing is we re trying to evolve how those work surfaces are implemented in the guest room, Carroll says. It s not about eliminating desks. It s about how you evolve, how that work surface gets implemented. How do you respond to that guest who is much more untethered, much more movable?

Part of the Marriott Brand Transformation

Marriott is currently undergoing what Carroll describes as an extensive brand transformation to deliver on modern consumer expectations and experiences, and the guest room is a crucial lynchpin of that process. As part of its transformation, the company conducted a variety of research efforts5 across generations, Carroll says, noting that its specific target customer is primarily the business traveler.

The research included a full mockup room where consumers could walk through the model room to see the look, feel and functionality of it. Marriott gleaned information suggesting that customer behavior in the room is much more untethered, thanks to things like Wi-Fi and mobile devices.

You don t have to connect to the Internet through a blue cord anymore, Carroll says. How guests work and play and relax in the room is very different. That s one of the things that we re really responding to, is being able to enable our guests to be able to use the room in a way that responds to those different needs.

Various Designs

As such, the new work surfaces are becoming more versatile, and in some cases they allow guests to move freely to different places throughout the room to work where they please. To date, there are 10 to 15 of the new room designs being implemented in various ways at Marriott properties.

There s a variety of how that work surface has been executed in each room, Carroll says.

For example, in Wetzel s room in the Charlotte property, Carroll says he thinks there was a work surface in that room or a table to be able to provide that work surface. In determining the size and types of work spaces in each particular room, the Marriott team builds its design against a formula that considers the appropriate amount of horizontal space available that is conducive for two to three hours work, Carroll says. Much of the backlash against Marriott s decision to move away from traditional desk to more modern work spaces was that the initiative was too millennial-focused.

There were some cases in which Marriott bowed to complaints, specifically at its Bethesda property, located near the company s headquarters, Carroll says.

It was not something that was delivering against what guests at that hotel wanted so we actually did get back in there and rethink that work surface, and put in probably what you d consider more of a traditional work surface and setup in that room, Carroll adds. Ron Vlasic, regional vice president at InterContinental s Kimpton brand, applauds Marriott s initiative to transform the traditional work surface, saying that it forces Marriott to rethink the entire guest room experience.6

I think that s cool that they are taking the initiative of removing that piece of furniture from their guest rooms, Vlasic says. You know, very rarely do people actually sit at those desks and do their work. They are either in a nice chair or they are in their bed with their laptop. They re all about being comfortable, so that it sort of stirs the creativity of what they re working on.

Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express Guests Like Desks

Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express has also introduced more streamlined rooms, part of its Formula Blue design concept, which launched last year and is currently in place at 19 properties. As part of that concept, the decision on whether to move away from the traditional desk came into play, says Jennifer Gribble, vice president, Americas, at Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express. Discount Holidays © Holiday Inn Express research consisted of two model rooms one with a desk, and one without.

As guests walked through the rooms the experiment revealed that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the room that didn t have the desk.

What we learned is that our guests want a traditional desk, but that they also appreciate being able to work in other areas of the room, so we have a mobile table that they can use, TK TK says. We have a chair or chaise in the guest room, and they can pull it up to there, or they could pull it up next to their bed, or to a bench that we have in the room, and work in other areas of the room. That desk, we find, with our guests, is really important. Peter Yesawich, co-founder, MMGY Global, says Marriott is redefining its brand to stay relevant, and he argues that a radical repositioning isn t necessary.

They re certainly keeping core brands polished, they re keeping them contemporary, and they re putting in new technology, Yesawich says.

However, refreshing a brand must be done carefully and appropriately because getting it wrong can be risky, he says.


  1. ^ scathing Tumblr post (
  2. ^ entire Internet community (
  3. ^ piece of furniture (
  4. ^ The Idiots Who Designed Marriott s Hotel Rooms (
  5. ^ research efforts (
  6. ^ guest room experience. (