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Escaping the Ordinary: The Reinvention of Hotel Guest Experience

May 20, 2019

Today’s travelers are no longer content with merely visiting a destination and having the same guest experience as everyone else. They increasingly yearn for something unique over more traditional stays.

This emerging need represents a huge opportunity for hotels.

The Hilton chain has chosen technology as an engine for innovation and is now promoting Connie, the AI robot who can talk to customers and explain what the hotel offers. But what if you’re not a Hilton hotel?

Here’s a sneak peak to a storied collection of hotels—big and small—who offer unique guest experiences around the world and represent some of the best in hotel industry trends.

A retro hotel built inside an abandoned terminal

*Photo courtesy of Forbes.com

*Photo courtesy of Forbes.com

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport is turning its Mad Men-era landmark terminal into a 505-room hotel to put up travelers in mid-century-modern style. Built in 1962, closed in 2001, and restored by 2019, the hotel is bringing back all the glamour and luxury of the 1960s. The project calls to mind the romance of flying when the transportation method was still a novelty, with just enough of the modern luxuries like slick minibars and fast Wi-Fi we’ve come to love too.

The TWA Hotel will be JFK’s first on-site full-scale accommodations space, comprising two main towers, an observation deck, and a micro-grid energy management system to generate its own power. The location will also feature six restaurants, one of which will be the Paris Cafe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, restaurant legend. For added comfort, the building will be made of 4.5-inch-thick glass panels, letting guests view the planes taking off without hearing them.

In addition to overnight rates from $249 per night, the hotel plans to allow shorter day stays for travelers with long layovers or early-morning flights in search of a brief respite or refresh.

As travel establishments continue to diversify their accommodations and transform their portals into inviting destinations of their own, The TWA Hotel hopes to better meet travelers’ in-moment needs with convenient and flexible hospitality and recreation opportunities.

Aviation enthusiasts can start booking. The long- anticipated property has already begun taking reservations on Valentine’s Day (Feb.14) for stays beginning May 15, when the hotel will have a “soft opening”. Finally.

Sleep at a contemporary art museum

Here is a great example of an interesting value proposition – a museum.

The 21c chain of hotels has chosen to position itself as a cultural experience and has set up a museum that guests can visit, and also enjoy a meal at the Chef Restaurant.  Exhibitions are displayed on the hotel’s website and guests can choose to see what interests them.

The first 21c Museum Hotel was launched in 2006 by philanthropists and art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. The pair had seen farmland and rural landscapes fall to development while the historic buildings of Louisville’s downtown sat vacant. They created 21c in Louisville’s downtown arts and theater district to support both urban renewal and regional agriculture, and have developed partnerships with local growers to supply produce and ingredients for the Proof on Main restaurant and bar. In July 2018, 21c Museum Hotels was acquired by the French Hotel Group AccorHotels.

Following the success of the Louisville location, additional 21c locations were put into motion, with eight currently in operation and an additional three in the planning or construction stages.

A room without a view – from prison to a luxury hotel

*Photo courtesy of Fangirl Quest

Back in the day (1837 to be exact), Helsinki’s Hotel Katajanokka was living its first life as a prison. That ended in 2002 when the building was ruled as no longer meeting the minimum welfare requirement for inmates. So what’s a city to do when a large building of historical value sits empty? With a little help from the National Board of Antiquities, and a slate of renovations, Hotel Katajanokka opened its doors in 2007.

When you enter the striking red brick building of this Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio Hotel (surrounded by a high perimeter wall), the sign reads ‘Escape the Ordinary’, which feels apt. There’s no mistaking the prison-style architecture – long, straight corridors stacked on top of each other like shelves and overlooking a central atrium with cast iron balcony railings and stairs. You can’t help but wonder who has wandered the corridors before you and peered over the railings in the hotel’s past life.

Let’s admit, it doesn’t get much more ‘experiential’ than staying in a former prison.

A hotel that can go anywhere –  and look good doing it

*Photo courtesy of Tiny Houses Galore

French hospitality brand Accorhotels is launching a first-of-its-kind concept: The Flying Nest. The Flying Nest uses modular shipping containers to build accommodations where guests of outdoor or temporary events can stay on-site or in proximity to their destination, catering to travelers’ rising demands for immersive and unique experiences.

The structures consist of shipping container modules each measuring 12 square meters in size, joined together to create a mobile, connected conglomerate of suites. The entire edifice takes less than a day to erect, and can be installed anywhere from deserts to seasides.

Previously, the nests have made an appearance at France’s famous annual 24 Hours of Le Mans car race, where attendees could stay in 25 rooms installed just 6 meters from the tracks, as well as in the French Alps for the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, featuring 15 modules built in the middle of exhibitions and allowing for stunning views.

The Flying Nest caters to two trends within hospitality: the desire of accommodation brands to afford customers a wider variety of stays and experiences, and the rising tendency of modern travelers to value their place of respite as part and parcel of their travel experience.

Accorhotels hopes to partner with outdoor events, festivals, retreats and more to help them set-up their guests in unusual environments that enable truly immersive travel.

How apps and bunk beds factor into a new connected travel experience

*Photo courtesy of Hospitaly Net

Silicon Valley-backed company Life House Hotels aims to enable a convenient and connection-fostering experience through the implementation of its custom digital accommodation platform. The company’s CEO and co-founder Rami Zeidan believes that “What travelers need is not bigger apartments, but rather more beds in a smaller space”.

Zeidan brought that insight to his hotel startup, which plans to offer rooms with bunks as well as units with beds. The mix between rooms with bunks and those with beds varies depending on location. While only 10 percent of rooms in its upcoming Little Havana hotel in Miami have bunks, the proportion is closer to 40 percent at the hotel it plans to open in nearby South Beach, where Zeidan recognized a tendency towards more group travel.

Linens, pillows, and toiletries will be provided by te upscale brand, Le Labo fragrances.

The company is vertically integrated from development to design, including operations and technology. Life House in Little Havana offers a digital platform for streamlined booking, pricing, check-ins, and more, including an opt-in social network to connect guests looking to meet new people, connect with one another, matching interested parties with those staying at the same location over the same dates, and basically integrating the entire experience.

The Life House Hotel ultimately hopes to drive engagement through enabling unique opportunities for connection as well as tech-driven convenience that appeals to younger customers’ demand for quality experience over accommodation alone. Full future implementation is scheduled for South Beach, Miami, followed by Little Havana.

A unique campaign rewards guests who return most outrageous stolen items

*Photo courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Hilton

As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, The Roosevelt New Orleans, a historic hotel within the Waldorf Astoria family, is launching a unique promotion and will be hosting a special vacation giveaway centered around a unique theme: theft!

The Historic Giveback Contest takes inspiration from hotel guests who now and then steal from the hotels at which they vacation. (No comment.)
As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, the public, as well as new and former guests, are encouraged  to “give back” any and all items from the past that were given, taken, or purchased including plates, silverware, glasses, and napkins. The chance to win will be given away in exchange for returned items. Contestants can either bring their items to the concierge desk or mail them in. The Roosevelt New Orleans will even return the items to the sender at the end of the summer after a celebratory ceremony, if requested.

The hotel will judge the most interesting items pilfered to determine the winner, running through July 1. One winner will receive a grand prize of a seven-night stay in the presidential suite, gourmet meals cooked by the hotel’s executive chef, and spa treatments, a gift that is valued at $15,000!

The Bottom Line on Hotel Innovation and Guest Experience:

Hotels are competing to deliver an experience that goes far beyond a good night’s rest, and the opportunities to delight are limited only by imagination. At Ripples, customer experience is in the DNA of every touchpoint with our bev-top media brand, from first click  to last sip, so we pay close attention to these emerging trends and developments across the HORECA industries.

We put our money on these two approaches for delivering value and delight:

Disruption – One of the best techniques for customer experience innovation is to take a single content world, learn from it, and integrate it in another. Done right, a new twist on an old favorite is likely to work because it blends all the excitement of ‘new’ with all the comfort of ‘familiar’.

Segmentation – More and more hotels are catering to hyper segmented audiences, with the most detailed levels of accuracy. Whether you call it boutique, niche, or fill-in-the-industry-buzzword, it’s really a new specialty that can serve as a destination driver all its own.

Written by Yifat Yudovsky, Head of Key Accounts at Ripples, the beverage-top media company that pioneered the original coffee printer and beer printer.

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