With hyperlocal travel the biggest trend in tourism, hotels are looking outward for community partners to provide authentic, insider cultural experiences.
Hyatt Hotels launched its Andaz brand in London with the 267-room Andaz Liverpool Street six years ago. Today there are nine Andaz hotels positioned as “upscale, boutique-inspired lifestyle properties that distill the best of their locale.”
I visited Andaz Wall Street during its first month in operation in 2010. There was no registration desk in the lobby. There was no bar in the bar. Instead, you checked in with a host seated on a David Rockwell-designed sofa. In the bar, the bartenders poured drinks at your table. The intent was to remove any separation between employees and guests to create a new social hotel of the future.
Since then, Andaz has built on its mission of human connectivity by bringing local emerging artists together with area residents and hotel guests during monthly “Andaz Salon” parties themed around food, music, art and fashion. They were inspired by the classic eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Paris Salons, once the center of the literary universe, where the social elite gathered to discuss Molière, the French Revolution and other pleasures of the intellect.
Artists previously showcased include graffiti/tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon at Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, who’s inked 50 Cent and Beyonce. Andaz San Diego collaborated with J.U.I.C.E. (Join Us In Creating Excellence), a collection of aspiring pop culture artists who gathered with guests/locals inside the hotel’s Ivy Nightclub. Classical pianists perform at Andaz Napa. Sunset Strip bands play at Andaz West Hollywood, once the notorious “Riot Hyatt” profiled in Almost Famous. And a vintage clothing storeowner in London built a pop up shop in Liverpool Street’s lobby.
“The Andaz Salon is really the cornerstone of the Andaz experience,” says Cornelia Samara, GM at 5th Avenue. “It’s a forum for our guests and locals to get together, and that’s what the brand is all about. When guests come to our hotels, they experience what it feels like to be a resident in that particular neighborhood.”
The latest Andaz Salon event at 5th Avenue was a partnership with Indiewalls, who curated a collection of original Manhattan photography hanging in the hotel rooms and public spaces. Last month, Indiewalls brought five of their photographers to Andaz for an open Q&A session to discuss the creative process behind their photography.
I asked Indiewalls’ president Ari Grazi if this is something new for hotels in New York.
“It’s certainly rare, and our goal at Indiewalls is to change that,” he says. “Hotel development is a complicated endeavor, and even the best hospitality design firms face challenges when it comes to sourcing artwork for every room in the hotel…. We are working very hard to encourage hotel groups and design firms to look to local, independent artists in order to find real artwork from real artists.”
One of the photographers, J. Ryan Roberts said, “Using blank walls throughout the city as galleries is genius… Indiewalls and Andaz were as excited to have the artists’ pieces hanging as the artists themselves, and that’s pretty cool when you think about it.”
Artist Aimee Cavazzi participated in an Andaz Salon event at 5th Avenue, and she painted the doors of the hotel’s lounge, The Bar Downstairs. Her conversations with locals during the process are infused in the finished work.
“The beauty in this project lies in the very public nature of creating the piece,” explains Cavazzi. “I feel the making of the doors was just as important to the public as the finished product. Seeing the work in progress inspired a dialogue between the viewers and myself, deepening the meaning of public art and bridging the gap between artist and viewer.”
Samara says, “Those kinds of experiences create a really great atmosphere, connecting people and talking about the vision behind the art. And people are surprised this is happening in a hotel on 5th Avenue.”
Andaz’ Salon on the Web
Last December, Andaz Hotels launched andazsalon.com to promote the many community events and reach new niche markets, like members of Hyatt Hotels’ loyalty program.
“That’s how more and more people are finding out about the Andaz Hotels, through Hyatt’s Gold Passport program,” says Samara. “A lot of them are utilizing their points to stay with us, actually.”
During that first visit to Wall Street, I met corporate spokesperson Rachel Harrison, who recently transitioned to a boutique brand in Jamaica. I called her to ask: What is the benefit of a lifestyle blog for a hotel brand like Andaz?
“It’s about establishing a dialogue with consumers,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s the opportunity to speak with them online, to interact with them, and figure out what they want and what they don’t…. So creating your own blog, creating your own journalism, within the confines of the hotel online is a great way to meet the people who love you, and to meet the people who like you and have the possibility of loving you.”
New Andaz hotels are opening this year in Maui and Costa Rica. Andaz Tokyo opens summer 2014.
Greg Oates covers hospitality trends and next generation hotels. He has participated in 1,000+ hotel site inspections in over 50 countries.