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On September 27 to 28, nearly 1,000 of the travel industry’s brightest and best will gather in New York City for the third annual Skift Global Forum, the largest creative business gathering in the global travel industry. In only two short years it has become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
This year’s event at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center will feature speakers including the CEOs of Marriott International, Carnival Corp., Expedia, TripAdvisor, Etihad Aviation Group, Club Med, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers touching on big-picture issues that may begin in travel, but also impact businesses and industries beyond the sector.
The most creative and innovative urban hotels sometimes define their neighborhoods.
They’re woven into the local culture, architecture and the social fabric of their communities.
However, its an expensive way to grow a hospitality brand when you develop each property as an independent project from a blank slate unique unto itself, versus following a structured design-build model that can easily scale in urban centers from city to city.
The dichotomy isn’t just an issue for hotel developers but comes into play for everything from coffee shops and restaurants to bookstores and other retail locations.
The Standard Hotels, Ace Hotels, Peninsula Hotels, the Unlisted Collection, and a select few other hospitality groups are examples of the first hotel development method. Every big international legacy hotel chain in the world represents the second.
Amar Lalvani, managing partner of The Standard Hotels, came up through the hospitality industry with W Hotels, so he has first-hand experience with both models.
“With a brand like W Hotels, you want to be everywhere and you usually figure it out after you get there, because value is created by footprint expansion above all else,” he said. “But value can also be created by quality and scarcity, by doing things that are very special. It will take a lot longer but the hotel industry needs people with a longer perspective.”
Lalvani of The Standard Hotels will join Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse Group, in a panel at the Skift Global Forum September 27, sharing thoughts on how to build a hotel brand in a sharing economy environment.
In July 2015, Standard Hotels acquired a 51 percent stake in Texas-based Bunkhouse Group, founded by Lambert, and the latter has quietly evolved into one of the hippest hospitality platforms between the two coasts. If Quentin Tarantino and Edith Piaf birthed a hotel love child, it would look a lot like the Bunkhouse properties in Austin, San Antonio and Marfa.
The merger seems to work because both companies share a like-minded ambition for building bigger communities around their brands versus building bigger development pipelines. Bunkhouse also gives Lalvani a platform to expand into U.S. markets that wouldn’t be appropriate for Standard Hotels and its audience, which is more attuned to global gateway cities.
Because both hotel groups’ value proposition is based on each of their properties’ unique design delivery and user experience, Lalvani and Lambert suggest that they’re immune from the disruption that the room-sharing economy is wreaking throughout the hospitality industry.
In fact, they argue that companies like Airbnb are actually benefiting their position in the marketplace.
They both told Skift that the room-sharing economy proves that today’s mainstream consumer demands accommodations that define a hyperlocal essence of place. Every Airbnb is a one-off, and that demand for authentic, one-of-a-kind neighborhood experiences is spilling over into the traditional hotel arena more than ever before.
“Nothing shows the glacial pace of how slow hotels are to adapt to changing trends than the sharing economy,” said Lambert. “Airbnb really exposed that…. When you look at all of these bigger brands launching boutique brands, all they’re really doing is launching a design that still makes all the hotels feel the same.”
Lalvani added, “At the same time, Liz and I have been successfully building community around our hotels and bringing people together into our public spaces. That is what our brands are all about, and while we’re both big fans of what Airbnb is doing, that’s something that Airbnb can never do. So we think we’re incredibly well-positioned as the sharing economy grows.”
For a great hotel to be a thriving social and destination-specific experience, every element of the hotel needs to speak to the local neighborhood and the people who live there. The design, furniture, artwork, programming, food and beverage, and everything else has to resonate authentically.
Or as Lalvani would say, “There’s a sort of truth and honesty to the hotel.”
That truth and honesty is necessary to successfully cultivate community by bringing locals and travelers together in the same public spaces, and it’s exactly that communal energy that helps hotels at this level differentiate themselves.
Lambert points out that hotels used to always be important social hubs for their communities, where neighborhood residents gathered to meet to talk business, politics, sports, and family. For her, this big “trend” about hotels emphasizing how they’re part of the local community is really just a return to the past.
“When I was a kid in Odessa, Texas, my grandfather was a rancher and he didn’t have an office, so he would do business in the old Lincoln Hotel,” Lambert recalled. “He’d read the paper, smoke a cigar. People would stop in for a coffee or a shoeshine or haircut. That’s what makes hotels an interesting place, when you have regulars, and that’s something we’ve been doing at Bunkhouse since the beginning.”
Looking ahead, Lalvani is focusing on developing technology that aligns with modern travel behavior and is designed to truly delivers real benefits, which he believes is the next big differentiator in the lifestyle hotel space.
Toward that end, Standard Hotels launched its same-day One Night Standard booking app, which provides lower rates than on most third party websites. More recently, the new Standard Time initiative gives guests the freedom to schedule their own check-in and check-out times for a small additional fee when they book direct through the brand.com site.
Lalvani says that both technology strategies are designed to speak to travelers the way they want to be spoken to in 2016.
“So we’re doubling down on what we’ve always done well, which is delivering the experience in our public spaces and creating community around the brand through music, culture, and content development,” he said. “We’re really going deep on tech and understanding how people travel today in the mobile economy. It’s all about having fun, being spontaneous, and connecting with people.”