Skift Take

Kayak and Life House have joined forces to launch Kayak's first foray into the hospitality industry. The concept is a good one, but to be successful, the kinks in technology and customer service still need to be worked out, as Skift learned firsthand.

Launching a hotel during a severe thunderstorm is probably every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. And that is exactly what happened on Sunday, the official opening day of the new Kayak Miami Beach hotel. The hotel pulled it off with a few hiccups along the way. I know. Skift booked a room on the first night to try it out.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the hotel is a partnership between Kayak.com, the price-comparison site, and Life House, the lifestyle hotel brand now managing its former property off the Miami Beach strip.

Located two blocks from the beach and one block from Collins Avenue, which teems with the nightlife Miami Beach is known for, Kayak Miami Beach is actually in a quiet residential neighborhood across the street from the Miami Ballet and Collins Park. On its website, the hotel advertises itself as a “locally-inspired boutique hotel powered by Kayak.”

The hotel sits next to an empty lot for sale, which is not currently being considered as an addition to the hotel, said Kayla Inserra, Kayak’s public relations director.

“We see a big opportunity to apply our audience and technology to the accommodations’ space to level the playing field for independent hotels,” said Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, in an email on Tuesday. “Our Miami Beach property will serve as our hotel design lab and deepen our knowledge of hospitality and showcase our growing capabilities.”

But what exactly will they be testing?

Inserra said the hotel’s guests have the opportunity to influence its future operations. The property will distribute post-stay surveys to get feedback about what guests liked and what the hotel could do better.

“Right now, we are focused on getting the hotel up and running, getting staff trained and getting some of the key tech components under way. Three areas we intend to focus on first are keyless entry, mobile check-in and food and beverage integration through OpenTable’s technology,” said Inserra, referring to Kayak’s sister company. “Any test we do run will be behind the scenes, though, so to the guest it will feel like a seamless experience.”

Life House and Kayak are scouting a few more locations for additional hotels, and hope to share more details in the coming weeks, Inserra said.

Kayak Miami Beach poolside lounge. Patrick Chin/Kayak Miami Beach

Shortly after Skift’s March story on Kayak’s upcoming launch, I made my reservation for the property’s opening day, April 11.

I was excited to be returning to the hotel life that I had experienced three to four nights a week during the 10 years I worked as a flight attendant.

But this outing was particularly special as it marked my first work trip since the beginning of the global pandemic, and my being fully vaccinated.

On the launch day of Kayak’s first-ever hotel, I arrived to document the experience for Skift readers. The thee-story boutique hotel has a rooftop patio and pool, and 52 rooms, four of which are Americans With Disabilities Act-accessible with handrails and a shower seat.

“Guests of Kayak Miami Beach will enjoy numerous innovations during their stay. All check-ins/outs are contactless through either Kayak’s mobile app or a digital lobby kiosk,” the March 9 Kayak press release said.

Kayak Miami Beach Lobby and Check-in. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

I was warmly greeted by a Life House front desk clerk who instructed me to check in using the digital kiosk in the lobby, where I proceeded to touch the screen every time I typed a letter for my name. The system didn’t recognize my name and couldn’t find my reservation.

After a few tries, the front desk clerk attempted to help by typing my name himself on the same screen. I’d made the reservation using the correct spelling of my name with an ñ, but the system didn’t have the same capability onsite that it did online. He manually looked up my reservation, only to find out my room was not ready,

“Our system needed a reminder on special characters and we are actively working to ensure all special characters have been accounted for moving forward,” Inserra said.

Although I had a guaranteed 3 p.m. check-in and didn’t arrive until 4:30 p.m., I still had to wait nearly 20 minutes for my room to get cleaned. Only then did the clerk check me manually on his iPad, and give me my key.

Common Workstation and lounging area at Kayak Miami Beach. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

I enjoyed a refreshing nonalcoholic welcome drink while waiting in the eclectic lobby full of greenery and rattan furniture. Across from me was the bar, and a lounging area with board games and a common workspace with built-in outlets for about six socially distanced people. The restaurant was to my right, past the elevator.

“We were fully booked during the pre-opening weekend and had to extend some stays due to the storm. This resulted in a slight delay in rooms being ready for the first check-ins,” Inserra said.

My cozy king room. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

I was given room 215, a cozy king with a view overlooking Layla, the onsite restaurant based on the Middle Eastern love story of Layla and Majnun, two star-crossed lovers reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

Layla has its own secret staircase leading to “the secret rooftop colloquially known as Majnun and meant to reflect a more energetic spirit accessible only through a hidden staircase and a secret poem card,” said Daniel Levine, Life House’s corporate director of food and beverage.

The secret staircase connecting Layla and the rooftop lounge. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

I didn’t have hand towels in my room due to a delivery delay. The restroom had a wooden bathmat outside the shower instead of a traditional one, and it got wet while I bathed in the partially closed shower, creating a fall risk.

I also had trouble figuring out the Apple TV remote and couldn’t turn down the blaring music on the TV greeting me when I entered the room. For what it’s worth, the hotel is geared towards a younger crowd. To my embarrassment, the front desk called me while I was having dinner at a restaurant later that evening to say they’d received a noise complaint about the music.

Shower with half a door design and wooden bathmat. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

Kayak Miami Beach offers two wi-fi options, Kayak Guest which works fine but is not secured. Kayak Guest Secured is the other choice, but when I requested a password I received a text reply that the hotel was having issues with it.

My phone service was also spotty, possibly due to the building’s age, and its landmark status restricting structural changes that can be made.

To my surprise, the bar and hotel restaurant which normally operates in the evenings close on Sundays and Mondays and room service was not an option. Kayak Miami Beach has since said it will be offering an all day menu by the end of the month.

Layla Menu, just take a photo and open in smartphone. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

The winds were so strong, some of the furniture on the rooftop of this landmark 1930s Art Deco building were blown askew. The roof area houses the suites, a lounge, and a dipping pool.

“All the umbrellas on the roof have a sandbase and we’re working on adding additional security prior to hurricane season,” said Chris Guidice, Kayak Miami Beach’s general manager.

Two days earlier, I’d received an invitation to participate in a wine tasting at the hotel, and a dinner at Layla for the hotel’s soft opening for family, friends and influencers. On that day, Kayak Miami Beach was lively. Layla was fully packed inside, and on its terrace overlooking the water and greenery. A huge stone had the restaurant’s name carved in it.

I ate a Flaming Saganaki bursting with flavor, a Grilled Branzino that melts in your mouth and Braised Lamb, which I found a little dry. For cocktails, I tried samplers of mixed cocktails Summer Night (Mezcal), Star-Crossed Lovers (Bourbon), and Letters to Layla (Coconut Cartel Rum)

Grilled Branzino dinner entree at Kayak Miami Beach’s on-site restaurant Layla. Chris Carter/Kayak Miami Beach

A 51-year-old guest from Boston, a client liaison for a concierge medical practice, who declined to disclose her name, said she was planning her first vacation since the pandemic and chose Kayak Miami Beach because it lined up with her vacation days and didn’t charge a resort fee.

On Monday night, she wanted a drink, but the bar was closed. She’d waited two hours for an outside meal delivery during the storm.

Kayak Miami Beach bar. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

“Like even say for lunch or that I wanted to drink my whole vacation during the day, they don’t really promote that,” she said. “Everything is text us. I don’t want to text you to bring me my drink, you’re not my maid or my butler.”

She said she’d prefer having someone come around the lounge and pool areas to take food or drink orders.

After getting a one-on-one tutorial from a staff member, about the TV remote, she now can watch and use the TV technology. But, when she booked the hotel, the way the hotel operates wasn’t explained, and she was just told at check-in to text for anything she needed, something she was not comfortable with.

Kayak Miami Beach hotel rooms do not have phones, instead relying on the technology on the Apple TV or texting to communicate with guests.

While not having a phone in the room was a little annoying, it was not too problematic in her first floor room, but it might have been if she was on another floor and had to keep going downstairs whenever she needed something, she said. 

My avocado sandwich breakfast at Layla. Ruthy Muñoz/Skift

But the experience overall had been very good after the sun came out and the restaurant and bar were open, she said.

After learning that ordering lunch on the property isn’t an option and being unable to have dinner at Layla because reservations are filled up, and space is not automatically set aside for hotel guests she doubts she’ll return, she said.

A hotel spokesperson disputes what the guest said, noting that reservations are reserved for hotel guests.

As for myself, after enjoying a healthy breakfast, checking out was a breeze. I just texted checkout and drove home. The receipt was emailed later that evening.

Layla is fully booked through next week and while Kayak declined to comment on how many rooms were occupied on opening night, Inserra said bookings thus far have exceeded their expectations.

It’s important to note Layla serves hotel guests and the local community, reservations are encouraged.

“We’ll define success by positive consumer feedback/lab results and lots of product innovation. We’re looking at how we can expand the Kayak ecosystem to serve travelers and small independent hotel owners that need help, especially now,” Inserra said.

UPDATED: This story was updated to add a comment from A Kayak Miami Beach Hotel spokesperson about the availability of reservations at the restaurant Layla.

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Tags: boutique hotels, kayak, life house, metasearch, miami beach, reviews

Photo credit: A Kayak Miami Beach hotel rooftop suite. Patrick Chin / Kayak

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