Replicating a lifestyle hotel brand worldwide is a bit like walking on a tightrope blindfolded. Only the skilled survive. Marriott's Edition is up to the challenge, according to the brand's boss. Expect an acrobatic 2023.
Marriott International’s Edition brand, co-created with hotel impresario Ian Schrager, may finally be clicking with developers after a decade-long slow burn. The Tampa Edition that opened in September marked the 15th property in the series. Top executives expect to double that footprint within five years.
“Since we opened Tampa, we now have leads coming in from South America at a greater pace,” said Josh Fluhr, who earlier this year became Edition’s senior vice president and global managing director and spoke to Skift in his first media interview since. “Each new outpost reaches a new layer of concentric circles of people to experience what the brand is all about, and that drives growth.”
Marriott’s Edition brand of hotels straddle lifestyle and luxury segments by taking a strict approach to hiring, training, and development. Yet it’s proven harder for Marriott to crack the lifestyle category than it had hoped back in 2007 when it first partnered with Schrager to create Edition. In 2008, executives forecasted they would have opened about 100 Editions by around now, rather than 15.
“The design is very bespoke,” said Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano on stage at Skift Global Forum in September. “So I’m not sure I necessarily think it’s not moving as rapidly as we would like. We always want things to go a little more quickly. But behind that 15 open hotels, there are another 12 to 15 signed, or under development, projects. It’s not a brand that we’re going to have 1,000 hotels.”
Brand executives said that their playbook for hiring, for selecting culinary partners, and maintaining luxury-level standards of service will help the brand thrive.
Uniqueness Versus Franchise
Edition fits into the “lifestyle” segment of hotels. Lifestyle properties aim to mimic the appeal of independently run boutique hotels first created in the 1980s. Marriott is one of a few companies betting on the segment as a way to diversify from more formulaic hospitality designs. To mention a few: InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has Hotel Indigo, Hyatt Hotels has Andaz, Marriott also has the W brand, and Accor has SLS and Morgans Originals.
Yet some developers and investors have balked at the properties, which typically come with billion-dollar price tags. While hotels that straddle the lifestyle and luxury categories like Edition can generate significantly more revenue per room, they also require more operational finesse and financing to build and keep fresh.
Yet developers seem to be cottoning on to the concept as a way to stand out in crowded markets. Edition will open shortly in Rome and Riviera Maya, for example.
A debate in the hotel community is whether the level of care to make properties like the Tampa Edition succeed can be replicated again and again.
Fluhr, who was part of the Edition launch team and has also been at the brand for the past seven years, believes that following operational playbooks that adhere strictly to a tightly conceived strategy focused on some foundational elements can turn Edition into a truly global brand.
Edition goes beyond what most public hotel companies do when it comes to talent acquisition.
“We don’t just go looking for employees, we go hunting,” Fluhr said.
When Edition plans to open a hotel in a market, they assemble a talent acquisition team and have a “hunting night” where the best talent spotter workshop the best practices in finding employees. A team splits up around the city’s neighborhoods and visits bars, restaurants, retail shops, art galleries, and other places and approach people to ask if they might consider a career change to work at a hotel.
“We’re going to places where people deliver service, and we’re engaging with top performers to ask if they had ever considered going into a career in hospitality,” Fluhr said. “We teach team members that they should always have thier eyes and ears open to find those diamonds to approach and hire, to pursue diversity across the board.”
Edition brand and hiring leaders teach new staff how to engage potential hires in conversations. There’s a finesse in disarming people without coming across sketchy or flirtatious. One tactic is to give a potential hire direct access to a leader like the vice president of sales and marketing or the general manager for a follow-up conversation.
“Culture is the stickeist part of Edition,” Fluhr said. “It’s the thing that really attracts both employees and guests and then ultimately developers to the brand. The sense you’re part of something bigger.”
Focus on Nightlife
In most markets, the Edition brand is associated with or tries to be part of the local nightlife scene, attracting the coolest people typically in the creative industries such as music. Highly praised restaurants and bars are another key ingredient.
More than a year before a planned opening date, Edition sends out team members to explore a location’s dining spots and clubs to assess who is going where, what gaps might be in the market, what the pricing ranges are like.
Edition decides what type of cuisine to go with (in a market like Tokyo, for example, maybe an offering that stands out from plentiful Japanese offerings is the way to stand out, while in Rome a traditional Roman offering may be what guests expect).
Unlike the approach Accor-backed Ennismore takes, Marriott’s Edition doesn’t “incubate” food-and-beverage experts. It instead finds local partners to develop the restaurants at its properties.
“After our 14-step research process, we’ll pursue certain partners who we think can execute against that cuisine and present them to ownership groups and then from there, negotiate contracts to do the deal,” Fluhr said.”
Lifestyle Versus Luxury
Some hotels are luxurious, which usually means a high staffing level per guest and striking physical infrastucture. Other hotels create more of a scene thanks to having bars, restaurants, or nightclubs that are very popular.
Edition tries to do both, which is a tall order.
“We’re not all things to all people,” Fluhr said. “We’re the right things to the right people. We’ve got to make sure we protect those things that have made us successful, which is walking this line between lifestyle and luxury.”
To ensure high service quality, Edition put a training platform together for employees based on helping them become experts in particular service skills.
“It’s long been a practice at the best independent restaurants that staff have to know key things, like, what’s the cooking methodology for a certain dish, or what allergens might be in that dish, and you either know those things or you don’t go onto the floor,” Fluhr said. “In the hotel world that somehow is not there. When we created Edition, our team decided we’re going to change the paradigm and put very specific foundational blocks in place training where we’re going to make sure that the employees know the critical service components inside and out.”
One challenge Edition has is finding capital partners or developers in target markets who are willing to buy in to the plan the brand’s research suggests will work best, such as whether or not a hotel should have a nightclub and whether the lobby connects with that nightlife venue or has a separate entrance.
“It’s important to get the mix of rooms right and the mix of venues right,” Fluhr said. “We need possible developers to take time to space plan with us so we know we’re getting the best possible hotel with the right audience through that process.”
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Photo credit: A view of one of the lounge bars, called the Punch Room, at The Tampa Edition, which opened in September 2022 in Tampa, Florida. Source: Marriott International.