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In Montgomery, Alabama, a new hotel is attempting to lean into a complicated past in an artful way.

When Trilogy Hotel Montgomery, Autograph Collection, opened this spring in Montgomery, Alabama, it claimed to be the city’s first boutique hotel. The property is attempting to cater to what local tourism officials call “purposeful travel,” suggesting an approach that might inspire hoteliers in other small cities with similarly rich histories.

The new hotel — part of the Marriott soft-branded Autograph Collection of boutique-style hotels — may be boosted by a rising wave of visitation to the state’s capital. The number of international travelers to Montgomery in the first half of 2023 was already about twice as much as during all of last year, according to Americantours International, one of the country’s top tour operators for foreign travelers.

“We’re seeing large corporations interested in coming here,” said Ron Simmons, the chief officer of destination and community development at Experience Montgomery. “Some destinations have to get creative when telling a story. Montgomery has one when it comes to social justice, innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion.’”

Trilogy Hotel Montgomery sees itself as an additional new gateway for tourists seeking the city’s historical attractions, such as its Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Civil Rights Memorial and exhibition center. The Rosa Parks Museum and the Freedom Rides Museum together tell the story of Montgomery’s mid-1950s bus boycott that eventually prompted an end to segregation on public transit. 

Trilogy Hotel Montgomery’s name refers partly to how it’s made of three separate restored buildings. The name is also partly homage to the region’s Native Americans, white immigrants, and African Americans. 

One building is a Greek revival mansion dating from 1851 that belonged to a cotton and slave merchant. At the front, guests see a hand-stitched comforter from a longtime Montgomery resident, a crafter who’s a woman of color.

The hotel strives to create “a sense of place” for guests, echoing and reflecting the local area’s past and present.

The aesthetic objective may sync with an undercurrent of tourism interest in what some call “purposeful travel,” or “responsible travel.”

“Tourism is a lot different than pre-pandemic,” Marks said. “People don’t just want to travel to a destination to look at museums of artifacts. They want experiences and world-renowned museums of consciousness.”

trilogy hotel montgomery alabama front desk quilt
A quilt at the front desk of the Trilogy Hotel Montgomery. Source: Marriott.

Using Food and Art to Reflect Stories

The hotel’s restaurant, Kinsmith, claims that its menu offers modern interpretations of “Southern hospitality and authenticity.” A crawfish Caesar salad, for instance, features cornbread croutons, jerk-spiced pork belly, and hushpuppies with black-eyed peas.

The restaurant’s chandeliers, woodwork, and fireplaces strive to invoke a classical Southern ambiance.

Scattered across the hotel’s three buildings are pieces of artwork — sculpture, prints, paintings, and photos —that echo key moments in Montgomery’s history. One artwork is of a jazz trumpeter.

Another artwork is of schoolgirls in jumpers, reminiscent of the era of civil rights activist Ruby Bridges.

“I took a meeting at the hotel last week because it has a vibe I can’t find elsewhere in town,” said Mark Daubar, a real estate executive and photographer who has lived in Montgomery for decades.

trilogy hotel photo
A framed photo on display at the Trilogy Hotel Montgomery. Source: Marriott.

Educating Staff

Montgomery’s story is also part of the hotel’s narrative. To tell that, Marks said his team trained Trilogy staff to portray some challenging aspects sensitively and comprehensively. 

“We held several sessions with our team to take them through the details of what the hotel represents, the experience we want guests to have,” he said. “We’re not expecting them to memorize everything, but as they’re interacting with guests to share what resonates with them. If anything, we’ve been more outgoing or aggressive than holding back in regards to [Montgomery’s history].” 

Another conscious decision behind fostering a culture at Trilogy is Ascent’s commitment to hiring diversely, Marks said.

“This has been an ongoing commitment for our company for years and is reflected throughout our hotels,” Marks said. “In terms of the current environment that we’re in, we have to work harder to get across that we’re not just dipping our toes in the water. It’s about providing training, resources, and the support to succeed … [so that] everyone can grow with us.”

What is the Black Travel Movement?
The Black Travel Movement is a growing trend among Black Americans and other people of color who seek to challenge stereotypes about their travel habits and preferences, and to promote more inclusivity and representation within the travel industry. It began around 2015 and has since gained traction, with various Black travel communities like Travel Noire, Black & Abroad, and Nomadness Travel Tribe emerging to provide resources, support, and networking opportunities for Black travelers. These communities also help to highlight the significant economic power of Black travelers, who spent $129.6 billion on domestic and international travel in 2019 (Skift, 08/23/2022). The movement encourages the travel industry to be more inclusive in its marketing, content, and destination offerings, and to better cater to the diverse interests and needs of Black travelers.

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Tags: alabama, autograph collection, black travel, boutique hotels, history, marriott, Marriott International, responsible tourism, responsible travel

Photo credit: The exterior of the three structures that make up The Trilogy Autograph Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama. Source: The Trilogy Autograph Montgomery.

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