PortfolioJumeirah Clearwater Bay Resort
Qingshui Wan, Lingshui, Hainan, China
Design is a critical aspect of any brand's positioning.
I recently had the honor of presenting some insights on the subject at the Cornell Brand Management Roundtable, hosted by Professor Chekitan Dev, PH.D. and The Center for Hospitality Research.
When it comes to branding hotels and resorts, both art and science are involved. Under the category of art comes stunning photography, which is one way to showcase a property and communicate its "wow" factor.
The science comes from understanding the elements of good design – functionality, quality, and impact.
Where functionality can be assessed (Is the building well designed for its purpose?) and quality can be evaluated (Will the building and materials last?), impact (Does the building lift people's spirits?) is harder to measure ... but that doesn't mean it can't be done.
Using a tool called DQI (Design Quality Indicator) to gauge the impact of 99 design-related variables, Hyatt administered a questionnaire to 2,000 guests and employees at 24 of their hotels. They were able to correlate high DQI scores with strong guest and employee satisfaction as well as with individual properties' RevPAR index.
In a longitudinal study conducted over 20 years, WATG engaged Smith Travel Research to examine the effect of design on a property's top and bottom line by comparing 27 hotels that the firm designed in four separate geographic areas against competitive sets in the same markets managed by the same operators. The WATG hotels outperformed the control group in occupancy, ADR and RevPAR.
These studies, coupled with owner/operator interviews as well as comments from guests and employees, provide quantifiable evidence that good design adds value. And it can do so in three measureable areas:
- Asset value: higher valuation as well as lower operating and maintenance costs;
- Quality of environment: improved productivity and better guest experience; and
- Brand identity: recognition, visibility and media exposure.
A summary of the entire proceedings, called "Fresh Thinking Outside the Box," can be obtained from Cornell for free in exchange for your email address here.
Based on booking data collected by Orbitz, these are the most popular U.S. destinations, in order:
1. Las Vegas
2. New York City
4. San Francisco
5. San Diego
8. New Orleans
9. Washington, DC
Honolulu and New Orleans are both new to the list. Falling off were Los Angeles (#5 in 2009) and Boston, which ranked #9 the previous year.
Looking ahead to the balance of 2011, there is strong interest and growing demand in Las Vegas and Hawaii.
Las Vegas, with its excess supply of hotel rooms, will be offering great deals.
Oahu is home to the highly anticipated WATG-designed Disney Aulani Resort at Ko Olina, scheduled to open in August, which will be a big draw for families. Increased air service to Honolulu also will bode well for expected lower airfares, making travel to Hawaii more affordable. Hoteliers at properties recently renovated by WATG – including Halekulani, St. Regis Princeville, Grand Hyatt Kauai, Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria Resort, Kahala Hotel and Resort, Marriott Kauai Resort & Beach Club – are happy to handle more guests.
Where do you want to go?
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about a tree that adorns the lobby of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Designed by WATG (the hotel not the tree), the property won top honors at a ceremony in London last month, winning nine individual World Travel Awards - more than any other property in the world.
It's not the artificial tree itself that's making news; nor is it the fact that it's in a Muslim country. It's how it's decorated.
Bedecked and bedazzled with US$11 million worth of diamonds, emeralds and rubies, the attention-grabbing spectacle is vying for entry into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most expensively dressed tree. Not taken into account on calculating the cost is the 24/7 security, which includes four security guards closely monitoring the area along with security cameras.
A year ago, I announced that bling has blung. I did not anticipate that our appetite for lavishness and luxury would re-surface so quickly. And perhaps it hasn't.
Within a few days of boasting about the cost of the tree, much of the public reaction was negative, and an article in Canada's Edmonton Sun has the hotel now crediting – or blaming – Style Gallery, which owns all the jewelry adorning the tree's branches. "The hotel is just a venue for exhibiting the tree," the hotel said in a statement issued to WAM, the state-run media, adding regret for "attempts to overload the tradition."
Clearly, the tree generated publicity for the property. But at what price?
What's your opinion?
Blogging is a vehicle for sharing ideas, information and points of view. And WATG's blog has been successful in giving over 50 staff members an opportunity to do just that.
In the first 11 months of this year, our architecture blog has been read by over 20,000 visitors to watg.com.
According to research conducted recently by HubSpot among 1,531 businesses, in addition to driving traffic to one's website, the benefits of blogging include lead generation and customer acquisition. And, as you can see from the chart below, the more often you blog, the more likely you are to create new business opportunities.
Breaking news: I am pleased to report that we got our first job that can be attributed directly to a blog.
You might call this concrete evidence of our blog's ROI (Return on Internet).
This chart was part of a presentation I shared at the SMPS National Conference.
The tiny bed bug has become a big problem in hotels around the world … even in luxury properties.
Everything you ever wanted to know – and lots of stuff you never wanted to know – about these hotel guest pests can be found at www.bed-bug.org.
Bed bugs are typically active at night time, with a maximum attack period about an hour or two before sunrise. Attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide, the bug penetrates the skin of its host with two hollow injector tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while the other tube withdraws the blood from its host. After a five-minute blood meal, the bug returns to its hiding area. The bites usually cannot be felt until a few minutes or hours later.
What to do? Hoteliers should check out an excellent article by Paul Bellow of PJB Pest Management Consulting.
Insights for hotel owners and operators include:
• Bed bug training videos are available (to train your staff not your bed bugs).
• Bed bug-sniffing dogs are effective at finding bed bugs.
• An inexpensive magnifying glass can be a handy way to locate these pests.
• Used properly, steam will kill 100 percent of the bed bugs and bed bug eggs contacted.
One tip for designers: Think twice about upholstered, tufted headboards. Bed bugs prefer to hide in undisturbed cracks and crevices, particularly at the head of the bed.
Here are a few of the more discouraging and disconcerting facts about these critters:
• The number of bed bugs is doubling each year in the US, UK & Europe.
• Well-fed adults may live from 18-20 months and can survive for up to a year between feedings.
• For their size (1/4 inch in length), they are extremely fast. When the lights go out they make their way from their hiding place and find locations on a human host that can accommodate their rich tastes (generally legs, arms, shoulders and waist).
If you've got a bed bug problem at home, there's a helpful site for do-it-yourselfers.
Copyright © 2010 bed-bug.org
When WATG launched a blog three years ago, we were among the first architecture and design firms in the world to embrace this medium.
While most company blogs in existence today – and there are still relatively few – have a single voice, ours includes contributions from over 50 WATG staff members to date.
Many senior leaders were skeptical at first, considering blogging a waste of time. But some of these folks have come around, even posting a blog or two themselves.
In addition to providing a forum for sharing insights and observations internally, our blog has become the fifth most popular way that people find and enter our website. Over 35,000 visitors have read WATG's blog in the last year alone. If you Google "architecture blog," WATG now appears on the first page of results.
According to research conducted recently by HubSpot among 1,531 businesses, other benefits of blogging include increased lead generation, customer acquisition, Twitter reach, and website visits.
Despite the lodging industry's well-meaning efforts to go green - and to tell the world about it - we've barely made a dent to date.
Check out the recently released 147-page CMI Green Traveler Survey Report. Based on a survey of 4,109 adults throughout the United States, the study focuses exclusively on the 1,736 respondents who consider themselves to be "extremely" or "very" eco-conscious and who took at least one overnight vacation in the past year. That's a population that is likely to be educated about the concept of sustainability and open to hearing your message.
If you believe your company is doing a great job branding itself as green, you may be disappointed. When asked which hotel brand had done the best job of presenting itself as environmentally friendly, few respondents were able to name any. Respondents voted Kimpton [a study partner] as the environmentally friendliest brand, yet it was cited by only 4 percent of respondents. Hilton and Marriott received a 3 percent response.
When asked to name a green certification program, 97 percent of respondents could not name any. That does not surprise Glenn Hasek, publisher of Green Lodging News, who cites this survey in a recent issue. According to Glenn, there are more than 350 different environmental tourism certifications. Of the 1,412 respondents who answered the related question, only 32 had an awareness of LEED, 13 knew of Green Globe, and seven were aware of Green Seal.
The recommendation of the study's author: "The green travel industry, analysts and green travel advocacy groups must come together to: establish workable standards for green travel throughout the industry; award certification for meeting those standards—an industry 'seal of approval' on par with Michelin, UL or ADA; and proactively brand that certification to gain wide recognition and trust among travelers."
Consumers want to do the green thing, but there is a gap between their intentions and their actions. Perhaps one of the reasons this gap exists is the lack of a consistent set of standards and the resulting confusion caused by the clutter of competing claims.
There is an opportunity here to educate the traveling public. While savvy hoteliers know people are skeptical about advertising, there is power in positive word of mouth. Integrate social media, blogs and website reviews into your marketing mix to raise awareness of the specifics of your green initiatives. Meeting planners, especially, are hungry for this information and will reward you with their business.
For even the wealthy traveler, value will be a top priority in the coming years. The fact that consumer spending, even on sale items, will continue to be replaced by a reason-to-buy at all, spells trouble for brands with no authentic meaning, whether high-end or low.
"People want value for their money in every single market," according to Ralph Toledano, chairman and CEO of Chloé in Paris, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Affluent travelers will be looking for an optimal price/quality balance when they are selecting their luxury vacation destination.
Here's further evidence of the value of value: The March 2010 issue of Travel+Leisure magazine ranks readers' favorite destinations in a feature entitled, "World’s Best Hotel Values." The winners prove that you can have a luxury hotel experience for under US$250 a night. Several projects designed by WATG are on that list.
But it's not just about price. To Isadore Sharp, founder, chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, real value comes from more than offering reduced room rates; rather, it is about delivering "service that is consistent, reliable and tailored to each guest's individual needs."
That suggests that luxury hoteliers and travel companies will thrive if they can demonstrate why it's worth paying a bit more for an extraordinary experience.
In terms of travel choices, conspicuous consumption and bragging rights may no longer be the motivators they once were. Ted Teng, president and CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd., sums up what's important when he says that elite clientele will become even more discerning, but in slightly different ways: "Customers will increasingly be seeking value, quality, authenticity and personalized enriching experiences."
The luxury hoteliers who succeed in these challenging times will heed these trends and position their properties accordingly.
Luxury hospitality has been hit harder by the worldwide financial disruption than any other segments of the hotel business. According to Mark Lomanno of STR, it may rebound the quickest, but it has the farthest to go.
While all indications are that affluent travelers will indeed return, what they will be hoping to find in the hotels and resorts they visit will have morphed in a number of subtle ways. Shifting perceptions about luxury will account for changes that we are already seeing in high-end hospitality design.
The changing nature of luxury
To the extent that conspicuous consumption and ostentatious décor might be considered bad form in a global recession -- where so many people and businesses have been hard hit -- design aesthetics will be tamped down in new and renovated properties, thereby changing the look and reconsidering the definition of luxury.
While luxury conjures images of excess and indulgence, Isadore Sharp, founder, chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, views it as something that goes deeper than aesthetics: "For our guests and clients, luxury is about making the most of their precious time. It's about feeling welcomed and recognized. It's about not having to worry about a thing."
Among affluent travelers, there seems to be a general self consciousness about the appearance of over-indulgence and a desire to feel vindicated in some way. Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Six Senses, identifies the shift as "a move away from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption."
In other words, bling has blung. When it comes to luxury hotel design in 2010 and beyond, expect to see less flash and more substance; comfort over coolness; friendliness over pretentiousness.
Back to basics
Though clearly a five-star brand, St. Regis recently went through the conversion of a property in Princeville, on the island of Kauai, that involved removing tons of polished marble, ornate railings and chandeliers, European themed furniture and artwork, and gilded Corinthian columns. Designers repositioned the Hawaii property to reflect its locale through the use of indigenous materials, paintings and sculpture by local artists, and custom-designed carpets and furnishings with a residential feel that exude warmth and hospitality.
In 2010 and beyond, polished brass and shiny chrome will be out. Natural stone and salvaged wood will be in. Recycled materials and accessories will enhance the guest experience and give a property a unique story to tell.
Simplicity and sustainability will be the key drivers for success.
A compelling reason to renovate now is that construction prices have declined significantly following a 30-year rise. Saving money in labor and materials can increase the internal rate of return for any hotel renovation projects that are being contemplated … and have bottom-line benefits. But, as they say on TV, "Hurry, this offer won't last."
As reported in Rider Levett Bucknall's quarterly cost report, construction costs in the US declined for the fourth consecutive quarter, but the rate of decline has diminished considerably. Whereas in the first quarter of 2009, prices dropped in many cities by an average of seven percent, recent reductions in labor and materials (as well as overhead and profit) have leveled off to a single percentage point.
The data suggest that builders are unlikely to make additional deep cuts to their already tightened margins, even as workload projections remain pessimistic. In other words, if you're a hotel owner, operator or asset manager who has been deferring maintenance or waiting to renovate until prices go down even further, this is as good as it's going to get.
Howard J. Wolff Hotel News Now Interview "Should hoteliers renovate"
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