Will the new generation of design hotels last ?

W Hotel – Hong Kong

W Hotels and Andaz Hotels have been making headline this year with several key international openings. Both chains have been developed by major hotel groups Starwood and Hyatt respectively in an move to tap into the growing trend of design hotels. The development of the new chains also helps the two hotel groups reposition themselves, both being known for their regular five star brands such as Sheraton or Hyatt, which have become lacklustre in the past years.

But just how well defined is the concept behind the two brands? Both hotels chains target both leisure and corporate travellers, a younger segment than the other brands of each group. As for design, W stands out as contemporary, colourful and flashy, while Andaz appears more basic and subdued. When it comes to comfort, both chains have several shortcomings, one is the relatively small size of the rooms and second, the concept of unifying the bathroom space with the room space. Another shortcoming is the fact that all hotels seem identical, few incorporating local features or better to say local flavours. In the case of W, the only ‘’local flavour’’ of the various locations is not given by the design but by including local cuisine in the restaurant menus. In the case of Andaz, the ‘’local flavour’’ is given by the books, maps and guides which are placed in the rooms.

When it comes to service, both chains promote themselves as being genuine, friendly and efficient. The W Hotels highly promote their Whenever, Whatever service, which is actually an older service of unifying several services such as housekeeping, guest relations and concierge at one communication point, first implemented decades ago by the InterContinental chain and called Instant Service. However, in time, the unified communication point has proven inefficient and that is why it is run in parallel with the traditional one where guests can access directly each service.

Browsing though the website of the various locations of W, one would have the impression they represent the centre of entertainment in each destination, which is not the case. The highly promoted parties are at most DJs playing live music in various venues. Ever since it was set up, the W chain has defined itself as being fashionable and each hotel has a fashion store which sells apparel and accessories which make up several evening looks for ladies. The designs on sale are far from being in fashion, but rather standing out as flashy. These fashion collections probably appeal to an aspirational segment, such as wealthy Americans who live outside the major cities. For fashion savvy Europeans, these stores might look tacky and uninspired.

Another growing design chain is ME by MELIA, created by the Spanish MELIA Hotels. Barcelona is the city where the two hotel brands are competing. The two properties are very similar, especially in interior design, concept of entertainment and dining. The only difference is the way people communicate

Despite the intense marketing efforts the above chains are far from reaching the unique concept of Morgans Hotels, each location boasting a distinctive modern, yet lasting design. Some Morgans hotels such the Delano in Miami have been in operation for more than 10 years, yet still maintain their hype. The recently opened W Hotel in Miami has almost automatically positioned itself as lower than the Delano property.

As long as the new chains continue to develop hotels almost identical in design and they operate properties with large number of rooms, it is highly unlikely that these chains will impose a long lasting concept in worldwide hospitality. Another important aspect which should be a priority for the chains is their positioning with the aim of maintaining a consistency in targetting. For instance, on the specialized review web sites, the most fervant complaints about several W Hotels are about the fact that there are many clients with small children.

Oliver Petcu