Hotels try to pack in the amenities

Franchise Times Magazine – by Becky Bergman

Branded hotels might want to follow the lead of an independent whose “Guppy Love” program provides guests with a live goldfish so they can enjoy “completely stress-free bonding with these little buddies throughout their stay.” Who wouldn’t remember sharing a room with a goldfish next time you book?

Competition for the middle-income traveler who seeks amenities that blend work and play with style and affordability has driven hotel companies to pour millions of dollars into researching what guests want when they travel (hint: cookie-cutter hotels that look the same in every city is a big no-no). Guestrooms with neutral walls and floral bedspreads have been replaced by loft-style spaces with bold colors, hardwood floors and fluffy comforters.

Hotels have morphed lobbies into club-like hangouts, check-in kiosks have replaced eyeball-level counters and comfortable furniture in the common areas allows guests to socialize, eat and work together.

And when hotels are not watching their bottom line, they’re watching our waistline: state-of-the-art fitness rooms, like the one at Marriott in Greenville, South Carolina, are decked out with cardio equipment and weights. Some hotels will even bring the workout to the guestroom.

At certain Hilton hotels, guests can book a personal trainer for an hour-long fitness session in their room. And when guests check into an Omni hotel, they receive a “Get Fit Kit” bag that includes a radio headset, dumbbells, an elastic band, floor mat and exercise booklet.

“Whether they are here for business or leisure, our guests want to be able to keep doing the things they’re used to, like exercising, working comfortably, making phone calls and surfing the Internet,” says Manhar Rama.

Rama is the chief operating officer for Greenville, South Carolina-based JHM Hotel Group, a lodging management company that operates more than 30 properties and 5,000 guestrooms in 6 states under popular brands like Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt.

His company owns and operates the Greenville Marriott. “This is their home during the time they are in one of our hotels,” he says. “We try to make it feel and look like a home-away-from-home.”

The lodging industry also uses artwork from local artists and regional decor to create an authentic flavor in the hotels. Services and amenities run the gamut from rent-a-pet programs to spa-like bathrooms, all created to offer guests a unique experience that will inspire brand loyalty.

“The lifestyle segment is one of the best ways for franchisors to differentiate their brand from other hotels and appeal to a young market,” says Fred Schwartz, president of Asian American Hotel Owners Association, which represents more than 8,000 members in the hospitality industry.

“People select a hotel because it fits their personality,” says Schwartz. “Some of these hotels are just as exciting as the trip itself.”
More than 34 new hotel brands have been launched since 2005, the most in a two-year period since 1989, when the U.S. grew a huge crop of extended stay, limited service and economy brands, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Darrell Johnson, president and CEO of FRANdata, an Arlington, Virginia-based information and research firm, says lifestyle hotels are gaining popularity.

“Hotel brands are attempting to do what the fitness industry has achieved,” says Johnson. “If you look at fitness clubs, they are not targeting just anyone who wants to work out. There are clubs that offer particular types of workouts and target specific groups of people, like women only or the 24-hour crowd.”

“Hotels have identified market segments and customer preferences and used that information to develop brands to meet those needs.”
Inside the double-height lobby of the Hotel Indigo, the iconic nautilus-shaped desk is designed to be accessible from all sides, the white oversized chairs enable guests to eat, work or just hang out and staff members walk around greeting guests up close.

Each guestroom includes hardwood floors, spa-inspired bathrooms with oxygenic showerheads, teak benches and Aveda spa amenities, luxury perks that were once reserved for high-end hotels.
And if all that over-the-top pampering isn’t enough, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts has jumped on the “brand wagon” by offering its Jet Lag Recovery and Wireless Relief massages.

Revenue garnered from franchisees — royalty, reservations, advertising and marketing fees — represents a significant stream of income for hotel companies. Initial fees range from $36,000 to more than $150,000. Royalties, advertising, reservation systems and frequent traveler programs can gobble up another 1 to 15 percent of total room revenue.

The $133 billion lodging industry is poised for exponential growth Ð again. In December, there were 5,438 hotel properties in the U.S. with a record 718,387 guestrooms waiting to break ground or in the pre-planning stages, according to real estate research firm Lodging Econometrics.

Given those numbers, guests can be picky about where they count their sheep. Of course, a company like the Conrad Hotels and Resorts doesn’t want guests counting sheep at all. The luxury brand from Hilton boasts it has perfected the art of sleeping with its menu of 75 pillows, which vary by location.

If that’s too many choices, there is the Benjamin Hotel. Located in the city that never sleeps, the Benjamin goes to great lengths to make sure its guests get a good night’s rest Ð or the $450-$550 daily tab is on the house.

The New York City hotel has a sleep concierge service that provides a menu of 10 pillow choices, such as buckwheat, jelly neck roll and snore-no-more. Guests can also add on warm milk and cookies, borrow a white noise machine to drown out distractions and have access to a complete library of lullaby tunes.

The 26-story luxury hotel even doles out complimentary toys and a treat for Fido. For guests who don’t have a best friend or if the guppy love just won’t cut it, hotels like Loews Annapolis will hook travelers up with a temporary best friend by loaning out the resident pooch, three-year-old Luke, a Labrador retriever. Just remember to feed him, give plenty of potty breaks and lots of kisses of course.