Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Hotel Trends

Condos, Frank Sinatra Wake-up Calls and Ladies Only Digs

by Kim Fay

We thought 2004 was a frenetic year for the hotel industry, but it's proven tame in hindsight. Last year's proliferation of hip budget properties, explosion of in-house celebrity chef restaurants and global migration of sleek U.S. chains was downright docile compared to what took place in 2005. You'll still find new "see and be seen" hotel bars, Zenalicious signature spas and Adam Tihany interiors (current highlights in the latter category: The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and the Radisson SAS Hotel Frankfurt, a.k.a. "Blue Heaven"), but the hotel world is finally venturing beyond the boundaries set by Schrager, Balazs and Pomeranc—which isn't to say these innovators aren't still in the game. Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel, with its attached 50 Gramercy Park North apartments, will open in the spring of 2006; Balazs is making waves with a Big Apple "dorm" (and two new Standards in Miami and New York); and Pomeranc has taken his hotels' too-cool-for-school attitude bi-coastal. Among other significant trends we noted in 2005: money matters, iPods are old hat, and female travelers are getting their due. Read on to find out more.

___________________________

Lofty Ambitions

Loft-style living from NYLO hotels
Loft-style living from NYLO hotels

A budget (relatively speaking) spin-off of the W archetype, the forecasted Aloft brand from Starwood is shooting for loft-like bedrooms, a "hip urban attitude" and unusual inaugural locations: the San Francisco Airport and Lexington, Mass. among them. On a parallel plane, NYLO Hotels has slated an eponymous brand that will showcase residential-style loft guestrooms. Both chains are sprinters in the race to provide classy digs at reasonable rates, which is led this year by Andre Balazs, who opened QT in New York: dorm-like rooms pair with standard hotel rooms and an envelope-pushing bar that gazes through a wall of glass at the indoor swimming pool. Farther west, in Houston, a former Ian Schrager executive launched the Alden brand, promising not only fashionable surroundings, but also the atmosphere of a close friend's home. Hmm, our friends don’t chauffeur us around in a town car and clean our room twice a day. We wish. It's not just the status-savvy that are lowering the rents in a bid for your disposable income, though. In the works: Hyatt's transformation of AmeriSuites into the designer-friendly Hyatt Place chain, and Choice Hotels’ (EconoLodge, Comfort Inn, etc.) upcoming Cambria Suites.

___________________________

Going Coastal

The beachfront, boutique Tower 23 in San Diego, CA
The beachfront, boutique Tower 23

Most hotel chain outbreaks we've witnessed have been under the sponsorship of a major brand name. That's why it's been fun this year to watch sleek boutiques clone themselves and set out on cross-country adventures. That darling of industrial chic, the Gansevoort in New York's Meatpacking district, plans to invade Miami (Gansevoort South) and Los Angeles (Gansevoort West) in 2006. Sure, each property will look unique, but in fact will rely on a formula that hotel groups have been finessing for a few years now—creating illusions of individuality with a recipe that is as rote as it is successful. This approach has worked well for the Thompson Group (60 Thompson, Sagamore Hotel), which devoured The Hollywood Roosevelt this year, turning it into a shrine of debauchery, and announced its intentions to hijack another property in L.A. and open two more in New York. And while you're nobody until you check in somebody in every major city in the U.S., little guys are still braving the market. Tower 23 in San Diego, The Belamar in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and The Roxbury in Roxbury, New York, are but a few.

___________________________

Life Aquatic

The Poseidon adventure
The Poseidon adventure

Last year we enjoyed pondering the possibility of Richard Branson's proposed hotel in space. No doubt it's still a few years (or decades) in the making. In the meantime, closer to home, hotel groups are going to the ends of the earth—literally—to plant their flags in uncharted realms. Le Meridien brought bellboys to the land of Sherpas on a former royal hunting ground in Kathmandu, and Hilton announced plans for a resort in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. But terra firma isn't the only place that's fair game for the hotel industry. Plans are in the works for underwater hotels in the Bahamas and Dubai. While there's already the Jules' Undersea Lodge in Florida, you have to be a certified diver to reach what is essentially a research lab that rents out comfy rooms. The two upcoming properties are different. With transparent acrylic walls in-suite for peeping onto coral gardens, Poseidon Undersea Resort off the island of Eleuthera will be reached by pressurized tunnels. In the waters off Dubai, Hydropolis Underwater Resort Hotel will have bubble-shaped suites, a spa and even a ballroom. Can't wait to check in? Head for Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa, home to the glass-encased, reverse aquarium-style Ithaa Undersea Restaurant.

___________________________

Buying Inn

Condo comforts at Le Meridien Sunny Isles
Condo comforts at Le Meridien Sunny Isles

Not so long ago, the word condo conjured up visions of mediocre vacation homes clustered around a community pool and barbecue area somewhere in central Oregon or on the coast of Hawaii. But one of the hottest trends in hotel living is rapidly changing that sorry condition. Call them what you will—condos, residences or simply private suites. This rose by any other name is changing the face of the hotel world. When it was announced this spring that the landmark Plaza Hotel in New York was scaling down and going (partly) condo, the furious response made it seem that this concept was not only sacrilegious, but also that it would never succeed. Ha! The upcoming Gansevoorts and Thompson properties, the divine Setai in Miami (Lenny Kravitz designed a penthouse music studio here) and the St. Regis Hotel, San Francisco are among the many new luxe lodgings offering an opportunity to buy a piece of the action. The benefits: a room of one's own under the same roof as spas, health clubs and terrific restaurants. Take The Residences at MGM Grand. Your pied-à -terre comes with doorstep access to over a dozen fine dining venues, a Cirque du Soleil performance and Studio 54 nightclub. If you're interested, though, you have to move fast. Word has it that the condo-hotel units at Le Méridien Sunny Isles Beach north of Miami Beach sold out pre-opening, and that the 1,200+ condo units at Trump International Hotel & Tower, Las Vegas are going fast.

___________________________

Wake-Up Call

Suite renewal in New York City
Suite renewal in New York City

Gone are the days when a complimentary packet of Starbucks and a two-line phone set a hotel room apart. Hotels are getting creative these days in their attempts to conjure up unique amenities. At the Hotel Victor in Miami, there's a button on your phone to connect you directly to a Neiman Marcus personal shopper; at the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel, wake-up messages are recorded by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonators; and there's a rumor that the W San Francisco has plans to program iPods with walking tours of the city. Along with one-off amenities, hotels are also offering concept suites, such as the Renewal Suite at The Westin New York at Times Square. It comes with loads of candles, air purifiers and a "decompression chamber." For us this begs the question: whatever happened to a good old-fashioned martini to help you unwind at the end of the day? The suite also features Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture, Samsung flat-panel HDTV and Nordstrom cashmere throw blankets. Can you say product placement? Many consider all these bells and whistles part of the customer service experience, but we're a little suspicious of so many gimmicks. Our idea of customer service and a trend we'd like to see grow: genuine hospitality, with or without Wi-Fi.

___________________________

Ladies First

Rita's Culinary Trickery by Rita Konig
In the pink

For those who think retro is olive green shag rugs and almost every hotel in Palm Springs, it's time to expand the definition. The post-feminist, gender-bending, 21st-century hotel world is seeing a revival of Bryn Mawr-esque proportions. Kimpton Hotels has its Women InTouch program, which means you don't have to worry about forgetting nail polish remover, tweezers or Luna Bars at home. And hotels around the globe are featuring ladies only accommodations. Women staying at the Hilton London Park Lane get their own floor, and at Hotel LeSoleil in Vancouver, B.C., "Elle" suites are even stocked with hosiery. Imagine a sophisticated version of your college dorm, complete with facial cream in the mini bar. So, why the diss to coed living? Some say it has to do with safety, others with the fact that no gal wants room service delivered by a man while she's sans makeup and drying her hair. We think it has to do with another trend: the pink dust jacket-clad, Cosmopolitan-swilling notion that it's fun to be girlie. In fact, just this year we noted versions of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun packages at hotels as varied as the Sofitel Philadelphia, Skamania Lodge and Hotel Westminster in New Jersey. Think spa treatments, Sex and the City DVDs and lots of bonding. As for the backlash … boys will be boys. Or so Toronto's SoHo Metropolitan Hotel is counting on with a package featuring Blue Jays tickets, catered ribs and chicken wings, playing cards and poker chips. The battle of the sexes has never been so much fun.

___________________________

Predictions

Along with Four Seasons, The Ritz-Carlton and their like continuing to travel far and wide, this year saw the genesis of the luxurious Solis Hotels & Resorts. Expect the creation of even more over-the-top hotel brands, most likely stocked with goodies you can buy if you feel so inclined. We predict an eruption of the in-room shopping experience, which gained notoriety with the opportunity to purchase Westin's Heavenly Beds—sales started in 1999, and beds are now sold at Nordstrom home stores. The list of items available will grow, from flat-screen TVs to artwork to yummy toiletries, such as the customized soaps in the bathrooms at the Salish Lodge & Spa. Another certainty: technology will be taken in all sorts of new directions. For our bellwether we use the elevators at the New York Marriott Marquis. They don't have buttons, but rather keypads in the lobby. You pick the floor you want, and the elevator does the rest of the work for you. Weird? Yes. Indications of an increasingly impatient society? You bet. But it's the future, and that's what we're here to talk about today. As for the trend we wished for that wasn’t: a proliferation of eco-resorts. We're talking about luxurious, low-impact real deals that rely on renewable energy resources, like the planned Tetiaroa, initially conceived by Marlon Brando. They should've been contenders. But who knows? 2005 surprised us with its aquatic offerings and female-centric attitude. And so we hold out hope for the trends that 2006 will bring.

P112805
(Updated: 10/20/10 CT)


Pairing high-class casino action with premium amenities, these luxurious resorts are a sure bet for a fun-filled vacation.
Gather up your courage and prepare for a supernatural holiday with GAYOT's Top 10 Haunted Hotels in the World, they'll surely haunt you long after you've returned home.