Hotel Trends: iPods, Fashionistas and Celebrity Chefs
Considering that the “hip” genre was introduced by former Studio 54 proprietor Ian Schrager in the mid-1980s (with Royalton and Morgans in New York), the continued use of the term to describe every Schrager-esque hotel that comes along is a bit misleading. Hoteliers have been capitalizing on the Schrager-driven bandwagon for almost twenty years now. You can’t drop into a major U.S. city without running into a Zenned-out, urbane new creation by the likes of Jason Pomeranc (60 Thompson, The Sagamore) or Andre Balazs (The Standards in Hollywood, downtown L.A. and Miami, among others). So, what really is hot on the hotel scene these days?
The late 20th-century practice of judging a hotel by the cut of its celebrity chef restaurant (top contenders: Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten) has given way to judging a property by the name of its celebrity chef owner, who oversees not only the kitchens but the GMs, as well. Earlier this year Ducasse (surprise, surprise) opened his very own L’Andana in Tuscany and Ostapé in the Basque village of Bidarray. Closer to home, New York restaurateur Stephen Hanson (Dos Caminos, Ruby Foo’s, Blue Water Grill, Fiamma and Blue Fin) brought an urban vibe to the sprawling desert resort scene in Scottsdale, Arizona with his 200-room (tiny for the area) James hotel.
Along with chefs, fashion designers are also getting into the hotel act. This year saw the introduction of hotels by Bvlgari (in partnership with The Ritz-Carlton group, the first opened in Milan, and the collection is slated to include a property in Bali) and Giorgio Armani (he is teaming with a Dubai-based company to open ten self-designed hotels in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Milan and Dubai in the next seven years). One twist on the fashion angle that we think will launch a trend all its own is the designer suite — for example, the Vera Wang Suite, created by the designer for Waikiki’s Halekulani Hotel.
Out of Bounds
Next on our watch list: Hip hotels in not so hip places. What’s up with all the chic boutiques in the land of microchips and mouse pads? Destinations like the Silicon Valley have suddenly become Meccas for contemporary digs. Throughout the San Jose area, you’ll find everything from the new W in Newark to a blossoming of Joie de Vivre hotels (Hotel Los Gatos, Hotel Avante, Hotel Montgomery, Moorpark Hotel). Who would have predicted this five years ago?
The emigration of hip hotels beyond the confines of New York/Miami/Los Angeles has given rise to another trend: affordability. Along with Joie de Vivre, the Kimpton Group offers some great low rent properties along with its high rent hotels. And InterContinental Hotel Group (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza) is joining the fray with its stylish, nicely priced Hotel Indigo concept. The trend is even reaching the true budget scene with the cooler than thou hostels offered by Base Backpackers. These Down Under properties (destinations in Australia and New Zealand include Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland) are brought to you by the Accor Group, best known for their more upscale Sofitel properties. Who says dorm rooms and Aveda products can’t go hand in hand?
Popular hip chains are also hitting the road and going international—this, of course, is not to discount the Kemps (Charlotte Street Hotel, Covent Garden Hotel, Dorset Square, Knightsbridge Hotel, Number Sixteen, The Pelham and the oh so new Soho Hotel), who have been playing a country house version of the Schrager game with their London-based Firmdale Group hotels for years. This year W opened venues in Mexico City and Seoul, and Le Meridien inaugurated its new high-tech Cyberport brand in Hong Kong. Also of note: Asia’s first Philippe Starck-designed hotel, the JIA Boutique Hotel apartments, which opened earlier this year in Hong Kong.
When it comes to the hottest amenities, plasma screen TVs are already passé—even the chains are putting them in. If you want a hotel that is truly revolutionary, make sure it offers the use of iPods. Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, and Le Meridien Cyberport in Hong Kong both make them available, as does the One & Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas, which will pre-set yours with your favorite tunes. And if you like the tunes you hear on your iPod Mini at the Crescent in Beverly Hills, you can buy the CD from a special music mini bar.
For now—along with the development of the above trends—you can count on the transformation of once comfy but somewhat bland chain hotels. At the top of the list: more Sheratons and Westins looking like Ws (not a big shock, since they’re all owned by the Starwood Group). Also plan on more aggressive spa branding by hotel groups: this summer Shangri-La Hotels opened its first CHI Spa at its Bangkok property, with ten more spas on the way in the next three years; and COMO Hotels and Resorts launched its first Uma properties with signature Shambala retreats in Bali and Bhutan. As for the London-based Yotel concept, fashioned after the capsule hotels in Tokyo, we’re still reserving our judgment. But when it comes to Richard Branson’s proposed hotel in orbit, our spacesuits are ready and waiting.
(Updated: 10/12/10 NW)