Trendy, cool hotels capitalize on hipness

Trends

December 03, 2006|By Jane Engle | Jane Engle,Los Angeles Times

Boutique hotels are going cheap and going everywhere.

At $150 or so per night, you'll soon enjoy cool design, cutting-edge technology and hip social scenarios from Boise, Idaho, to Boston. For this you can thank half a dozen new hotel chains, some with enigmatic names such as Element and NYLO.

Although the hipness quotient varies, their common feature is a casual, multipurpose lobby, where Internet-savvy guests work, socialize, drink, eat and relax. Food service is mostly grab-and-go at all hours.

Geared to young business travelers, these small hotels, typically 300 rooms or fewer, pair affordable rates with stylish rooms, free wireless access, free breakfast and fitness centers.

Cross a Comfort Inn with the Mondrian, and you'll get the idea: cheap chic with a twist of business. But anyone, including vacationers, can savor the results soon. Most of these hotels won't open until next year or later. But some experts say they're the beginning of a wave of lower-priced "lifestyle chains," which appeal to the big aspirations and small budgets of people in their 30s and younger -- and people like them.

Aloft Hotels, one of the new brands, hopes to attract "trendsetters and tech-savvy entrepreneurs, regardless of age," said Brian McGuinness, vice president.

For the new lifestyle brands, key age groups are Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979, and people born between 1980 and 1997. The latter, variously pegged as Generation Y or the Millennium Generation, will soon rival baby boomers as the biggest consumer group in U.S. history.

As hotel customers, Generation Y hates commercialism and has little loyalty to brands, said Jonathan Barsky, a University of San Francisco marketing professor and partner in Market Metrix, a research company in San Rafael, Calif.

But they're also the most emotional, and words such as "inspired" and "extravagant" turn them on, according to a new Market Metrix study based on quarterly surveys of 35,000 guests.

How will hoteliers provide high style at low prices? One way is to combine the functions of a lobby, lounge, restaurant, bar and business center into one space, leaving more square feet for revenue-generating guest rooms. Another is to build in midsize towns and on fringes of big cities, where land is cheaper. Self-service cafes save staff costs.

It sounds like a workable model. But Peter Yesawich, president and chief executive of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a Florida-based marketing firm, has some doubts.

With big corporations bankrolling most of these new hotels and preparing to "stamp them out all over the country," Yesawich wondered whether all the new chains would thrive in the long run. "It's difficult -- if not impossible -- to manufacture 'hip,'" he said.

Here's a sampling of what's on the way:

Aloft Hotels

The pitch-- "Stylish design, accessible technology and a hip, urban attitude" with the "DNA of W Hotels."

Openings-- Initially in Toronto and Montreal, Canada, and Chantilly, Va., in early 2008. Plans for 500 hotels by 2012.

Features-- Loft-style rooms with 9-foot ceilings and central plug-in console, linked to a flat-screen TV, for a BlackBerry, MP3 and laptop computers. Communal social areas. 24-hour snack bar. Fitness center. Pool.

Rates-- About $100 to $200.

Operator-- Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide; alofthotels.com.

NYLO Hotels

The pitch-- "Upscale hotels at mid-scale rates," with innovative design.

Openings-- Plano, Texas, in 2007; Warwick, R.I., in 2008. Plans for more than 50 hotels by 2010.

Features-- Loft-style rooms with walls of exposed brick and polished concrete. "Ultra-social" common area with 24-hour restaurant, bar, business center, library, game room. Staff outfits by Daniel Vosovic from Project Runway reality TV show.

Rates-- $120-$140

Operator-- NYLO Hotels, Atlanta; nylohotels.com.

Element

The pitch-- "A space to live your life a dramatic innovation in the extended-stay category."

Openings-- Lexington, Mass., in 2008. Plans for 500 hotels.

Features-- Rooms with Westin's Heavenly Bed, gourmet pantry. Lobby with multistory "window wall," laptop ports, wireless access (but no formal restaurant or bar). Courtyard with fire pit and barbecue. 24-hour "grab-and-go" pantry

Rates-- Expected above $125.

Operator-- Starwood Hotels & Resorts; elementhotels.com.

Cambria Suites

The pitch-- "Hip, stylish more intimate and less institutional."

Openings-- Boise in 2007; more than 30 future sites.

Features-- Large rooms with divided work-living and sleep areas, flat-screen TVs, refrigerator, microwave. Multiuse lobby with large-screen TV, breakfast buffet, coffee lounge that converts to a bar at night, evening menu (but no formal restaurant), 24-hour convenience store. Gym and pool with hot tub.

Rates-- Vary; recently $139 and up for Boise in March.

Operator-- Choice Hotels; cambriasuites.com.

Hyatt Place

The pitch-- "Stylish design, purposeful amenities and forward-thinking technology."

Openings-- Lombard, Ill.; Scottsdale, Ariz; Atlanta; and College Park, Ga., this year; more than 100 next year. Initial openings will be conversions of the AmeriSuites chain acquired by Hyatt last year.

Features-- Spacious rooms with Hyatt Grand Bed, sectional sofa, flat-screen TV. Lobby area with personal greeting from host, self-registration kiosk, coffee and wine cafe, TV den, free wireless and free access to public computer and printer. Free breakfast. Cafe with touch-screen kiosks for ordering food using room key card.

Rates-- Vary; recently started at $169 in Scottsdale for December, $109 for June.

Operator-- Global Hyatt Corp.; hyattplace.com.

Jane Engle writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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