The Wrapper Matters

Of course it’s not the most important thing. The content inside, the craftsmanship, artistry, service, the ingredients and how they are put together...the dance makes it remarkable.

But the building, the packaging, the sets a stage...creates an expectation of what might be. How much time did they put into it? Was design at all important? Does it lead me to be curios? Would we miss it if it were gone? Or is it just another box with different colors, a building without nuance, more vanilla when we already have so much.

Sure, the chocolate inside, the customer service, the click beyond the home page might be remarkable. But how were we to know? Craftsmanship at the front door matters too.

Experience vs. Price

Debbie pointed me to an interesting article today, Building a De-Commoditization Strategy in Hospitality. It's a bit long, but there are a number of good takeaways, namely...

  • Stop competing on price
  • Differentiate your hotel from your competition with unique offerings
  • Use a different approach with different audiences

I wholeheartedly agree. But, the article also goes on to offer some fluff like this...

"Creating unique specials and packages, event-related getaways, seasonal promotions and other marketing initiatives that provide unique value to the customer should become an important aspect of the hotelier's de-commoditization strategy"

Sounds like something I'd find in my college marketing book. I think providing unique value goes a lot deeper than creating interesting packages and seasonal getaways...

  • need to be different in order to have something unique to offer. And, I mean different in a very real way...including the cake, not just the icing. That takes heavy doses of design, story and care. A unique design gets attention, extraordinary hospitality makes people feel cared for and a compelling story makes it easy for people to spread the word. Unfortunately, most of the package offerings I see are little more than a creative pitch to hype an otherwise mediocre experience...not much different from the next one.
  • Second...get small. Even if you have a large hotel, find ways to break it down into smaller pieces. You'll do a better job of providing hospitality, it will be easier to manage, and you'll have a much better chance to serve niche audiences.
  • Third...clearly define what you want to be (up front) and make a valiant attempt to serve one audience. Hopefully, you choose what you can be the best at. And, that something is different...not slightly better with a cheaper price.
  • Fourth...surprise the guest with an unexpected experience. Give everyone more than what they hoped for. Consequently, the more you hype, the less this works. Stop hyping, and start doing. This is a big part of your story...what gets talked about. So, make it count.

The key point of their entire article is to focus on the experience vs. the price side of the value equation. And, it's an excellent point. The missing caution is to make sure you center your attention on creating something truly remarkable vs. packaging and selling it.

Oh, and contrary to their opinion, creating a unique selling proposition isn't at all easy.

Pods Instead of Front Desks


According to this recent article in USA Today, it looks like some hotel chains are replacing the standard front desk with something more service friendly...pods. While it's definitely a step in the right direction, I think there's still room to remove them altogether, especially with the technology now available. I admit, that's a bit challenging in larger properties. But, in the end, it's what people shake your hand, look you in the eye and be welcomed.

Bravo to those companies referenced in the article who are embracing this trend.

Hotel Design Trends


For a long time, hotels were designed and built for either function or opulence. There was little in between. However, in recent years, design has taken on a new role…serving as the primary method to grab the attention of prospective guests. This recent article published in the U.K.’s Observer illustrates the point quite well. Here’s an excellent takeaway from the article…

Hotel architecture makes these contradictions most rivetingly manifest. It is a bizarre mix of a technical process, of stringing rooms along corridors and around lifts as cheaply as possible, and the ability to tell a story. In the end, designing a hotel is a struggle between the unappetising functional elements of stacking up identical bedroom units, and immersing the guests in a fantasy.
The only pitfall I see emerging with this trend is an over reliance on the physical aspects of the property to make the stay memorable. Remember, without a meaningful story and a caring staff, design will only take you so far…and likely not far enough.

Don't rest on success


In recent years, there’s been a growing emphasis on hotel design. Just look around or watch the newswire…100 million and even billion dollar projects are now commonplace. Need some hotel eye candy? Just hang out in Orlando, Las Vegas or Dubai. You’ll get your fix.

But, it’s not just happening at the mega project level. I’ve seen this trend emerging at all price points…from B&B’s to convention centers.

So, why is this happening? A couple of reasons…a proliferation of wealth, and the desire to get attention.

Hotel developers are reacting to the same dynamic shift we’ve experienced with just about everything we buy…more and more choices. And, as seen in other industries, the knee jerk is to spend more on physical attributes and their marketing to secure diminishing attention from prospective guests. The new order…build it bigger, with more flash, bells and whistles, and you’ll get more customers…and make more money. And, as long as there’s money available and a romance with the finer things, this trend is likely to continue.

Here’s the problem…design gets attention. But, it’s not likely to keep it. People will go once, maybe twice to see something spectacular. But, that’s it. If there’s not more to the story, they’re not likely to come back, or more importantly, tell someone else about their experience. So, once the economic cycle turns, and it always does, that investment in the “icing” no longer pays dividends…unless you can afford to change it, and change it often.

How many times have you been to the Grand Canyon? To the Empire State Building? To Hoover dam?

Now, how many times have you been to your favorite restaurant?

Bear with me, here’s a quick story to illustrate my point further…

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is where you find America’s largest private home…a remarkable palace built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. It’s a remarkable example of design and architecture. Biltmore is blessed with annual visitation in the neighborhood of about a million people…not too shabby. However, ever since the place was opened to the public some 30 or 40 years ago, the folks at Biltmore have been plagued with a problem…how to get people to come back. I mean, once you’ve seen the big house…you’ve seen it. So, here’s what the smart folks at Biltmore did…every few years they change…the design and the story. They open a new room at the main house, add a winery, a restaurant or an outdoor center to get attention. And, they change the experience with a new story…a new story about the Vanderbilt way of life. This approach did two things. It allowed them to build a “club” of loyal customers who would gladly spread the word to others. And, it reduced the average return visit to once every three to five years. That’s certainly better than once, or twice in a lifetime.

Then, they did another remarkable thing, they built a hotel…on the estate. Yes, the design was superb and harmonious with the existing experience. But, more importantly, its success was the result of the care you received and the story you could tell your friends…”I was a guest of the Vanderbilts”. During the first year of operation, we had droves of people who returned at least once and some who came back even more often. One couple stayed with us five times…the first year!

Design is a significant part of any hospitality experience. It starts the emotional juices flowing…resulting in either a resounding “I want to go there”, or a disappointing “lets pass”. Beyond that, it should complement and reinforce the rest of the story, and the way people feel when they leave.

So, if you’re going to hang your hat only on design, either on purpose (like the new Palazzo Versace) or by default, you better have the means to make frequent changes…and make that frequency the reason to come, much like the Bellagio does with new attractions like the holiday Cranberry Bog. If you aren’t committed to changing it up every so often, the Wow factor gets old…especially when you’re your neighbor adds more lights.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

And, sometimes it’s just plain confusing.

Seth writes that variety can be an excellent play in your attempts to be remarkable. The example he uses happens to be hotel breakfast buffets. So, naturally, it sparked some further thought on my end.

I don’t disagree with Seth…variety has its place on the remarkable chain. But, it can be overdone. And, it’s not always the best thing, especially if you’re not prepared to be the best at it.

A few more thoughts on the subject…

Variety can be confused with being all things to all people
Variety can lead to being average
Variety can lead you away from being the best at any one thing (unless having the most variety is the best in a particular category)
Using variety to be the best can be very expensive…because it usually requires more storage, training and cash.
The bigger you are, the better you can be at offering variety (see Las Vegas or Home Depot).

The danger is…variety allows you to appeal to more audiences. More often than not, it’s used as a “shortcut” to attract more guests rather than a plan to be remarkable.

So, before you go out and buy a truckload of cereal, make sure that’s what you want to be and can be the best at.

Dumping The Tub

An interseting trend. But, one that I think is relegated to the lower and mid price markets. One, because the tubs in those properties are not very inviting. And, two, for the most part, their guests are in a "hurry". So, it makes sense. But, at the luxury level a nice soothing whirlpool bath is still in demand and a significant part of a memorable experience. Keep'em.
 More Hotel Chains Are Dumping The Tub |

As travelers take showers, hotel-company executives have been watching. And apparently they like what they see. In a move spurred by what hotels say is customer demand, major U.S. hotel chains are getting rid of what would seem to be an essential element of a bathroom: the bath. They're replacing tubs with bigger shower stalls in a nod, they say, to the reality that few travelers take baths on the road. Hilton Hotels Corp. has quietly started testing shower-only rooms at two of its signature properties: the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., and the New York Hilton. Company president Matt Hart says he's no fan of the tub.

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The town of Walsenburg needs a story. Located in Central Colorado at the junction of Highway 160 and Interstate 25, it has long been just a place where you change travel direction.

Now, the townsfolk want to get some (or, more likely, a lot) of the current traffic that passes stop. So, they’ve banded together (as this article points out) to change the exterior of the buildings to give them a more inviting feel. They’re focused on changing the appearance of the streetscape and storefronts to catch people’s eye, hoping that they’ll pull over for a closer look. Now, that’s a good first step. But, rarely does design alone, even if it’s quite remarkable, provide enough of an “experience” to get people to pay attention for long. And, some new stucco certainly won’t compel anyone to tell their friends how wonderful the town has become. People are looking for more than just a unique façade. They want something meaningful and different..something with a story. They want something that’s not only worth stopping for, but interesting enough to go out of the way for.

Cleaning up Walsenburg and giving it a facelift will definitely drive some incremental business and make it nicer for the folks that live there. But, the initial spike probably won’t last, and it certainly won’t result in a wholesale change in the economy. In order to make a long-term impact and change the economic landscape, they need to set their sites on and invest in the experience itself, not just the look, but the feel. They need to use the collective energy that’s now in motion to figure out what they can be the best and how to spread the word about it.

Here’s a place that’s way out of the way yet still managed to build quite a following over the years. I don’t think Joe Atkinson achieved that with a building.

Incidentally, my intention is not to single out Walsenburg. There are plenty of cities, big and small, who have done a lot worse in the area of “economic development”. At least the folks in this little town are trying to do something about it.

More Hotels Try Fewer Sheet Changes

It looks like the tipping point is fast approaching (or, already come and gone) for this least with the chains. More on the story from USA Today.

No matter the reasoning and company line, some people aren't going to like it. So, if you're sticking to your daily laundry plan (I suspect many at the upscale and luxury level will), this leaves an opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with those "minority" customers.

Design Flaw


I'm at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this weekend...spreading the word about Keyah Grande, and of course learning...a little about food & wine and a little more about how people interact with each other. More on that later.

I'm staying at the Sky Hotel, a Kimpton property. It's got a great location, parked next to the famed Little Nell and within stumbling distance to just about everything notable in town including the events of the Classic. My impression is that The Sky is a wanna be W, trying to tell a story of hip and cool while remaining simple and refined to keep the price down. I think they accomplish both, but in a very average way. The service, food, beverage, quality of the furnishings, etc., are all average. No flashes of brilliance...anywhere. Now, assuming they aren't interested in competing on price alone (they certainly aren't the cheapest game in town), they need to make some changes. The Kimpton brand sells us a story of unique, difference, hip, etc. But, they also tout service, caring and making us feel good. That's where the Sky falls short. Here are a couple of examples:

Turndown service, while listed in the in-room directory as a daily offering, is actually a "seasonal" practice, not being done currently. That certainly doesn't make me feel special. Either do it, or don't. And, change your story.

There are at least 10 pieces of advertisement collateral in my room (and, it's a small room). Why? Do they actually think that this stuff makes me want to partake, or better yet, feel more hip about myself? They're cleverly designed and relatively attractive to be sure. But, they make the space look junky, and out of character with the design concept. Talk with me, interact with me...that's what makes me feel cared for...not advertising.

So, the story isn't's not authentic. This seems to be a trend for Kimpton. I pointed it out previously here.

On a good note, the WiFi is fantastic! XYZ

The folks that brought us W are rolling out a new story, XYZ. They say it's something "new and exciting" and the "first authentic reinvention of road hospitality in 75 years".

So, where does that leave W. I recall similar hype some years ago during its unveiling.

In any case, they've got my attention. We'll see if the experience supports the story...a second time.

Thanks to PSFK for the story.

Versace on Dubai


It looks like they have design pegged at the recently announced plans for a Versace Hotel in Dubai. And, with the namesake, spreading the word won't be much of a problem either. Let's hope they spend as much money and time on the people as they do on the constant temperature beach sand.

With all of the design money going into Dubai, whoever comes up with the best stories and service wins!

Arts at ASU


I’m on business in Arizona today…yes, it’s hot. But, that’s not the story.

Typically, when I travel and am fortunate enough to be near a college or university, I make it s point to explore the campus. I like the scenery, serenity and the people. Usually, I make my journey in a pair of running shoes. This morning as I had the pathways of ASU to myself at 5:30 AM, I noticed something that I really hadn’t taken in before at other places, the arts side of the campus is a far nicer place to be than the sciences. For one, there’s art (duh). But, most of the physical spaces are different. The buildings, curved pathways and even signage…all “designed” differently. Here, they even a have a series of signs along one of the main streets which tells a story about why the Arts are important. It just makes you feel better to be there. Nothing against Science majors (I have one of those B.S. degrees), but the Arts folks have figured out that design and stories matter…more than anything else. No spreadsheet or quantitative analysis will deliver meaning this way. Another plug for Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. He explains this phenomenon in much greater detail.

If you have the chance, visit a college campus. The youth and spirit alone are contagious.