New York hospitality trends

Industry experts on the changes that will keep Big Apple guests checking in

NYC’s hospitality industry is booming. About 54.3 million visitors passed through the New York boroughs last year, an increase from 48.5 million visitors in 2009. Total bed nights have risen from 33 million to 40.6 million annually in the last five years. Naturally, hotel construction has cranked up to meet the demand. NYC will see 15,700 rooms coming online in the next two years. But revenue per available room (RevPAR) hasn’t moved much in recent years.

The hospitality industry is in the midst of change. A new emphasis on the right amenity mix and design aesthetic, not to mention qualities such as “authenticity” and “experiences” has emerged. New branded, sub-branded and boutique hotels alike are delivering hotel design that is more modern, luxe, and space efficient than ever before. This week, a panel of seasoned hospitality experts discussed these trends as well as development opportunities for 2015 and beyond. Moderated by Bernard Schwartz (Apicii), SMPS-NY’s panel discussion featured Matthew Livian (Sydell Group), David Attardi (Red Lion Hotels), Adam Cassidy (Hampshire Hotels), Chris Baxter (Lightstone group) and Will Obeid, (Arcade Capital).


Our panel described today’s guest and the changing definition of luxury, branding, design and hotel lifecycle. Three topics of discussion were paramount.

A “lifestyle” hotel vs. a branded hotel
There are more brands than ever before so competition is fierce for property owners and brands. A very healthy tourism and travel sector supports this increase in brands and room absorption, especially in NYC.

The industry recognizes that the big brands are no longer as appealing as they once were. Travelers do not want a homogenous predictability across every location, with the same room design, continental breakfast and check-in desk. Guests do not want a vanilla experience. They want a unique experience, one that is authentic to the city, even the neighborhood. In this context, the larger brands are beginning to break away from traditional designs that are the same in multiple markets, unified expected brand aesthetics and look to unique designs that have a common thread in brand ethos and guest experience.

The marketplace is shifting away from consistency to a new focus on experience. The guest experience is very heavily dependent on creative and authentic design that stems from a narrative. Matt Livian said that at Sydell Group’s Ace and NoMad Hotels, found objects become the centerpieces to a story which translates into the design. It’s not based on what’s trendy. This narrative becomes a timeless and personal experience for the guests. Each hotel location tells a unique story. Livian said he believes beautiful design is not compelling in and of itself, so the design needs to express a point of view.

Will Obeid from Arcade Capital added that where someone stays says a lot about them, especially with the number of hotel options in today’s major cities. Your choice of hotel is an expression of self and therefore today’s guest is attuned to the design and brand ethos. Guests want a hotel that speaks to them and stands out in the market. A hotel’s brand ethos is the composite of all spaces, from the room to the lobby, amenities, and food and beverage components.

New luxury
Luxury can no longer be defined as white tablecloths and fine china. The definition of luxury today is more diverse than ever. Luxury design stems from a curated and thoughtful guest experience with superb service. Adam Cassidy of Hampshire Hotels (which has brands Dream, Night and the new Time) pointed out that the idea of a Jetsons environment in which everything is done for you is no longer as attractive to guests. New luxury hotels are unique, aligned and inspired by local culture, neighborhood context and real estate. For example, Arcade Group’s the Jade Hotel is designed to reflect the nostalgia and intrigue of the surrounding West Village. While previously ‘luxury’ was defined as a 4-star hotel, it now ranges across price points, competing with some select service hotels (such as Moxy) and up to four and five stars.

Previously dominated by large traditional brands, the luxury market has many new players now. While they may have an advantage in their unique ability to create experiences, they have to catch up in terms of name recognition.

Also, the current market reflects a shift in the definition of wealth, with new wealth emerging from startups and tech companies. Hotels have to be designed to work for a multi-generational market. Chris Baxter of Lightstone Group used the example of a hotel offering an experience that both a 24-year-old startup CEO and his parents can enjoy.Hotels are not being designed for a millennial demographic, they are being designed for a millennial “cool” mind-set to appeal to the young-at-heart across generations. This type of design mantra is the cornerstone of new brands like Moxy which have a “cool factor” that appeals to younger guests plus the service and quality that the mature guest expects.

Design is important
Each hotel operator is approaching design in a way that echoes lifestyle and luxury experience.

Matthew Livian said Sydell’s greatest success has come when putting a team together that is not directly involved in hotels. By bringing together all the peripheral industries, the team is able to be creative and think about hotels in a new way. In Sydell’s case, this has led to the very successful NoMad Hotel.

Lightstone Group said that new hotels shouldn’t be designed to merely match today’s trends such as “the Williamsburg look.” In 2-3 years, those same ideas will be outdated, especially in relation to technology.Technology is changing hotel operations and design. Take check-in and check-out. There is no longer a check-out experience. Traditional check-in reception desks have been replaced by much smaller kiosk and mobile check-in, creating a more streamlined and personal check-in experience. This will have considerable impact on the size of lobbies and amenity programs.

Keep an eye on the VOA blog for more trends in New York hospitality.

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