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Brands adapt with urbanized hotel concept
July 9 2014
Hotel companies are adapting their design philosophies to meeting the changing expectations of guests.
Highlights
  • Two Boston properties are examples of urbanized branded hotels.
  • A city’s history can be another logical hook for hotel designers.
  • They Onyx in Boston allows guests to take home part of their experience.
 
Harry Wheeler
Residence Inn Fenway
By Harry Wheeler
HNN columnist

What do modern travelers want in hotel design?
 
According to a recent article in Conde Nast Traveler that ranked the 2014 best new hotels in the world, today’s travelers want “A sense of place: a hotel that celebrates where it is in the world” and “a sense of personality: a hotel where it feels like every decoration has been hand-chosen by a person, not by a committee.”
 
We’ve seen this trend emerge in the past few years as guests challenge our standard way of thinking, seeking out properties they can connect with and where they can have a personal experience. 
 
Smart hotel brands are adapting to this and becoming increasingly flexible, creating boutique-branded elements as they strive to cater to the changing expectations and needs of modern-day travelers. 
 
Some of the ways to achieve this include: creating an improved sense of guest interaction; additions of community areas, including bars and lounges; stronger design themes tied to the property’s geographic location; and upgraded food delivery and selections.
 
Seeing results
Two recent examples of “urbanized branded hotels” can be seen in the Residence Inn by Marriott hotels in Boston’s Fenway and downtown areas, both of which opened last summer.
 
The Residence Inn Fenway features an indoor swimming pool on the rooftop terrace with partial views of Fenway Park—the home of the Boston Red Sox—and the city’s iconic CITGO sign, a landmark of the Boston skyline since 1940.   
 
In the fitness center, a large wall mural features hundreds of runners participating in the historic Boston Marathon, whose last leg of the 26.2 route takes place less than a half of a mile from the hotel’s location. Lastly, artwork and photography by local artists flanks the walls of the guestrooms and behind the front desk, featuring famous Boston landmarks and other sights.
 
Despite being a branded Marriott hotel, there is no doubt that guests here have the opportunity to embrace the beautiful scenery, rich history, and love of sports that makes Boston a unique place to visit.  
 
Another example of a Marriott hotel that customized its architecture and interior design to immerse travelers in the culture of their surroundings is the Residence Inn by Marriott Boston Downtown/Seaport. 
 
A six-story hotel located on Congress Street in the Fort Point Channel Landmark district in Boston, it is one of many adaptive reuse projects in its neighborhood. The hotel was transformed from a turn-of-the-century warehouse building into a hotel with 120 extended stay guestrooms. 
 
Originally developed in 1901 by the Boston Wharf Company as the Stillings Building, the property’s historical renovation and design included highlighting and maintaining the industrial character of the building while accommodating the modern comforts of the marathon business traveler.
 
The hotel features 11-foot high ceilings, glass elevators in the 1900’s-era subway tiled atrium, the original 1901 boiler doors displayed as an art expression, and custom wall wrap photography by local artists that highlight Boston landmarks. 
 
Although numerous design challenges had to be overcome throughout the course of the historical renovation, here hotel guests can revel in the history of Boston as it was more than 100 years ago while still having the contemporary and necessary accommodations of today. 
 
One last example of a different hotel brand that incorporated unique design elements to reflect its urban environment is the Onyx Hotel, a Kimpton boutique hotel located in Boston’s North End near the TD Garden (the venue for the Celtics and Bruins). 
 
The hotel recently underwent a renovation to create a more open lobby space and to incorporate ruby red – the Onyx’s signature color – into various areas of the hotel including the 112 guest rooms, meeting rooms, and corridors. 
 
Meeting these initial design specifications, the hotel also went a step further to display playful art and interior design elements such as “Wicked Smaht” throw pillows in the guest rooms, the phrase a nod to the movie Good Will Hunting and the city's reputation as America's premier college town, as a final touch and ode to Boston. 
 
In fact, the “only-in-Boston” throw pillows have become so popular that the Onyx has added the pillows to its minibar menu to accommodate what it says has been huge demand for take-home versions. Guests are now able to bring home part of their local Boston experience.  
 
In conclusion, we are seeing – and will continue to see – smart hotel brands, owners, and operators customizing their properties to give their guests a unique, tailored, and personal experience with both their brand and the hotel location. 
 
It is an exciting time to be in the hospitality industry as hotels all over the world are challenging the norm and embracing the idea of “urbanized branded hotels” to cater to their guests’ needs and wants for cultural immersion. This is merely a glimpse of what is happening in our own Boston backyard. 
 
Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit www.grouponeinc.com or email Wheeler at harry@grouponeinc.com. 
 
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.   
 
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