Experts touch on how to dig into a city’s history to create an authentic feel through design and programming for locals and visitors.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Designing a hotel with a hyper-local focus requires digging deep into a city or neighborhood’s culture and going beyond the clichés, sources said. It’s important that it not only resonates with local guests but with visitors, too.
Rob Polacek, chief creative officer and partner for Puccini Group, said tapping into multiple areas for inspiration can lead to a spectrum of creative output for a hyper-local project.
“At the end of the day, these are the places people crave whether you’re a visitor or a local,” he said.
How to go hyper-local
Polacek said he and his team at Puccini Group look to the best local mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall spots for inspiration when beginning to hyper-localize a property.
“Those spots are where you start to understand the truth behind locality—the pride of a community shown by way of authentic lives,” he said. “It’s like finding the soul for your inspiration. From there, a designer can pull from multiple touch points, embrace a local lifestyle and, at base level, produce honest interiors.”
Places to focus less energy on for inspiration are large museums and concert venues as they most often serve as tourist attractions, he added.
Hampton by Hilton rolled out its new hotel prototype in May, which includes a more locally customized feel. SVP and Global Head of Hampton by Hilton Shruti Buckley said a hotel’s local story should be infused into every part of a property in a genuine way to avoid forcing the experience.
Buckley said the new prototype will play up the local feel in public areas and guestrooms.
She said guests will be welcomed by front-desk signage inspired by the location, paying homage to the locale. The new prototype also will have a guestroom signage package, which she said will give opportunities for customized imagery.
“Although we offer a fully designed and procured ready package, we provide owners flexibility to customize elements to meet the needs of their locale,” she added. “We also offer a vast bank of pre-vetted images owners can select from to create their own unique collection of localized signage.”
Encouraging design partners to dig deep into a location’s history, culture and industry to ensure any references used are authentic and truly meaningful is key, she said, and it’s best to avoid latching on to generic, trite or obvious thematic references lacking a true connection to the locale.
Polacek said clichés are not always things to avoid; instead, the key is to be conscious about them.
“You can either move the story forward, create irony, or both,” he said. “The design needs to be supported in the overall narrative and well-executed.”
It’s important not to rely on one big moment that might or might not be understood, he added.
Pull in local tradesmen
Puccini Group worked on the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel in Sacramento, California, and the goal was to tap into the laidback feel of the Californian lifestyle, Polacek said
Inspiration for the design was pulled from all of the aspects of California’s history, including the California Gold Rush, which had ties to Sacramento.
The lobby space features a gold, textured front desk that’s an abstract nod to the historical event. Sacramento is also the city of trees, he said, and the lobby is dressed with plenty of live plants.
“We had several native Californians work on the project, and it resulted in an honest use of materials,” he said. “Whether you’re local to the state’s capital or visiting, it’s our aspiration that everyone can feel what it means to be Californian.”
For new projects, he said it’s not a bad idea to convince owners to invest 20% more in sourcing local art for the lobby and guestrooms, which can help incorporate native artists with a project, making it more authentic.
Buckley said Hampton’s new prototype provides owners the ability to incorporate local construction materials, too.
Brand standards still apply
While brand standards are “rules for a reason,” Polacek said, they also can be challenged.
“We’ve seen examples of hard brands recognizing the importance of offering a touch of local; a notion ties to the modern traveler,” he said.
Buckley said brand standards are pivotal to customization and localization. They protect the brand from inferior design that could end up compromising the brand’s identity, she said.
Hampton has required elements such as its guestroom signage package; however, there are plenty of opportunities for customization by owners, she said, such as with artwork, colors and materials.
In addition to design, sources said it’s key to partner with the city’s programs to best tell the local story.
Pierre-Louis Giacotto, GM of the Blackstone Chicago Hotel, part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, said the hotel’s location on Michigan Avenue’s Cultural Mile was an influence to its hyper-local story.
In 2017 it underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation led by Chicago-based The Gettys Group, and the goal was to showcase the hotel in a way that excites and engages guests rather than offering a history lesson.
Inside the Blackstone is a rotating collection of more than 1,600 pieces of art that are primarily created by local artists. Giacotto said it “brings a piece of the Cultural Mile inside the hotel.” The work can be seen throughout the hotel’s public spaces and on each of the floors’ elevator landing.
There’s a number of festivals and events that take place throughout the year that celebrate Chicago’s arts, film and dance scene, he said, which is a draw for guests.
“With the hotel’s transition to an Autograph Collection and renovation last year, we were able to introduce new programming that brings these experiences into the hotel for guests and locals alike,” he said.