MILAN—Milan is known for many things—art, design, decor and most importantly, fashion—but when it comes to hotels, Milan continuously fights for the spotlight against its sister cities of Rome and Venice. So when Starhotels’ boutique E.c.ho. opened in September 2011, it brought not only a new energy to the hotel industry in the trendy Italian city, it added a new trend: green.
“Even though Milan is the ‘undisputable fashion capitol of Italy’, they've been really late to the game as far as luxe and/or design hotel brands,” said John Clifford, president of International Travel Management.
“There haven’t been a lot of new hotels in Milan, except for Armani in 2011. The market is still really sluggish, but it's got a really healthy economy,” he said.
Italy’s hotel industry posted a slight year-over-year decline in revenue per available room in local currency during February, according to STR Global. Milan’s decrease was more pronounced at 4.8%. During 2011, however, the market recorded a RevPAR increase of 7%.
There are more than 600 new hotels throughout Italy since December 2010, according to STR Global.
E.c.ho. makes its mark
While Italy’s economy has experienced its fair amount of volatility, its designers are continuing on a path of expansion, particularly in the hotel industry. From Missoni to Armani and Bulgari to Ferragamo, fashion-inspired hotels have defined the travel personality of the city in recent years.
But Starhotels’ E.c.ho. (short for Eco Contemporary Hotel) aims to create some buzz outside the realm of fashion. Not only is it a chic new property in the fashionable city, it’s one of Milan’s first eco-friendly hotels—a drastic departure from its designer-inspired counterparts who spent millions to mirror their individual brand’s unique luxury offerings.
The project was a renovation of a former Splendido-branded hotel. The complete transformation took approximately nine months and a total investment of €13 million ($17.12 million). Upon opening, the rack rates were €900 ($1,179) for superior/deluxe rooms and €1,200 ($1,572) for a suite.
The green aspect of this boutique hotel will set it apart from its competitors, Clifford said.
“E.c.ho. is really bucking the trends. Yes, they are an Italian group, and yes they are late in the game, but they are really smart to say, ‘Let’s make this a stylish hotel, but let's also add the eco angle,’ which a lot of hotels haven't even touched,” he said. “I think it stands to really succeed.”
The decision to open E.c.ho. was rooted in the company’s belief that hospitality and preserving the environment can go hand in hand. "Starhotels is sending the important signal that even in the hotel industry we can use technologies that respect our ecosystem and help to curb climate change,” said company CEO Elisabetta Fabri.
The name of this ecological contemporary hotel (E.c.ho.) reflects its core premise and the guiding principle for its development—that great design and environmental awareness can go hand in hand. This is seen throughout the construction, design and décor.
The 4-star "green" hotel was fashioned with ample windows and terraces to allow plenty of natural light into the common areas and guestrooms. All 143 rooms have been fitted with eco-sustainable design featuring materials, furnishings and fabrics certified to stringent environmental standards. When guests aren't in their rooms, temperature and lighting controls move into action to avoid wasting energy. All the bathrooms have taps that reduce water consumption and a recycling system produces hygienically clean water for sanitary installations and irrigation systems.
E.c.ho.’s Orto Restaurant & Bar is a scenic and bright space with back lighted murals that reproduce a lush corner of a vegetable garden. The mural’s light changes with the sun to reflect a symbiosis with nature. The restaurant is also decorated with large light fixtures made with thin, nearly transparent leaves of wood that resemble flower petals.
The hotel’s seventh floor features a spacious fitness room. The property offers five meeting rooms, seating from 30 to 80 people with an overall capacity of 240 seats. All meeting rooms are soundproofed and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The Elementi meeting room, at the ground floor, with natural light, is ideal for meetings and cocktails.
But will it attract the travel crowd? According to Clifford, if you build it, they will come.
“Milan is like any other Italian city—it's really expensive. A lot of (travelers) are priced out of the Armani, Bulgari, Park Hyatt, so affordable luxury is the best of all worlds,” Clifford said.
“You're going to have the super affluent, but that's a much smaller segment of the market and it's a tougher piece of the pie to fight for. E.c.ho. did well with the eco-friendly line because they aren't competing with the fashion moguls like Armani and Bulgari.”
Fabri said Starhotels “embraces its strong belief that the relationship among the territory, the treatment, preservation and valorization of cultural heritage, go hand in hand with the respect of the environment. With E.c.ho. they gave a very high importance to ecology and see it as a turning point to define a new concept of luxury.”