As the hotel industry reels from the current recession, you might be surprised to find some brand-new hotel chains out there while you're shopping for a place to stay on your next vacation. What's Andaz, for instance, or Aloft, or Ascend?
It turns out that even as hoteliers discount like mad to fill their rooms, the big chains are popping out new brands to appeal to travelers in the 2010s. There are several reasons to turn to these new brands:
- They're fresh. Many hotels from new brands are brand-new -- they're new construction, with new beds, the latest technological gadgetry and carpets that don't have years of travel ground into them. Even if a hotel isn't brand-new, it's likely to have been fully renovated very recently.
- They're part of a family. These hotels are associated with big chains. So if one hotel goes out of business, or you have a lousy experience, you can deal with a bigger organization who would be able to assign you a room elsewhere or handle your complaint. These hotels typically also award frequent-flier miles or loyalty points, too.
- They're aggressive. New hotels trying to establish their name in a market often turn to promotions and discount their rates.
So what's new? We found five new brands from Choice Hotels (home to Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, and Econolodge), Starwood (the parent company of Westin, Sheraton, and W), and Hyatt appearing in cities worldwide. Hilton is also starting two new brands, Denizen and Home2, but they don't have any hotels built yet. Here's what to expect:
Aloft is Starwood staying hip. Starwood basically defined the "cool" chain hotel with W Hotels in 1999; Aloft takes the same hipster vibe, ratchets prices down and knocks business-traveler services up a little. As the name implies, Aloft tries to give their rooms a loft-like feel -- at least 9-foot ceilings, big windows, open floorplans, LCD TVs and free high-speed Internet, and a back yard for each hotel, even hotels in urban areas like Brooklyn and Toronto.
"We're looking at these as the democratization of design, like Ikea," said Brian McGuinness, senior vice president at Starwood Hotels. Our columnist Christopher Elliott wrote a blog post with photos of Aloft's design touches, such as their very unusual reception-area sofas.
These hotels aren't quite as plush as W -- for instance they don't have full-service restaurants, but rather have 24-hour pantries with prepared food. Starwood currently has 22 Aloft hotels, with at least 20 more opening in 2009. Aloft hotels average about $150 a night, which is inexpensive for Starwood.
Element, another new Starwood brand, tries to tap into the current environmentalist zeitgeist, albeit mostly with newly-constructed buildings. Element hotels are all LEED certified (meaning they use resources relatively efficiently), use a lot of recycled or reusable materials, and weave natural patterns into their interior design. They even offer priority parking to people who arrive in hybrid cars. Element rooms are apartment-style, with kitchens, optional suite arrangements, ways to plug your laptop into the hotel TV and Westin Heavenly Beds. Right now there are four, in suburbs outside Baltimore, Houston, Las Vegas, and Boston; Starwood is aiming for nine by the end of the year, McGuinness said. Rates range from $125 to around $165 per night depending on how long you're staying.
Andaz, in plain English, is Hyatt trying to do W Hotels. They've only got two open right now, in London and L.A., and they intend to open two in New York City this year. Andaz hotels might be renovated Hyatts (as in LA) or part of new developments (such as in downtown Manhattan) but they all seem to be going for a look that's a little bit hip, a little bit 'local,' and a little bit corporate. You know, like W Hotels. Rates at the West Hollywood Andaz when we checked ranged from $180-245 -- about the same as promotional rates at the nearby W Hotel in Westwood.
Cambria Suites is a set of brand-new suite hotels from Choice Hotels, an association of independently run hotels. They aim to have more than 20 hotels by the end of the year; most of the existing hotels are near airports in the Midwest, but they want to go nationwide. Choice Hotels typically runs lower-end lodgings, and Cambria Suites is their attempt to do something more upscale but still affordable, at around $100/night. The suites all have two flat-screen TVs and places to plug your laptop into the entertainment center, and the hotels have business centers, dedicated fitness centers, indoor pools and "a nice mix of organic and comfort food" in their dining areas, according to William Edmundson, president of the Cambria Suites brand. Think of Cambria as a bit like less-expensive Hilton, Marriott, or Starwood properties -- just newer.
The Ascend Collection is Choice's effort to bring boutique hotels under their wing. Ascend hotels are all "historic, boutique, or unique," according to the chain, and each on is different. They all share financial backing, a unified reservation system and Choice's loyalty point system, though. Ascend hotels start at $125/night. Independent hoteliers have been turning to Choice as a sort of "umbrella in the rain" of the recession, Choice VP Stacy Ragland said, and hoteliers are using Choice's backing to boost their sales.
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