In(Depend)ent Hotels: Powerful Possibilities
As hotel owners and operators continue to look for ways to distinguish their properties from the pack, independent hotels promote their ability to do this free from the restrictions that a brand imposes. However, as I plan to attend the 3rd annual Independent Lodging Congress conference in NYC and our firm begins a new independent hotel renovation, I am appreciative of smart independent hotel professionals who depend on the expertise and value within design and purchasing that have been learned within the flag hotel world.
Freedom is a Tempting Thing
As reported in the New York Times last week, a survey recently completed estimates that capital expenditures by American hotel owners will climb to $6.4 billion this year, an increase of 7% over last year. It goes on to say that, "Almost no brand requirement...has been untouched." Every smart business focuses on their brand and independent hotels are no exception. The freedom they have to make their properties unique without the limitations of design standards can be a very tempting opportunity. Those in the hotel business (or living) for any length of time recognize that informed freedom is the best kind. The choice of an overly trendy design, executed with the intention of being “hip” or “happening” too quickly, could have an unexpected negative outcome. The right amount of forward thinking and experience is necessary to make the dollars well spent and not dated before it is truly complete. The result could be a property that is quickly out of fashion with maintenance issues, all in an attempt to keep the property looking fresh and distinctly different. Hotel guests are more design savvy than ever, but they are also dollar savvy with more choices available to them. The smarter hoteliers might opt for a timeless design and material selections that will wear well over the life cycle of the renovation. The result could be a long term “go to” option for the traveler in both the business and pleasure markets, versus a “one year wonder”.
Designer and Purchasing Agent In(Depend)ence
Having supported the purchasing requirements of many flag/brand names over the years we have gained a huge appreciation for the efforts that are put into the brand standards and specification design details. The opportunity to work with hotel owners, management companies, designers and the project team involved in the construction process from an informed place brings the value of those standard packages to every project. In turn, in more recent years, flags have begun to recognize that design can be tweaked from location to location to avoid the cookie-cutter look while still maintaining valuable standards.
That said, it is independent hotel owners and management companies that have the most to gain from the relationship between a good designer and a good purchasing agent and the powerful product they can deliver. Purchasing agents experienced in buying for flag properties are able to add huge value:
They know the minor modifications to an FF&E item that make all the difference in how the item wears and works.
They have valuable vendor relationships and sourcing already in place to gain access to product quickly and cost effectively.
They have learned (sometimes the hard way) when pushing the limits of design have resulted in a bad outcome and can partner with talented designers to steer clear of these scenarios.
They know product well and can provide alternatives when cost and timing are concerns.
Lobby Living and Learning
Independent hotel professionals are in the optimal position to design and purchase cost effectively to offer the market more of what it wants. Nowhere is that more apparent and rewarding than in the design of a lobby area. However, as lobbies become spaces for both social and work, it is imperative that practical considerations be employed. Even in five-star properties where design is a critical component there needs to be a balance inclusive of function and durability. In this area a good purchasing agent with flag experience provides valuable insight and access to product that meets the designer intent and the practical requirements.
Trump Card Well Played
As consumer preferences continue to change, (in particular, those of the young traveler so many hotels look to attract) it is experience that counts more than ever in recognizing that being dependent on some things (and some people) allows independent hotel owners and operators to flourish. They can use “depend” in their name in the most valuable of ways and can provide unique experiences which trump the standard approach every time. A hand well played for all.