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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 21, 2016

Cheryl-Anne Sturkennewlywed winners of a new vespaHyatt's full-service lifestyle hotel brand splashed down in Manhattan this week, with the official conversion of the former 487-room Hyatt Times Square to the Hyatt Centric Times Square. And to celebrate, the company plopped down a giant vending machine right in the city's Flatiron Plaza, stocked with $80,000 worth of goodies, and invited hundreds of passersby to try their luck.

Quicker than a Manhattan minute, a line of eager hopefuls snaked around the block. After all, this was no ordinary vending machine. We're talking mega tchotchkes to spark that inner travel lust. From selfie sticks, Starbucks gift cards and Polaroid Snap cameras to more upscale wins, like a 2016 Vespa Primavera motor scooter and $10,000 worth of Hyatt Centric room nights. The excitement was downright contagious. And, while I didn't try my hand at snagging a prize, I did lust after that cute Vespa, which ultimately was won by a very excited newly married couple.

"We wanted something that really showcased what Hyatt Centric is all about as a brand," Sandra Micek, senior vice president of global brands, told me. "It's not so much about an age group, as a mindset. What we find is that Millennials like to explore and discover new things, and they want a brand that stands for something. We want this brand to be a launchpad for discovering the destination."

While the concept of Hyatt Centric was actually launched two years ago, the first such property, the 257-room Hyatt Centric, The Loop, Chicago, opened in April 2015. That was quickly followed by several more hotels, including one each in South Beach, Miami; The Woodlands, Texas; San Francisco; and Santa Barbara, Calif. Today, there are nine Hyatt Centric hotels and a robust development pipeline that includes several international destinations, such as Barbados and Tokyo.

Hyatt Centric Times Square rooftop bar"We think of this as a growth brand for us, because it is such an efficient and compact model," said Micek. "We have a lot of interest from owners and developers, so there is a ton of planning going on, including another few that will be part of the brand by the end of this year." And, while some will be new-builds, others, like the Hyatt Centric Times Square, will be conversions. What will anchor each hotel as a brand, however, will be its commitment to being a voice for the destination. That said, don't expect any conformities beyond genuine service, amazing food and beverage, eco-friendly bath amenities and stunning design.

"I don't think of us as competing with anyone,” said Micek, when I asked what brands Hyatt Centric was bumping up against. "We are not targeting any. We are going to concentrate on delivering the most unique, local experiences for the traveler in every destination we are in. And our staff will be a big part of that, because they will tell the inside story of where they live by their recommendations. All the hidden gems."