March 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions Chicer by the Dozen March 1999 Current Issue
March 1999

CHICer by the Dozen

New boutique hotels chains are targeting the hip business guest

By Cheryl-Anne Sturken

Move over, Ian Schrager. There’s a new breed of boutique hotels springing up, and you don’t have to be a supermodel, a superstar or even super rich to make it past their check-in desks. What defines these upstarts? Take the fundamentals of boutique hotel theory outré design, weird furnishings, staff with perfect teeth add a few homey indulgences, and then duplicate them en masse. Voila! The boutique hotel chain, as represented by Monaco Hotels and W Hotels, is born.

There’s one other way these newcomers differ from those that came before them: They shamelessly woo meeting planners with hip, high-tech meeting and function space.

Unlike Schrager’s properties (New York City’s Royalton and Miami’s Delano, to name two), which sell stark simplicity and call it cutting-edge design, Monaco and W are after the savvy business traveler who wants style, luxury and the conveniences central reservations, consistent service and amenities between properties that chains have to offer.

They’re also stocking up on the technological amenities business travelers demand, as well as the soothing comforts brand-name spas, high-powered fitness centers, trendy eateries and chic bars by hot, hip designers that help make life on the road bearable.

In December 1998, White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., launched its W brand with the opening of the W New York on Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, headed up by longtime boutique hotel developer Bill Kimpton (widely known for propelling the boutique trend with creations like San Francisco’s Triton), has expanded its Monaco brand to four properties, adding Seattle, Chicago and Denver. The Monaco San Francisco, which opened in 1995, is the brand’s flagship property. And more properties are to come.

Hospitality analysts like Bobbie Bowers, president of Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, believe these companies are on to something. “Just by the nature of the product they are offering a hip, upscale, eclectic mix I think there is definitely a growing market for [boutique hotels],” says Bowers. “Instead of the homogenized hotel, they offer a product with a very different twist.”

Monaco Hotels
“We think the future of the hotel business is not just about clever design and style, or even great service, which should be a given anyway. The next level is an environment experience,” says San Francisco-based Steve Pinetti, vice president of sales and marketing for the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, which is currently developing the Monaco brand image. “And we’re providing it to the corporate meeting planner great-looking environments coupled with great food, service and comforting amenities.”

In July the Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City will open, and, according to Pinetti, other major metro markets being eyed include New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“People are moving so fast and have so much to deal with that they don’t have time to stop and think about themselves,” says Pinetti. “Monacos are designed to give the guest that chance.”

Guest rooms: Minimalists need not apply. Each Monaco room is a veritable Versailles of bright colors, rich fabrics and soft surfaces. While every property in the chain is unique in design, typical signature touches include buttercup yellow (and lots of it), boldly striped wallpaper, antique lamps, rich brocades, velvet fabrics and museum-quality artwork.

Standard in-room business amenities include IPORT, providing high-speed Internet access; dual-line phone systems, fax and copy machines, and compact disc players.

Meeting space: Individual meeting rooms are elegant, and stocked with plenty of state-of-the-art technology. Another big bonus: lots of natural light.

Comfort zones: Who needs bedtime chocolates when you can have a pet goldfish? All guests get the chance to name and bond with their very own complimentary goldfish (bowl and food provided, of course) for the duration of their stay

Other comforting touches include nightly scratch-and-win lottery tickets and plenty of Tootsie Pops and Pixy Stix candy.

Added extras include complimentary evening wine tastings, in-room free-weights and exercise equipment (for when you’re too busy to make it to the gym) and a well-stocked “honor” bar certainly a unique concept in the hotel chain industry.

W Hotels
“We want [W] to be a fun, hip brand. We believe we are creating a brand that embodies an entire lifestyle,” says Brian Windle, vice president of sales and marketing for W Hotels. “This gives us an opportunity to attract the younger business traveler who is looking for many of the same comforts they enjoy in their own homes.”

The PR machinery at the company defines the “W” as witty, warm, welcoming and wonderful (please, feel free to add your own thoughts). The company plans to open 14 Ws by next spring, including two more in New York City the W Court and the W Tuscany, both former Doral properties as well as one each in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Seattle, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

Guest rooms: Modern chic meets urban cool here. Decor runs from earthy browns and deep blues to wine-colored burgundies. Pottery Barn-style glass, cone-shaped lamps hang above plump feather beds, black-and-white etchings are propped up against walls (not hung), and a single-stem, fresh orchid graces the large working desk. To maximize living space, bureaus are relegated to the closet.

Typical features include speakerphone capabilities, compact-disc players, dataports for laptop hookups and high-speed, direct Ethernet modem connections. And while a scanner/printer/photocopier unit is standard hardware in the 15 percent designated business travel rooms, the machines are provided on request for all guest rooms.

Meeting space: Meeting rooms go by names like Canyon, Waterfall, Earth and Forest and are wired for high-tech meetings. And if it’s chandeliered splendor you’re after, you’ve come to the wrong ballroom. The W New York opts for laser spotlights and softly lighted wall niches decorated with slender, potted pussy willows.

Comfort zones: “Water Me,” reads the sign stuck in the tiny patch of grass found in each guest room, next to an old-fashioned long-spouted tin watering can (for those who miss out on yard work because they travel so much). And if your patch happens to die from a flash flood (careful with that water!), housekeeping will be happy to replace it.

Other amenities include in-room snack bars stocked with home-style comforts like a selection of microbrewery beer, trail mixes and Gummy Bears candy.

Where the Cool People Sleep

Is your group too hip for a standard hotel? The following Monaco and W properties are now open or scheduled to debut in 1999.

Now Open:
Rooms: 192
Meeting space: 4,300 sq. ft.
(312) 960-8500; (800) 397-7661
Fax: (312) 960-1883

Rooms: 189
Meeting space: 4,000 sq. ft.
(303) 296-1717; (800) 397-5380
Fax: (303) 296-1818

Rooms: 201
Meeting space: 6,950 sq. ft.
(415) 292-0100; (800) 214-4220
Fax: (415) 292-0111

Rooms: 189
Meeting space: 6,040 sq. ft.
(206) 621-1770; (800) 945-2240
Fax: (206) 624-0060

Rooms: 722
Meeting space: 6,000 sq. ft.
(212) 755-1200; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (212) 319-8344

Rooms: 252
Meeting space: 10,000 sq. ft.
(770) 396-6800; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (770) 394-4805

Opening this year:

Rooms: 423
Meeting space: 9,500 sq. ft.
(415) 626-0777; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (415) 626-2830
Opening: Spring 1999

Rooms: 426
Meeting space: 10,000 sq. ft.
(206) 443-6548; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (206) 443-6251
Opening: Summer 1999

Rooms: 198
Meeting space: None
(212) 685-1100; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (212) 889-0287
Opening: June 1999

Rooms: 122
Meeting space: None
(212) 686-1600; (877) 946-8357
Fax: (212) 779-7822
Opening: June 1999

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