Putting the Joy Back in the Hotel Stay

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo; Matt Graham, Andaz Savannah; Tim Flodin, Andaz Liverpool Street; and Rusty Middleton, Andaz San Diego

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo; Matt Graham, Andaz Savannah; Tim Flodin, Andaz Liverpool Street; and Rusty Middleton, Andaz San Diego

According to Kearney, people are looking for more simplicity when they travel. That’s what Hyatt learned back in 2004 when it took its first stab at defining its brands, starting first with Park Hyatt. “They were looking to feel as if they have fewer barriers and a few less hurdles when they travel,” said Kearney, who noted frequent travelers spoke of having the joy of their journey removed by the processes they have to endure, such as getting through an airport or searching for a lost bag. “People were looking for that end point, which is the hotel stay, to be something that is really joyful again.”

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Robert Hamer, Andaz Xintiandi, Shanghai.Pictured: Robert Hamer, Andaz Xintiandi, Shanghai.

Hence Andaz was born, with the promise of creating an indigenous and unscripted experience in a barrier-free environment. The Andaz experience can translate into luxury, said Kearney, but Hyatt prefers not to position in that segment. The Andaz Liverpool Street in London opened in 2007 and was Hyatt’s living lab, where the hotel company tested its concept. Best practices were brought to West Hollywood, which opened in 2009. Next was San Diego (that’s the former Ivy hotel), and in January 2010, New York became home to two Andaz hotels, one on Wall Street and one on Fifth Avenue, across from the New York Public Library. Today there are 11 Andaz hotels open. On tap are Tokyo, opening this summer, with Delhi, Sanya Sunny Bay and Mayakoba to follow.

Consumer research in seven destinations worldwide helped to further evolve Andaz. How people functioned within its own hotels was studied, but so was the manner in which consumers shopped in a Gucci boutique or in a train station in London. One key finding? People prefer a service style today that is “peer to peer.” “The ‘master-servant model of service’ seems to be taking a back seat,” said Kearney, noting that consumers prefer that those servicing them be resident experts on a topic. “With the social world and the evolution of the friends-and-family relationships, people are looking at those in certain roles as, ‘You know more about this than I do, so I would rather hear what you have to say about it.’”

“Inclusive exclusivity” was another element defined from the research; that simply means that the luxury traveler now seems to want to share everything socially, due in large part that they’re so disconnected in so many other ways because of technology.

How does this apply to the hotel world? “People don’t want to sit in their rooms anymore. They want to be with people,” said Kearney, who says the Andaz brand looks at how it can “create spaces for people to be together alone so you can either engage or not.”

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo; Sara Kearney, Hyatt Corp. Pictured: Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo; Sara Kearney, Hyatt Corp.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Andaz makes references to the “creative class” that’s coming to your hotels. What are their expectations when they get there?

Toni Hinterstoisser, Andaz Amsterdam: Marcel Wanders was the designer of our hotel and he draws a lot of peers into it. People come for two reasons. One, of course, is to stay and experience the hotel, and to do business in Amsterdam. Others just walk in and enjoy the hotel as a guest because we have a different design, to start with. They want to hear about the concept because it’s new and interesting. Then they end up enjoying the lounge and eventually, somebody will come and join them. Then someone else will come over and they’ll do drinks or dinner at the hotel or go somewhere else for dinner. We see that a lot. Often in the lobby [the attitude will be at first] “I want to sit and have a good cup of coffee or a glass of wine or a cocktail and just do my thing.” I see that as a really important element. But they usually start talking to the person next to them, and sometimes vibrant conversations happen. Every now and then, I’ll later see them coming back to the hotel together. Maybe they have formed a partnership. It’s a very nice thing to see. That’s what I mean when I say, “it’s more than just a hotel.”

Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor.Pictured: Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor.

Michael Stephens, Andaz Maui: As a resort, we’ve learned that our customers really enjoy planning their vacations. So one of the things we love to do is to connect our guests on Facebook instantly when they make a reservation. By connecting with us socially, they can find out what others are doing and that helps them to get excited about planning the experiences they’re going to have. Our lobby is an extension of everything in the resort. So what might be a traditional social space, what we would call our “Andaz lounge,” extends to the pool where I’m always amazed to see that just about everyone has an iPad or some other form of technology. That ability to connect socially is extremely important to our guests.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: So they’re getting a taste of the Andaz style before they get there, just from your reaching out, really. Do others do that as well?

Toni Hinterstoisser, Andaz Amsterdam: We see that in Amsterdam, too, guests are calling with demands that require action up front, so Twitter and Facebook are a big deal for us. We get a large amount of e-mails coming in prior to arrival, asking what to do in a city where we have 56 different museums. I think that’s very similar to a resort. They also want to know more about the specific neighborhoods. That’s where the local expertise comes into play.

Greg Nomura, Andaz Napa.Pictured: Greg Nomura, Andaz Napa.

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo: There is definitely a creative class, but I like to believe there is creativity in all of us. By creating a barrier-free environment and a place that is welcoming, you create a moment where people can feel relaxed and where they can really open up their creativity. [Guests of my past hotel have told me] that “what you’ve done here is to create a window of relaxation. I’m a busy man. I work all day. But when I step in here, I don’t know whether it’s the music, the scent, the people welcoming us, the glass of wine, which creates something that helps me better be myself.” By being themselves, they start to mingle in the bars and our restaurants and to connect.

Tim Flodin, Andaz Liverpool Street: It’s not just the guest, either. The employees have those same attributes. They’re engaged and they want to participate, and they want to ensure that your experience is absolutely flawless. And if a glitch happens along the way, we’re going to engage with you some way before you leave the hotel so that we’re sure we’ve resolved the issue. That is the type of experience the guest is going to come back for, regardless of the barrier-free environment; it’s the personal interaction. I’ve also found that I’m personally getting a lot of e-mails myself from guests saying, “I’m coming” or “I’m coming back.” I think it says a lot that someone has the comfort level to do that.

Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street: It’s really about creating those long-lasting relationships.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: The trend is for everyone to consider themselves a VIP now, but that’s really what you’ve been encouraging all along.

Lin Schatz, Andaz West Hollywood: To Arnaud’s point, in West Hollywood, I have customers who will stay at a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, but when they come to stay with us they don’t want the formality of that. The engagement our employees have with them allows them to relax, be themselves, and get away from everything that they have to do in a normal day. The luxury traveler definitely does stay in our properties; they’re just looking for a different kind of experience.

Tim Flodin, Andaz Liverpool Street and Rusty Middleton, Andaz San DiegoPictured: Tim Flodin, Andaz Liverpool Street and Rusty Middleton, Andaz San Diego.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: In New York, are people more reserved, or are they enjoying the same communal use of the hotels?

Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street: Definitely. We have complementary Internet, so they’ll sit somewhere in the corner of the lobby.

Cornelia Samara, Andaz 5th Avenue: During our pre-opening, people sat at the communal table; there were people everywhere [in the lobby] with their laptops and working. I didn’t expect that. I expected stiff and corporate. The only difference was there were people sitting with their shirt collars open and their tie not done yet; they were on their way out to wherever.

Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street: [From last May to October] we had a Biergarten and all the neighborhood brought in their dogs. We had probably 30 to 40 dogs at the time. It brought the neighborhood together. With downtown New York, you think of that corporate environment, but this really broke down those barriers.

Cornelia Samara, Andaz 5th Avenue; Lin Schatz, Andaz West Hollywood.Pictured: Cornelia Samara, Andaz 5th Avenue; Lin Schatz, Andaz West Hollywood.

The big thing coming up is the World Trade Center reopening. That will be a huge boost to the downtown market.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How do you work with staff to create the barrier-free environment?

Jeffrey Miller, Andaz Wall Street: The hiring process is critical; you have to have the right team in place. We talked about fashion versus uniforms. For Andaz Wall Street, we used the brand, Theory. I think it emboldens the staff to feel better about their interactions with people, because it’s “You’re wearing a suit, I’m wearing a suit.” It creates a sense of that peer-to-peer interaction. If you’re doing these things that create an environment that’s fun and more productive and stimulating, you’re able to find better people.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor.Pictured: Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor.

Robert Hamer, Andaz Xintiandi, Shanghai: In China and in Japan, it’s completely the flip-side of the coin. To train somebody to have that type of DNA is almost impossible. Forty percent of our guests are of Chinese origin, not necessarily from China, but Hong Kong, or they grew up in the States, for example. So when our hosts engage in Mandarin or Cantonese, there’s a greater deal of confidence. But they tend to be a little bit traditional in their service technique. I don’t want to say it is subservient, but there’s a lot of respect that’s shown. It’s probably a little bit more about the process rather than in engaging [the guest].

Sara Kearney, Hyatt Corp.: But it speaks to the fact that the brand is focused on being very locally relevant and indigenous and unscripted. You adapt to the environment you’re in and become a really good neighbor. The millennium generation of the Chinese culture is going to be radically different. I think you’re going to see some transition in that respect.

Michael Stephens, Andaz Maui and Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo.Pictured: Michael Stephens, Andaz Maui and Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, Andaz Tokyo.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Matt and Greg, your hotels were converted to become an Andaz. How did you renovate to fit the brand?

Matt Graham, Andaz Savannah: We renovated our lobby and restaurant spaces at the same time to create a barrier-free modern lifestyle Andaz. We’re located on Ellis Square, which is one of the city’s original four squares from 1733, and was always the gathering spot and market for the city. We have a lot of that personality in our public spaces and in our restaurant. Ellis Square was lost for 50 years. It was converted into an above-ground parking garage. Just five years ago, they took down the parking garage, and redid the square. So it’s one of the oldest parts of Savannah, yet it’s probably one of the newest parts. So we’re a modern hotel in a historic setting.

Toni Hinterstoisser, Andaz Amsterdam.Pictured: Toni Hinterstoisser, Andaz Amsterdam.

Greg Nomura, Andaz Napa: We actually took out our front desk and blew it out. We took our sports space, extended it, and put up a beautiful map of the whole Napa Valley. We went to the wineries we have partnerships with and allowed them to put their wine labels on the wall. The next thing you know, they wanted to have their wines poured for our guests. So every night between 5:00 and 6:30, we have a different wine. So guests come back after a day of wine tasting, and are told, “Have a little bit more.”

Rusty Middleton, Andaz San Diego: We have several bars at the hotel, and one of them is a rooftop. It continues to be one of the number-one destinations in the city with incredible views. Every weekend we have about 500 of our closest friends up there. We’re going to do a little bit of a refresh in some of our spaces. The lounge, as we’ve talked about here, is such a social experience, and we think there’s an opportunity to change it up a bit, to offer that welcome beverage. We’ve engaged a local designer who has worked at another Andaz location, so in the beginning of Q1, we’ll make some of those changes to the lounge and our wine bar. RoofTop600 will also get a refresh.

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