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Going lifestyle all the way. The only way ahead?

Amsa Hospitality brands are true lifestyle hotels as this is the future of the hospitality industry

When you ask guests what makes them select a hotel over its direct competitors (besides the obvious location factor), you constantly get the same answers – only the order of importance differ from one survey to another:

  • Emotional connection

  • Sustainability

  • Authentic service

  • Good value

  • Connectivity / Mobile check-in / check-out (digitalized hotel)

Of course, a clean and quiet room, good food, etc. are a given that I didn’t see the need to mention.

We discussed in these pages sustainability, quality of service, and digitalization in numerous occasions before.

What I find very interesting today is that guests want an emotional connection with the hotel they are staying at. This trend appeared for the first time over twenty years ago, and tends to grow very fast in all markets, from economy to upper-midscale. Does that mean that the very popular “copy / paste” chain hotels where guests knew by heart the property’s lay out from lobby to bedroom and restaurant, because they were exactly the same wherever in the world they were going to, is over? Not yet – the ‘pappy boomers’ generation (formerly known as ‘baby boomers’) is still expecting that kind of hospitality when traveling for business, not so much for leisure trips. This hotel design is expected to disappear within the next 20 to 30 years.

What having an emotional connection really means? How do we translate that into a brick-and-mortar hotel?

The answer is ‘lifestyle hospitality’. Let’s start with looking at an official definition of lifestyle hospitality from the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association:

Lifestyle hotels are driven by hospitality chains. They borrow the best elements of boutiques – intimate, lively, modern with an attractive theme – and throw in advantages only a chain can offer, like loyalty perks, consistency, and economies of scale. As a result, lifestyle hotels are generally more affordable and accessible than boutiques.

Many understand that the term ‘lifestyle hotel’ is somehow similar to ‘boutique hotel’. Court Williams, CEO at HVS Executive Search, explains that hospitality groups’ lifestyle hotels are not necessarily small, while a boutique hotel must be by definition. He adds:

Lifestyle hotels are really all about the sensory experience from the time you walk in, from the music, to the design, to the food and beverage.

Most boutique hotels, mainly due to their city center locations, do not propose any food service other than breakfast.

The credit of developing lifestyle hotels in a grand scale is usually attributed to Barry Sternlicht, then Chief Executive Officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, with the introduction in 1998 of a new brand - W Hotels. He converted the Doral Inn, close to the Waldorf Astoria in midtown Manhattan, to become the first W Hotel with a thriving nightlife and lots of color pops.

Since, all international groups developed their own lifestyle flavor: From Tempo by Hilton, dubbed “The approachable lifestyle brand for the modern achiever”, Aloft by Marriott, “Different by design”, to IHG’s EVEN Hotels, “Where wellness is built in”, or Accor’s unexpected Mama Shelter, “Mama loves you”, among so many more. Accor Hospitality believes so much that the future of our industry is the lifestyle hospitality that, in 2021. they signed a joint venture with Ennismore, adding 14 global lifestyle hotels and co-working brands and a diverse collection of restaurants and bars including 21C Museum Hotels, 25hours, Delano, Gleneagles, Hyde, JO&JOE, Mondrian, Morgans Originals, SLS, SO/, The Hoxton, TRIBE and Working From… to they already large Accor brands portfolio. The group famous for its global ‘copy / paste’ brands such as Novotel, Ibis or F1, that made its success, is now the world’s largest and fastest growing lifestyle hospitality group.

If this proves one thing is that lifestyle hotels are the future of our industry. That’s the reason why lifestyle chains are opening everywhere. The latest in the GCC is Kerten Hospitality’ lifestyle brand, The House Hotel in Jeddah. The brand ticks all the boxes: Storytelling, lifestyle hub, culinary journey, sustainability, ‘our’ people, community.

Smaller groups and already operating independent hotels must consider shifting from traditional to lifestyle: When successful, the rewards is great. Depending of the status of existing property, it is not necessary complicated nor expensive. But the change must be well thought of and properly organized.

The first thing to do is to select the hotel’s new theme. Lifestyle hotels like EVEN, Aloft or Mama Shelter have absolutely nothing in common, except that they all have a strong theme that they are not shy to follow as far as possible, as well as a clear idea of the market segmentations they wish to attract. Therefore, it is necessary to feel confident with the theme chosen, ensuring that there is no other property within the competitive range that came with the same idea.

Once the theme is well defined and the rooms, lobby, outlets, etc. décor has been modified accordingly, the next step is to rethink service standards: Because the hotel is now strongly themed, guests will not settle with the usual ‘one sets all’ standards. Obviously, their expectations will be totally different when the stay at a W hotel or a Tempo - - not because of the price difference, but because of the brand's theme. On the other hand, they have no issue when service is almost identical with a least themed brand, such as a Quality Inn, a Holiday Inn or a Novotel. In that case, they are satisfied with a genuine smile and caring staff. As a common rule, we cannot disappoint guests. But it is more difficult to satisfy them in a strongly themed property, as their expectations are somehow higher. The new service standards must be designed according to guests’ expectations, not broadly, but in line with the new hotel theme.

Of course, employees uniforms must reflect that theme – W Hotels fancy clothing have nothing in common with Mama Shelter’s comfortable overalls!

Developing a lifestyle hotel or brand is an exciting but difficult exercise. More than ever, no detail can be overlooked:

A lifestyle hotel is more than a friendly, clean, comfortable property. It is a life experience aiming at building an emotional connection between guests and hotel’s employees.

Lifestyle hotels are changing the definition of what it is to be a hotelier: We need to better ourselves to be able to provide not only a great professional service, but also bond with our guests – something we are not used to do.

When, at Amsa Hospitality, we decided to build our own brand, we decided from day one that it would be a lifestyle brand. Our theme defined our slogan – ‘Hallmark of Arabian Hospitality’. I believe there is no better theme than that!

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