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For Experiential Hotels, The Devil Is In The Details

Hospitality is a tricky business. Guests come and go, but the key to success is guests coming back again. And again. What makes people return to a hospitality property? What creates experiences that make them want to come back? 

Hospitality panel speakers at Bisnow's recent Denver Retail & Hospitality event took up that question, for which there are no simple answers. That is because today's guests expect more from a hotel than a place to spend the night. Experiential hotels are the thing now, but exactly what kinds of experiences people want is the puzzle hoteliers need to solve, even in a hot destination like Denver.

McWhinney Vice President, Marketing Keo Frazier, Gravitas Development Group partner Ryan Diggins and Death & Co. co-founder David Kaplan

Our speakers said everything that a hotel does has to have an experience to it — and the experiences have to contribute in one way or another to making the property more attractive or more unique in the eyes of the guests, or part of the local community in the eyes of locals. The property has to be engaging for everyone who interacts with it.

It starts with the culture of the property. The staff has to want to help create memorable experiences for guests, and in a good way. If employees feel good about working at the property, they are going to be willing to do that, and are going to see the value of helping guests experience the hotel in a memorable way.

Another cornerstone of experiential hotels is the functional parts of the property. The hotel has to offer tech that works, a comfortable bed, a clean room — the basics. All that has to be in place, or none of the experiential side of the hotel is going to work. A guest whose WiFi winks on and off is not going to be impressed with designer cocktails in the hotel bar.

Silverwest Hotels President and CEO Edward Mace and Stantec Senior Principal, Buildings Daniel Aizenman, who moderated.

Details are critical in creating a memorable hotel experience, the speakers also said. A property that offers unexpectedly good experiences, such as better service than a guest would expect at a certain price point, creates the kind of place people remember. 

It could be something simple, like a great breakfast burrito at a conference. No one serves those, and it shows some imagination on the part of hotel management to offer them. Memorable places are made up of a lot of small details.

Placemaking encourages word-of-mouth through social media. One strategy is for hotels to try to create "Instagram" places, and places for perfect selfies. At The Maven, for instance, there are hidden corners good for snapping pictures, and in the Dairy Block alley, there is a place with utilities behind the wall, and a mirror at that spot — a place to take a selfie, which people do.

The hospitality panel

Trends move fast in hotel design, with interiors and the technology changing every few years. The look and feel of the rooms and common areas has to change, and change in the right way, our speakers said. It takes a certain expertise to know the difference between a look that is current and something that is merely fashionable and will soon look dated. 

Though hotels need to be current, timelessness is still an important aspect for some spaces, especially older properties. It is a mistake to toss out the kind of timeless design that people respond to. Timelessness speaks to the analog experience that guests are looking for in our disconnected digital age, even if they do not know they are looking for it. 

Hotels also need to be connected to the neighborhood. The Ramble, for instance, provides experiences in and of itself, but it also encourages guests to explore its RiNo neighborhood. It strives to be a destination for locals. An experiential hotel, wherever it is, has to hit the zeitgeist of the neighborhood and the city. If it does not do that, it is just a nice building with some nice rooms.

In our next newsletter, we will cover what our Made in Colorado speakers said about how retail and restaurants that got their start in the Centennial State and grew from there.