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How Dream, Equinox Are Building New Brands In A Market Of Behemoths

The hotel market has become a tricky beast, with big brands like Marriott and Starwood consolidating and expanding and smaller brands forcing their way into every nook and cranny they can find. According to two panelists for Bisnow's fifth annual Lodging Investment Series—which will be held at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC, on Sept. 21—boutiques should capitalize on flexibility and the personal touch if they wish to thrive in the land of giants.


Dream Hotel Group head of architecture and design Tom Trout (pictured) says the big brands—the “800-pound gorillas,” as he calls them—will dominate 90% of the market. He would know: he’s worked for them, including Carlson Rezidor Hotels and Resorts, Promus Hotel Corp, DoubleTree Hotels and Hyatt Hotels.

But, luckily for up-and-comers, these goliaths have two weaknesses: they'll constantly struggle with scaling—as seen with with Starwood's acquisition—and, he says, a giant corporation’s simply too big to deliver a natural, intimate experience. 


It’s not that they don’t want to, he says, but a company that big, with so many demographics to serve, is forced to homogenize design and service.

Even if they attempt to focus on experience, it ends up feeling “scripted,” he says. Smaller brands and hotels (like the Dream Midtown above) can more easily give guests the freedom to create their own memorable experiences, and can also pay more attention to, and keep track of, guests and their preferences.

“You can welcome them back and even mix up the experience,” he tells Bisnow. “Today’s guests are too sophisticated to receive the same service or benefits every time.”


But there are certain demographics, such as the typical Equinox club member, that have high-performance lifestyles and want a hotel experience tailored to their needs.

That’s where Equinox Hotels and president Josh Wyatt (pictured) seek to step in. A survey of Equinox members found the average member was 41 years old, traveled extensively (around six domestic trips and three international trips per year) and had a high-intensity lifestyle focused on "life maximization."

“They work intensely all day, then work out for an hour, have a highly social business dinner, go to bed later and then wake up at six to do it all over again,” he says.

He says that’s why Equinox is implementing a design focused around movement, nutrition and recovery and is working with sleep scientists, nutritionists and wellness experts to deliver an elevated experience.


Another benefit of not belonging to a behemoth brand, Tom says, is a more flexible design palette. A bigger brand’s standards can become a checklist that handcuffs designers.

This can be successful and work for certain audiences, he says, but doesn’t provide a sophisticated, locally influenced design (as Dream Hotels seeks to do at Dream Times Square, pictured).


Although they have a few hotels throughout NYC (pictured, Dream Downtown, New York), Tom says Dream Hotels is still trying to get its feet under it and discover what it wants to be from a design point of view. But they know what they don’t want to be: cookie cutter.

“We want to be provocative without being offensive,” he says. “We’re really testing the limits.”


The best example of this? Dream Hotels’ upcoming location in Nashville, a former brothel. Tom says the design team is experimenting with how to honor, not hide, this history while still remaining tasteful. They're also working on locations in Palm Springs and LA (pictured).

Equinox is also trying to toe this line, Josh says, which is why the brand’s first location will be at The Related Cos' Hudson Yards. A “revolutionary city within a city,” as Josh calls it, Hudson Yards has some of the most diverse, global and far-reaching corporate tenants (i.e. the type that would enjoy Equinox) flocking to it.

As opening day approaches, Josh is confident Equinox will succeed because it’ll stand behind its vision and deliver on customer promises, Josh says. This, more than anything else, will create distinct moments and experiences that members will come for, share online and return to, time and time again.