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Focus On Guest Experience Shapes The Next Generation Of Hospitality

Bay Area hotels are no longer taking just fine as an answer.

Viceroy Hotel Group CEO Bill Walshe said hotels should no longer accept, “OK” or “fine” from a guest explaining how their stay was. Creating a well-branded experience with staff that take pride in their work and service is what helps hotels stand apart, he said.

Viceroy Hotel Group CEO Bill Walshe

“Bland doesn’t get you anywhere,” Walshe said during Bisnow’s Bay Area Hospitality and Lodging event on Thursday.

His company’s latest renovation, for example, will turn Hotel Rex into a 96-room Hotel Emblem, which will capture the experience of the beatnik generation, he said.

Experience and branding are overtaking the Bay Area’s hospitality scene. Instead of just focusing on style or a rating, hoteliers and restaurateurs are tuning into what consumers want out of their experience.

That may mean providing better lighting in a restaurant so that customers can take photos of their food to post on social media, or offering unique, off-the-beaten-path recommendations of where to visit in San Francisco.

During Thursday's event, panelists discussed what it means to offer guests an experience, how restaurants are changing within the hotel space and how design is adapting to enhance the experience. Experts also discussed what makes the Bay Area an ideal market for investors and the risks and opportunities of investing in this market.

Creating A Personalized Experience

Knowhere Holdings Chief Operating Officer Shannon Shackerley-Bennett

Personalization and the little things that surprise guests are fast becoming  differentiators in the hotel industry.

“Particularly in the Bay Area and over the next year or two, for individual guests, it’s all about tailoring and personalization and experiential,” Knowhere Holdings Chief Operating Officer Shannon Shackerley-Bennett said.

She said the business traveler is becoming just as important as the destination traveler.

“The business traveler is the foundation upon which hotels are founded,” JMA Ventures President Todd Chapman said.

He said these travelers come in at odd hours and want direct room access and an easier check-in process, whether that be using a smartphone to check in or other technology, without enduring a bunch of pain points along the way.

“A lot of what you design should be based on who you identify as your customer,” Chapman said. “If you’re trying to be everything to everyone, that’s not going to work.”

Walshe said Hotel Zeta in San Francisco has been successful because it speaks to the tech consumer and matches its brand to what that consumer wants in a hotel experience.

JMA Ventures President Todd Chapman

Designing a hotel to enhance the guest experience can mean tapping into the site’s history. At a hotel HKS is designing in Half Moon Bay, the hotel will include a working farm to preserve the agricultural history of the site, HKS Senior Designer Jessica Sager said.

“The first thing you see when you drive into the resort is the existing farm and marketplace that offers that farm-to-table experience,” she said.

Greystone Hotels President Eric Horodas said when his company renovated the 30-room The Inn at Union Square, his team brainstormed what to do with the hotel based on the kinds of guests the hotel would attract.

For many years people called the site a gem and the company decided to use that to create a better guest experience, he said. The company found 12 places — "hidden gems" — around San Francisco that guests could visit and created a series of cards to share with guests on their beds as recommendations of a unique place guests could visit.

Greystone Hotels President Eric Horodas

“People want to go to spaces and be entertained and do fun things,” Horodas said.

Much like how retail spaces are becoming entertainment destinations with food and games, his company has started incorporating these elements into hotel lobbies. At a San Francisco hotel, Greystone renovated a hotel lobby into a social club with a pool table, a dart board and event space.

People want more experiences and are expecting more from their lodging experiences, JMA’s Chapman said.

Hospitality isn’t just hotels, but also food and anything experiential that people want to participate in, he said.

Enhancing The Hotel Experience Through Food And Entertainment

HKS Senior Designer Jessica Sager, Nebo Hotel Finance Director Ned DeLorme, Holland & Knight partner Stacie Goeddel and Bisnow West Coast Regional Director Nick Bates

Nebo Hotel Finance Director Ned DeLorme said his company has been working on a project in Palm Springs that will capture the millennial generation through a pool party DJ experience. He said although the project will be affiliated with Marriott, it will have a unique food and beverage experience.

“It’s hard to get yield out of a room, which is increasingly expensive to build,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out some other avenues, and you’ve got to look at the whole spend of that client and to try and optimize that to make some money.”

This means building up a food and beverage experience that sets a hotel apart from a standard box hotel.

Many Bay Area hotels are hiring renowned local chefs or using external partners to craft a unique experience that mirrors what is happening outside of the hotel, Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Gwyneth Borden said.

Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Gwyneth Borden

These restaurants on hotel properties are being used to better attract visitors, but also are starting to attract locals as return visitors, Borden said. Even retailers are adding food and beverage options to attract more customers, including Tiffany’s adding a café to its New York City flagship store.

Hotels are retooling their bar programs to add local ingredients and specialized drinks, Borden said.

Many have been adding rooftop bars, which weren’t common on hotel properties until recently, she said.

HKS’ Sager said while the climate is challenging, it is visually rich and adds to the rooftop experience. At a Burlingame hotel her firm is designing that is a dual brand, the rooftop hotel allows guests to see the fog rolling in over the hills and planes flying into the airport.

“Those places have lines every day of the week,” Borden said. “People want to have that experience. San Francisco is unique from a topography standpoint. You don’t have to be on a tall hill to have a view.”