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How Bay Area Hoteliers Are Enhancing The Guest Experience

Generic, boxy hotels are a thing of the past, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. Boutique hotels, lifestyle hotels and select-service hotels are rising up because they can offer something a little different.

AISC structural steel specialist Kristy Davis, Synapse Development Group CEO Justin Palmer, HKS Senior Designer Jessica Sager and TOTO USA President of Operations Bill Strang

“A big part of building any hotel or any property is focused on experience,” Synapse Development Group CEO Justin Palmer said.

Synapse Development Group is developing San Francisco’s first Yotel, which is a micro-hotel. The hotel is 70% through construction, and Palmer expects it to wrap up in the fall. The roughly 200-room micro-hotel in Mid-Market will offer ground-floor and rooftop food and beverage options, according to Palmer, who spoke during Bisnow’s San Francisco Hospitality Investment & Development Series on Tuesday. Yotel provides efficient rooms at an approachable price for San Francisco.

Brands are heavily focused on creating experience and hotel startups similar to Yotel have a lot of opportunities to bring new things into hospitality, a market where there has not been a lot of innovation, Palmer said.

Holland & Knight partner Stacie Goeddel and Steinberg President and CEO David Hart

Simplifying room design can go a long way to improve the experience, especially with rooms getting smaller.

“When you go away from glitz and clear out a lot of the non-functional furniture, you can really make a small room feel bigger,” Steinberg President and CEO David Hart said.

With smaller rooms, boutique hotels can stand out through the creation of a bathroom that not only provides a comfortable experience, but also includes water conservation and sustainability, which is increasingly demanded by consumers, TOTO USA President of Operations Bill Strang said. Yotel will have TOTO toilets, which will help the new hotel qualify for LEED Gold, according to Palmer.

Hospitality design also is turning toward connecting the hotel with the place and giving something more to guests than just a room to stay overnight.

“Guests are seeking a hotel experience that is no longer generic,” HKS Senior Designer Jessica Sager said. “Whether it is within an urban context or on a beach, [a hotel] really utilizes the surrounding area almost as a vital part of the amenities the hotel offers.”

HKS worked on a new 111-room Strand & Pier hotel with Providence Hotel in Hermosa Beach, which will reflect the jazz and surf culture of the area. The hotel incorporates a green roof with a chef’s garden and beehive. The hotel is expected to open in the fall. HKS also is designing a new 200-room hotel in Half Moon Bay that will offer communal experiences with a series of meadows that will have seating and places for meeting and interaction, pools and spas and other outdoor amenities.

Wells Fargo Hospitality Finance Group Vice President Margaret Lyeth, Virgin Hotels Head of Development & Acquisitions Allie Hope and Kimpton Manager Investment Analysis Matthew Melville

Communal spaces also are increasingly important. Hotel lobbies are taking on more of a living-room feel, Sager said. Virgin Hotels offers the Commons Club in each of its hotels where people can meet. Its hotels are designed for entrepreneurs to connect and meet, according to Virgin Hotels Head of Development and Acquisitions Allie Hope. Virgin Hotels will open a hotel in San Francisco later this year and plans to build another hotel in Milpitas.

Marriott also is experimenting with more common areas in Element, Marriott's extended-stay brand, Marriott Hotels Vice President, Lodging Development Tiffany Cooper said.

Holland & Knight partner Stacie Goeddel, Virgin Hotels Head of Development and Acquisitions Allie Hope, Marriot Hotels Vice President, Lodging Development Tiffany Cooper and Steinberg President and CEO David Hart

Marriott has 50 hotels set to open or in the pipeline, including a Moxy Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, a hotel in Union Square and a hotel breaking ground this year at Mission Bay. Over the next three years, several Autograph Hotels will crop up throughout Silicon Valley and offer a more independent boutique feel.

Of these 50 products, many fall under the select-service model, which may not offer 24-hour room service or have a signature restaurant. Instead, a grab-and-go café might be offered.

Hoteliers are choosing to create select-service hotels because it allows for reduced costs to build and operate, Cooper said. It is becoming very difficult for a full-service or luxury product to pencil, especially without a residential piece to subsidize the project.


Marriott also is using more technology to enhance the guest experience. Cooper said Aloft and W Hotels are starting to use keyless entry so guests can bypass the check-in desk and use their phones to check in and go straight to their rooms. Aloft hotels also are using robots as butlers, dubbed botlers, and guests can use these botlers to have items delivered to their rooms.