Over the past few years, Courtyard by Marriott has been focused on reinventing the lobby space with its “Refreshing Business” plan. Now, with that program nearing completion, the brand is turning to the guestroom space. Marriott invested $1.5 million into research and development and is now offering a new room prototype that is geared towards the next generation of business travelers. Lodging spoke with Janis Milham, vice president and global brand leader for Courtyard by Marriott, to get the scoop on the new room design.
Lodging: After so much focus on the lobby over the past few years, why did Courtyard decide to switch gears and launch this new guestroom prototype?
Janis Milham: With the lobby, we felt like that was where the first batch of energy and attention needed to go, but as part of our regular room renovation process, it was time to create a new package anyway. It was just part of the cycle and the timing. It’s taken us about a year and a half from start to finish. We went out into the field and actually talked to consumers and did some ethnographic research where we saw how consumers were using our current room.
Lodging: What did your research show? How are customers today using the room differently?
J.M.: We heard from consumers that, when they first walk into the room, they want to get a sense of relaxing first and working second. When they walk into the room, they don’t want a desk staring them in the face. That’s different from when we created the brand 30 years ago.
Guests also wanted us to enable their technology and give them different ways to work around the room. To respond to that need we’ve created our tech drop, which sits above the desk. It’s an area where there are a number of plugs and a ledge where you can set iPhones, iPads, etc. We also have a similar tech drop next to the bed. And we’ve created a mobile desk that you can wheel around the room. We’ve tried to incorporate a lot of flexibility in the room so that guests can work where they want to and when they want to.
Lodging: How does the design differ from the current room? What are some of the design highlights?
J.M.: The new traveler has a very different design aesthetic. Our rooms tended to be very colorful, but this emerging traveler responds to a more minimalist, tone-on-tone look. The room has more of an organic feel to it.
We developed a signature lounge-around sofa. It’s an oval, semi-circle sofa with an ottoman, and that is a completely new piece of furniture in the rooms. We’ve also added a graphic wall design that can be customized for regions. It really becomes the art in the room and a key focal point of the design.
Lodging: What is the cost of the renovation to owners and what is the timeline for rolling out the new prototype?
J.M.: We were able to achieve this new room at an incremental cost of less than five percent. What’s really driving that is the sofa because it is such an upgraded piece in the room and there was no way we could do it cost neutral for owners. It’s party of the regular renovation cadence. There are no expectations like the lobby that everybody will do it by a certain date.
It is available now for renovation and new build. Anybody who has a renovation scheduled for six months to a year will put this new design in place. By the end of this year, we’ll see about 8 percent of the brand having this new guestroom in their hotels. By the end of next year, it will be closer to 20 percent.
Lodging: What has the reaction been like from the ownership community so far?
J.M.: Everybody is very excited about it. It is very different for us and some of our owners are not our target customers. This new, emerging customer has a very different take on things. I’d say, 99 percent of our owners thought this was spot on and exactly where we need to be. For the few that don’t like it as much, they understand that this is the way it’s going for the future.