When New York City real estate company Prodigy Network decided to create an extended-stay hotel in Manhattan’s Financial District, it took a non-traditional design approach. The company called upon architects, interior designers, and creative minds to submit their own ideas for the 23-story property, named 17John after the street address in the Financial District, one block from the World Trade Center.
By launching a crowdsourced design competition and asking for input from its potential customer base, Prodigy Network figured the end result would better meet the needs of today’s savvy business travelers, says CEO Rodrigo Niño. Dubbed a “cotel” (collaborative hotel), the project will address new emerging expectations around work, connectivity, and socialization.
“Hotels are all about the loyalty of their guests,” Niño says. “That’s why you have to understand how to use [crowdsourcing] to impact your property, create ambassadors, and develop the ultimate loyalty program.” He believes that the collective intelligence of the crowd is much more than the intelligence of a firm. “We want to have a meaningful conversation with the crowd—the experts from the past need to turn into curators.”
Participants in the crowdsourced design competition, which launched in mid-February during Social Media Week in New York City and wrapped April 21, submitted ideas for 17John’s collaborative public spaces (like the lobby and rooftop terrace), fully furnished guest suites, and digital services. The cash prizes for winning designs are worth up to $50,000. The hotel industry will determine whether the crowdsourcing process was a success or just a marketing gimmick when the property opens in spring 2016.
The cotel concept is prime ground for crowdsourcing, Niño says. It allows Prodigy Network to communicate directly with its target audience, and those who contribute their ideas will immediately become invested in the success of 17John, which will cater to the modern business traveler who thrives on innovation and collaboration.
Located in an art-deco building built in the 1920s, the cotel will include lounges, interactive work spaces, and nearly 200 furnished units. 17John will host networking events, provide an online digital platform that will allow guests to connect and communicate with each other, and offer in-demand features, such as a gym, restaurant, spa, and rooftop deck.
“We want to create a community around this project,” Niño says. “That starts with the crowdsourcing competition and will continue after guests check in.”
Crowdsourcing is inching its way into the hospitality industry and dramatically changing hotel design and marketing. Executives who were initially slow to embrace the trend now consider it a viable way to build brand reputation, engage younger travelers, find user-generated content, and cull innovative design ideas in a social-media-driven world.
Take Marriott International, for example. Last year, instead of huddling around conference room tables, executives turned to digital crowdsourcing to help co-create their next brand innovation. The company challenged guests to share their best travel ideas through the sleek Travel Brilliantly website, which, since launching in summer 2013, has garnered dozens of submissions every day: regionally themed guest gift packs, super soft sock dispensers, mobile room keys, purse hooks at reception desks and bars, even a Marriott signature scent.
The bold concept is paying off, both for the brand and for consumers like Anajna Kallarackal, whose idea for healthy vending machines received 832 online votes, 98 Facebook “likes,” and 29 positive comments. A panel of judges then selected her submission as the Travel Brilliantly 2013 grand prize winner, and Kallarackal won a trip to London, where she worked with local vendors and experts to develop her idea into a real Marriott experience. The Healthy Food on Demand vending machines will launch in select Marriott Hotels this year.
“[Crowdsourcing] will create a tidal wave of new ideas,” says Chris Baer, senior director of insight, strategy, and innovation at Marriott International. “There is no creation anymore except co-creation. To build any idea in a vacuum is more of a risk than building it with the insight of your guests and your associates.”