Gambling with unconventional decor is intimidating, especially because guests can be unreceptive to an eccentric design when expecting a modern hotel. However, implementing risky and out-of-the-box themes can take guests back in time and add more to the overall travel experience. Recently, the IBIS Bay Beach Resort in Key West, Fla., decided to capitalize on retro trends and constructed the three-bedroom Mile High Suite, which owner Chris Holland describes as “a celebration of the first passenger airline to be founded in Key West.”
Retro-themed hotels, suites, and rooms can be tricky to execute, as they must have modern comforts and amenities yet transport guests to a different time. The Mile High Suite is filled with Holland’s own collectibles from what he calls the “vacation aviation” period. From authentic silverware and napkins to crystal glasses, pilots’ watches, and more, the suite is designed to look like a seaplane, giving guests a feel for what it was like to travel from Key West to Cuba in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
“Complete luxury environments were encapsulated in these aircrafts,” Holland says. “When you enter the suite, it’s light and large, but when guests start looking at the exhibits on the walls, it’s all from an era that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a level of travel that I can only imagine is somewhat similar to the very high end of private aircrafts.”
According to Holland, passion for a theme is key to its success, as it makes it easier and more enjoyable for both the employees and guests. Holland’s passion for aviation comes from his father, a pilot during World War II who amassed part of Holland’s personal collection of aviation artifacts. Fascinated by Key West’s history and the Cuban revolutionary period, Holland hopes the suite immerses guests completely in the location.
“Key West is a place of art and music,” Holland says. “When you check into the hotel, you’re checking into Key West. Hotels aren’t about rooms, they’re about experiences, and the room is just the door to the experience.”
In addition to authenticity and passion, successful themes must also connect guests to the area. While showing Key West’s aviation history, the suite also has elements of contemporary Key West. Holland adds, “Key West has a humorous personality, and our hotel reflects that. We want to make memories that guests have as 7-year-olds and will remember as 30-year- olds. We’re always trying to think of what we can do to not only make people want to come back to Key West, but also give them something to remember throughout their lives.”