The very notion of what a hotel is changes constantly. A high-end hotel from 1920 is a radically different facility than a chic boutique property today. Those differences manifest in everything from architecture to amenities, and extend down into the DNA of the hotel itself. Sometimes these shifts are in response to clear mandates, market changes, or evolving public demand. In other cases, they are the inspiration or successful experimentation on the part of bold hoteliers. Regardless, these shifts tend to lead to profound and transformative differences, delivering the service and hospitality experience guests in different eras demand.
One of the newest iterations is the urban resort: a boutique concept delivering an immersive experience including all the elements you might expect in a luxury resort, but in an urban environment. Geographic positioning isn’t the only part of making the urban resort an intriguing and increasingly popular concept. In an urban resort, the amenities typically are not located in the hotel, essentially positioning the hotel as a kind of “staging area.” Guests seamlessly move between the hotel property and the experiential fabric of the surrounding community, with the city providing most (if not all) of the amenities.
Like traditional boutique hotels, the urban resort hotel tends to be smaller with customized, individualistic designs required to fit into urban spaces. To some extent, the evolution of the urban resort model has been driven by those realities, as space constraints and place-specific design limitations make removing secondary services a necessity. Some boutique hotel properties may have a rooftop pool or a high-end fitness facility in house, but urban resorts are almost entirely dependent on neighborhood amenities and nearby entertainment options. These properties also tend to feature a signature public-facing food & beverage destination designed to appeal just as strongly to locals as hotel guests.
Older generations of grand urban hotel properties had an extraordinary array of in-house amenities. Not just the restaurant and bar you might expect in similar hotels today, but signature luxury amenities (swimming pools, spas) and every-day conveniences (shops, guest services). There was no need to step foot outside the property. Today’s urban resort concept is the antithesis of this approach. Urban resort properties eliminate as much non-revenue-generating space as possible. When amenities or services can be complemented or supplemented with local businesses or facilities, urban resorts reduce overhead and encourage guests to step outside to experience the city.
Hotel owners and operators running an urban resort property should be proactive, engaging, and working with the local arts and entertainment community. Strong ties with local artists and musicians help to reinforce the local character of the hotel, providing guests with unique experiences they would not be able to find anywhere else. Maybe it’s a display of local artwork on the lobby walls, or a list of local concerts or theatrical performances the front desk provides to guests. This approach to building strong, local connections aligns with a strategy retailers (particularly restaurants) have been using to great effect. Whether it’s integrating décor and iconography reflective of local traditions, or a restaurant sourcing its food locally to adopt a farm-to-table approach to menu building, strong ties are an effective and appealing way to establish a facility as something special.
Drinking and dining experiences
Ironically, food and beverage concepts have emerged in recent years as one of the most creative and exciting ways for a hotel to drive business, build a brand, and bolster its bottom line. Urban resort properties often make up for a limited scope of amenities by creating a signature bar or restaurant highlight. Enhancing the drinking and dining experience, creating a unique identity, and establishing the “cool factor” are all essential in turning F&B from a liability into an asset. The best urban resort hotels are attached to a bar or restaurant representative of far more than just a guest convenience: it’s a desirable local destination that becomes a community resource. The hotel itself is elevated by its association with the restaurant, rather than the other way around. One of the best ways to achieve this is to partner with an already-establish local brand or business carrying existing familiarity and appeal to residents.
Breaking down barriers
A challenge of establishing a dynamic urban resort property is true localization. The surrounding community should be walkable, and the hotel should be seamlessly integrated into its local environment. Breaking down the real or imagined barriers (or at least blurring the lines) between the hotel property and the surrounding neighborhood, and between hotel guests and the surrounding community, must be a priority. Site selection matters: no amount of design creativity, operational innovation, or targeted programming can overcome a property cut off from the local landscape. Exterior design and architectural choices can create visual connections and encourage pedestrian flow, highlighting civic landmarks and facilitating interaction between guests and residents.
Successful urban resorts can become an important part of the hospitality landscape in almost any city, but owners, operators, and developers must be flexible and willing to work with market experts. Simply dropping a brand prototype into an urban setting with a few stylistic tweaks won’t necessarily resonate. Be unique, and find ways to stay true to brand standards while simultaneously creating a space celebrating local flavor and style. Historic hotels or renovated spaces are a great way to get a boost, but a historic property is by no means a requirement. A close working relationship with designers, developers, and/or consultants can provide thoughtful insights into local and regional community character, traditions, aesthetics, and personality.
Understanding local character is essential. Urban resorts must be authentic to a location, with a hotel experience designed and delivered to reinforce connections to the surrounding community. Forging those connections cannot be an afterthought: the whole premise of the property, up to and including staff training and perspective, is predicated on these connections. This connection influences everything, up to and including the design of the guest rooms themselves. A framed piece of reproduced art in each guestroom is simply not enough. Every detail, from the brands of snacks and drinks in the minibar to the underlying design aesthetic and materials, is evocative of a specific place. Hotel design and development firms with experience in this space often build out detailed look books to capture the look and feel of an area. Translating those abstract design concepts and cultural touchstones to the aesthetic and experience of a contemporary urban resort hotel property requires both artistry and attention to detail. When executed correctly, the result can be the setting for an entirely new hospitality concept/service model—and, most importantly, a popular and profitable hotel destination.
About the Author
Bob Kraemer is principal and co-founder of Kraemer Design Group, an architecture and design firm located in downtown Detroit. Since co-founding Kraemer Design Group in 1996, Kraemer’s focus has been to provide high-end architectural services in hospitality, multifamily, and retail.