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Big hotel groups expand to attract millennials

World's 10 biggest chains including Hyatt, Hilton, Intercontinental, and Marriott offer new brands to attract young, digitally-savvy travellers.

It used to be that hotel groups catered to specific markets: Four Seasons for the works, Best Western for wallet-friendly comfort, Ibis for shoestring budgets. But bigname hotel chains are diversifying offerings with new brands. Take Hyatt, for example: For living it up, there’s the sumptuous Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt. For corporate meetings, there is the business-centric Hyatt Regency and HYATT. Prefer something cosy? Check in at the boutique-styled Andaz or the new Hyatt Centric, which was launched in Chicago and Miami in early 2015.

Hyatt isn’t the only one with this expansionist approach. Hilton will soon unveil Canopy by Hilton; Intercontinental recently rolled out Even Hotels; Langham ushered in Cordis; Marriott introduced AC Hotels and Moxy; and Shangri-la gave us Hotel Jen right here in Singapore. And speaking of local developments, come March 2016, homegrown hoteliers Banyan Tree will open its first Dhawa in Bo’ao, an eastern coastal town on China’s Hainan Island.

MILLENNIAL MINDSET

Indeed, this proliferation of new brands shows no sign of losing steam. According to travel industry website Skift, the world’s 10 biggest hotel chains now offer a whopping 113 brands among them. Almost a third of these did not exist a decade ago. This sharp increase is largely a reaction to a new generation of travellers – so-called “millennial” travellers who are savvy, social media-obsessed, have short attention spans and crave authentic experiences.

Aged 18 to 34 with few commitments and plenty of disposable income, they care less about how much Carrara marble is used in the bathroom than the strength of the Wi-fi signal or the availability of recharging stations to power up their numerous electronic devices. Michelin-star restaurant on-site? Great, but are the coffees and teas single-origin? Is quinoa or kale on the menu? And, most importantly, once the food is plated, is it Snapchat-worthy?

Moxy currently reigns as the most millennial-friendly brand. In September 2015, it launched its own Youtube series, Do not Disturb, hosted by comedienne and Youtube personality Taryn Southern. Produced by the hotel company’s Content Studio, the series is filmed in a mock-up of a Moxy guest room, where Southern interviews and gossips with celebs about everything from travel habits to whether they prefer boxers or briefs.

“This partnership allows our studio to create innovative content that will entertain and amuse a new generation of consumers, and speaks to the playful nature of the Moxy Hotels brand,” says David Beebe, vice-president of creative and content marketing at Marriott International.

Other new brands tend to play up their uniqueness, either through quirky interiordesign elements or the kind of services and amenities they offer. Even Hotels, which targets the health- and fitness-conscious, has a lobby designed with natural elements such as wood, sand, rock and live plants that create a welcoming and revitalising space. Yoga mats are also provided in each room for guests to practise their sun salutations and down dogs. At Cordis in Hong Kong, each guest room is equipped with a Handy smartphone that provides complimentary international calls and unlimited 3G data – perfect for hyperconnected urbanites to navigate their surroundings with the aid of Google maps, Yelp and Tripadvisor.

Another reason for the burgeoning of new brands is competition from popular peer-topeer accommodation rental sites like Airbnb and Roomorama. The recent merger between Marriott and Starwood – which created the world’s largest hotel group with 30 brands between them – was a defence mechanism against this onslaught, theorises CBS News contributor Larry Light.

“If you listen closely, you can hear the ominous hoof beats of online competition closing in on the traditional hospitality business. Hotels want to bulk up against threats from the likes of Airbnb…,” he wrote on the site’s Moneywatch section.

Presumably, the merger will spawn more lifestyle-oriented, boutique-like brands. As editor-in-chief of online site Jetsetter (www. jetsetter.com) Sean Murphy told Conde Nast Traveler: “The boutique hotel business is booming. The newcomers are constantly getting a higher nightly rate than cookiecutter hotels, so big brands are getting in the game to gain market share and attract the boutique customer.”

OF DOLLARS AND SENSE

In October 2015, local players Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts drew back the curtains on its fourth and latest offering, Dhawa, which breaks the resort archetype of its parent brand by showcasing a more stylised, pop-art, design-centric aesthetic. The 346-key Dhawa Bo’ao on Hainan Island welcome its first visitors in March while the Dhawa Cayo Las Brujas in Cuba boasts 516 keys and is slated for a July opening in 2016. It will be the group’s first property in Cuba, signalling its intention to gain a foothold in the Caribbean.

Banyan Tree Holdings’ vice-president of sales & marketing, David Spooner, was candid about the group’s objectives. “We are building a collection of brands that will allow us to expand our global footprint, as we enter our third decade of operations. Today’s consumers cannot be classified into luxury and budget categories; they choose brands based on different occasions to suit their tastes and preferences. We need to offer customers many options to continue our growth… (Dhawa) is an integral part of our plan to double our portfolio of 38 hotels in the next five years.”

Cordis’ director of communications, Alka Datwani, also offered a succinct explanation as to why the 10-year-old, 664-room Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok underwent an 18-month, and a multi-million, renovation to become Cordis.

“It’s a showcase for future investors. Let’s say you have a billion dollars, and are thinking of what to do with your money. You could buy a hotel, and (let us run it). By having more brands, you have more choices to invest with us.”

Cordis Hong Kong is the first in a series of hotels and resorts set to open across China and Bali over the next three years, while other cities targeted for future expansion include Bangkok, Dubai, London, New York and Singapore.

(RELATED: We dived into the heart of the new Cordis.)

It’s a win-win situation, in the end. The hotel chains stand to reap bigger profits, while travellers get to enjoy more curated experiences. And, if you’re a jet-setter, it’s highly likely you’ll remember the unique hotel stays rather than the run-of-the-mill ones.

BRAND CONSCIOUS

Keen on novel experiences? Check in at one of these newly created hotel brands by the world’s biggest hospitality groups.

AC HOTELS The oldest of this lot, AC Hotels by Marriott came about in 1998, right around the time boutique hotels started revolutionising the hospitality industry. Concentrated in Europe at first, this design-led brand is now expanding into the US with its first location in New Orleans.

CANOPY BY HILTON Promising a good value proposition, the concept is for guests to experience a slice of local life. That the properties will be built in gentrified neighbourhoods in American cities (such as the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon) means easy access to art, culture, F&B and nightlife scenes.

CORDIS “Five-star, upscale, but not luxury” is how Cordis’ general manager, Shaun Campbell, describes this recently rebranded property in Hong Kong. Catering to both business travellers and holidaymakers, the hotel places emphasis on a more relaxed, informal style of hospitality, in keeping with global trends.

DHAWA Dhawa is the flagship that will lead the Banyan Tree group into uncharted waters, where it intends to establish a foothold. Expect hip cosmopolites to flock to the properties in Hainan, China, and Cuba, in the Caribbean, to enjoy five-star service, vibrant design schemes and communal spaces on each floor.

EVEN HOTELS INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS This is one for fitness buffs and the health-conscious. Rooms are kitted out with exercise balls and yoga mats, the bedding is made from natural eucalyptus fibres (to promote a good night’s sleep), and the on-site restaurant has glutenfree options, plus cocktails made with organic ingredients.

HOTEL JEN Singapore played host to the world’s first Hotel Jen in 2014 when the property – a rebranding of the former Traders Hotel – opened in Orchard Gateway. Since then, cities such as Hong Kong, Manila and Georgetown in Penang have welcomed their own Hotel Jens.

HYATT CENTRIC Currently available only in Chicago and Miami, this is a brand that doesn’t try too hard. Instead, it offers stylish boutique-style accommodation and fuss-free service and amenities. Its best feature is its central location (in Chicago’s CBD and Miami’s glitzy South Beach neighbourhood).

MOXY Hip and affordable is Moxy’s mantra, which is great news for design- and budgetconscious travellers. Think lively lobbies, communal spaces and quirky decor suited to an Instagramobsessed crowd. For now, the only property is in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, but offshoots are being rolled out in Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Munich and Oslo.

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