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A Thousand Little Things

February 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Success Story


Tony CohenI travel to London, England several times a year for business and typically stay in the same hotel. The reason is less about the rooms (a good room is a non-starter) and more about the service and the amenities, specifically the bar; I love a great hotel bar, one that is well-designed with a good vibe and fantastic music, and is just as busy with locals as it is with hotel guests. I have been staying at The Connaught and usually take the day flight over. By the time I am checked into my room, it is typically around 10 p.m., and while it is getting late in London, it is 5 p.m. in Toronto, which means it’s time for a cocktail. I know several of the bartenders and some of the local patrons, and when I enter, I feel totally comfortable. They know me and they know my cocktail, and it is as if it is a local joint in my hometown. But therein lies the beauty; it is not.

Over the past two decades, hotels have changed significantly. In the 1990s, that change was more related to design, primarily spearheaded by the likes of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell with the Morgans Hotel in New York City, and model-turned-hotelier Anouska Hempel with the Hempel in London. Hotels became more design-conscious, and focused on increasing the experience
beyond the guestroom.

The bar, restaurant and other unique amenities became important. In the 1970s and ’80s, Isadore (Issy) Sharp and the Four Seasons set the standard, with service being the most important aspect of the hotel business. He then revolutionized the industry by standardizing certain amenities (robes and soap in bathrooms, fitness rooms, 24-hour room service, to name a few) that are expected in virtually any hotel. Boutique hotels that evolved from the ’90s are different from conventional “cookie-cutter” hotels. They are deliberately designed to be unique. Uniqueness may come in the form of service, amenities, décor and style, or a combination of all three elements.

Then a reverse in hotel culture happened. Years ago, guests walking into a luxury hotel dressed formally and were totally fawned over, but those who were not dressed appropriately by traditional standards (i.e., wearing jeans) were frowned upon. With the advent of the design/boutique hotel, people in jeans feel at home as guests, just like
those in suits.

Hotels have also become more homogenized; it is now about a lifestyle of aspiration. In fact, many now use the term “lifestyle” or “luxury” rather than just “boutique,” as hotels are now more of an all-encompassing experience. Hotels often market themselves as ‘homey.’ In actuality, guests are looking for comfort, but want to experience a lifestyle they would not dare at home. Interestingly enough, some of the latest features, such as complimentary branded bottled water, high thread-count sheets and custom mini-bar products have even become somewhat standard.

These days, going to a hotel is more about an experience. Guests want great service with personality. Long gone are the days of the stale hotel bar or restaurant with the same continental menu in every city. Hotels and their amenities, as a result, have evolved to enhance the overall experience. This includes master chefs and mixologists, great workout and yoga spaces, sexy rooftop bars and spacious event rooms.

Hotels have become destinations onto themselves, an urban playground, if you will. I always say that a hotel stay is not about doing one thing right, but a thousand little things that add up to an experience. The rooms are integral, but they are but one part of what guests are looking for in the multifaceted lifestyle of a hotel.

Tony Cohen – Guest Hospitality Editor
Tony Cohen is the founder and CEO of Global Edge Investments, a hospitality and lifestyle-based investment firm. From restaurants and hotels, this entrepreneur’s company manages a variety of hospitality-related investments. Cohen is also co-partner of the Thompson Toronto, the first international addition by the Thompson Hotel brand.


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