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Starbucks beat us to it.  We all need a third place where we don’t have the duties of an office and the responsibilities of being home.  A place to congregate, to meet, to socialize.  In the UK these are pubs, in American suburbs these are country clubs, and in metropolitan centers these are cafes, streets corners or plazas.  Why is it seemingly rare for hotels to be this third place?  Why should a hotel’s audience be limited to travelers, who are then pointed out the door by a concierge for an authentic culture experience?

It is commonly understood that other hospitality businesses (Restaurants, Bars, Pubs, & Clubs) are only successful if they embody a certain locale’s values and preferences; appealing to regular business from their community.  Only by attracting, entertaining, and engaging the local crowds are these businesses able to thrive.  The cult classic and hip spots are deft at speaking the language of the now, and embodying the zeitgeist of their particular region.  It shows, and it pays.  In many cases, noteworthy streets, neighborhoods, and even regions are defined by the flavor and personality of the local restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops.  Venice’s Abbot Kinney has a vastly different palate and persona than the Meatpacking District of Manhattan; although each have a distinct following that beckons outsiders to “come visit and see what it’s all about”.   Join the movement (or at least experience it for a moment, and buy the t-shirt).

The following sections are a progression of Hotels as: Commodity -> Club -> Experience -> Cultural Platform – advancing along a spectrum of increasing value based on historical, perceptive, and economic standards.  It’s purpose is to convey why and how this development is both possible and necessary to attract the customer of today and tomorrow.


Hotels as a Commodity

Roof = CommodityMany hotels are a bed and breakfast, scaled up to X-hundred rooms with some pretty neat design elements.  A roof over your head and a comfy bed that are clean and feel fancy.  Luxury – a good start.  But there is really only so much you can do with a bed, a bathroom, a restaurant with room service, and a television.  Breakfast in bed, the toilet has a bidet, and the shower head feels like rain – what an enlightening 60 seconds.  This value-driven offering provides little differentiation besides price and a few kitschy design details.  Even if it were made of solid gold, you wouldn’t scuba dive in the shallow end of the pool.

Hotels as a Club

Insulated = ClubHotels and destination resorts are keen on adding value and building loyalty, by fostering the exclusive: join the member’s only club, build points, get perks, bypass lines, check out late, be on the right side of the velvet rope.  High dollar flags meant you could experience the sensibilities of home with unrivaled service and comfort, high thread count and cushy robes to boot.  Sure, you get your ego stroked.  Sure, you can feel wonderful smoking a cigar while sipping champagne in the jetted bathtub while watching TV and getting a scalp massage – what country am I in again?  This compound has restaurants that serve Sushi, Tapas, Asian Fusion, and Pho – but aren’t we in Sao Paulo?  Hoarded chips become stale, insulation creates isolation, and in-breeding is outdated.

Hotels as an Experience

GoHotels in historically metropolitan centers facilitated the travel experience and have exploited the historical monuments, museums, and architecture for ages – The Colosseum: Rome, The Great Wall: China, The Canals: Amsterdam.  This experience curation can also be translated to the natural environment where certain locations capitalize upon natural phenomena – The Blue Hole: Belize, Victoria Falls: Zambia/Zimbabwe, The Grand Canyon: Arizona.  Costa Rica as a country is renowned for its Pura Vida lifestyle, beautiful beaches, and tropical agricultural climate.  Because of this, many exceptional hotels and resorts in Costa Rica are eco-tourist, organic, holistic, locavore, and active-waterman oriented.  Quality tourism emphasizes the uniqueness of a location, and acts as a steward of these exceptional attributes.  But what happens if you have already been there and done that?  What is the reason to return?  Why stop at the bucket list?

Hotels as a Cultural Platform

PraxisCulture is a collective embodiment of the people in a certain region.  It is a phenomenon of human nature, rooted in one’s need to join something greater than themselves (thank you Seth Godin – Tribes).  Many people pick up and move their entire lives (an incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient experience) to particular locations due to these cultural movements, reputations, and opportunities.  This makes the culture and zeitgeist of certain places stronger and more definitive through a self-perpetuating cycle of attraction and reinforcement; but also facilitates constant change due to the natural influx and effluence of it’s people.  The language of the now, in any region, is ever changing.  This change is an incredible asset, differentiator, and opportunity in the hospitality industry (hotels and resorts are, by nature, the most adaptable of built environments).

Hotels are a stage, and the performance opportunities are endless.  Like a black-box theater that reconfigures the arrangement of the stage, lighting, set, and audience seating depending on the performance, it is necessary to ‘understand your audience’ and curate ‘performances’ that are representative of your locale.  This curation is possible through (1) developing unique and inspiring built environments and (2) programming these spaces to be inviting and engaging to the artists of the now.  By collaborating with, inviting in, serving, and empowering the local culture-driving artists, innovators, and thought-leaders, hotels are able to provide a fully authentic experience to their invited guests.  And by valuing the local customer on an equal level to the targeted tourist market, it is possible to engage the local people who are an embodiment of that area’s values.  In comingling ‘locals’ and ‘guests’ you are providing cultural immersion that is both a genuine representation of that area, and remains in constant renewal.  People are the experience, and change is the reason to return.

Thanks for reading,

Tyler Elick

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