The Rise of the Independent Hotel

The Rise of the Independent Hotel

COLORADO REAL ESTATE JOURNAL | The history of hotel design since World War II has been favored and guided by the long and steady rise of franchising and standardization. Familiarity and certainty, with consistent qualities across geographic locations allow guests to be assured of a clean and peaceful stay. Groups as well as leisure and business travelers have known what they are getting from Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and the like.

Over the past 30 years, the influence of Ian Schrager, Bill Kimpton, Chip Conley (Joie de Vivre Hospitality) and others has been enormous. Conley defined the term “psychographics” as a means to focus on the intangible needs of travelers in California, in lieu of the more traditional demographic approach of the industry.

In the late 20th century, boutique/unique/lifestyle hotels influenced hotel design across the board from three-star to five-star properties. In 1988, there were roughly 15 commonly known American hotel “brands.”

Today that number has skyrocketed. The left column in the chart is a snapshot of hotel brands from 1988 that remain today. The right column shows a mere sampling of hotel brands that have emerged in the last 30 years. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in April 2008 that 38 new hotel brands were introduced in the previous three years.

With franchise proximity restrictions relaxed for “sister” hotels, the effect on Denver and other cites was a larger number of guestrooms under the same umbrella. This has the opposite of the intended boutique/unique effect, blurring consumer perception. The brand chains borrow successful ideas from each other and multiply them through their distribution of multiple brands.

The partnering of Ian Schraeger and Bill Marriott to form Edition Hotels is the ultimate merger of once distant hotel branding philosophies. In previous years, that would have been akin to having Barack Obama and George Bush on the same political ticket. Marriott has long been the perpetrator of standardization while Schraeger has been king of originality and uniqueness.

Now comes the rise of the independent hotel. Millennials, Gen X , boomers and even the Greatest Generation crave unique experience over standardization. We live in lofts and micro housing, drink third-wave coffee and craft beer, and fly on Southwest and Virgin Airlines, all experience oriented choices. We like design-driven, community focused, high-tech experiences for a good price. Once you finally look up from your Smartphone, you want to be somewhere cool, with a sense of place.

Hotel choices can be made from easily accessible research with Google, Siri, social media and ratings apps, not 1-800-BRANDED. This demand increasingly is captured by entrepreneurs who have the flexibility to create independent hotels and highly customize boutique brands and franchises.

Denver is a leader in the growth of the independent hotel, as noted by three current examples. Each of these properties is a new offering of Sage Hospitality and was designed in whole or in part by our firm.

  • The Crawford Hotel – Denver Union Station. This hotel speaks for itself as the ultimate in unique design and experience soon to be infused by travelers arriving by commuter rail from Denver International Airport. The long-time dream of Dana Crawford shows everything cool about lower downtown, including a relaxed but sophisticated atmosphere that reflects its history with a modern interpretation. People can walk in and see friends, work or create with their laptop, while having a Colorado craft beer.
  • Halcyon – A Cherry Creek hotel. Opening this summer, Halcyon was designed to offer what Cherry Creek wants – an experience hotel with luxurious, uniquely tailored guestrooms, world-class restaurant choices and rooftop pool experience. It essentially is an urban resort.
  • The Dairy Block Hotel – Lower Downtown Denver. Opening in February, the hotel at Dairy Block will complement The Crawford and the Oxford with yet another independent offering that is part of a greater synergistic mixed-use project where creative office workers flow seamlessly through retail and restaurant offerings to the hotel lobby, punctuated by an urban courtyard and a link to the animated experience designed to redefine downtown Denver alleys.

The multiple offerings within each of these three hotels capitalize on concepts equally important to traditional hotel romance, dining and sleep experience, including:

  1. A holistic, integrated approach to common areas that create synergy and spawn curiosity, wonderment and engagement.
  2. A critical mass of offerings and street exposure conducive to daytime and nighttime activation.
  3. Openly integrated retail, food and beverage offerings rather than traditionally demised, separated tenants.

These design traits create economic synergy that helps monetize the experience over the product. Colorado’s leadership in the experience economy and hospitality design trends is one of the many reasons for its appeal and growth. Once here, visitors and locals alike can enjoy the rise of the independent hotel for years to come.

The long successful Hiltons, Sheratons and Westins of the world will have to keep up with ever-emerging trends, benefiting all travelers with more lively and enriching designs as they spend their time in the global marketplace.