The lines are becoming increasingly blurred between hotel categories, with a variety of brands/concepts crossing multiple segments. This phenomena is perhaps most prevalent among the higher-tier hotels, with luxury lifestyle and luxury boutique among the increasingly common classifications hotels lay claim to.
According to the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI), which has chapters worldwide, hospitality market segments can focus on three key areas: product, pricing and distribution. “The need for market segmentation is more prominent in the hospitality industry now due to the rapid changes in customer needs and the vast amount of product offerings,” writes Miguel Solis, VP, Sr. Director Revenue Management, Hospitality Resource Group and Revenue Management Advisory Board member for HSMAI.org’s Knowledge Center. “The idea of a unique consumer segment is relatively new in the industry, but may yield significant results.”
Recognizing the need for clearer segmentation, Marriott International recently re-categorized its portfolio in an effort to better highlight the distinct character of each of its 30 global banners. Brands were sorted into two main portfolios — classic and distinctive (a.k.a. lifestyle-leaning) — each segmented into luxury, premium, select and extended-stay brands.
THE EVOLUTION OF LUXURY AND FULL-SERVICE
Traditional luxury and full-service products may not have been at the forefront of the experiential-hotel trend, but they, too, have become part of the industry-wide shift. “Luxury has evolved to mean much more than price,” says Don Cleary, president of Marriott International Canada.
“The luxury customer has evolved in recent years and is more experientially driven,” says Elie Sassine, director of Sales and Marketing at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. “Our [guest] mix is part business, part leisure,” Sassine continues, explaining The Ritz-Carlton offers a variety of services and amenities catering to both. These amenities include Spa My Blend by Clarins, TOCA restaurant and an exclusive Ritz-Carlton Club Level experience. “As a result, we’re constantly introducing new service offerings to reflect [the luxury customer’s] needs, such as our new culinary program Off the Eaten Track, our Tastemakers series at TOCA, or our exclusive My Blend facial treatment.”
The Thompson Toronto Hotel is another prime example of Canada’s full-service hotel segment. Billing the luxury-boutique property as an “entertainment complex,” the hotel’s GM Jeff Waters explains the Thompson crosses the lines between several segments with its comprehensive offerings, including three bars, three restaurants, a screening room and meeting rooms, plus a rooftop lounge and pool with city and lake views.
“What a corporate group requires, for example, is quite different than a player in the entertainment industry, who might require 24-hour, highly discrete service,” says Waters. “Because [the Thompson Hotel Toronto is] an entertainment complex, we are responsible for delivering a service standard of excellence to multiple segments, with varying needs, [so] our approach is completely personalized — unlike other luxury hotels, we don’t have a standard way of delivering service, rather we tailor our approach uniquely for each particular customer.”
That can mean filling the rooftop pool with apples for a cider launch, or with mermaids to entertain a party. When the NBA Players Association took over the hotel during All-Star Weekend 2016, Waters transformed the entire property into a Player’s House. “From a barbershop on the lower level, to floor-to-ceiling decals throughout the entire lobby, to a Warner Brothers private movie-screening room, every inch of the property was personalized to cater to the players’ needs,” he recounts.
“The luxury customer wants customized service and less pre-packaged offerings,” says Waters. That’s why the segment is growing — the customer is looking for an individualized experience so there are more opportunities for new properties to provide that.”
Canada has seen significant activity in the luxury segment lately, with the recent opening of Trump Vancouver, as well as several properties in the pipeline, including a Four Seasons hotel and private residences in Montreal (opening 2018), Bisha Hotel Toronto (opening later this year) and the recently announced Nobu Hotel in Toronto. Not to mention “luxury-boutique” concepts, which appear to be a particularly hot commodity, with recent entries such as William Gray (Montreal), The Broadview Hotel (Toronto) and Le Mount Stephen (Montreal), as well as Birk’s Hotel (Montreal), Humaniti Hotel Montreal, Hotel X Toronto and a Toronto Kimpton property all set to open within the next year.
The very definition of ‘luxury’ has evolved dramatically over the past 25 years, agrees Ana Yuristy, executive director, Corporate Services, at Drake Hotel Properties. “Our guests are savvy and well-informed travel researchers who are looking for value without sacrificing the experience they’re craving. This experience includes premium amenities, high-touch service and carefully curated design. An ‘off-the-beaten-track’ location only enhances the experience of exclusivity and uniqueness, as long as it’s within easy access to the central hub and mass transit.”
The Drake Hotel is a landmark in Toronto. Yuristy says the 19-room boutique property even crosses the line into the resort segment, “in the sense that our programming, events and offerings extend beyond what a guest would expect.”
Drake Hotel properties — including Drake Devonshire Inn in Prince Edward County, Ont., and several F&B outlets — have become destinations for international guests and community neighbors alike, says Yuristy, and are cultural, entertainment and culinary landmarks. The Broadview Hotel hopes to offer to Toronto’s east end what the Drake brought to its West Queen West neighbourhood in the early 2000s. The hotel, which opened in late July, likens itself to a “cultural hub.”
“With fewer than 100 rooms, sophisticated design and a high level of service, [the Broadview Hotel] is a luxury-boutique property,” says general manager Murray Henderson. “At the same time, it has many outlets for programming and events to attract locals and travellers alike, which makes it a place where everyone can gather for art, music, culinary and other cultural experiences.”
However, given the property’s recent opening, what will draw customers to the Broadview Hotel is “still to be confirmed,” says Henderson. “We believe our location will have a significant influence on who stays with us — people looking to get off the beaten path, wanting to experience the city as a local, those who like the full-service/luxury experience but want neighbourhood culture and flair.”
“A decade ago, this market was still very niche,” adds Yuristy, “with only a few of the big names — like Ian Schrager/Morgans Hotel Group, ACE and W — doing something unique, but with a broad enough reach to make an impact.” The concept of boutique hotel has proliferated from Airbnb to sub-brands of major chains such as Edition and Aloft, Yuristy adds. “This reflects the increasing demand for a new type of hotel experience and only helps us continue to up our game.”
LIVING THE LIFESTYLE
Adapting to the unique needs of this younger demographic in today’s rapidly changing travel landscape is imperative. “Gens X and Y are expected to account for 90 per cent of the working-age population within a decade and for more than 60 per cent of Marriott International’s business within the next four years,” says Cleary.
The industry’s biggest players have responded to this shift largely through lifestyle products. “[Marriott’s] distinctive brands provide a memorable guest experience with a unique perspective,” explains Cleary.
The lifestyle segment itself spans a broad range of concepts and property types, from select-service and extended-stay, through full-service and luxury hotels. Though Marriott brands such as Aloft and Moxy may be first to mind when considering the company’s stake in the lifestyle segment, Cleary notes several other brands reflect the experiential nature of the category. “Autograph Collection Hotels and Renaissance Hotels sit within the premium-distinctive category of upscale lifestyle hotels, which deliver sophisticated and thoughtful amenities and services,” he explains. “These brands are positioned to offer a premium guest experience with a distinctive approach — whether through the lens of well-being, discovery or the independent spirit of our collection brands…On the other hand, a brand like Aloft, which sits within the distinctive select portfolio, is all about design-led innovation and technology catering to today’s connected, curious and communal evolving global traveller.”
In Canada, this segment is still relatively small, featuring only 13 branded lifestyle hotels, according to Brian Stanford, senior managing director, CBRE — up only slightly in the last three years from 12 self-identified properties. That said, the segment is set to gain several properties over the course of the next few years, with three hotels currently under construction and “a number of other branded lifestyle projects still in the planning sessions,” Stanford adds.
Aside from relying on self-identification, determining what hotels fall under the lifestyle segment can be a challenging endeavour. Collection brands comprised of previously independent and boutique hotels — such as AC, Tribute and Autograph Collection — have begun laying claim to this title (these were not included in CBRE figures). Boutique brands have also begun aligning themselves with this trendy category, including Groupe Germain Hotels. In fact, Stanford heralds the company’s Alt Hotels brand as the country’s largest lifestyle brand.
Written by Carolyn Grisold