Walk into any hotel lobby from coast to coast and you’re bound to have at least a few sensory experiences. From the music playing over unseen speakers to the art carefully positioned throughout the hotel, designers and managers go to great lengths to select which messages those initial sensory stimuli send to guests. According to experts, the art and music that’s in fashion at today’s hotels revolve around the idea of locality and comfort, with the stated goal being the creation of a residential feel, in order to complement the overall guest experience.
The idea of accentuating the indigenous is prevalent among the top brass at the Antonopoulos Group, owners of several chic boutique hotels in Old Montreal. In terms of making a commitment to the arts culture in the neighbourhood, Dimitri Antonopoulos, vice-president of Marketing, Hotel and Restaurant Development, says providing the wall space for local artists plays a major role in a hotel’s aesthetic. “At the Nelligan we have a full art display that gets changed once a month and we offer that space to local artists, through an agreement with a local gallery,” he says.
What’s more, Antonopoulos says the company’s commitment to the urban art scene is a major draw not only for tourists, but those all-important neighbourhood businesses as well. So, through a partnership with Montreal’s Museum of Modern Art, Antonopoulos says his company’s hotels have vaulted their community profile, and perhaps even introduced people to the word of fine art, outside its usual stuffy museum setting. “We feel we have played our part in developing and recognizing local talent, and making their art more accessible.”
The theme of keeping it local is also cited by Walter Brindell, division head for Park Hyatt Hotels. “The mission at our hotels is to create a contemporary residential feel that touches on the local environment,” he says from his office in Washington. “Obviously art plays a big role in that, and we try and make our choices indigenous, so your experience in Milan is going to be different than here in Washington.”
Brindell explains the choices made by Park Hyatt are largely based on that residential notion, while keeping the chain’s wealthy clientele in mind. “The art selected is usually from the local scene and is extremely valuable,” says Brindell. “It’s appreciated by our guests, because most of them are surrounded by fine art in their own homes. That’s just our customer profile. They understand the creativity of art, and appreciate it for what it is.”
However, just because clientele can appreciate art for art’s sake, Brindell says that doesn’t mean a hotel has carte blanche to hang arbitrary selections. “There’s a lot more to it than just buying a painting and putting it on the wall, and that’s where a hotel’s design team comes in,” he says. “They have a real education and an awareness of the community, and when we’re building a hotel or renovating a space, sometimes the designer will remember something they saw years ago that would be perfect for the new look. They know their business, their materials, and what’s hot in terms of design.”
However, for other hotel chains, the question is less about what’s hot and more about finding a balance between the trendy and the transcendent. Lori Grant, regional director of Public Relations, Rocky Mountain Region for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, says the art collection held by select Fairmont properties such as the iconic Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta has been on hand for generations. “The art here has been accumulated over years,” she says. “We try to stay true to our surroundings, and here that’s represented best by landscapes.” As a result, while chic urban properties dress up spaces with a modern art flair, Grant says for Banff in particular, the right art for this hotel captures the essence of what’s outside its windows. “There’s a fair amount of a natural beauty here so we have art featuring scenes from all over the national park.”
Equally important to setting the tone and mood of a property is the music played in its public spaces.
“We typically have different zones within a hotel,” says Hyatt’s Brindell. “Different areas in a hotel will have a different feel that changes throughout the day. The beat will usually be soft in the morning, with more energy in the afternoon and a little sexier in the evening.”
Creating that all-important vibe is something taken seriously at upscale boutique hotels. “Ambiance is important and it creates the first impression,” says Antonopoulos. “Our music mix is not too specialized, but it could probably be best described as boutique chic,” he says. “It’s mostly soft lounge-type music or maybe something by the Rat Pack, but we’re also working with a company to come up with our own playlist so we can develop a signature sound,” he adds.
Although high-end in feel, developing a signature sound to custom design a property’s aural ambiance isn’t relegated to the glitzy world of boutique hotels. In fact, Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), operators of the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands, have been hard at work customizing its own musical offerings for hotels in regions around the world. “The Holiday Inn music program, Inn Tunes, features modern icons and a musical palette comprised of an eclectic range of genres, artists and songs,” says Gopal Rao, IHG’s regional vice-president, Sales & Marketing, Canada. There are different playlists for the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands. “These lists are tailored for individual regions, and then for key individual countries, to accommodate local tastes and cultural differences,” says Rao. “For example, hotels in the Middle East will only play tracks without lyrics. The music changes tempo throughout the day — morning starts vibrant and lively, progressively moving to a more relaxed sound for the evening.”
Fairmont’s Grant says the musical selection at the Banff Springs sets the mood with mostly cool Sinatra-esque tunes, but it’s also seasonal, albeit in a subtle way. “The lounge area gets the [Michael] Bublé stuff and cocktail-era music, because that matches our guests’ tastes,” she says. “In the lobby the music changes with the seasons, but it’s never overwhelming. Guests won’t need to shout to have a comfortable conversation.”
That said, subtle and muted music isn’t always preferred. Step into one of the newer Alt Hotels from the Quebec-based Germain Group during cocktail hour and the atmosphere and music is energetic and lively. In fact, with a DJ spinning dance music many decibels louder than the Old Blue Eyes’ standard, the feel is undoubtedly young, hip and vibrant. While the selection and volume might not be ideal for quaffing brandy in a wing-back chair next to a roaring fire at the Banff Springs, it fits brilliantly among the sleek, ultra-modern furnishings of the property’s lobby bar. “We cater to a modern traveller,” says Hugo Germain, general manager, ALT Hotels. “We wanted to create a different kind of atmosphere for our lobby, because we found many lobbies weren’t places people wanted to be, other than checking in and out, or maybe waiting for a cab. With a DJ present, it creates a vibe and a reason for people to stop by.”
From crooning to crass, and from bold to bucolic, music and art represent just another way a hotel can express its uniqueness, its sense of place and its identity.