Millennial Brands Lead US Hotel Pipeline

There’s certainly no lack of hype surrounding millennial travel. And a quick glimpse at the US hotel development pipeline suggests it’s not just buzz.

TOPHOTELS reports that Aloft, the ‘hip’ hotel brand by Starwood aimed at millennials, currently has 40 properties planned for development –  more than any other brand. Not bad for a brand that launched in 2005 as “A Vision of W Hotels”.

A casual analysis of Aloft makes it clear why it’s a hit with younger travellers. This mid-range hotel taps into everything the modern, young-at-heart traveller desires: cool ‘industrial’ design, multi-functional communal spaces, a bar with good music, delicious ‘grab & go’ food, free WiFi and decent spa amenities – all for a reasonable price.

In terms of tech innovation, the SPG Keyless programme means guests can use their smartphone or Apple Watch to bypass check-in and go straight to their room, with all the info sent to their phone/watch to electronically open their door.

A robot butler – the Botlr – pushes the brand even further into the future, delivering towels and toiletries to guest rooms. A ChatBotlr, meanwhile, interacts with guests and give them info even when they’re not at the hotel. PLUS, there’s Aloft TiGi – the ‘Text it. Get it.’ service that allows guests to text designated emojis to the kitchen to order specific food and drinks items instead of calling for room service. Sounds like something we’d do just for the novelty of it.

It’s heartening to see some colour and innovation take the lead in the US. A sign perhaps of bigger, brighter hospitality things to come.

Other hotels that top the US pipeline list are Cambria Hotels & Suites and Hampton Inn. The full list is available over at the TOPHOTELCONSTRUCTION database.

Want to Innovate? Change Your Attitude!

The hospitality industry is evolving, whether you like it or not. In order to stay at the vanguard of change, hotel operators must innovate. To do that, according to CEO David Keen, they must first change their attitude.

In a follow-up to his Brand Revolution Speech at THINC INNOVATE 2018, David has expanded on his four steps to innovation in a series of article in Hotels Mag.

You can read the first of four articles here.

How to Lure Overlooked, Lucrative Mid-Lifers

Millennials are getting all the attention from hoteliers, but another ‘m’ category – mid-lifers – is being ignored as a potentially lucrative target.

According to a study by Euromonitor International, mid-lifers (those in their mid-40s to mid-50s) have the highest spending power of all age groups. HOTELS magazine interviewed David Keen, founder and CEO of QUO, about how hotels can capture the loyalty of this overlooked category of traveller.

HOTELS: Where should hotels focus to attract – or at least acknowledge – mid-lifers?

DK: Public and co-working spaces: Most hotels miss the mark by creating ‘cool and funky’ communal spaces that solely aim at young people. Everyone enjoys hanging out in a cool space that gives them a sense of community, ‘mid-lifers’ included, and mid-lifers generally have more money to spend on a hotel that provides these spaces.

When designing co-working spaces, hotels seem to ignore the mid-lifers need to feel comfortable, so while they are cool, the spaces are not cosy, or they’re noisy or lack privacy. The ideal mid-lifer co-working space is aesthetically pleasing, but also comfortable and quiet enough to spend a few hours working. Mid-lifers are going to local cafes to fulfil this need, as hotels seem to be missing that balance between hipness, comfort and functionality.

Design: Most mid-lifers have travelled extensively and are looking for stunning design – dramatic spaces, hotels with character and ‘sexy’, desirable spaces. They want places that capture the imagination and ideally the locale in their design. Bland is banned for this demographic. Brands such as M Gallery, or any brand with a ‘curated’ collection, tap into this need.

Rooms: Mid-lifers want the basics done right. Surprisingly few luxury hotels focus on doing so. The basics are a shower with good pressure, consistent hot water and enough space to turn around. Quality, high thread-count bedding with a mix of pillows. Good coffee. Fast, free WiFi. Fast check-in and automated check-in. Quality TV channels, adequate desk space, enough space to fit an extra bed or crib in the room. Quality amenities.

Menus: Health-conscious mid-lifers want nutritious options on the menu. Not just options but menu concepts built on health and nutrition. Club sandwiches are banned. Quinoa salads, wraps, more vegetarian and vegan options – that kind of thing.

Gyms: Gyms should have approachable staff (not intimidating personal trainer-type staff), to supply personalized advice on machines. Exercise machines differ from place to place, so easily obtained information on gym equipment is needed – information that pertains to this age group.

H: Is there anything unique about mid-lifers that hotels could be targeting?

DK: This demographic travels frequently for work and they’re more health-conscious while doing so than baby boomers. They need healthier and more diverse menus. They also enjoy socializing and checking out local bars and clubs after dinner. Late-check out, all-day breakfast, in-the-know locality guides and hotels with ‘cool’ bars are perks for them.

Mid-lifers with children don’t want to stay at a bland ‘family hotel’ where kids are relegated to a kids’ club or otherwise separated from parents. They’re looking for hotels with family experiences that are engaging for all ages, with rooms, restaurants and facilities that help them bond as a family. And they value personal space, so spacious rooms and communal areas that facilitate ‘isolated togetherness’ are highly prized. Basics are more important than fawning service.

Mid-lifers have the highest spending power of any age group

H: How does this age group define luxury – or do they even care about luxury?

DK: Mid-lifers define luxury as the perfect hotel for the purpose of their trip, so their exact needs change whether it’s a couple’s escape, family trip or business trip. A must is ample physical space and stunning design. Selecting a hotel for them is 70% to 80% based on design. Design should be beautiful but also functional and not detrimental to enjoyment – all the basics should be effortlessly provided. This demographic is quite independent, so services are less important, as long as service itself is friendly and efficient.

H: Hotels that target “millennial-minded” travellers fit a broad description – usually around technology and a more casual, local approach to design and F&B. How would you define a mid-lifer hotel?

DK: Desirable design; menus with healthy and diverse options; friendly, efficient service; spacious rooms with all the basics done right; a cool, communal workspace that is also comfortable and functional (like a living room); useful, high-quality amenities; and children’s and family facilities that aren’t just an after-thought.

Hotels that want to become more accessible to this cohort should focus on stunning design, better, healthier menus and an affordable, accessible, quality wine list.

This interview was first published on the website of HOTELS magazine.

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Well, Well, Well

Daniel Grossberg, Brand Strategist at QUO, predicts a long life for this year’s biggest hospitality trend.

What’s the biggest hospitality trend of 2018? Stop by the nearest hospitality and tourism event this weekend and survey ten attendees. You’re likely to hear the same answer ten times: ‘wellness’.

Wellness is already everywhere in 2018, and it’s only February.  Vogue kicked off the year with Lupita Nyong’o in tree pose on their January cover. The concept has reached the hedonistic realm of cruising. It’s also influencing in a big way tours and airport facilities. Even whole hotels dedicated to wellness are on the rise. You could liken wellness’s spread to a disease.

Promising Vitals

When you look at the numbers, it all makes sense. Globally, the industry is worth approximately 3.7 trillion USD, accounting for a little more than 5% of the world’s total economic output.

This swift growth has impacted the hospitality industry in remarkable ways. From 2014 to 2016, the wellness tourism industry grew 14% – more than twice as fast as overall tourism during the same period. No longer a niche market for hippies or new-age, patchouli-scented spiritualists, wellness tourism now accounts for 16% of all tourism expenditures. That’s one in every six tourist dollars spent.

Over the past decade, wellness has become something of an omnipresent mantra, a catch-all panacea for any brand at all that wants to stay on-trend and capture consumer interest. While the details shift from year to year – 2018 just can’t get enough moringa, 2017 was all about turmeric, and before that kale and quinoa – the overall concept of wellness is generally presented as an inherent and indisputable component of human life.

The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility. Few had even heard of the word wellness, things like nut-milk yogurt were weird and gene-based dieting was something from dystopian sci-fi. So how did wellness become so deeply ingrained into our everyday lives, and why does it now play such a prominent role in the hospitality industry

“ The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility.

From Mumbo-Jumbo to Mainstream

Though its origins stretch back thousands of years to the teachings of Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and ancient Greek medicine, our modern idea of what ‘wellness’ constitutes only began during the 1950s, developing over the 60s and 70s. Our present day use of the word – first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1650s – can be traced back to physician Halbert L. Dunn, chief of the U.S. National Office of Vital Statistics from 1935 to 1960.

In 1961, Dunn published a book titled ‘High-Level Wellness’, which he defined as ‘an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable’. The book was not exactly a best-seller, in fact it struggled to make an impact at all.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, before a small group of doctors and thinkers – including Dr. John Travis, Don Ardell, Dr. Bill Hettler and others – began to embrace and expand on Dunn’s ideas.

Interestingly enough, the term ‘wellness’ itself also took a while to gain traction. Dr. Travis, an early advocate of Dunn’s concepts, initially “thought the word ‘wellness’ was stupid… it would never catch on”. Nevertheless, he still used it to name his pioneering Wellness Resource Center in Mill Valley, California, in November 1975, thus sealing its fate as today’s biggest buzzword.

The Wellness Resource Center was instrumental in gaining a wider audience for the fledgling movement. There, Dr. Travis and his small team of doctors focused on addressing an individual’s overall state of wellbeing and championed self-directed approaches to treatment, rather than traditional illness-oriented medical procedures. In 1979, Dan Rather brought international attention to the Center with a short segment that aired on ’60 Minutes’.

“Wellness,” Rather says, introducing the segment, “now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.”

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

One of the first business to jump on the wellness bandwagon was Canyon Ranch, which opened in 1979 in Tucson, Arizona. Founded by an overweight property developer named Mel Zuckerman (he’s since slimmed down) and his exercise enthusiast wife Enid, Canyon Ranch was billed as ‘America’s first total vacation/fitness resort’.

It’s telling that one of the first modern wellness-related business ventures was in hospitality. At the time, the idea that you might need to travel hundreds of kilometres to have such an experience made sense – there simply weren’t many other options. However, there was also a historical precedence for such retreats, which could be traced back to European spa towns like Baden Baden, where baths were first built during the Roman Empire.

Canyon Ranch got off to a slow start, but by the late 80s they were financially successful and ready for expansion. They’ve since built a brand that’s well-known for its upmarket interpretation of wellness (rates start at USD 1,000/night), as well as its variety of products, including spa clubs, Las Vegas hotel spas and cruise ship spas. In many ways, their story epitomises the rise of wellness itself, from a small, fringe concept into a global symbol of luxury and status.

Wellness for the rich and famous, however, is only part of the story.

In the mid-80s, nearly half of the U.S. population worked out on a semi-regular basis (up from 24% in 1960) and they were starting to demand more from hotels than just a room to sleep in. Travellers increasingly wanted new amenities like a pool, a spa and a gym included as part of their stay. Hotels were slow to get with the programme, however. By 1991, 40% of hotels in the U.S. contained some sort of gym, but the quality was inconsistent and often gym-goers were squashed elbow-to-sweaty-elbow into an unused guest room or a dim, shag-carpeted basement.

Finally, in 2003, Westin launched WestinWORKOUT, effectively reimagining the hotel gym for a new generation of travellers. Featuring state-of-the-art equipment, workouts designed in partnership with Reebok, upscale amenities and a focus on natural lighting, Westin made wellness an integral part of the travel experience, rather than an add-on feature. In doing so, they sparked a hotel gym arms race that, 15 years later, shows no signs of slowing down. One only has to look at upscale gym Equinox’s move to launch a hospitality brand in order to understand how important the gym, as well as the broader concept of wellness, has become to hotels.

Wellness on Steroids

So why has wellness exploded to the extent that is has? Much of it has to do with the same global and technological forces that have transformed overseas travel from a relatively expensive and uncommon undertaking into a far more accessible, familiar and varied experience. And just as travel and wellness have become mass-market industries, they’ve also become the perfect status symbols for those living today’s most luxurious lifestyles. Both are powered by the same type of desire for rare and remarkable experiences, as opposed to traditional material objects.

The ever-growing wellness industry also taps into our age-old thirst for better health, better bodies and just generally better selves. And the future of wellness in hospitality will be focused on enabling this transformational potential, not simply providing a physical escape from daily life or throwing a yoga mat into the wardrobe your guest room. As Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, argues, ‘the path to wellness is much more about embracing enriching experiences than avoiding stressful ones’.

Hotels occupy a singular position within the wellness spectrum. They have the power to create immersive and highly impactful experiences, which can play a big role in our overall happiness. Like any diet or exercise programme, only the brands that can enable sustainable lifestyle changes will go on to define the future of wellness hospitality.

Wellness services/products we’d like to see in hotels:

  • Generous and delicious vegetarian and vegan menus
  • Classes that are actually fun (parkour, ballroom dance, rock climbing)
  • Guest room tech integration with smart watches
  • Fitness incentives (such as paying for a soda in squats)
  • Tech-free zones for more personal interactions
  • Guided meditation meeting breaks

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Something’s Brewing in Sri Lanka…

There is a story written in the skyline of Colombo.

Composed in rising towers of concrete and steel, it tells the tale of Sri Lanka’s fledgeling hotel industry – one marked by rapid transformation and lofty ambitions. The seaside capital, with its colourful blend of Colonial-era architecture and Buddhist temples, is in the midst of an unprecedented construction boom. Driving along Galle Road, it is impossible not to notice the dozens of cranes that bow over buildings, structures that will house international hotel brands looking to ride the country’s post-war resurgence.

Within the next two years, an estimated 4,300 new rooms will come online across the country, the bulk of those in Colombo itself. For the most part, these will belong to established global giants like Hilton and Marriott. But behind the scenes, a home-grown revolution is brewing. Driven by ambitious local brands looking to shake off decades of dormancy, the national tourism landscape is set to be upended from within.

Sri Lanka has all the hallmarks of a success story in the making. After being largely isolated from the world during its three-decade civil war, the country is on its way to becoming one of Asia’s most sought-after destinations. Four Sri Lankan properties even beat out 675 global competitors to make the Condé Nast Traveler 2017 Hot List.

In the eight years since the war ended, Sri Lanka has recorded promising year-on-year growth in inbound visitors, with 2012 breaking the US$1 billion mark in tourist revenue – a figure that has more than tripled in the time since according to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority data.

“Everyone’s focusing on tourism right now,” says Emanuel Abeyewardene, director at Closenberg (Pvt) Ltd. “It’s one of the main industries the government is promoting, so there are a lot of places opening, most in the high-end and mid-range sector.”

Fuelled by this support, the total contribution of tourism and travel to GDP is expected to reach 13.5% in 2027 (up from 11.4% last year), as international tourist arrivals are tipped to total 4,968,000. Tourist arrivals have already more than doubled since 2012 when the figure first passed the one million mark.

And those visitors are spending more and staying longer, too – receipts per tourist have risen 63% in that same period, while nearly 41% of tourists now stay 8 to 14 nights in the country. With these figures, it’s hardly surprising that big brands are rushing to put down roots.


The list of hotels set to open their doors in the coming years is a long one, and their locations diverse. No longer confined to the traditional tourist areas of Colombo and the southwest, they are looking to pioneer the beaches and jungles of the east and north. Marriott International already has four properties in development under its Sheraton, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton brands. The 24-storey Mövenpick Hotel Colombo opened its doors in January, while Hilton plans to launch six new properties across the country by 2021.

To accommodate the growing influx of foreign travellers, Terminal 1 at Bandaranaike International Airport is likely to be expanded by 2019, increasing its capacity to 15 million passengers annually, well over double the current six million. While it all spells success for the Sri Lankan economy, there are disconcerted murmurings over the country’s focus on the luxury segment.

More than 3,600 of the 4,300 hotel rooms in the country’s pipeline are categorised as luxury or upscale, with the mid-range and budget segments underserved. This is despite numbers indicating there are more budget and mid-scale travellers arriving. For local hotel and travel brands with agility and vision, this gap poses a ripe opportunity to innovate.


“I’m basically chasing the market that’s already coming through,” says Ravi Bandaranaike, owner of two Colombo bed-and-breakfasts. “It’s a missed opportunity [for others] in a sense.”

Three years ago, when Ravi opened his first guesthouse, the mural-covered surfer-style Drift BnB, it was the first of its kind. Now, he estimates that up to 40 new copycat establishments have opened in Colombo alone. His customers make up part of that burgeoning underserved budget to midscale demographic – backpackers who are broke after travelling for six months and travellers who would rather spend less on accommodation and more on experiences.

At the other end of the spectrum, Emanuel’s Closenberg Hotel demonstrates you don’t have to be a cool B&B to innovate. An 1860 British mansion built on an even older Dutch fortalice in Galle Harbour, the hotel could comfortably rest on its heritage laurels, but Emanuel and his team want to take ‘brand Closenberg’ in a more modern direction, while still playing up its colonial charm.

The most obvious manifestation of this is Luna Terrace – an outdoor event space with an electric blue bar overlooking the hotel’s lavish 180-degree infinity pool. A “platform for cutting-edge art, music and culture”, it plays host to local and international DJs, pool parties, gallery events, book readings and studio sessions. The aim is to eventually set up a professional music studio here.

The Galle Face Hotel Group has also given some of its existing properties a more modern edge by rolling out the Ekho brand. Shifting the focus to experiential travel, the new Ekho identity leverages local culture to offer an immersive Sri Lankan stay. Less a complete overhaul than an infusion of fresh ideas, the changes put the emphasis on delivering an authentic local experience. Then there are several new brands in the pipeline set to shake up perceptions of what a Sri Lankan hotel and travel experience should look like.

Malinga Arsakularatne, Managing Director at Hemas Leisure Travel Aviation Group, says the industry cannot afford to stay idle. He says the past few years of growth have set a solid foundation for the industry. But as competition grows, the onus is on local brands to venture into new territory to broaden and enhance then Sri Lankan hotel experience.

“Sri Lanka is in huge demand as a destination, which presents many growth opportunities. But it is also attracting new players to the marketplace,” he says. “The only way forward for us is to bring in fresh blood and fresh thinking. We need to change the perception of what Sri Lankan tourism is all about. And it’s up to local players like us to lead that change, and redefine the landscape of Sri Lanka tourism.”


The key to Sri Lanka’s long-term success rides on the protection of its assets. Development is already creeping along the coastline, with the government courting big overseas investors for golf courses and luxury chains, and smaller foreign operators descending upon the tiny surf towns. Local innovators must work together to steer development in a sustainable direction.

Thanks to a war that inadvertently protected the country’s natural reserves by preventing industrialisation, Sri Lanka’s jungles and beaches are still intact. So while eco-travel has proven a marketable trend around the globe, in Sri Lanka the movement is crucially important.

It is essential, as Ravi says, to “grow things positively”. Innovators should look to countries with an environmentalist approach to tourism, such as Bhutan or Costa Rica. For Emanuel, it’s important that Sri Lankans continue to offer Sri Lanka to visitors.

“We’ve got so much amazing flora and fauna. We should open up and really, truly focus on what we have in our backyard.”

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Is the Official Hotel Rating System Sinking into the Past?

The inspection and classification of lodging facilities emerged in the early 20th century. In the following decades, tourism authorities of many countries established and implemented individualised official hotel rating systems.

However, the seismic change in the global hotel industry over the last two decades has rendered the official star rating systems out-of-date and inconsistent across Asia. The credibility of these systems has diminished and in many cases has left the consumer relying more on social media and other channels to judge the quality of a hotel.

Today, as booking decisions are made faster and easier by highly accessible information through citizen media – guest review websites, consumer photos and travel blogs to name a few – it becomes vital to understand how the official ratings are perceived by discerning travellers around the globe.

QUO undertook a comprehensive review of the issue, analysing recent industry studies, interviewing hospitality experts and surveying travellers.

Our research suggests that officially accredited “stars” take a backseat in influencing consumer decisions, as the rating systems have variable meaning across markets, are plagued by disparities and are not  geared toward reflecting guest experience. Hotel brands and the reputation of properties, on the other hand, have become increasingly valued and critical to decision making.

Industry practitioners state that to be relevant, an official classification system needs to be reviewed and upgraded on a consistent basis, addressing the latest trends and global perspectives, encapsulating multiple competitive dimensions, and engaging guests as key stakeholders. It should stimulate service improvement and catalyse service innovation.

An Industry Perspective

The Official Rating System Is A One-Dimensional Metric To Predominantly Communicate The Hardware Facilities.

In the prevailing grade-based rating system, criteria are itemised and assigned specific scores or weights. Hardware and a checklist of service availability take centre stage. Assessment committees carry out a one-time inspection to accredit a star rating. Without further periodic audits or integration of customer feedback, the evaluations are unlikely to comprehensively reflect the quality, consistency and perceived value of the facilities and services.

It Allows Disparity.

Most grade-based systems adopt a bottom line – there is a lowest score a hotel needs to achieve in order to reach a certain star level. This methodology allows disparity in hardware and software, as hotels could selectively miss a few points, translating to the varying quality of facilities and service across the spectrum of same-starred hotels.

It Does Not Address The Needs Of Hotels Today.

The systems include criteria that are no longer relevant today, failing to address many hotels’ strategic needs to differentiate and serve a very niche market. While the ratings award all-around players, hotels win the game today by serving a clear segmentation of customers and playing to their unique needs and desires.

The systems also fail to take into account some key factors that impact customer experience and perception of hotels – for example, location, design and competitive set.

A Consumer Perspective

The Official Rating Is Not In Consumer Language

It Is Not Universal.

Rating standards vary by country. Therefore, guests are likely to encounter varying facilities and services at each star level in each country they visit.

It Is Confusing.

The rating criteria are not known by the public. As survey respondents reveal, “the travelling public has little or no knowledge of what is required to achieve different quality ratings”. Moreover, the self-supplied star ratings on third-party websites are inconsistent and misleading.

And Most Critically, It Does Not Reflect Guest Experience.

Official star ratings tell little about the guest experience. The systems fail to effectively communicate the uniqueness of the experience, innovation or the way a hotel meets the needs of a distinct target market. I can achieve the desired effects from Modafinil that I needed

Even the same-starred hotels within the same locality present differing guest experiences and perceived customer value. For example, one 5-star hotel in Bangkok has 83% of its TripAdvisor reviews marked as “Excellent”, whereas another nearby 5-star property has only 30% – a noticeable discrepancy of guest experience. Similar disparities are also present in the customer ratings on, where some 4- and 5-star hotels score significantly higher than their counterparts in all major aspects throughout the guest journey.

Some survey respondents stress that the official ratings are less reliable than consumer reviews online, and that the actual experiences often fall short of guest expectations.

Understanding Today’s Travellers

Travellers Today See The Official Rating As Only One Source Of Reference. They Increasingly Value Brand And Embrace Citizen Media.

As travellers indicate, they “often look at the brand, whether it’s an international chain or a member of a global alliance” and “check multiple sources of information to be reassured of the quality”. Many speak of the value of customer reviews, asserting that “personal recommendations carry far more detail and credibility, and are so easy to access nowadays”. For hotels, this phenomenon poses a crucial need to switch tactics – from being product-focused, to being experience-driven and socially engaging.

Hospitality Industry Views

The classification system needs to be reviewed and updated more often, to capture the new trends, and to incorporate the feedback from the industry.

Mark Dardenne
Patina Hotels & Resorts 

Software assessment is a more subjective view. It needs to get feedback from the guests.

Peter Henley
President & CEO
Onyx Hospitality Group

The rating needs to mirror the global perspective.

Kevin Beauvais
Co-founder & CEO
Zinc InVision Hospitality

The system fails to look at the business today – the new need for boutique and budget hotels.

Cyndy Tan Jarabata
TAJARA Leisure & Hospitality Group

For us, the brand identity matters most.

Gregory Meadows
General Manager
The Sukhothai, Bangkok

We don’t use star classifications to refer to our brands. There are many different rating schemes which makes it very subjective.

Simon Scoot
Vice President
Global Brand Management,
InterContinental Hotels & Resorts

I think a rating system based on ADR works best. It’s consumer-driven, reflecting how much people are willing to pay for the product and service, providing a clear gauge of a hotel’s perceived quality as ranked by its achieved price.

Robert Hecker
Managing Director
Horwath HTL Asia Pacific