Heated marble floors, pillow butlers and lavender-misted turndowns are all well and good when you're on vacation or your honeymoon, but sometimes busy business travellers just want a clean, hip and convenient space to rest their heads. That's the reasoning behind the new select-service brand of hotels being offered by luxury chains such as Starwood Hotels, InterContinental, Le Germain and others.
By stripping away the frilly amenities and decadent luxuries, these new hotels are affordable and design-conscious spots that are specifically aimed at the modern business traveller. With their convenient locations, often near major airports, distinctive designs and scaled-back amenities, this booming brand of hotel is no less revolutionary that the advent of motels was in the 1950s.
While these hotels might focus more on necessity than luxury, that's not to say they are spartan or lacking in style. Jan Freitag, vice-president of global development with Smith Travel Research Inc., a company that specializes in hotel data research, has witnessed this trend develop into a significant component of the hotel industry.
"I think that what we're seeing overall is the larger focus on design, both interior and exterior, given that the demographic is shifting," he says. "There are more Gen X [and] Gen Y on the road for their first or second job and travelling more, and this is supposedly what they want so hoteliers are trying hard to build and renovate."
One of the first entrants into this market was Indigo, an offshoot of InterContinental Hotels Group. Billing itself as a branded boutique hotel, the first Indigo property opened in Atlanta in 2004. International hotels followed: a 106-room property in a converted YMCA building in Ottawa and another near Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Bold graphics in bright colours, a blue-and-white cloudscape, architectural trellises and a shock of leaves decorate the rooms and public spaces. The murals, along with the music, signage and even the hotel's signature scent, change with the seasons.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which operates such brands as Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis and W Hotels, launched what it calls its "style at a steal" brand, Aloft, next to Montréal-Trudeau airport in 2008.
There are now more than 60 Alofts around the world, including one in Toronto and another scheduled to open next year in Calgary. Taking its design cues from the more upscale W Hotels, Aloft utilizes brightly coloured furniture and dramatic patterns to convey its hipster bona fides. If the strong design component doesn't convey the youthful energy that the brand aspires to, then the distinct lingo will. The pool is called the "splash," the front desk the "aloha desk" and the terrace "the backyard." There's also a strong social component, so the heart of any property is the re:mix Lounge with its free Wi-Fi, flat-panel TV screens and bar.
Canada's contribution to the category is an offshoot of the Quebec-based Groupe Germain, which operates the upscale chain of Le Germain Hotels. Its first Alt Hotel, as the brand is known, opened in Montreal in 2007 and a second rebranding of another hotel followed in 2008. A Toronto property opened this past summer. Building on architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's motto of "less is more," Alt's slogan brags, "We do less." That means no room service, valets or doormen, but it also means free Wi-Fi and rates that remain consistent throughout the year.
Properties such as Indigo, Aloft and Alt represent one of the biggest changes in the hotel industry since the 1950s. By bringing their considerable experience to bear on more casual and design-conscious brands, the major hotel chains are ushering in a new era of affordable and convenient luxury.