Lifestyle Hotels: Boutiques with Benefits.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Friday, 15th October 2010
An Interview with Hotel Indigo's VP of Global Brand Management -

Lifestyle hotels are the next generation of boutique hotels; driven by the chains, they borrow the best elements of boutiques – small, intimate and modern – and throw in advantages only a chain can offer, like loyalty perks, consistency and economies of scale. As a result, lifestyle hotels are generally more affordable and accessible than boutiques – and soon to be ubiquitous.

Virtually every major hotel group is vying for a piece of the action. Marriott has Edition Hotels, Hyatt has Andaz, and Starwood has Element and Aloft. Meanwhile, Kimpton and Joie de Vivre have been rapidly expanding, proving that the term "boutique chain" doesn't have to be an oxymoron. Most recently, lifestyle brands have been announced by B Hotels & Resorts and Virgin Hotels.

Given that lifestyle hotels by definition must evolve with the changing tastes of travelers, how does a large chain deliver on that promise? For some insight I checked in with Janis Cannon, Vice President of Global Brand Management for Hotel Indigo, "the world's first global branded boutique". Hotel Indigo is part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the world's largest hotel group by number of rooms. Here's a condensed version of our Q+A session.

Dan: Tell us a bit about your background and current position. What kind of traveler are you?

Janis. Along with a team of regional and global brand management professionals, I am responsible for the global strategy, successful launch and long term sustainability of Hotel Indigo. Prior I worked as a General Manager for Swissotel and served as SVP Global Sales and Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development for the State of Georgia. Most recently, I worked as the AMER brand lead for InterContinental Hotels and Resorts.

My travel style would be exploratory. I relish the opportunity my job affords me to immerse in local culture and connect with people from the area. I like fitting in to the neighborhood vs. standing out. My style is pretty functional and simplistic on the road – never checked baggage, regardless of trip destination and duration, and everything in the bag has a purpose, often multiple purposes.

Dan: Tell us about the Hotel Indigo brand. How does a lifestyle hotel differ from a boutique hotel?

Janis: As the first global branded boutique, Hotel Indigo has experienced great success and rapid growth since its inception in 2004. Prior to the launch of Hotel Indigo, boutiques were small, independent hotels built around a concept of interesting design and intimate service. Hotel Indigo took the best of the independent boutique hotel principles, coupled it with consumer research, and sized the market to craft a brand that appealed to the emergence of a new consumer, the lifestyle consumer. 

In identifying the market potential we used traditional demographic data and went several steps further, deeper to understand most importantly the psychographics of the new target customer.  Psychographic research gave us the depth of insight we needed to understand their hearts and heads – what motivates them, what drives them, why they do what they do, what emotions are involved in their buying decisions, what are their values, etc.

Once we clearly identified and defined the target customer, competitive landscape and market size, IHG's scale and brand management capabilities allowed us to develop the Hotel Indigo brand, and to launch at just the right time a brand with targeted appeal for the emotional connections and shared values our customer seeks.

Dan: How does Hotel Indigo differ from other lifestyle brands?
Janis: At the time of the brand's conception and in large part today, the hotel landscape consists primarily of full service and limited service brands with little uniqueness or differentiation. The lifestyle consumer wants unique offerings that are exciting and interesting alternatives to the big meeting boxes or the prototypical builds that some lifestyle brands market as unique.

Several hotel companies tested the segment by putting their toes in the waters of the category, with brands such as Aloft by Starwood, Hyatt Place by Hyatt and Cambria by Choice defining themselves as boutique offerings, yet having every hotel exactly the same in every location.

The reason for the early success of Hotel Indigo is that every property is designed to be different, with a common thread or set of brand hallmarks that deliver a locally unique, neighborhood boutique experience. One way we do this is that each hotel features locally inspired, oversized wall murals in both public areas and guest rooms.

Dan: Travelers like boutique hotels because they're small and independent in spirit and offer personalized service. How does a massive chain like IHG provide this type of experience?

Janis: Through consumer research and insight, we know that the Hotel Indigo customer prefers to enter into a long term relationship with their brands. They value the relationship and security of the brand and are intent on building loyalty based on the brand's authenticity and value proposition. Hotel Indigo offers guests a unique hotel experience with the modern design and intimate service associated with boutique hotels, along with the peace of mind and consistency from staying with the world's largest hotel group.

One of our greatest differentiators is our people – who are vibrant and energetic, without being over the top or in your face. We use a series of visual cues to promote conversation with our guests. Inspired service is a guest benefit as the result of interactions with fewer employees. The guest recognizes and appreciates the same faces. 

Our employees learn something about our guests through dialogue and interaction that allows them to create a customized experience that can have a stimulating influence upon the guest's emotions. It's excellence through individualized moments and highly personalized service.  Most importantly, a key ingredient to our success is that our employees love to work at Hotel Indigo, with 98% of hotel employees saying they are proud to work at their hotel. 

Dan: By definition, a lifestyle hotel caters to the changing tastes of travelers. How will Hotel Indigo keep up with trends given the challenges of rapid change in a hotel chain?

Janis: Renewal is at the soul of Hotel Indigo – whether it's the seasonal menu items or local craft beers and wines in the restaurant or local events designed to connect with the community – Hotel Indigo will always deliver an engaging and vibrant experience for our guests.

Dan: Marriott recruited Ian Schrager, inventor of the modern boutique hotel, to develop Edition Hotels. Who is teaching the big brass at IHG how to be hip and cool?

Janis: IHG has a rich history and legacy of successful brand management, being the owner of some of the globe's most recognized hospitality brands. Our brand management expertise provides us the ability to continue to grow strong brands and create new ones, like Hotel Indigo.

As it relates to staying "hip and cool," it's important for any brand to continually innovate in order to stay ahead of the competition and meet the changing needs of guests. We are constantly gathering guest and employee feedback and testing new concepts and ideas in our hotels as well as gathering data via research, surveys, focus groups, etc.

Dan: What lies ahead for the Hotel Indigo brand?

Janis: In the last year, the brand has signed franchise agreements to open 13 new hotels in key global markets around the world, including London, Madrid, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York. With 36 hotels currently open and a very healthy pipeline of 57 hotels, we will continue to focus our distribution strategy on growing the brand in key capital and gateway cities around the world.

What's your opinion of lifestyle hotels? Share your comments at www.danieledwardcraig.com

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel consultant and the author of the Murder at the Universe. His articles and blog about issues in the hotel industry are considered essential reading for hoteliers, travelers and students alike. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email dec@danieledwardcraig.com. Twitter: dcraig.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel Edward Craig

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