New, stylish hotel brands are debuting here

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Two new hotel brands coming to central Indiana will introduce a trend that’s hot nationwide—so-called “lifestyle” lodging offering an upscale feel at an affordable price.

Hotels geared toward younger travelers account for 50,000 new rooms nationwide, said Rob Hunden, a hospitality consultant with Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners. That’s just 1 percent of the 4.5 million hotel rooms in the United States, but the numbers are growing fast.

Locally, two area AmeriSuites hotels will be converted to Hyatt Places and InterContinental Hotels Group will open two Hotel Indigos—one in Columbus and a second in Fishers—this year.

Both brands offer high-end touches at about half the price of the upscale boutique hotels popular in New York City and Los Angeles.

“The concept behind both is to take the boutique hotel and bring it down a notch or two in price,” said Mark Eble, a local hotel consultant and regional vice president for Philadelphia-based PKF Consulting.

In the mid 1980s, independently owned boutique hotels designed by wellknown artists began to pop up in major cities to counter the cookie-cutter feel—and franchising fees—of national chains. The most famous example is the Royalton in New York City, which was designed by Philippe Starck.

The chains answered, offering their own design-centric brands such as W Hotels, most of which were in first-tier markets and attracted travelers who could shell out $200 to $300 a night. They were a hit.

Fresh off that success, the chains are offering several new brands with an edgier, urban feel targeted to a more budgetconscious traveler.

“Hotel developers said: ‘If they love it at the four-star level, I bet they’d love it at the three-star level,’” Eble said.

Sleek, coffeehouse feel

Chicago-based Hyatt Corp. bought the struggling AmeriSuites hotels in late 2004, planning to transform them into lifestyle lodging.

The result is Hyatt Place, a limitedservice hotel with an average room rate of $125—about the same as AmeriSuites, but with high-end touches thanks to some cutting-edge ways to shave costs.

The hotels forgo a standard front desk, which means more space for lounge-like seating and other amenities. Guests check in at do-it-yourself kiosks and have access to touch-screen terminals where they can order food—ranging from steak to poached salmon—that is reheated and served with light staffing.

Phone requests are funneled through an off-location call center, and hotel employees with headsets roam the floors helping guests, Eble said.

Such changes save on overhead, freeing the hotels to invest in design. The large AmeriSuites rooms—averaging 375 square feet—are getting a complete makeover. Opaque room separators divide rooms, with sleeping areas on one side and “lounging areas” on the other. The coup de grâce is a 46-inch, highdefinition flat-screen television on a swivel mount that can be viewed from either side.

“The television is what we get the most feedback on,” said Hyatt Corp. spokeswoman Amy Patti. “People love the TV.”

Nine Hyatt Places are operating throughout the United States; none are in Indiana. The first local conversion, the AmeriSuites Hotel at the Airport, should be completed in May. The hotel won’t close during the work, which is expected to cost $2.5 million.

This fall, the Keystone AmeriSuites, owned by Equity Inns Inc., will make the jump. Hyatt has scheduled 120 remodels nationwide for 2007 with all AmeriSuites hotels eventually phased out.

Eble said the concept is a firm departure from established models.

“It’s fascinating to see what they’ve done,” he said.

With wireless Internet access and the coffeehouse feel, the brand is “really structured to attract the next generation of travelers,” he said.

“But that also tends to attract the older generation who’d much rather hang around a bunch of young people than people their age.”

Relaxed, sensory experience

InterContinental Hotel Group’s Hotel Indigo brand also will make its central Indiana debut in 2007 with locations in Columbus and Fishers.

Indigo is more of a traditional hotel with a café and bar. What makes it different is the spa-inspired atmosphere and an average room rate of about $130 a night.

“We want to create an atmosphere that is inviting, warm and engaging,” said Jim Anhut, senior vice president of brand development for Britain-based IHG.

Each room has hardwood floors, large mural panels and a spa-inspired bathroom. In the lobby, scents and even free candies at the main desk will change with the season.

“[The hotel] really plays into all of the five senses,” said Cindy Waddle, who will manage the Hotel Indigo in Columbus for its developer and owner, Fishers-based Dora Brothers Hospitality Corp. “It’s all about renewal, walking in and feeling a sense of peace.”

And there are other quirks that give it a funky, urbanized feel. Like haiku. All the hotel’s printed communications feature the abbreviated form of poetry. For example, the cocktail napkins read:

“Relax. Ponder the Imponderable question. One olive or two.”

Each hotel also incorporates some local influences. The Columbus location will host a contest to find local artwork for its exterior murals. That hotel, which is being built from scratch, will have 85 rooms and is slated for an October opening. In Fishers, Dora shut down and is gutting a former Ramada Inn to add space and convert it to a Hotel Indigo. The 115-room facility will open by the end of the year.

The Columbus project initially was expected to cost $8.2 million, but Director of Sales Julie Garrett referred questions about costs for both projects to Dora Brothers’ co-owner Tim Dora, who did not return messages.

If the brand fares well, more may be in the works. Dora is eyeing additional locations, Garrett said, including a site near Lucas Oil Stadium. She said the parcel, directly west of the existing Holiday Inn Express at 410 S. Missouri St., is being evaluated and a hotel wouldn’t open there until 2009 at the earliest.

“We’re very interested in the brand and we think it’s a good fit for the entire [central Indiana] market,” Garrett said.

All told, IHG has eight Hotel Indigos open and 40 more in the pipeline for 2007.

Why here?

Fishers and Columbus might seem like strange locations to start a brand locally, but Eble said smaller markets are a good fit from the hotel chain’s perspective.

That’s because franchise owners often get an exclusivity agreement written into their contracts. If demand grows, chains can’t just put in a second Hilton Garden Inn or Candlewood Suites, so they’re under pressure to come up with new brands.

While these may be the first “lifestyle” hotels here, they won’t be the last, predicted John Livengood, president of the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association.

In fact, Maryland-based Choice Hotels International this month announced plans for a Cambria Suites to open by 2008 in Plainfield. The brand is specifically targeted to the “Gen-Xers” who are “quickly becoming the company road warrior as more baby boomers … travel less,” Choice spokeswoman Heather Soule said.

Livengood said he expects to see other brands added to that list, including Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ aloft brand and perhaps something from the pricier Kimpton Hotels.

“It’s something that’s catching fire across the country,” Livengood said. “It’s a great addition to the market.” •

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