The wide-ranging and more specific demands of modern travelers is prompting many hoteliers to rethink their room configurations and the mix of room types offered at their hotels.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Both branded and independent hoteliers are increasingly experimenting with a non-standard assortment of room types within their properties, reflecting the more diverse needs and expectations of today's traveling public.
At many hotels, that means the preset blueprint of the past—with a set ratio of twin, queen and king rooms, plus suites—is now open to reinterpretation and reinvention.
Others are taking this notion further, crafting room concepts entirely outside of the standard configuration spectrum. Themed rooms, rooms with bunk beds, rooms designed to accommodate larger groups and entirely separate resort areas are just some of the layouts that are becoming more prevalent.
“The industry is offering more room types within a hotel, thus allowing people with varying budgets and needs to all stay under one roof,” said David Bowd, CEO of Salt Hotels, which owns and operates The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “The best hotels are the ones with the most diverse guests, but obviously there are varying budgets, and by offering a mix of room types you create very a special and unique atmosphere.”
Luxury takes the lead
Luxury resorts are blazing a new path in room offerings, sources said. While luxury resort properties are trending downward in room count to the sub-150 key level, their room types reflect a stronger focus on leisure business rather than group and meeting demand. In addition to these more intimately sized resort hotels, branded residential units in multi-unit condominiums and freestanding villa units are also becoming an increasingly standard component of the luxury hotel inventory mix.
Of course, there has been an impact from these changes, according to Andrew Cohan, managing director of the Miami office of Horwath HTL. Suites are growing their share in the hotel room stock, he said, rising as high as 20% of the total room count, compared to the 10% to 15% ratio often seen in the past.
“It appears that an increasing proportion of couples and families who can afford $600 hotel ‘standard’ rooms are happy to upgrade to a $1,000-per-night 'suite-style' room with more ample space, water features and enhanced furnishings and amenities,” Cohan said.
Some properties even offer a ‘lock-off’ unit in a branded residential villa as an upgrade from a standard hotel room, he said, depending on the mix of branded residence unit sizes, reducing the need for as many suites.
In the all-inclusive resort world, different trends have emerged, sources said. Many of the larger, integrated resorts are now organized into at least four different hotels within the hotel: the adults-only premium service, where guests have access to the entire resort; the family-friendly premium service, where guests have access to all but the adults-only premium-service zones; the main adults-only zone, where guests may not use the premium-service areas; and finally, the main family-friendly zone, where guests must remain in their respective zones.
“It sounds complicated, but with so many swimming pools and food-and-beverage outlets, guests tend to find a spot that they like in their area of the resort and not wander far, except to the beach or their guestroom,” Cohan said. “As with many market trends in our industry, crossing boundaries and establishing a more eclectic array of choices in order to provide more personalized guest experience has been observed in the traditional ‘room mix’ equation.”
Rewriting the playbook
In some cases, hotels are experimenting with completely different room configurations than the traditional room types. At the Asbury Hotel, for example, the owners created a series of “Quad Rooms” that sleep four, and “Octo Rooms” that sleep eight and have two separate toilets and showers per room. Bowd said the room configurations have been profitable and provide added flexibility to accommodate a range of customer types.
“They were economical to build given the ratio of people to facilities,” he said. “This, coupled with the rate you can charge per person, makes it very profitable indeed. We have seen interest from diverse groups of people, especially those coming to Asbury Park to see bands and enjoy the city, while not sacrificing service or the overall experience.”
Another trending room concept is guestrooms that feature bunk beds. These can be a big draw for families traveling with multiple small children, including extended families traveling together on family trips or reunions. Sources said this feature can be a popular, profitable room type to offer, especially when presented within a themed room tailored to its intended users.
“There’s a market for bunk beds in almost every environment that you’re in, whether it’s California or New York or Florida or Detroit. You just have to be careful on how many you do,” said Roger Miller, VP of operations, revenues and business development for Alliance Hospitality. “I always advise developers and companies to go slow and develop from there. First track it over six months to a year; look at the percentage of sales and look at the rate that you're bringing in. Then look at your amount of turn-downs for those rooms; if it's justified, build another one or two. Just don’t go out of your way to build five or six quickly; go slowly at first and track it.”
Hungry for change
While it’s a given that independent hotels have a bit more leeway to make changes to room counts, configurations and concepts than their branded counterparts, sources said that brands are becoming more open to these ideas as well. The demand for this added flexibility coming from both franchisees and hotel guests is driving this widespread shift.
“As a franchisee, I think you have far more flexibility to suggest changing 10 rooms or 15 rooms and being more creative,” Miller said. “You justify that by who you are, where you are and what you’re trying to accomplish, particularly with families, or if you’re dealing with (international guests). If you have a high percentage of tours from other countries, I think as a franchisee, you can propose (changes) to justify that. The brands are far more willing to listen to you and give you waivers. I don't think (brands are) going to fight you if you’ve got the data to back it up and you’re creative enough to present a very good room product.”