Frequent flyers and those who travel for business sometimes cite the deplorable sameness and characteristic lack of personality of chain hotels and budget motels. Reasonably-priced lodging seems particularly dreary for those who must frequently book extended stays for business, or for anyone who would like a little R&R during long airport layovers.
Luxury chains, while sometimes just the ticket for vacation travel, seem a bit over the top for a working trip, and despite the added comfort and service, business travelers are apt to forego onsite workout rooms, pools, spas and expensive restaurants. If it’s a quick business trip, there is little time for rest, let alone any opportunity for leisure activities and full-course meals.
But there’s a new and exciting movement that is rapidly changing the dynamic. New hotel chains throughout Europe seem to have a unique formula that is sure to add convenience — and a bit of zest — to overnight stays in small towns as well as at airports and in world capitals. It’s an innovative way to serve the traveling public, and the trend may signal a change for construction companies with crews on the road as well as for vacationing families.
Already there are signs that this new concept will be welcome in the United States.
What’s the Appeal?
These contemporary oases in the travel landscape are not to be confused with one-of-a-kind boutique hotels sprouting up around the world. The new high-tech chains are unique — simple in concept, modern in decor, innovative in their configuration and amenities, and reasonably priced. They are also “clubby,” in the best possible sense.
Fast-growing names like CitizenM, a Netherlands-based hospitality company that opened its first hotel at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2008, is just one example. Fully grounded in digital convenience, the chain warmly welcomes its guests in person, but handles bookings and fields questions efficiently online. Upon booking a stay, a guest becomes a “citizen,” and online chats are encouraged. Check-in is fast and easy, because all the details, including payment, are already done. Checkout is just as streamlined; simply deposit the keycard and walk out the door.
The chain makes solo travel easy and enjoyable; abundant amenities and services eliminate the need to leave the hotel unnecessarily. Shuttle service to and from airport terminals is a feature at most locations, or hotels are within walking distance of terminals and public transportation.
Well-designed public spaces — usually in the form of expansive lobbies with multiple smaller seating areas — are both stylish and comfortable, making it easy to socialize and equally easy to meet associates or work at a laptop. Sometimes there are meeting rooms available, secluded libraries, or small-group sitting areas. A lounge or bar area is frequently a focal point, with coffee and snacks available day and night.
Full meals are served buffet-style; but at Citizen M, it’s possible to have breakfast at midnight or order a sandwich early in the morning, as an antidote to jet lag and a helpful reset to a body’s internal clock.
Guests can lounge in a comfortable chair in front of a fireplace, work at a desk, borrow a book from a library, watch a large-screen television or play a game of solitaire while grabbing a quick snack. Socializing is encouraged; being alone is not frowned upon, and one need never feels lonely. *From Limited Choice to Full Adaptability.*
The CitizenM chain now boasts hotels in seven locations: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Glasgow, London, Paris, and New York, with other locations scheduled throughout Europe, in Asia, Australia, and the United States. Despite the different locations, they are all the same.
Designed for a maximum of two people per room, all rooms are identical in size and configuration: There is an oversized king bed with a wall-to-wall window and a glass-walled shower integrated into a corner of the room. There is a small desk/vanity and a comfortable chair. Lighting, television, window coverings and blackout shades are controlled wirelessly by keypad; Sufficient insulation provides soundproofing against interior disturbances and aircraft noise.
But there are no options. A guest cannot book a larger room, and there are no rollaway or cribs available. What is available is free Wifi, free movies, 24-7 food and drink, colorful, art-filled public spaces and attentive hosts.
Another growing chain that has expanded its hotel family is a Brittany-based, family-owned group that currently operates 26 Oceania Hotels in 18 French towns. Its new sleek-luxury Nomad brand has much to recommend it, and several things in common with CitizenM. It is modern and stylish, fusing high-tech and high-style into a harmonious whole. It, too, offers the ultimate in connectivity for its guests, with free Wifi throughout, digital keycards that control access to the elevator as well as to guest rooms, 24-7 availability of food, coffee, and other liquid refreshments, and shuttle service from the terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Like CitizenM, a keypad in each room operates window coverings, regulates mood lighting above the Nautilus-shell, glass-enclosed shower and allows easy channel-surf of programs on the projection TV. Guests may connect personal laptops or tablets to play personal music, watch videos, edit photographs or finalize a business proposal.
Unlike the other chain, however, Nomad rooms are endlessly customizable. Rooms can be configured for families with children, or to accommodate two or three adults. Even the lamps are portable and touch-controlled. There is no desk, but there are movable stools and an over-the-bed table contraption that doubles as touchpad holder, snack table or nightstand.
At the present time, one additional Nomad Hotel is located in LeHavre, France, near the rail station, as convenient for cruise ship passengers as the Paris airport location is for airline travelers.
Environmentally Conscious and Green
An additional distinguishing feature of these new hotel chains is the emphasis on eco-consciousness, especially apparent at Nomad, where an in-room guide details all the sustainable and renewable materials, as well as the green and energy-saving features of the hotel.
Specific woods for flooring and furniture are selected from sustainable forests; hallway carpet, vanity sinks and lobby furniture are fabricated from recycled plastics and natural fibers, wireless sensors manage heat, cooling and water use, and the dedication to conservation is all-encompassing. Motion-controlled lighting in the private WC compartment is on only when necessary, and room lighting is activated by a keycard and controlled by the in-room tablet.
Every guest room has a partitioned trash container so that waste can be effortlessly recycled properly. Guests are encouraged to reuse towels during a short stay and to request changes of bed linen sparingly even during extended stays.
The New Face of Business Travel
In addition to location and comfort, these “layover ports” have, in effect, fostered a new definition of luxury, and a greater commitment to sustainability. Business travelers appreciate the simplicity as well as the price. These upscale but affordable brands hold much promise. If the American response to the growing European demand for high-tech and high convenience is similarly enthusiastic, the result may be a new construction boom in the hospitality industry.
In the United States, there is every opportunity to target a new breed of a business traveler; locations for these business-oriented overnight oases can just as easily be along freeways or in city locations as at airports. That is already a direction in Europe, where the growth of brands like Ibis, Novotel, Mercure and Pullman, all owned by global giant AccorHotels, typically boast smaller rooms, colorful interiors, trendy decor, and no-frills convenience.
They may look like the “cookie-cutter” motels along American highways, but they are focused on digital nomads and those who demand specific creature comforts — multi-jet showers, for instance, rather than swimming pools, free Wifi instead of chocolates on the pillow, fresh fruit and healthy snacks available 24-7 over an in-room coffee maker and microwave, and better security rather than a portable safe.
In the U.S., by contrast, a move toward boutique hotels is evident, peaking in cities like Minneapolis, with an emphasis on “staycations,” getaway trips that keep families closer to home. Chains like Hilton, Marriott and even Trump are moving in the direction of smaller, more personalized hotels.
Another new concept is the darling of Graduate Hotels, a chain that has opened 10 unique properties in college towns; they hope to reflect school spirit and culture, and “to speak” to locals, students, and visitors.
Will the new standard of Euro-tech hotels arrive on American shores? Although it remains to be seen, it certainly seems plausible. Perhaps the time is near enough that forward-thinking design and construction professionals should begin moving in that direction. There is a world of innovation out there, and plenty of opportunities to rethink the future of business travel and of construction.
Whether your business is to build or renovate existing properties, or your crews are on the road constantly for other reasons, the emerging face of business travel has turned in a new direction. It’s worth an in-depth look.