Travel Guides

Here’s a GPS for finding work in some of the busiest markets worldwide.

Thinking about opening another office? Landing a project in a dream locale? Traveling the world and calling it “work”? Here’s the lowdown from the operators and designers making their mark in trending hotspots from Savannah, Georgia, to Singapore to Paris.

Denver's The Maven | Lobby and art piece

For projects like Denver's The Maven hotel, unconventional art pieces are a key way to give a local vibe without being cliché. Photo: Andrew Bordwin

For starters, there’s a lot of upside in the hospitality industry right now. The U.S. cycle looks set for a slower exit from the prolonged upcycle and a shallower downturn. China is still a strong destination for branded hotels, especially in secondary and tertiary markets. The question is whether Dalian Wanda Group’s massive hotel download and the detention of Anbang Insurance Group’s chairman by the Chinese government earlier this summer will mean more opportunities for international companies despite slowing economic growth. Smaller Asian markets, such as Malaysia, are on the rise. And in Europe, data tracker STR says that the hotel pipeline was up a whopping 17.5 percent in June 2017 from the same period a year earlier.

There’s also a pronounced telescoping of the kinds of RFPs designers should prepare for. The continued worldwide boom of soft brands and collections is giving clients a heady mix of creative freedom, lower construction and operating costs and big-brand infrastructure to bring lifestyle properties to a broader range of markets.

Beyond that, the definition of what constitutes a hospitality venue is exploding. Co-working spaces, fitness studios and retail stores aren’t just lobby or basement accessories. Instead, they’re key concepts driving hotels, such as Equinox Hotels, Restoration Hardware’s hotel, west elm Hotels, Muji’s hotels and WeWork’s apartment concept, WeLive. Read on for how these forces and others are impacting three key locations.

U.S. Secondary Markets

Denver's The Maven | Guest room

The contrast of white walls, dark FF&E and vivid art in Denver's The Maven echo the layered design narrative in many smaller markets' boutique properties. Photo: Andrew Bordwin

What’s New: Luxury and upscale lifestyle offers from small flags such as 21c Museum Hotels, Pendry Hotels and Proper Hotels, and boutique brands within major hotel companies, such as InterContinental Hotel Group’s Kimpton, Red Lion Hotel Corp.’s Hotel RL and Best Western Intl.’s Vı¯b and Gl¯o brands. Growth in lower-priced but design-led flags, such as MOXY and TRU by Hilton, as well as extended-stay concepts such as Element Hotels. More interest than ever from soft brands and collections, such as Marriott Intl.’s Autograph Collection and Hilton’s Curio collection.

What’s Next: Crossover stars. Concepts like retailer-driven hotels aren’t just for gateways. west elm Hotels’ initial targets are all secondary cities such as Savannah, Georgia, Indianapolis and Oakland, California. Expect to see larger luxury brands such as SLS and Four Seasons turn their eyes away from NYC and LA to markets such as Seattle and Philadelphia. Multi-brand campuses will get even hotter as investors look for ways to generate more traffic in select-service hotels.

What’s Up: With the rising costs of living in gateways, more and more people are choosing lifestyle over location and heading to more reasonably priced midsize cities. With the threat of a downturn, lower construction costs and smaller properties are appealing for investors.

What You Need to Know: Yes, local counts and so does digging beneath the surface of a city’s history. But designers also need to think long-term if they’re after repeat work, and, as these markets grow, that’s becoming a possibility for many more firms.

Denver's The Maven | Elevator lobby

Pattern becomes the backdrop in The Maven's elevator lobby. Wrapping it from wall to floor draws the eye to suspended seating. Photo: Andrew Bordwin

It’s not just hot independents that are buzzing. For Nicole Nathan, partner of Denver-based design and architecture firm Johnson Nathan Strohe, the key is keeping her process consistent, regardless of the design. “What is standard is our pragmatic approach, which brings functionality to the forefront while enhancing the experience,” says Nathan, whose firm’s work includes The Maven Hotel and The Ramble hotel (set to open later this year) in Denver, along with an upcoming MOXY in that city.

For west elm Hotels’ principal David Bowd, the focus is collaboration with that retailer’s brand (developer DDK, of which Bowd is co-founder, has partnered with the retailer). “Our hotels will include products from existing West Elm and Williams-Sonoma, Inc. collections, along with some specifically designed for that property,” Bowd says. “Each location will also feature a mix of locally made items to reflect the character and talent of its community, from the exterior architecture to custom installations, such as locally crafted art and bespoke furnishings.”


citizenM Paris Gare de Lyon

Dramatic red chairs allude to Paris' reputation as a hotspot for fashion. Complex arrangements of pendant lights in the citizenM Paris Gare de Lyon accessorize that statement. Photo: Richard Powers

What’s New: Renovation/restoration projects, including the redo of the Hôtel de Crillon. Niche hotels such the Drawing Hotel. Innovative lifestyle brands such as citizenM and Hoxton are adding to their presence or launching in the City of Lights.

What’s Next: Co-working spaces such as AccorHotels’ recent joint venture agreement with co-working space operator Nextdoor. Food-centric hotel concepts, such as a Fauchon hotel.

What’s Up: In spite of fears about the impact of Brexit, Accor surpassed predictions for the first half of this year and credits its home country with much of that.

What You Need to Know: You don’t have to live in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower to be on the radar, but, given the kinds of brands entering the market, relationship-building might need to start with work as just one part of the design team.

Anticipating different space uses is key in urban markets. Here, various table sizes and shapes allow guests to choose their own experience. Photo: Richard Powers

“citizenM always collaborates with concrete architects for the concept design of each hotel,” says citizenM brand lead Robin Chadha. “The design firms that are hired locally are responsible for correctly interpreting and executing the concept design, and providing a flawless process during the design development and construction periods.” Another example: Hoxton’s collaboration with Soho House on public spaces means local firms’ work for them is mainly on guest rooms.


Sofitel Singapore City Centre

Elegance is king for hotels like Sofitel Singapore City Centre at Tanjong Pagar. Here, a muted palette streamlines the effect. Photo: Courtesy of Wilson Associates

What’s New: Global brands, such as Sofitel and InterContinental Hotels, strengthening their presence. Debuts from lifestyle flags such as Hyatt’s Andaz.

What’s Next: The continued rise of independents, and collection properties with a boutique aesthetic. More affordable options, such as YOTEL. Co-working spaces.

What’s Up: The market is changing. Singapore’s financial and cultural status is still strong, and, and Wilson Associates chief creative officer Dan Kwan points out that the growing cadre of global citizens is making the city developmentally hotter and zeitgeist-wise “cooler.” “Hipster-ism is suddenly taking root. The coolly caffeinated crowd is in and excess is out,” Kwan explains. “Authentic experiences are hot, engineered environments are not. All this is driven by this constant inflow of returning expatriates and/or students.”

What You Need to Know: Be ready for any style owners can throw at a firm. Make sure team members are as cosmopolitan in their education and outlook as clients. Be prepared to straddle local references and international overtones. Cope with what Kwan calls “international design with local fees” by leveraging next-generation owner’s willingness to take a longer-term perspective on ROI. Understand that ownership is still mostly local, and that those clients see flagship properties as a jumping-off point for international expansion.

Sofitel Singapore City Centre | Dining space

Details matter. Circular shapes repeat on chair backs and even in the tableware in the Sofitel's all-day dining space. Photo: Courtesy of Wilson Associates

“The local objective is for their properties in Singapore to become the calling cards for their properties overseas, hence a little more care and attention is placed on projects locally,” says Kwan. “So, there is a sharper focus on designing unique properties, not standard cookie-cutter designs. If they have multiple properties, each property has to be unique in look and feel.”

Sofitel Singapore City Centre | Suite

Residential inspiration doesn't mean losing a sense of grandeur. In a Sofitel suite's living room, vertical details accent the ceiling height and spatial volume. Photo: Courtesy of Wilson Associates

Wherever the project, today’s market has a few universal concepts. None of the buzzwords, from “authentic” to “lifestyle,” are going away anytime soon—in any language.

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