Best Western Intl. put pedal to the metal in 2018. The hotelier has opened the debut U.S. hotel for its previously-revealed Vīb flag in Springfield, Missouri (a hotel in Antalya, Turkey opened last year) and the first property under its GLō brand in DeSoto, Texas, as well as launching a pair of soft brands, Sadie Hotel and Aiden Hotel.
If that sounds like a lot of midnight oil, it was. Amy Hulbert, vice president, upscale and boutique brands, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and her team have done their due diligence and then some, starting in 2014 when Vīb was first announced. Careful swim lanes help owners and developers understand the identities and business models of each of the four brands, even though a fair number of them might be swayed by the cool factor alone. Vīb is a newbuild urban offering; GLō is suburban and can be conversion or ground up building. Sadie Hotels and Aiden Hotels will both be in what Hulbert calls “primary markets and metropolitan hotspots,” but Sadie Hotel is upscale, while Aiden Hotel is upper midscale.
Read on for the secrets behind the design of this quartet of up-and-comers, and for the inside story on how to make riveting design as functional for the owner as the guest. And listen up, right now. This is timely information for your firm or yourself. “We welcome outside design firms that will bring their unique vision to these brands, as we hope to have so many in the pipeline that we’ll need a large group to work on these new properties. With that said, we are currently looking to add to our team so that we can ensure that each of the new properties gets the individual attention it deserves,” says Hulbert.
Capture a distinct ambience in a prototype with enough design flexibility to withstand both translation (in languages from English to Turkish) and eventual renovations. Make sure each traveler’s needs are anticipated. Keep costs down during construction and operation. “It was fun and challenging at the same time,” says Hulbert. Okay, maybe not everyone enjoys playing in such a complex sandbox, but Hulbert’s not the type to shy away from the hard stuff. For Vīb, she and her team got personal to figure out which elements were key and how to execute them.
“Working in our industry, and doing what we do, we travel a lot ourselves. So, some of the ideas resulted from our own needs while we’re out on the road. And some of it really is common sense, just thinking through what today’s connected travelers need and finding a creative way to problem-solve for them,” she says, adding that they did, of course, supplement that with an intense R&D process. The result? Clever touches include elements such as guestroom cubbies, part of a workspace built into the back of the headboard, with slide-out wire drawers (no more losing stuff at the back of dark storage spaces, either—they’re lined in orange) and bright red check geometric in desks, all on display in the Springfield hotel.
While those solutions definitely bring the wow, they’re also adaptable and replaceable. “If you look closely at the design you will see that the permanent features are all fairly neutral, allowing for a cost effective renovation when the time comes,” says Hulbert. “We have stained concrete floors and neutral walls; even the major seating elements are in a neutral palette. The punch comes from smaller seating pieces and accessories in our signature colors (think wild shades such as orange and poppy aqua), items which are typically replaced more frequently.”
Light Me Up
Midscale doesn’t mean middle of the pack in 2018. Okay, so that’s not news in gateway cities, but head-turning design is slower to come to secondary and tertiary cities, as well as suburban markets. Hulbert wants to change that with GLō. “The brand focuses on a dramatic, iconic arrival experience, such as the bar-shaped exterior design that welcomes travelers with a beacon of light; streamlined, contemporary guestrooms that maximize space and feel; and stylish, cost-effective materials where furnishings serve dual functions and are designed for both leisure and business travelers,” she says.
Convincing developers to push the limits meant meeting them more than halfway. While the design process was all about high-octane creativity, dialed in slightly when absolutely imperative, the final product had to be easy on the bottom line and the eye. Illuminated elements inside and outside are a playful, memorable twist on the hotel’s name. A “center-loaded” bathroom design keeps just the essentials and is more economical. The building design can be scaled up a floor or two without losing its integrity; rooms can be added or subtracted to fit different footprints. Herman Miller desk chairs may be an investment piece, but consolidating the desk, luggage bench and drawers into a single unit balances the budget.
Jumping into the crowded lifestyle sector in the crowded upper midscale and upscale, design-led space is tough. Already-established competitors from Marriott Intl. to Sydell Group have planted their flags on that new frontier. So, of course, Best Western plans to dive in headfirst with not one, but two, complementary offerings. The first Aiden Hotel recently opened in Seoul and a second property outside Paris will debut before the end of the year; Sadie Hotel has one outpost under construction in Tampa and a site secured in New York.
Once again, it’s sensitivity to the clients’ needs that Hulbert puts front and center. “Both Sadie Hotel and Aiden Hotel present the opportunity for independent hoteliers or developers with branded assets in their urban and suburban portfolios to reposition a property in a unique way. We offer a cost-effective, turnkey – yet very customized – design and renovation program. No cookie cutter designs here!” she says. While details are still scarce as of press time, expect to see the streamlining of services usual in boutiques in this space. In other words, goodbye check-in desks, hello in-your-face aesthetics.
For all of these offerings, the company’s spunky, unapologetic attitude permeates its journeys into new territory. Who wouldn’t want to get onboard?