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Making Sure it Gets the Boutique Concept Right, InterContinental Hotel Group
 Opens First of the New Indigo Branded Hotels Just Down the Road from
 its Atlanta North American Headquarters
By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Oct. 21, 2004 - From the outside, the new 12-story Hotel Indigo reflects the style and era of its Peachtree Street neighbors, the Fox Theatre and Georgian Terrace.

But inside, the stately 1920s building is bright and airy, with warm wood floors, deep blue walls and Adirondack chairs with arms big enough for wide-screen laptop computers.

Inside, the hotel is more South Beach than Southern Heritage.

Welcome to InterContinental Hotel Group's entry in the red-hot lifestyles, or "boutique," market. The British hotel heavyweight is going after travelers seeking SoHo trendy instead of Midwestern bland.

"Hotel Indigo fills a critical gap in our industry right now by addressing middle-market consumers who are trading up to higher levels of quality and taste, but still seeking value," IHG Americas President Steve Porter said when announcing the brand earlier this year.

To make sure it gets the concept right, IHG is launching the new brand in Atlanta, just down the road from its North American headquarters near Perimeter Mall.

While InterContinental has not released pricing, industry experts say rooms will go for about $100 a night. That's at least $50 cheaper than established boutiques like Hotel Monaco and W Hotel, which has an Atlanta location. Indigo starts a trial run Thursday and begins taking general reservations Nov. 1.

"It is a segment that is doing very well by about every indicator," including occupancy and revenue, said Mark Woodworth of hotel market watcher PKF Consulting. "The era of the 'no-surprises' hotels are gone."

Boutique hotel guests want down comforters buttoned into duvets instead of the standard psychedelic quilted spreads, industry watchers said. They prefer furniture from hip, off-the-main-drag shops over mass-assembled department store offerings. They want the heralded service of a Four Seasons while still being able to wear jeans.

"What everybody wants in a hotel nowadays is what they have at home," said American Hotel and Lodging Association President Joe McInerney. "That's why you are seeing the duvets, the 26 pillows on the bed, the plasma TVs."

Boutiques are nothing new. Independent hoteliers ran them for years before San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants gained renown with its Hotel Bedford in the mid-1980s. A trend was born.

"We get credit for that, but the truth is there have always been boutiques," said Kimpton Hotels Chief Executive Tom LaTour. "We were just there when it became popular."

The large chains watched to see whether the concept had legs. After Kimpton and then the W -- the boutique offering of hotel giant Starwood -- made it viable, major operators got interested.

InterContinental saw the value but waited to get it right, said James Anhut, IHG vice president for brand development.

To avoid being what Anhut calls another "beige" hotel, the company went to the retail industry for ideas. The goal: Mimic the changes retailers make throughout the year to keep their floor space and window displays fresh.

Enter Back Lot Productions owners Tracey Barker and Bart Mills. The pair designed large displays that can be easily changed, including the fronts of check-in desks and the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper behind each bed. Duvets, slipcovers and even facial tissue boxes can be altered to match the seasons, a holiday or a special occasion.

At the moment, Indigo's small, tight rooms feature sheer chartreuse curtains and weathered furniture. The showers have small, spa-like wooden seats.

As Anhut puts it, Hotel Indigo is for travelers who want to feel like they are staying in a friend's guest room.

InterContinental needs to be careful how it markets Indigo, industry experts said. It's almost becoming cliché to call any trendy offering a boutique. InterContinental executives, in fact, are quick to use the more ambiguous "lifestyle hotel" label to describe Indigo.

The reason is simple, said John Sears, chief operating officer of Boutique Hotels & Resorts International. Once a trend becomes popular, everyone jumps onto the bandwagon, and eventually the original definition is diluted.

But Sears thinks Indigo will be able to distinguish itself as one of the only boutique brands of the major chains in its price range.

"They hit the nail on the head," he said.

-----To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ajc.com.

(c) 2004, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. IHG, HOT,

 
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