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The Dallas Area a Mini-epicenter for Up and Coming New Hotel
 Brands; Each Has a Slightly Different Take on Market Niche

By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 12, 2006 - At downtown Dallas' newly opened Hotel Indigo, forget about beige walls and rooms that all look the same.

Instead, think bright yellow and blue walls, changeable photo murals and a seasonal signature scent greeting guests in the lobby. (For fall, it's clove.)

The lobby and bar area offers cozy nooks for sipping a cocktail or latte -- or for people watching. And, of course, there's Wi-Fi for your laptop.

The Hotel Indigo signals a new era for the lodging industry, in which hoteliers put more emphasis on snazzy design and personalized service, all aimed at appealing to a younger generation of travelers.

"We're bringing a little sass to an industrialized nation that already has everything else it wants," said Jim Anhut, senior vice president of brand development for InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, which launched the Indigo brand.

Research by YPB&R and Yankelovich Inc. showed that one in three travelers want to stay in a boutique hotel and 58 percent want a hotel with a distinctive theme or atmosphere.

"The younger audience wants to stay in and try new products that have a different standard than the tried-and-true, established brands," said Gary Sain, a partner with research firm YPB&R.

Younger, affluent consumers have already influenced the lodging industry, helping to fuel the popularity of stylish boutique-style hotels by Ian Schrager, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants LLC and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.'s W.

In some ways, the trend toward making affordably priced products chic is the hotel industry's equivalent of retailer Target Corp. selling affordable designer products by Michael Graves and Isaac Mizrahi.

"We're trying to give the mainstream traveler an opportunity to experience something different without breaking the bank," Mr. Anhut said.

This new slate of brands is creating its own price niche -- one that is cheaper than the upscale boutique properties but a premium over brands such as Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard by Marriott.

At Dallas' Hotel Indigo, rooms start around $130, a significant increase from the typical $80 to $100 rates that the property got as the Holiday Inn Aristocrat Hotel.

The up-and-coming brands have different takes on their niche but share some similarities.

Public areas are designed to work as social centers where guests can work but also relax instead of staying in their rooms. Technology-friendly rooms come with upgraded amenities and boast a departure from brands whose rooms look similar from one location to the next.

Rooms at the Hotel Indigo in Dallas feature furniture with slipcovers and area rugs that can be changed more often than traditional furnishings. Drink coasters feature hotel logos but also seasonal designs and haikus.

The rounded check-in desk is shaped like a shell -- part of the hotel's motif -- with the idea that staff members can come around to interact with guests.

The Dallas area is a mini-epicenter for the hotel industry's new approach.

  • Carrollton-based Aimbridge Hospitality LP announced earlier this year that it would develop at least five of Starwood's Aloft hotels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Company officials said they have locations in Plano, Frisco and Las Colinas under contract and hope to start construction next year.
  • Hyatt Hotels Corp. is converting some of its AmeriSuites properties into its new Hyatt Place brand. Renovations at two locations in Dallas-Fort Worth are scheduled to be done in January. The all-suite hotel will feature a wet bar and "cozy corner" for in-room relaxing, plus a front desk coffee and wine bar.
  • Nylo Hotels, a newly formed hotel chain based in Atlanta, announced last month that its first two properties would be in Plano and Warwick, R.I. The brand is focusing on suburban markets initially with its new loft-style hotels.

The $22 million, 176-room Plano location is expected to include the brand's hallmarks, including 11-foot ceilings, brick and polished concrete walls.

Room decor will reflect the local area, said John Russell, Nylo's chief executive. "You'll know you're in Rhode Island or Texas," he said. "You don't get that at a Sheraton."

Picking up on guests' desires to mix business with pleasure, the hotels include a game room and a library where travelers can work and socialize.

"Staying in a hotel should be fun," Mr. Russell said. "It shouldn't just be come in, sleep and go."

That's changed. Twenty years ago, Mr. Anhut said, he would never have thought during a hotel stay to take an extra hour to walk to a museum or visit a local attraction.

"We used to cocoon ourselves in our rooms," he said. "Today, when you ask people if they're here for business or pleasure, more say both."

E-mail smarta@dallasnews.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News

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