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Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 93

July Breaks U.S. Hotel Occupancy Record; 65-and-Older Population Soars;
Hotel History: Hotel New Netherland

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
September 10, 2012

1.  July Breaks U.S. Hotel Occupancy Record

Smith Travel Research (STR) reported that the industry sold more rooms in July 2012 than in any other single month since STR began tracking industry performance in 1987.  STR's COO Brad Garner said, "Record levels of demand will continue to stimulate ADR growth, particularly as group rooms sold firms in the historically heavy convention months of September, October and November.  Discount-conditioned consumers will continue to experience a shift to a seller's market with magnitude likely accelerating in 2013."
STR also reported that the U.S. hotel industry achieved a net income of approximately $33 billion or 21.4% of total revenues during 2011- a healthy increase over 2010 levels.
A recent PKF Hospitality Research survey forecasted that on any given night in 2012 nearly 3 million of the nation's 4.8 million hotel rooms will be occupied.  This is 5.6% greater than the levels of lodging demand accommodated in 2007, the year prior to the recession.
Given the dire predictions of economic dooms by certain political analysts, the reports above forecast an improved future for the U.S. hotel industry.
Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

2.  65-and-Older Population Soars

Since I last wrote about this subject in 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any time in U.S. history.  On April 1, 2010 there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older, up 5.3% from 35 million in 2000 (and just 3.1 million in 1900).
The 65-and-older population jumped 15.1% between 2000 and 2010, compared with a 9.7% increase for the total U.S. population.  People age 65 and older now make up 13% of the total population compared to 12.4% in 2000 and 4.1% in 1900.
In March, 2004, the late Professor Anthony Marshall wrote in Hotel & Motel Magazine an article entitled, "Gray Matters: How to Profit from an Aging Marketplace"

"The real joke this day and age is on hoteliers who don't make their properties safe and comfortable for seniors.  But many still don't....
Another barrier to having a hotel that's safe and comfortable for seniors is the erroneous perceptions held by staff and servers:
  • People older than 55 can't hear so you better speak loud
  • Everyone older than 60 has Alzheimer's, so don't waste any time having a conversation with them
  • Elderly guests like to be called condescending names such as "sweetie", "dearie" or "mom and pop"
In order to reach this market, hotels must understand the needs and wants of the older traveler and provide services that appeal to them.  A tour of scenic sports is of little value when most senior travelers must remain in the tour bus because the hike to the falls is uphill all the way.  A couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary should not be turned off in the hotel lounge because the disc jockey plays only heavy rock and roll music. But you must also beware of preconceptions.  Most seniors, for example, are more youthful and progressive in their thinking than people imagine.  They are open to new ideas and are information-hungry.  More than ever, seniors are using their computers, the Internet and online sites to explore, plan and book transportation, hotels and travel.
Older Travelers Needs and Preferences
Prejudice against the elderly, which is characterized by rude behavior toward older persons, is fairly widespread.  Direct-contact hotel personnel must be trained to work with the older traveler.  The staff must be taught how to communicate with persons with weak eyesight or poor hearing or both. 
Many prefer rooms with two beds and room locations on the lower floors near an elevator and fire stairway. Safety and security can be strong selling points.  More than other travelers, older guests enjoy areas where they can gather to talk and socialize.  Such rooms should generally be separate from the cocktail lounge.
Groups of mature travelers usually enjoy attending some kind of welcoming reception.  You might meet them as they arrive to explain meal times and the hotel facilities and then offer coffee, lemonade and home-baked goods.  Most older persons also like to participate in organized entertainment after dinner, such as a trip to a local theater, sing-along, or a shopping excursion.  Some hoteliers provide guide services for these activities and for day trips.  All hotel guests would benefit from the following improvements:

In Guest Rooms

  1. Better lighting at the writing table, at bedside, in closet, at TV set, at room entry.
  2. Master electrical switch at bedside to control all room lights.
  3. TV remote controls that are easy to read, clear in direction, simple to operate and hygienically clean
  4. Blackout drapes and/or shades that actually keep light out.
  5. An alarm clock that is easy to program and read.
  6. Lamp switches at the base of the lamp where they can be easily seen and reached.
  7. Real clothes hangers in the closet along with irons and ironing boards.
  8. Descriptive printed materials that are well written, clearly printed, and large enough to read easily.
  9. Provide large print directional instructions to fire exit stairways on the back of guestroom doors.
In Bathrooms
  1. Apply good non-skid material to both the bottom of bathtubs and the bathroom floor.
  2. Install well-placed and secure hand-holds and grab bars in bathtub/shower/toilet areas.
  3. Make sure the shower controls and the adjustable shower heads are easy to turn on and to adjust.
  4. Eliminate hot water surges and provide scald-proof hot water.
  5. Install easy-to-use faucet handles instead of knobs.
  6. Install night lights which won’t disturb sleeping but will provide safe night trips to bathroom.
  7. Install a magnifying mirror on an accordion bracket.
  8. Provide a UL-approved hair dryer with a wall-hung bracket.
  9. Supply better-quality, more absorbent towels in color.
  10. Make sure all shower curtains are long enough to reach well below the bathtub top.
  11. Provide bathroom amenities (shampoo, lotion, etc.) in containers which are easy to identify (with large print) and which have raised surfaces on the cap for easy turning when hands are wet.
In Corridors And Elevators
  1. Make certain that corridors are well-illuminated, especially over guest room doors to expedite the use of electronic door lock cards.
  2. Provide easy-to-read, well designed directional signs.
  3. Corridor exit signs should be installed close to the floor so that they won’t be hidden by rising smoke.
  4. Elevators should have clear and well-lit floor buttons with “Door Open” buttons easily located.
  5.  Elevator door bumpers should retract readily when touched.
In Case of a Power Loss

  1. Provide flashlights, flares and glowsticks
  2. Have plenty of bottled water, extra food and supplies
  3. Install back-up gas-powered generators
  4. Tie water-pump operations to the emergency system
  5. Check and improve the seals on freezers and refrigerators
Finally, heed the wise words of Tony Marshall: "It seems obvious to me that the best way to turn gray into pure gold these days would be to make all aspects of travel comfortable and safe for an aging population.  All hotel planning and design groups should exploit this growing market and include senior input through all stages of development."

3.  Hotel History: Hotel New Netherland in New York

The present Sherry-Netherland Hotel is a 38-story apartment hotel located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York which opened in 1927.  It was designed by Schultze & Weaver (who also designed the Waldorf-Astoria, Pierre, Coral Gables Biltmore and Breakers Hotel).  The site had been previously been occupied since 1892 by the Hotel New Netherland.
My hotel collection contains a Harper's Weekly magazine article dated March 7, 1891 which reports on two new hotels being constructed at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street:

The New Hotels On The Plaza,  New York

Advantage of position, that is the architect's battle with his art.  Unlike an Alexander, he cannot maneuvre for it.  There is a fixed factor and he is owner of the lot, and master of the situation.  "Put up my building here.  These are my limits, and I want my structure lofty, imposing." He is indifferent as to the narrowness of the street, and so, following his behest, up goes the towering edifice.  Would you see the pinnacle of it, take it all in, as it stands? Then your position would be such as to dislocate your neck.

Advantage of position is an architect's bit of good luck, and nowhere else in New York has it been better afforded than at that locality on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street where spreads out the Central Park Plaza.
Where Fifty-ninth Street enters Fifth Avenue, to the right and left of it, there have been for many a year two lots not exactly without structures on them, but the buildings were of a sorry kind. These were beer-houses, serving to quench the thirst of those going and coming to and from Central Park.  A number of years ago the master thief of city corporations had devised some grand plan of a caravansary of mammoth proportions, which was to cover the whole block between Fifty-eighth and Fifty-ninth streets and a commencement had been made.  Adjacent to the superb entrance to Central Park such structures were eyesores.  Everybody knew, however, that they were but temporary blemishes on the face of this fine plaza.  Now they are no more, for two superb hotels are in process of erection, as shown by the illustrations.
The building to the left of Fifty-ninth Street, with its frontage on Fifth Avenue, is the hotel to be known as the New Netherland, to be built by Mr. William Waldorf Astor.  Today steam-drills are pecking away at the rock, and within ten days the foundations will be put in place.  The building will have a frontage of 100 feet on Fifth Avenue, with a depth of 125 feet on Fifty-ninth Street.  The hotel is to be of seventeen stories, and below the street level there will be cellar and sub cellar.
The mechanism of the modern hotel is complex.  It bears a certain semblance to a factory.  Catering to the many requirements of those who are to live in the 370 guest chambers of the New Netherland, it is a nice calculation to find out what is the exact numerical force of those whose business it is to care for the paying occupants.  In this hotel, cellar, basement, first, second and the seventeenth stories are what are designated as "the working stories" of the house.  The nicety of appreciation on the part of an architect who makes the interior plans of the hotel of today must be apparent.  Many diverse problems must be solved.  It may be house keeping on a grandiose scale, subjected to the same rules, only it is the expansion of them all which increases the difficulties.
Ventilation! Why, the fussiest people, not the less sensible as far as pure air is concerned, are those who, taking rooms in a hotel, notwithstanding the elegance of the table, pack up their baggage and quit in high dudgeon on the suspicion that a room or a hall has a fluffy or musty odor.  To give privacy, with hundred of people in a house, seems paradoxical.  Everything must be accessible.  A single dark room breeds vermin, and all hotels have the Croton bugs they deserve.  In the economic and social conditions, if an architect has carte blanche to do as he will, as is supposable in the case of the New Netherland, nothing less than perfection is aimed at.
The building follows the Romanesque. The first four stories are of Belleville brownstone.  From the fifth to the twelfth story the superstructure will be of buff brick.  The next story, to the balcony, will be stone-faced, and the four uppermost ones will follow the slant of the roof.  What the architect ̶  Mr. William H. Hume     has tried to do, the height of his edifice being so much in excess of the base, is to break the great upstretch of the building by accentuating the horizontal details; and where the skill comes in is to accomplish this without shock.  Mr. Hume has the advantage of knowing fairly well what will be the effectiveness of his building, because, with the width of the plaza before him, he is not at work in the dark. The Roman arches are on the Fifth Avenue facade.  A word might be said about Roman arches.  Modern necessity skimps the Roman arch of the grandiose.  The Roman built neither hotels nor newspaper offices, and was, fortunately, indifferent to rentals.  We cramp all entrances because they do not "pay" and portals of noble construction are only to be found in structures intended for pompous or glorious services.

As to the interior decoration, there will be a fine staircase, with marbles and bronzes.  The ground for the New Netherland was broken at the close of last year, and some time in the fall of 1892 the hotel will be opened for guests.
On the other side of Fifty-ninth Street, a hotel is being built by Judge P. Henry Dugro and Mr. F. Wagner.  The first story now shows above the sidewalk.  The hotel stands on a 75-feet frontage on Fifth Avenue, and has a depth of 150 feet on Fifty nine Street.  The architect, Mr. Ralph S. Townsend, is constructing an edifice in the Italian Renaissance style.  It is to be built of brick, with an entire facing of Indiana limestone, which is a material of a light gray with a faint warmth of buff.  On the Fifth Avenue front there will be a handsome portico, with a width of 45 feet, supported by eight columns of polished granite.  The structure will be of twelve stories, with basement and sub-basement and will contain 325 rooms.  This hotel was commenced in the spring of 1890, and will be finished some time in 1892.  The interior of the house will be of marble, with mural decorations in white and gold.  In both houses the skeleton structure is of rolled iron and steel.  Perhaps $4,000,000 would about cover the cost of building these two hotels.

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Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC

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