This article was originally published by the Independent Lodging Congress
What qualifies as good taste? At the 2017 Independent Lodging Congress last week, Jennifer Flowers, Deputy Editor of AFAR, probed the minds of a designer, an hotelier and a media CEO to find out what exactly makes taste.
“You Can’t Quantify Taste”
“Taste making is somewhat subjective,” noted Surface Media CEO Marc Lotenberg. “The lens we look through [at Surface Magazine] is a very specific lens for design. We don’t have the ultimate taste factor, it’s just our own.” Lotenberg is known for keeping the 25-year-old design-oriented publication fresh by expanding the platform online in a number of ways.
Speakers made it a point to distinguish between trends and taste. Too them, it’s like the notion of taste is getting lost in a time where trends are changing so fast. So many makers are just trying to keep up.
“The biggest issue in the design world comes with focusing only on trends,” designer Madeline Weinrib pointed out. “It’s sort of this throw away culture.” And much of this can be blamed on the immediacy of the internet and social media. That’s where the feeling gets lost.
One thing Lotenberg stressed? Timelessness.
“There’s something about being timeless. Too many restaurants try to redesign their whole menu to keep up with trends,” which he says is ultimately driving away customers. NOBU was an instant illustration: a restaurant with an untouched menu dominating the scene.
“A tastemaker is not a young thing,” Lotenberg points out, “it’s all about timelessness and reinventing yourself.”
KEEP IT CUSTOMER ORIENTED
How do hoteliers and designers combat superficial (or tacky) trends without sacrificing business? By staying true to their core and listening to the needs of their customers. And apparently, not everyone values “living like a local.” In the hotel world, there can be such a thing as too local.
Co-Founder and Creative Director of Pendry Hotels Michael Fuerstman agrees that while trends can be overplayed and tacky, hoteliers must remain customer-focused. Pendry is the new brand under luxe hotel company Montage. The brand was created to meet a missing need in the market place.
Pendry opened a hotel in Baltimore which, according to Fuerstman, is meant to put the city on the map for the new wave of luxury customers. “Pendry is new luxury which is tapping into how customers consume the world.”
But who is this “new luxury customer?” To Fuerstman, they’re a pioneer: they value the mixture of traditional great service, collaboration of new chefs, local designers in new territory. The key, according to Fuerstman, is to be “local and sensible to the place but pull in outside influences for other concepts.”
Weinrib agrees from a traveler’s perspective, noting that hotels must focus on both relevancy and timelessness without compromising who they are. To her, El Fenn in Morocco does a superb job at mixing the local culture with its own personality.
HOTELS: QUALITY > QUANTITY
Jennifer Flowers referenced Surface Hotels, a partnership between Surface Media and Curacity meant to bring revenue in through content. But when asked how Surface decides which hotels to include, Lotenberg said it’s a big debate.
“We want to protect the good hotels that meet our criteria; creating a safe space through curation,” he says. According to Lotenberg, including the wrong hotel that is willing to pay can ultimately drive the right hotels away from the platform. It’s about integrity of taste.
Ironically, not every hotel under an umbrella appeals to each a particular taste either. Through the lens of Surface, not all W Hotels fit: “maybe Miami, Hong Kong, Milan and Tel Aviv, but none in New York.” It really is all about individualization, customization and personalized taste.
For Fuerstman, it’s all about more with less. “In the future,” he predicts, “we’re all going to be challenged with the creative use of space. We’ll have less associates, but we’ll be able to train them better.”
NEXT BIG THING: RETAIL & WEST COAST
One statement in particular raised eyebrows. Lotenberg said that the Surface Magazine team was exploring the idea of what Surface would be like if it were a hotel. “Hotel rooms are a canvas and experience to help test out new products,” he pointed out.
So, why can’t the entire hotel be this subtle retail experience? “You know,” he said “you can go on an app and check out how much that ottoman in the lobby is and buy it.”
Weinrib likes the idea. “I haven’t seen that but I liked that the Barclay had Burberry raincoats in every room.”
The dapper Fuerstman pointed out the major challenge with retail in the hotel: inventory control. “We explored that with Pendry with the idea of the mini bar as more than just F+B. I think we will get smarter with it because it’s a captive audience who are in a buying mood because of that emotional experience.”
Fuerstman also pissed off a few New Yorkers when predicting the next big thing. “We’re going to take more cues from Southern California. Health, wellness, light and space,” Fuerstman pointed out. “I just think L.A. has it going on right now. More people are going to discover that lifestyle and it’s going to influence fashion, art, culture, food, everything.”
Whether Surface actually opens its own hotel or New Yorkers take ideas from the West Coast.