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Hotel Building Boom Focuses On Boutique Brands
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Hotel Building Boom Focuses On Boutique Brands



People in the hotel industry may be hoping that wherever he is, that he's paying his hotel bill, because that industry has been hammered in this recession. One part of it, though, has actually seen a building boom. Big hotel chains like Hyatt and Marriott and Starwood are rolling out lines of specialty hotels.

Curt Nickisch of member station WBUR in Boston sends this report from one such hotel that recently opened there.

CURT NICKISCH: What you and I think of the lobby, the new W Boston Hotel calls its living room. Plunk down in one of the leather pods, and you can admire the polished granite floors by leaning back and seeing them reflected in the mirror on the ceiling. In the evening, the staff turns the lights down and the music up.

W is part of a big hotel company called Starwood. This new location is the latest in a growing trend of so-called contemporary lifestyle hotels. Hyatt's line is called Andaz. Marriott has Edition. The idea is to lure customers bored of mainstream hotels.

W's global brand manager, Eva Ziegler, takes her job very seriously.

Ms. EVA ZIEGLER (Global Brand Manager, W Hotels): We want to provide access to a world of wow - basically, help you to escape from the fears, from the mundaneness of everyday life and come into a world where everything is possible.

NICKISCH: That might sound attractive, if you can afford it. The W's room rates in Boston start around $200. Hotel staffers wear designer outfits and no name tags because they're just as cool as you. They'll get you anything you want, as long as it's legal. The hotel's general manager, Bill Bunce, remembers the customer who wanted a hot chocolate bath.

Mr. BILL BUNCE (General Manager, W Hotels): To get all of that ready and get it in the tub and marshmallows floating � and they wanted it hot, too, which is even more difficult to do. But we were able to do it.

NICKISCH: And put it on the bill.

Mr. BUNCE: That's the other key part to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUNCE: Whether they want to pay the price.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUNCE: You could tell me whatever you want. I can deliver it, but there will be a price attached to it. So�

Mr. REED WOODWORTH (Hotel Industry Analyst, PKF Consulting): It's a particularly difficult time to be opening up a luxury, high-end hotel in an economy like we've had for the past year now.

NICKISCH: Reed Woodworth is a hotel industry analyst at PKF Consulting. He says occupancy is down nationwide, even as hotels have been cutting rates. But Woodworth says hotel companies remember that before the recession, consumers were willing to pay about $80 more to stay in these newer, cooler hotels that don't feel like a chain, even though they are. The hotel companies are betting on that demand coming back. Here's Eva Ziegler.

Ms. ZIEGLER: W Hotels basically doesn't build hotels just today for tomorrow, but builds hotels for the long term so that when the economy comes back, it also means we will own the upswing.

NICKISCH: Industry analyst Reed Woodworth says investing in new locations during a downturn can keep customers loyal and interested. But it's risky.

Mr. WOODWORTH: It's still pretty much the wisdom in the hospitality world that this is going to be a rather slow climb out of this hole. So while they are riding the upswing, as it were, it still looks to be a very gradual upswing over the next few years.

NICKISCH: Meaning it could be a long time before these hotels make money. After all, people have gotten used to paying low rates for high-end hotels. It's going to take a while to convince consumers to pay the high prices they used to pay for these kinds of hotels, even with the lure of hot chocolate in the bathtub.

For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston.

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