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Artful Lodgers: Creative expressions and experiences in the branding and marketing matrix.
Hotel Interactive
May 1, 2012

by Jeff Heilman

Familiar to all travelers is the anticipation of arriving at the hotel: What will my room look like? How is this brand different? What experiences are in store?

The “art” of a property goes far in answering these questions—and making that all-important positive first impression. From lobby décor and in-room artwork to artist promotions and other initiatives, art in its various forms is a key investment in hotel identity and brand differentiation.

Boutiques especially are the tableaux for creative fantasies, such as the fab 60’s and 70’s TV- and film-themed rooms of the Roxbury Motel in the Catskills. Look no further than the makeover wave at Holiday Inn and the limited-service brands of Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott to see the chic boutique influence.

“Uncreated” public spaces and rooms just seem unwelcoming. Creative dressings, meanwhile, produce memorable results. One shining example is the light-hearted play of eclectic modern furnishings and décor in the Old World lobby of Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Del. Also famously displaying original Brandywine School artwork, the du Pont has its own fine art museum.

At its Louisville, Ky. flagship and soon-to-open Cincinnati and Bentonville, Ark. properties, the 21c Museum Hotel Group defines the nexus of hospitality, art and culture, featuring rotating exhibitions, site-specific installations, cultural programming and events.

A remarkable story of promoting art and artists is found in recovering New Brunswick, N.J., where the Heldrich is a primary revitalization anchor. The luxurious 248-room conference property opened in March 2007 with the commitment—but not quite the funds--to promote New Jersey art and artists onsite. Through inspired solutions including strategic partnerships with area museums and some hands-on ingenuity, it has become a showcase of artful branding.

Exhausting its limited art budget on prints for the guestrooms and pieces for the major public spaces, the hotel cleverly scanned century-old blueprints rendered by a famed local architect and hung them as framed prints in the bathrooms.

A creative eureka solved the issue of bare space in the conference areas. “Art Unbound, an organization that uses artwork as therapy for physically and mentally challenged individuals, sought our advice on local exhibition space,” says Jean Holtz, vice president of the non-profit New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco) and coordinator of the Heldrich’s art program. “The light bulb went off,” continues Holtz. “We would create our own installation space for a full-time program of revolving exhibitions.”

The Heldrich has since gained serious “art hotel” appeal. “Artists have an enhanced opportunity to show and sell their work, people visit just to see the art, and the hotel has an enhanced selling point, which often seals the deal for potential business and social clients,” Holtz says. “It is a win-win for everyone.”

Another success story comes from Marriott’s SpringHill Suites. Last year, the all-suites flag ran a “National Key Card” contest seeking original artwork for its 2012 special edition hotel key, drawing nearly 400 submissions from artists nationwide. The winner, Denver-based painter Courtney Cotton, learned about the competition from participating at ArtNight, an ongoing SpringHill brand initiative.

“I exhibited my work in the lobby of the Denver Airport property, which was turned into a gallery for the night,” Cotton relates. “After seeing my work, the hotel staff and marketing team invited me to enter the key competition.” Chosen in part for its harmony with the brand’s interior design motif, Cotton’s colorful painting was placed on some 4,000 special key cards distributed this April at roughly 300 SpringHill properties.

“As an artist, the publicity and exposure is invaluable,” Cotton says. “Between the ArtNight show and the competition, I’ve connected with a number of leads and buyers.”

In yet another initiative, SpringHill invited online users to help choose new in-suite artwork for the brand. Images from six different artists were displayed online; with some 2,000 votes cast, the winner was digital photographer Michael Lane, whose work will appear in new properties later this year.

“Since our brand launch, SpringHill Suites has been focused on creating inspiring spaces for guests to enjoy affordable style and design while they travel,” says Callette Nielsen, vice president and global brand manager. “Celebrating art and design is what our brand is about,” continues Nielsen, “and so stories from artists like Courtney Cotton are why we continue to recognize and celebrate local artists across the country, through art-inspired programs that connect us to our communities.”

Artist-designed hotel keys feature in Le Méridien’s Unlock Art program, which provides guests at select properties with complimentary access (by showing their room key) to local museums and cultural institutions. One such property is Le Méridien Chambers Minneapolis, in partnership with the Walker Art Center Minneapolis.

Billed as “the country’s first luxury art hotel,” the Chambers includes a commercial gallery featuring rotating shows from local, national and international contemporary artists. Also displayed (and available for sale) are some 250 original artworks from the owner’s private collection--including controversial pieces from Damien Hirst and other Britart brats.

Across the hotel universe, other creative examples abound.

At the Au Vieux Panier hotel in Marseille, France, five artists transformed five different rooms in their own signature style, including one room neatly divided between graffiti and pristine white. The Listel Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia likes multimedia content: featuring an art gallery and rooms created as art galleries, the boutique has produced two jazz CDs and published a best-selling book of short stories.

In Australia, the Art Series group recently ran this cheeky promotion at its three chic Melbourne properties: guests could try to steal one of two works by British street artist Banksy circulated around the hotels, and keep their heist if successful.

Whatever the approach, art sets the stage for enhanced customer experiences.

Custom publisher Mike Winkleman routinely travels into Manhattan from Westchester County for business. His “office away from home” is the lobby of the Ace Hotel, the Gotham outpost of the bohemian chic brand started in Portland, Ore. With a blog driven by artistic content and initiatives like The Impossible Project, dedicated to keeping Polaroid film alive, art is ingrained in the Ace DNA.

For Winkleman (and others), the draw is the conducive environment created by ambient music, library stylings and sink-in furniture. “The Ace lobby is a culturally advanced space that feels purpose-tuned for productivity, with its own soundtrack,” says Winkleman. “It comfortably functions both as hangout and workspace—I come here every time.”

Click here to view the full story as it appeared in Hotel Interactive.