Hyatt's Homes Away From Home Getting Homier

by , Sep 20, 2011, 8:47 AM
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Home may be where the heart is but for many a businessperson nowadays, it's not where the body finds itself for extended periods of time. As a result, business travelers are demanding -- and getting -- more accommodating accommodations with a touch of the amenities they hanker for at the hearth.

Case in point: Hyatt Hotels announced Monday that it is "evolving its extended-stay brand into a distinctive new hotel concept -- Hyatt House - that will redefine the segment into a social and contemporary environment to help guests feel connected, welcome, and at home."

The company says it conducted extensive consumer research and collaborated with the architecture and interior design firm Stonehill & Taylor "to create a warm, inviting, and comfortable environment" that encourage guests "to relax with design elements and amenities that feel closer to home, allowing them to easily connect with others through enhanced social spaces."

The revamped properties will each feature a Great Lounge -- a multi-purpose area with distinct spaces featuring chairs with built-in digital plugs and "gadget resting spots," an oversized social sectional, and a glass-enclosed game room with a home entertainment system and pool table.

"Inspired by the way the kitchen is the heart of any home and revolves around cooking, conversation, and entertainment, the Great Lounge will feature the H Bar, an integrated island that transforms from a breakfast bar in the morning to a cocktail bar in the evening with small plates, providing a place to gather with colleagues, friends and family," according to a press release. There will also be a "backyard" with a kitchen and fire pit.

The studio, one- and two-bedroom kitchen suites will have "residence-like touches" such as peek-a-boo cabinets in the kitchen, an entryway hall tree, and a multi-tasking island where guests can prepare a meal, watch TV or work on their laptops.

The company entered the extended stay business when it purchased Summerfield Suites in 2006. In July, Hyatt purchased 24 hotels from LodgeWorks L.P. for $802 million in cash and announced that it would convert 16 of the properties, then known as Hotel Sierra, into Hyatt Summerfield Suites, according to the Chicago Tribune's Julie Wernau. It was the company's largest acquisition in recent history.

The extended-stay segment is the most profitable in Hyatt's portfolio, Wernau points out, while observing a "lag in terms of sheer number of properties" in the niche. Presumably, that's changing.

Hyatt's Summerfield Suites and Hotel Sierra brands are expected to complete their name and signage changes by early 2012. Posting on Flyertalk.com, Brian Cohen writes, "one would think that... Hyatt House is a new brand name. In fact, the first Hyatt hotel property in 1957 was named Hyatt House."

One commenter on Flyertalk's forum remarks that "it's smart to include Hyatt as part of the brand name. Summerfield Suites has no connotation to me, whereas Hyatt xxx does."

The Wall Street Journal's Kris Hudson reports that Hyatt, with 54 total properties, is currently the 14th-largest U.S. extended-stay chain, according to Smith Travel Research. Marriott International's Residence Inn is No. 1 with 597 properties.

The category, which hit historical highs in 2007, has posted occupancy so far this year of 73.5%, up 2.9 percentage points from the first seven months of last year, Hudson reports. "Revenue per available room has increased to an average of $57.11, up 8% from last year." Writing in The New York Times, Julie Weed reports that the corporate apartment business is also undergoing a makeover "from small studio spaces to multi-bedroom apartments for families -- with increasing services and amenities." This option consists a group of apartments in a building, or even a stand-alone apartment, and does not include the common dining room, room service or on-site concierge found in hotels, Weed points out.

"Travelers are starting to ask for the executive experience in an apartment setting," Mark Skinner, a partner with the Highland Group, tells Weed. Companies have been adding workout rooms, restaurant meal delivery and laundry services and the like as a result.

"Guests are requesting groceries in the fridge for their arrival, bike rentals and even changes in the apartment like special window shades or showerheads," says Jill Chapman, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Los Angeles-based Oakwood, which averages 100,000 guests worldwide annually.

Hilton's Homewood Suites was the top-rated extended-stay hotel in J.D. Power' 2011 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study. The Hyatt brands were not among the top nine finishers, but Hyatt management clearly has ambitions for the brand now that it carries its name.

"We've created what we believe will be a very successful concept -- one that is social and sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable," says Mark S. Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt. Indeed, all that seems to be missing is the daily mayhem of family life.

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