Heated marble floors, pillow butlers and lavender-misted turndowns are all well and good when you're on vacation or your honeymoon, but sometimes busy business travellers just want a clean, hip and convenient space to rest their heads. That's the reasoning behind the new select-service brand of hotels being offered by luxury chains such as Starwood Hotels, InterContinental, Le Germain and others.
By stripping away the frilly amenities and decadent luxuries, these new hotels are affordable and design-conscious spots that are specifically aimed at the modern business traveller. With their convenient locations, often near major airports, distinctive designs and scaled-back amenities, this booming brand of hotel is no less revolutionary that the advent of motels was in the 1950s.
While these hotels might focus more on necessity than luxury, that's not to say they are spartan or lacking in style. Jan Freitag, vice-president of global development with Smith Travel Research Inc., a company that specializes in hotel data research, has witnessed this trend develop into a significant component of the hotel industry.
"I think that what we're seeing overall is the larger focus on design, both interior and exterior, given that the demographic is shifting," he says. "There are more Gen X [and] Gen Y on the road for their first or second job and travelling more, and this is supposedly what they want so hoteliers are trying hard to build and renovate."
One of the first entrants into this market was Indigo, an offshoot of InterContinental Hotels Group. Billing itself as a branded boutique hotel, the first Indigo property opened in Atlanta in 2004. International hotels followed: a 106-room property in a converted YMCA building in Ottawa and another near Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Bold graphics in bright colours, a blue-and-white cloudscape, architectural trellises and a shock of leaves decorate the rooms and public spaces. The murals, along with the music, signage and even the hotel's signature scent, change with the seasons.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which operates such brands as Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis and W Hotels, launched what it calls its "style at a steal" brand, Aloft, next to Montréal-Trudeau airport in 2008.