Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you know that lifestyle hotels are in vogue, with new brands being unfurled at a rocket-pace and more still to come. This trend comes in stride with the blossoming spending power of millennials as well as all those more attuned to the laidback, tech-forward nature of today’s traveler.
I have experienced many of these chain variants firsthand, and in my estimation they often fall short in execution and in creating a distinctive sense of place befitting the ‘lifestyle’ descriptor. Many of these concepts have noble intentions but are not different enough from the more traditional hotel model to create a memorable experience. Simply put, what looks great on a website is often not delivered in real life.
On a recent trip to Honolulu, a newly opened, 112-room independent in the Waikiki Beach area named the Surfjack Hotel caught my eye. It is one of the few places that wholeheartedly embraces its lifestyle positioning, all under the guise of creating a space that truly appeals to millennials.
The building follows a classic 1950s mold with low ceilings and terrazzo floors. An almost non-existent reception is located in front of an open air pool flanked to the right with cabanas that also extend the lobby as a living room style meeting place. The rather eclectic layout brings everyone together. The restaurant flows seamlessly through to the pool, with several painted picnic tables for communal seating. The casual vibe is effortlessly communicated by the ‘Wish You Were Here’ writing painted on the bottom on of the pool.
Moving to the interiors spaces, the color palette is totally wild and not seeming to fall into any specific category or genre. Open air hallways are versicolor with a green framework reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach. The rooms are decorated with work from local artists, using both prints and one-of-a-kind wood assemblage. Altogether, the room furniture looks more like what you would expect at a summer cottage than at a hotel. Touching on a few other nuances, the magazines on the coffee table target a youthful lifestyle instead of the more quotidian high-end travel pubs. In essence, the Surfjack has captured the spirit of the contemporary traveler – younger, informal and unpretentious.
The restaurant, Mahina & Sun’s, is run by Honolulu-born chef Ed Kenney – his fourth project under his belt. Recognized as one of the leaders in a growing local food culture, Kenney has themed this restaurant as ‘elevating home cooking, Hawaiian style’. This makes perfect sense, and is consistent with the property’s strategy. Local sourcing, traditional recipe influences, sharing plates and informal items are core to its menu.
In speaking to Lynette Eastman, the Area General Manager for Aqua-Aston Hospitality, I learned that the property is only months old, and still very much in the formative stages. Not surprisingly, she is proud of the work that her team has put together, admitting that there is still work to do insofar as coordination and service enhancement.
Interestingly, rather than have a sales and marketing manager, she has created the position of Director of Experiences. This recognizes that marketing is now more aligned with social media, public relations and events than traditional media channels. Eastman is closely watching TripAdvisor, using it as a barometer of overall public response as well as providing independent quality control feedback.
The property’s appeal to a younger target audience is reflected by its ADRs in the low $200s with seasonal variation. Comparable to pricing by the major brands, the Surfjack provides a tangible option that delivers both experiences and authenticity.
So, if you are considering a revitalization of your property to better target a millennial audience, this property is worth your inspection.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in Hotels Magazine on November 15, 2016).