Toni Stoeckl (left) with Sean Hunt, Marriott International, at Element Melbourne Richmond.
Lifestyle hotels are enjoying increasing popularity around the world. Was this expected or foreseen at any point in time?
We have done a lot of consumer research on general consumer behavior. We examine why people travel and what they expect from travel, and encourage the belief that consumers don’t necessarily want to own material things, but actually want to connect experiences in life. Travel plays such an important role that people are looking for a collection of experiences. As a result, it has become increasingly important for us to establish an emotional connection while a traveler is staying with you as people are looking for that emotional connection.
The Element Melbourne Richmond is located near the Yarra River.
Based on our research, we have developed a lifestyle based on different psychographic behaviors of different consumers. We understand their behaviors, attitudes and passions and try to create an experience that goes beyond a clean shower and comfortable bed.
Is there a huge gap between lifestyle and boutique in terms of the overall theme of a hotel, the message it sends out, or what it is trying to achieve?
I would say when we think of lifestyle hotels – they have a more distinct view of travel and we often call them adventure hotels. The question is, how do you define lifestyle? From our point of view, it’s everything for someone, not something for everyone. It’s about really understanding that unique customer and then building the public space experience, developing the design, building the workforce, and understanding who you’re actually hiring to provide a more emotional connection in terms of service.
In today’s crowded marketplace, is it necessary to assimilate a new hotel brand with a globally recognized name like Marriott International?
The idea is how we perceive the success of Westin, a great brand with so much brand value. How do we offer this offer in a longer or extended stay format here? It made sense for Element to bring to life some of Westin’s wellness DNA. So it made sense to have Westin’s endorsement as part of the name.
For other brands, such as Moxy, we decided not to recommend this as we want to appeal to new customers who might not think of Marriott when traveling today, but we would like to welcome them and introduce them to the portfolio through Moxy. Therefore, a recommendation like Marriott is not necessary or even an advantage. So the strategies vary a little depending on the brand.
A king room with balcony in the Melbourne Richmond element.
But you hit the nail on the head for AC Hotels, which started out as an independent hotel company in Spain. He did an excellent job and expanded the portfolio to over 80 hotels. And it was actually a great opportunity for us to add the Marriott name to a portfolio by naming AC Hotels by Marriott. From our owners’ point of view, the inclusion of the Marriott name in 80 hotels across the country has been very positive and beneficial. We do this from brand to brand, but often the supporting brand can certainly provide initial awareness and understanding.
As the market leader in the lifestyle sector, how difficult is it for you to develop a new hotel concept?
It’s always an exciting journey, but it always starts with getting a really deep understanding of your customers, doing a lot of research, and talking to consumers about how they behave in and out of travel. Then we take certain brands and see how we can break some rules, conventions or challenges.
In marketing, for example, we decided that this consumer is strongly influenced by DIY self-service – he takes Ubers with him and orders food at home. You don’t want to go to the front desk to check in. You don’t want to switch to that traditional service model where a bellboy brings your luggage up, so check in with Moxy at the bar. There is no more reception. That’s why we gave you the same service of checking you in while we can make you a drink and we greet you with a drink and start the experience of a moxy with the fun part making you a coffee or a drink.
Marriott International Global Brand Leader, Lifestyle Brands, Toni Stöckl.
As an example here, this definitely calls into question the norm of how we believe hotels should be run in all respects. But it allows us to really focus on the experiential part versus the transactional part.
We know that thanks to advancing technology, you can now check in and open your guest room from your phone. We’ve tried to change the way we think about the typical service interaction you might get. All of this is driven by consumer behavior. The same goes for element. The reason we know this is catching on is because consumers are much more conscious and careful about sustainability and making buildings green from the ground up.
That’s why I say it’s the fun part. It’s certainly more complex, im [United] States because we want to offer all these nuanced services, but that’s all because the consumer wants it, and so we come back to that.