Trendspotting and $40 million give downtown Marriott brand new appeal

Hotels — everybody wants us, even Trump.

Charlotte is one of several “trendy” cities targeted for the Trump Organization’s Scion brand though to be fair, the hotel boom is spreading across the state. A flurry of new brands are lighting up downtowns across the country, each ratcheting up the perks: slippers, hair dryers from blowout salon chain Drybar, yoga mats, scent diffusers. A guest at the renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center was so taken with a machine that could steam clean a suit in minutes, he told Talib McDowell, the hotel’s director of guest experience, that he would stay at the downtown Charlotte hotel just to use it.

The front desk of old, right, is now “hosted arrival.” Or skip check-in altogether — Charlotte’s “beta” hotel offers keyless entry using your phone.

McDowell is the first such director for the world’s largest hotel company which is testing its beta” property here. In a nutshell: The hotel of the future will feel more like home. An industry that once prided itself on sameness — same deep-red Marriott carpet, same standard lobby coffee bar — now wants you to tack up your one-of-a-kind adult coloring page above the coffee accoutrements at Coco and the Director, a coffee shop so hip, I honestly thought it was there despite the Marriott not because of it. Turns out, McDowell picked out most of the retro decorations himself. He hired the chalk artist who drew the funky wall at the top of the stairs and the utilitarian chart where anyone can write their name to use the “co-lab” space for a meeting.

As McDowell pointed out all of the homey touches, I pointed out that hotel guests once preferred predictability. Now, they want spontaneity. Anyone who wants a hotel to be a break from home might be surprised to find they can get their own drink from the (sleek, well-stocked) fridge in the lounge or sit next to the kitchen at Stoke. Cozy doesn’t come cheap — renovations at the Marriott Center City rang up to $40 million. Previous coverage: Wright leads downtown Marriott’s revitalization

McDowell laughed. Tastes have changed, he says. Guests want hipper, more happening lobbies and restaurants. More business travelers are combining work with pleasure. Roll your eyes at the term if you will, but “bleisure” is up — according to a recent study by Expedia Media Solutions, 43% of Americans taking business trips are turning them into vacations. Hotel companies are creating new brands they hope will be more appealing to both travelers and real estate owners. Many of them franchise the brand or operate the hotels for owners. They’re also taking notice of travel websites such as Airbnb and VRBO — travel research firm Phocuswright says 31% of travelers who used Airbnb in the last two years were on business trips.

Even so, hotel business is good. After struggling during the recession, national occupancy rates rose to 65.4% in 2015, up from 57.6% in 2010, according to STR, a company that tracks and analyzes hotel data. The average daily rate jumped to $120.30 from $98.06 during the same time period. In Charlotte, hotel projects are on the rise from downtown to its suburban edges. More have been added since our August roundup of latest projects.

Previous coverage: More room in the inns: Hotel construction is soaring

A few downtown standouts include:

Allison Williams owns more real estate than she cares to admit in eastern North Carolina but now calls Charlotte home. Writing about the city’s buildings - and the people behind them - promises the bonus of breaking her attachment to Google Maps for finding her way around town.
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