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Hotels seek an edge with customers who may never check in

A Zara and Salon Acote fashion show at Bond restaurant and Lounge at the Langham hotel.

JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

A Zara and Salon Acote fashion show at Bond restaurant and Lounge at the Langham hotel.

At the expansive Oak Long Bar + Kitchen at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, a stylish crowd tucks into roast chicken as a fireplace flickers. Over at the Revere Hotel, scenesters check out street art at a weekly event called Assemble. And in an elegant ballroom above Boylston Street, a well-dressed crowd of power players mingle over sauvignon blanc while viewing art at the Mandarin Oriental.

Forget terrycloth robes and iPod docking stations, the hottest amenity for local hotels is buzz. From sleek restaurants to networking events to fashion shows that attract an eclectic crop of urbanites, Boston hoteliers are increasingly catering to customers who may never check in.

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“Hotels have become much more than a place where someone drops off luggage and sleeps for a few hours and it’s on to the next business trip,” said Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Hotels have become meeting points, collection points for locals or international travelers.”

Boston is one of the most competitive hotel markets in the country, coming in third after New York and San Francisco, according to GBCVB. And now the push for heads in beds has combined with a pursuit for life in the lobby.

“If you can position yourself as a place with events that draw in the locals, it makes the hotel guests simply stay,” said Rachel Moniz, general manager of the Liberty Hotel, where free events aimed at downtown denizens take place five days a week.

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Cooking demos with chefs, yoga instruction, a dog-friendly happy hour, and regular fashion events has made the Liberty a neighborhood culture club since it opened in 2007.

“It would be a shame to have this beautifully built hotel and not have locals experience it,” Moniz said.

Other hotel executives are discovering that a social calendar that attracts a crowd nets a valuable byproduct. Guests and staycationing suburbanites dropping into a stylish scene find there’s no need to go — and spend money — elsewhere. And local scenesters may stick around to have dinner at the in-house restaurants.

On a recent Wednesday, the liveliest scene in the Theatre District may not have been at the Wang Theatre, but at Emerald Lounge at the Revere Hotel. Karmaloop, the locally based online clothing retailer, curated a show of edgy street art displayed throughout the hotel’s thumping lounge.

In the corner, mobile boutique Sneakerbox displayed T-shirts, and hipsters worked the room at the weekly Assemble event.

“This is about bringing the art to the people,” said Jamaal Eversley, a 24-year-old poet/painter/actor from Randolph, who was nodding to ’90s hip-hop. “I’d never be here if it wasn’t for this.”

Hotel guest Jim Locascio, in town for a pharmaceutical supply show at the Revere Hotel, wandered into the welter of 20-somethings and found it “fabulous.”

“It’s cool stuff,” said Locascio, of New Jersey, as he settled onto a couch with his co-workers.

Such cultural collisions have helped the year-old hotel stay hot and “avoid any sort of staleness or stigma that might be associated with being just another hotel bar,” said Bryan Barbieri, the Revere’s public relations director.

Making the boutique hotel a destination for young, creative types has been an effective strategy, he said.

It has “led to a ton of business leads from attendees, who want to book events at the hotel and the lounge,” said Barbieri, who presents film premieres, launch parties, and started a new series that pairs food and film. “They have become some of our best brand leaders.”

In Boston and Cambridge, where there are 98 hotels and up to 20 more being proposed, according to Moscaritolo, even the most storied locations can need a rebrand.

The regal but stuffy Oak Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, for example, was perfect if “you wanted to sit down in a cushy chair and pretend you were more rich than you were,” said the hotel’s general manager Paul Tormey.

But over the decades, it met the worst fate for a restaurant and lounge. “It was getting to be a special-occasion restaurant, which is death row for any facility,” Tormey said. “If you are known for that, it’s lights out.”

When the new Oak Long Bar + Kitchen opened last summer, as part of the Fairmont Copley Plaza’s $20 million renovation, the anchor of the 383-room hotel became a hot spot overnight. With quadruple the bar capacity, chic new fixtures and furnishings, and a contemporary menu, locals have made it their local.

“It’s brought in a new and moneyed crowd from Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the South End coupled with hotel guests, and we are thrilled,” said Tormey.

So instead of a surge on weekends or holidays, it’s busy seven days a week and has doubled the revenue of its predecessor in less than a year, Tormey said.

A few blocks away, the Mandarin Oriental is trying its own brand of reinvention, one that involves events aimed, once again, at city dwellers. This month, the hotel launched a pho pop-up lunch in the lobby, and one evening invited a who’s who of business leaders to an exclusive art party.

“We want to introduce them to the space and integrate ourselves into the Boston community,” said Mandarin Oriental spokeswoman Molly Kinsella.

The evening included a tour of a luxurious Mandarin Oriental residence filled with original art.

Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, was impressed. “There was another level of lifestyle we were introduced to tonight,” he said.

Although he knew the event was a deliberate move to connect with the business community and pave the way for functions at the hotel, he approved of the approach.

“You’ve got a lot of modern, new hotels in the city and more are coming. If they include you in their agenda, you are more likely to return,” said Williams.

These public displays of affection are expected to grow as hotels welcome tastemakers into the fold, marketers say.

Geri Denterlein, of Boston communications company Denterlein, thinks hotels that “engage the streetscape” and explore different ways to generate business will come out on top.

“Gen Xers and Yers are coming of age and hotels can’t just rely on the power breakfast to lure people in,” she said. “They have to bring people of a younger generation into hotels in different ways.”

The Langham hotel’s Bond Restaurant and Lounge is attempting to do that with DJs and fashion shows that draw a younger crowd.

On weekends, celebrity DJs like Clinton Sparks turn the schmoozy after-work bar into a veritable club. On April 3, members of the New England Revolution are scheduled to walk the red carpet in Ted Baker London’s spring collection.

“Today, the competition is so fierce, you have to make sure your product is as up to date as your newest competitor,” said Serge Denis, managing director for the hotel, located in Post Office Square. “If you don’t compete, you are left behind.”

Last year the hotel spent $6 million on lobby renovations to make sure they weren’t.

The result is the Reserve, a champagne bar that does traditional English tea in the afternoon. The hotel has tripled its lobby capacity and sent a message that all are welcome.

“When you spend $6 million, you have to make sure you have a return,” said Denis. “I feel very, very encouraged, based on the response.”

Kathleen Pierce can be reached at
kmdpierce@gmail.com.
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