Welcome to the neighborhood. That's what Hilton Worldwide hopes to say with its new global hotel brand, Canopy by Hilton, which was unveiled at Hilton's headquarters in McLean, Va., mid-November. Four years in the planning, and after three years of research and consumer testing, two mock guest rooms and a lobby, and details of the first Canopy, which opens next spring in Reykjavik, Iceland, were revealed. Now 25 Canopy properties are due to roll out in specifically targeted cities across the world.
The main thing driving Canopy hotels, from curbside to bedside, is neighborhood-centricity. This is not a new idea: Philadelphia-based Independent Collection properties are neighborhood inspired, including Boston's The Boxer, and Hilton already embraces the trend — in Ohio, the three-year-old Hilton Columbus Downtown's extensive collection of art by local artists is part of the district's monthly art walk; and Columbus-brewed beers and spirits dominate the bar and restaurant, whose chef, Bill Glover, would rather not do a dish unless it's made with mostly local produce. So, why add a new worldwide hotel brand to its portfolio? "We realized we weren't in the segment with a lifestyle brand offering that wasn't in the luxury market," says Gary Steffen, the global head of Canopy by Hilton. Hilton's luxury lifestyle brands include Conrad and Waldorf Astoria hotels.
"Hilton does a lot of research," Steffen continues, "and we saw we were missing a certain mindset of customers who want an accessible lifestyle brand. This idea all started four years ago. We then did three years of research using feedback from 2,800 customers, and then we went through again and reconfirmed what we'd found."
Getting such a massive enterprise right is key. Hilton's research identified four customer types: originals, room-centrics (those for whom the room is the key element in choosing a hotel), modern business travelers, and cultured vacationers. "We found our customers are skewing younger, skewing female, and to the LGBT community," adds Steffen. "Originals might be younger but, really, cultured vacationers could be any age: they want a high-end experience and art institutions at their fingertips, but they want to be near the second-tier restaurants they can walk to. That could be a millennial or a 63-year-old."
Although each property will be individual, and in new and reused buildings (Reykjavik is a combination, extending an existing structure), Canopy hotels share basic design principles: an open-plan lobby, artisanal café, and business/tech center, all highlighted by natural materials such as reclaimed wood and plant walls. The idea is functional and comfortable, and, of course, that buzzword: social. But not too social: "We're not necessarily going to have DJs in the lobby," says Steffen. "We want to be social and high energy, but more relaxed and comfortable."
Perceived freebies tested positively in research, so room rates include Wi-Fi, breakfast, a welcome snack (local, of course), and early evening tastings of local wines, beers, spirits, and nibbles. A breakfast bag (fruit, yogurt, juice) can be delivered and hung on the hook outside your room, or grabbed to go.
The "Just Right Rooms," as the guest rooms are branded, echo the neighborhood with an art wall relaying the location's story. The two mock rooms at Hilton HQ, an imaginary one in Brooklyn's Greenpoint and one in the forthcoming Reykjavik Canopy, showed slight variations in size and embellishment: Greenpoint's art wall included a bunch of pencils among the tchotchkes because Eberhard Faber Pencil Co. once dominated the neighborhood economically. But both had a soft color palette. Orange is Canopy's "featured color" because it registered in the research as a good energy color — and small splashes of it catch the eye: The employee of the month will wear orange Converse; orange bikes sit outside.
Guest rooms share four common elements: a wooden headboard extending over the bed like a canopy (the idea is of a canopy being a shelter, or the old-fashioned canopy bed); an enormous chaise longue; mismatched nightstands, and the Uncloset, which is something like a traditional hall stand with hooks for coats and hats, but with a rail to hang clothing and shelving for bags and shoes.
One important and real innovation is an empty glass flask in each room for filling at a water filtering station located on each floor, thus eradicating millions of plastic bottles, an enormous guilt factor for the thinking traveler — Canopy's obvious mindset.
"The idea is that everything in the room has a purpose and a place," says Steffen. "I like to quote one of our team who said that Canopy is not designed for design's sake, it's designed for comfort's sake. What we don't want in the room are things no one uses: like the white chair that no one ever sits on."
Canopy's natural, simple design is the result of one head designer and a team of 16 American and European designers.
Design is one thing, but location is the key: Canopy hotels can't be anywhere and everywhere. "We have to get it right. We have to be in the right cities and in richly cultured neighborhoods, so guests can quickly immerse themselves in local culture," says Steffen. "We're not trying to cater to everyone. There are some who still want a more traditional hotel experience. Canopy is about how we live now, or rather how we want to live."
Linda Clarke can be reached at email@example.com.