Experiential hotels come to the city center

Smart hospitality brands are creating immersive experiences for their guests in cities like Los Angeles and New York, according to JLL’s Gilda Perez-Alvarado

It used to be that travelers had to choose between two decidedly different experiences. They either opted for a city hotel with all its attendant conveniences, or they decamped to a further-flung location for activities like cliffside yoga and sea kayaking.

But today, as the experience economy becomes a buzz phrase and a compelling business strategy, smart hotel brands are seeking to bring some manner of immersive experiences — or at least a manageable approximation of them — to their city properties. As I’ve watched this trend, I’ve learned that it’s not so much the size of the footprint that matters, it’s what you do with it.

Even a standard rooftop bar can be transformed into an experiential wonderland. Moxy in New York City, part of the Marriott group, has its “Magic Hour” rooftop bar and lounge, an adults-only space with a section for mini-golfing and life-sized pink plastic bunnies.

In Los Angeles, guests at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire can retreat to a glamping tent erected on the large balcony of the tenth floor Veranda Suite, where they can recline on a queen-sized bed beneath a crystal chandelier after an elaborate eight-course tasting menu.

Last winter, the Arlo in New York’s SoHo and NoMad districts featured an “Arctic Expedition” theme with heated ice huts, hourly snow flurries to enchant visitors, and a winter den with inviting shearling blankets.

And spring in all its glory came to the Nylo in New York last year when the hotel hosted a pop-up flower market and offered botanical-themed cocktails.

These quirky, memorable experiences are one way hotel brands can stand out in a hyper-competitive urban hotel market. It’s also reflective of a fundamental question in this social-media obsessed age: If it’s not on Instagram, did it even happen?

Hotel brands that offer experiences give their guests something to talk about once they get home — and ideally share lavishly on their social media accounts. Travelers today want to feel inspired, hoteliers tell me. They want an out-of-town hotel stay to mean more than just a comfortable bed and room service. And for hotels, being able to incorporate some out-of-the-box ideas and give guests something to talk about is an invaluable branding exercise. Smart hotels realize that, in fact, everything these days is a branded experience, from the logo on a robe to the cocktail napkins by the pool.

None of that has to be compromised in a metropolitan city. That said, urban hoteliers know that they have limitations on what they can offer. So, while they are unable to, say, transport guests to white sandy beaches for sunset yoga sessions, they can elevate their in-house offerings.

The Four Seasons in Austin offered a ‘vino vinyasa’ class that fused traditional yoga with insights into chardonnays and merlots. CitizenM in New York City has a yoga deck overlooking the skyline.

And the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills recently opened up its 17th floor rooftop — which was previously off-limits even to guests since the hotel launched in 1987 — for “Helipad Yoga”, which includes views of the downtown skyline and the iconic Hollywood sign. Rooftops and lobbies, hallways and corridors, become blank canvases on which creatives hired by progressive-minded hotel brands can paint any picture they like. After all, if someone is packing a bag and traveling somewhere, be it for a night or seven, it should feel like it’s worth it.

Gilda Perez-Alvarado is the CEO of JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality Group in the Americas. She can be reached at

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