What hotels have that Airbnb does not

A new class of hotels entices guests with entertainment features other than the on-site celebrity chef-run restaurant

NEW YORK • You check into a hotel. You are in the mood for bowling. Your wife would love to catch a movie.

However, you are not sure where to head to for these diversions. Relax. You can do both - whether alone or as a pair - without even stepping out of the hotel.

In the war against disruptive folk such as accommodation provider Airbnb, a new class of hotels hopes to fly higher with entertainment features that go beyond the on-site celebrity chef-run restaurant.

Set to open this year, the Ramble Hotel in Denver, for example, will have a screening room showcasing the work of local film-makers.

The upcoming Omni Louisville Hotel, opening in Kentucky in March, will have a speak-easy that includes a bowling alley.

The new Line DC hotel in Washington hosts a radio studio off the lobby, where guests can listen in to live podcast recordings.

The only way to compete with Airbnb and other future technologies that might emerge is to do those things they cannot do - and they cannot provide communal entertainment.

MR IAN SCHRAGER, a hotelier who opened the Public New York hotel, on competing against Airbnb

The trend is not solely expressed in new openings.

The venerable Pierre New York recently launched a cabaret series featuring performances from Broadway singers. To date, it has hosted performers from Wicked and Kinky Boots.

Fresh from a renovation, the Hutton Hotel in Nashville opened a music club recently.

The profit motive is one factor in the entertainment push.

"Hotels have learnt that entertainment is more than just Wi-Fi and high-definition TV in the room with on-demand movies," said Mr Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

"When you can get a customer out of his room and into a bar or bowling alley, the guest is not only hopefully having fun, but also spending money in the process."

Hoteliers said their motivations also lie in extending their hospitality to neighbours, a historic practice that has made hotels - from the Ritz Paris to the Plaza in New York - magnets for non-guests.

"A great hotel has always manifested the social fabric of the city," said Mr Ian Schrager, a hotelier who recently opened the Public New York hotel.

It includes a social space called Public Arts, with live music, film screenings, magic shows, dance parties and more.

"Now, everyone is realising having all this extra entertainment is not just good business, but it also helps drive the occupancy of the hotel," he added.

A buzzy lobby is also one thing a hotel can offer that home-sharing services, which have significantly challenged the industry, lack.

"It's a way of keeping our competitive edge and distinctiveness," Mr Schrager said. "The only way to compete with Airbnb and other future technologies that might emerge is to do those things they cannot do - and they cannot provide communal entertainment."

For travellers, the proposition offers an express route to the creative culture of a city.

"People want to feel the energy of a city in a hotel," said Ms Kelly Sawdon, a partner and chief brand officer at Ace Hotel. It operates a music club at its New Orleans property and a theatre at its Los Angeles hotel.

"When you travel, it's about exposing yourself to new ideas, whether it's food, music or design. Activating public spaces is important because it's a way for guests to feel a more authentic experience in these places," she said.

Which explains why the Hutton Hotel opened a music club, Analog, recently to bring the Nashville music scene in-house.

The hotel has also added two writers' rooms, one designed by country music star Dierks Bentley and the other by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, that serve the city's songwriting community.

"We've created a creative refuge" for local talent, said Mr Jonathan Bartlett, the hotel's general manager. "And guests can become part of the Nashville community without leaving the neighbourhood or the hotel."

The drive to lock in customer loyalty is also spreading worldwide.

Edition Hotels, a collaboration between Mr Schrager and Marriott International, will open seven hotels this year.

Among them, locations in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi will have nightclubs, and one in Times Square in New York will have a performance venue.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'What hotels have that Airbnb does not'. Print Edition | Subscribe