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NYC Hotels Take a Cue from Airbnb: Give Visitors Local Flavor

By Amy Zimmer | February 4, 2015 7:44am | Updated on February 4, 2015 2:45pm
 The development boom leads to a plethora of hotels looking to offer "unique" experiences.
'NY Authenticity' Gives Hotels a Competitive Edge in 2015, Experts Say
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NEW YORK CITY — When the Marriott Residence Inn opens in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx this summer, the lobby won't look like a cookie-cutter version of the chain hotel, its designer David Ashen of dash design promised.

Instead, the developer wanted it to feel "more urban," with a bar geared to area residents and workers from the surrounding medical offices, Ashen said.

From the Bronx to Brooklyn, hotel development is on the rise, and as the field gets more crowded, hotels are looking for ways to distinguish themselves. For many, whether they're big chains or hip boutiques, that means striving to create something more authentically New York, experts said.


It's part of the Airbnb effect, says Ashen.

The popular short-term rental site — which has come under fire from state and city authorities for violating New York rent laws — has shown the appetite for visitors wanting "the sense of uniqueness," that comes with staying in people's homes, he believes.

"People want real experiences," Ashen said, and that means hotels are being more careful "about not trying to drop these spaceships in cities."

A big surge in hotels is about to hit: New York saw 24 new hotels open in 2014, adding 4,000 rooms to the five boroughs. That brought the total number of rooms up to 102,000, according to NYC & Company, the city's tourism bureau.

There are at least 85 properties in the pipeline, which are expected to add more than 18,000 rooms by 2017.

"That brings a lot of new rooms online," said Guy Langford, U.S. leader of  travel, hospitality and leisure at Deloitte. "Some folks have said they're worried that new supply is going to outpace demand. It's going to put pressure on pricing and existing [properties] to stay current and offer unique experiences."

The city announced rosy tourism figures this week — a record 56.4 million visitors came in 2014. But the numbers could dip as the dollar gets stronger, some fear.

"With a really strong dollar right now, I think it's going to cause a bit less international and European travel," Langford said. On the flip side, more Americans might travel to Europe since it's relatively cheaper now, he added.

At a major industry conference last week in Los Angeles, the "whole concept behind kind of customizing the experience was front and center," Langford said.

Existing brands are already shifting strategies.

For instance, Manhattan's largest hotel, the New York Hilton in Midtown recently opened Herb N' Kitchen, which celebrates local fare, including Pat LaFreida burgers, an ever-changing cheese plate from Murray’s Cheese and samplings from Brooklyn's artisanal scene like Salty Road saltwater taffy, Kings County Jerky and Tumbador Chocolate.

Twin Tier Hospitality, which operates a Comfort Inn on the Upper West Side at 71st Street and Central Park West, is planning to re-launch the space this year as the boutique Elää, where floors will represent different subway lines, according to a representative of the project. Each of the 92 rooms will embody a different stop on that line and reflect neighborhood "hot spots" that can be found there. Guests will also be given free MetroCards and a taste of Brooklyn-made ice cream (in addition to in-room iPads).

Even the Level Hotel, coming to Williamsburg's Wythe Avenue and North 12th Street with a giant glass tower perched above a base of retail, office space and public space says it's being true to the neighborhood.

"We're not doing exposed red brick," Mordy Steinfeld, director of operations & Development with Riverside Developers and Level Hotel said — a reference to the nearby Wythe Hotel, which ushered in the area's boutique hotel boom.

"But we're trying to be honest with what the neighborhood is — the essence of the neighborhood — and what makes us fit in from a development and architectural standpoint is the way we're cognizant of pedestrian life," he said, explaining that the "Brooklyn born-and-raised" architects had conversations early on about whether to make the building look "re-purposed," but in the end said, "Let's be authentic."

The 21-story, 50,000 square foot building will have 183 rooms and a 20,000 square foot green roof on top of the retail section, with space set aside for an urban farm.

The Level is part of a growing number of hotels transforming the Brooklyn's hospitality scene, along with others like the nearby Hoxton (a British import), the modern micro-rooms of the Yotel Williamsburg, a 116-room hotel in Bushwick and several Gowanus projects. There's also the hotly anticipated eco-minded 1 Hotel rising as part of the Pierhouse condo along the waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge Park and an Ace Hotel rumored to be among the Downtown Brooklyn hotel wave.

"A little over 2,200 rooms are in the pipeline," said Carlo A. Scissura, President & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which just hosted its first "ExploreBK Hotel Week." Scissura noted that many international visitors are now making Brooklyn their first choice for lodging.

And it's not just Brooklyn that's seeing growth. Hotels are on the rise in Queens, which might be getting a luxury hotel in the Rockaways, and the South Bronx has seen a couple of boutique hotels open, including the Opera House and Umbrella hotels.

"There are hotels coming to Long Island City, Queens Plaza, Whitestone and College Point," said Cushman & Wakefield's Head of Global Hospitality Tom McConnell. "There's not as much yet in the Bronx, but I think that's where you'll see more because of demand generators: all kinds of highways, the zoo, [New York Botanical] garden, hospitals and Fordham."

The average daily hotel rate in 2014 was $295, up from $291 the year before, according to NYC & Company. Some wonder whether prices might go down when new rooms hit the market.

"When you say there is a huge amount of new product coming online, in a spectrum of property types and markets, it's something that will impact the market," Langford said. "I think this summer will be quite telling."


2015 openings are in blue, 2014 openings are in red. For further details, check out the report by NYC & Company.