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Radical Hotel Innovation


From Venessa Wong, who joined BusinessWeek?? Innovation+Design team in June.The future of hotel design: giving travelers an authentic and unfamiliar experience without leaving their rooms. While quality, consistency and a comfortable bed remain paramount, some designers now aim to immerse guests in unexpected, and sometimes quirky, environments??he rain forest or museum, for instance.

I spoke with Michelle Finn and Rachel Long about the Radical Innovation in Hospitality Awards, a competition promoting out-of-the box thinking in hotel design. Now in its third year, the competition drew 20 submissions over the past 10 months. Winners will be announced in mid-September and published in October.

More than incremental innovation, a panel of six judges, including managers from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and hotel investors, looked for ??omething that can change travel, change the way hotels are operated,?said Long, special projects editor at Hospitality Design magazine, which is produced by Nielsen Business Media.

This year, immersion was a popular theme among the four finalists. Only one is operating: Pixel Hotel in Linz, Austria, a Linz 2009 European Capital of Culture project. A group of architects leased and renovated functioning real estate throughout the city—they built a room in an art gallery and one on a boat, for example—to give guests a new way to experience the city first hand. The average occupancy rate has been between 70% to 90% since 2008 and the group hopes to break even this year, says Carl Hildebrand, a North American representative for Pixel and a sustainable real estate consultant in Miami. There is interest in other cities to replicate this concept, which allows hotels to avoid new construction, although zoning restrictions must be considered, he adds.

The other three finalists are concepts. Bucket List Lodging, a hotel aimed at the baby boomer generation, would offer temporary, luxury modules in remote areas such as the Himalayas and the Amazon that change every season and have minimum environmental impact. The Zephyr Resort, a locomotive hotel (like a cruise on a train), uses the country’s existing rail infrastructure, also a fuel efficient form of transportation. The Cliffhanger stacks individual guest rooms—one per floor—and suspends them over dramatic landscapes like the Grand Canyon for a 180 degree view.

The competition, founded in 2007 by the John Hardy Group, a property services company in Atlanta, and Hospitality Design Group, accepts ideas for both built and un-built hotels to encourage groundbreaking and viable ideas to keep the industry fresh. Past winners include the Poseidon Undersea Resort in Fiji. The award: $10,000 to the grand prize winner and smaller cash prizes for the first runner-up and a student project.

While not all of the winners become reality, Michelle Finn, who founded the competition with John Hardy and is vice-president of Hospitality Design Group, says, “Innovation [in our industry] should have a platform.”


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