When it opened last summer, the AC Hotel Miami Beach drew the architect Rem Koolhaas and the fashion photographer Nigel Barker, among other luminaries. Celebrity appearances at hotel openings aren’t new, but rarely do they happen at a limited-service hotel a block from the beach with rooms available in the low season for just above $100.
As the global officer of luxury and lifestyle brands at Marriott International, Tina Edmundson oversaw the introduction of the Spanish AC Hotels to the United States; the hospitality group, which aims to appeal to millennial travelers, with modern design, a great bar and a determination to have guests experience South Beach beyond the hotel. She also oversees more traditional luxury hotels, among them the Ritz-Carlton, and positions them for new audiences, including millennials.
Marriott recently announced its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, a deal that, if approved, may add more lifestyle brands like W Hotels to Ms. Edmundson’s domain.
Here is an edited transcript of a conversation with Ms. Edmundson.
Q. Why are hotels targeting millennial travelers?
A. What Uber has done to taxis has raised expectations. People think, I should be able to easily and seamlessly access things I want. Our customers bring that expectation to hotel stays. Gone are the days when you had to be one of the privileged few to have great design or suites that reflect your aesthetic. Design has been democratized. Very soon millennials will be a very, very big part of the business and, more important, they are sort of the signaling change not only for what they want but every other generation following. When we say millennials are connected or they want technology, it doesn’t mean Gen Xers don’t want it. They certainly do. We are saying that is the way of the future, and we have to design the experience and the hotel to fit the new desires and new wants of our guests.
At the AC Miami, you hosted a pop-up shop with hip brands like Slow Watches. Does it make the hotel cool by association?
It’s not about materiality and what can I buy to show my status, but what experiences can I have while traveling or in my hotel that I can be exposed to and make memories of and go back and tell stories about. Slow Watches is about taking your time and enjoying the present, which is very much the ethos of the AC brand. It’s about the notion of removing all distractions. We want to remove the friction of travel so you are free to enjoy the present and be in the moment. Purposeful design can improve your life. We are enriching the guest experience by serving this up and giving more than they would ordinarily get.
What is a lifestyle hotel and why should travelers care?
We define it as a hotel that goes beyond function and connects with consumers emotionally. It’s not just a good bed and a hot shower but choosing the hotel because of how it makes you feel. So it’s experiential and it comes to life in the design, in marketing and in how you talk about yourself, and most important how it comes to life in the hotel. That is what people care about most these days.
Has the role of a hotel shifted over the years?
The role of the hotel in the past had been very functional. The hotel was a haven. You were reassured. You were looking for this reassurance or good-housekeeping stance. You were traveling to places you potentially hadn’t been before and needed that haven or comfort. More and more, as the mind-set has changed, hotels have adapted to what guests want today. The guest has always wanted the hotel to be a little bit better than home. They want to be inspired by what they see at a hotel, and that’s still true.
How has Airbnb affected hotels?
I think every player in the hotel industry is watching what Airbnb is doing because it is very different and quite disruptive. In terms of how it’s changed, there are cues hotels have picked up, whether it’s more personalized experiences or discovery of local places unique to Airbnb and that hotels are providing today. It is quite a different experience, though. If you’re traveling with friends and looking for a home that’s exclusively yours, that’s not something we provide, but there are cues we’ve taken from it.