In oh-so-pricey New York, a one-night stay at a Courtyard by Marriott can cost north of $1000 (R14000) during peak periods. If you’re seeking some semblance of smart design or luxury, good luck finding a halfway-decent room for under $500 a night.
But after years of pushback from developers dead-set on maximising per-room revenues, hoteliers are finding a new way to offer more bang for travellers’ bucks all across Manhattan - whether they’re looking to pay $200 a night or $2000.
New brands such as Sister City, a spin-off of the hyper-successful Ace Hotels, and Equinox, with its fitness-first concept, are being incubated in Manhattan’s fastest-evolving corners, from the Lower East Side to Hudson Yards. Other upstarts are offering edgy design schemes and starter rates on par with Holiday Inns.
Meanwhile, rarified brands Six Senses and Aman will soon push the city’s standards of luxury to even higher planes when they make their US and east coast debuts.
Getting there hasn’t been easy. You can thank land values and density-related zoning rules for that, says leading hotel consultant Bjorn Hanson. Developer Mitchell Hochberg, president of Lightstone Group, the force behind 165 hotels in the US, says those two barriers to entry have raised building costs in the city to $1 million a room.
The end result is expensive, bland, shiny boxes with a handful of notable outliers. (Among the ones we love are socialite havens the Mark and the Carlyle, and swish newcomers the Baccarat, the Whitby, and Four Seasons Downtown.)
In short, New York’s hotel scene has long struggled to feel as innovative as the city around it. Not anymore. Two main factors are changing the economics - and thus, the offerings - of hotels in New York.
The soft real estate market, for one thing, has residential developers partnering with ultra-luxury hotel brands.
Four Seasons’ chief executive Alan Smith said at a travel industry conference last year that his branded residences generate 30% premiums to competitive products in the market, a figure corroborated by London property-consulting company Savills Plc.
Hanson estimates that number as closer to 10% in New York, but agrees that branded residences command top dollar in a red-hot market while incentivising sales in a slower one.
For a bonus, multimillion-dollar condos greatly offset those hefty hotel development costs.
That’s the thinking behind Aman’s long-awaited entry to New York, which will include 83 hotel rooms and 20 apartments-including a $50m penthouse-in the Crown Building on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. When it opens late next year, its guests be paying upwards of $2000 a night for an entry-level room (possibly a city record breaker).
Aside from their Zen-inspired quarters, they’ll have access to a members’ club and medi-spa stocked with a new line of Aman skincare products.
Southeast Asian resort brand Six Senses is also taking the residential-hybrid approach for its first American property, right off the High Line at 10th Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets. Opening next year, it’ll have 138 rooms in one of two branded residential towers designed by Bjarke Ingels, all with access to a spa that includes a rooftop farm and “modern New York bath house”.
Meanwhile, on the boutique hotel front, the second factor - the growing importance of common spaces (rather than rooms) to a hotel’s bottom line - has operators learning to do more with less.
Newer “micro-hotels” balance tight room layouts with high-design standards and larger, more enticing common spaces. It started with Arlo Hotels - a brand that debuted in Hudson Square in 2016 and will have three Manhattan outposts when its midtown location opens next year - and was followed by Moxy, Freehand, CitizenM, and Ace Hotels offshoot Sister City, all in the past year.
“People don’t tend to hang out in their rooms, anyway,” says Lightstone Group’s Hochberg, who developed the newly-opened Moxy Chelsea.