Once known as a stalwart all-American brand catering to business travelers and upper-middle-class families, Marriott is really getting ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying and catering to emerging needs in business and leisure sectors alike. Without even getting into its new lifestyle brand experimentation (Autograph Collection, J.W. Marriott), we have to commend them for initiating some widespread amenities people don’t even realize they need yet.
We reported on Marriott’s “Li Yu” program earlier this year. It’s a business-savvy and globally aware initiative that targets Chinese travelers with special amenities and services including Mandarin-speaking check-in agent at each of its luxury hotels in Asia and gateway cities worldwide.
On the other end of the spectrum, Marriott and Renaissance Caribbean & Mexico Resorts have noted how badly excessive use of smart phones and other tech devices is affecting people’s leisure time, and instituted “Braincation” zones to help people tech-detox. Citing a survey that reported 50% of respondents check email/voicemails multiple times daily during vacation—and 85% have been annoyed on vacation by someone else talking loudly into a cell phone—the hotel group has designated peaceful “Tech-Free Zones” all nine properties in the region.Photo Courtesy of the Marriott
Sofitel North America
Specialized culinary programs are becoming almost a must-have for luxury hotel brands, and while locavore/farm-to-table are still the buzzwords, Sofitel North America is taking a more classic approach with its “De-Light” gastronomy program. Described as a “gastronomic adventure in healthy eating,” the “De-Light” menu items are Thalassa Sea & Spa-conceived, with fine-dining flair. Currently they’re being offered at nine Sofitel North America properties.Photo Courtesy of Sofitel
The hotel brand that surprised us the most by rolling out a more health-conscious menu earlier in 2012 was all-inclusive resort chain RIU Hotels & Resorts. Created in the classic all-inclusive mold, RIU has always been a place where a wristband guarantees endless portions of food and drink, with quality being secondary. However, 2012 has been a year of progress and brand diversification for RIU, and nowhere more than in the North Americas RIU Palace product. Inventive, nicely plated “mini-portion” starters and desserts soon will be available at all RIU Palace properties in North America and the Caribbean—and in parallel timing, a few RIU Palace properties will also be converted to adults-only, and shooting for five-star status.Photo Courtesy of RIU Hotels
If any hotel brand could claim to be synonymous with high-end pop culture, it would have to be W Hotels. No brand does more to partner with musicians, artists, fashion designers and other creatives—not just the big names, but fringe artists, emerging talents, and imports from international culture capitals. In September 2012, W Hotels announced its latest culture collaboration: a partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) which will see W supporting the CFDA’s Incubator program. Up-and-coming designers will travel to various W destinations to showcase their stuff and get to know—and hopefully be inspired by—a new destination.Photo Courtesy of W Hotels
And finally, while it’s not a brand-wide initiative per se, we’re wrapping this roundup with something absolutely fun, quirky and kid-friendly from the Ritz-Carlton. Because R-C isn’t a brand one usually associates with “fun, quirky, kid-friendly”-- but maybe from now on, we should. The offering is in-room camping—dome tent, s’mores kit and all--and is offered seasonally by various Ritz-Carlton properties. Each property delivers its own special twist: for example, the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain provides campers with a stuffed “desert tortoise” to take home, while Chicago’s Happy Camper kids get a visit from a mobile candy cart.Photo Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton
Lena Katz is the author of the Travel Temptations series (SIP, SUN, SNOW), published by Globe Pequot Press in 2009. Lena is also a travel expert for Celebrations/1800FLOWERS and WEtv (online and on-air). She contributes to the South China Morning Post and ABC News online. Lena is a former Orbitz Travel blogger and former columnist for the LA Times. She's been published in Brides Magazine, Robb Rep...(Read More)