Hotel trends

WGSN, January 5 2006

WGSN speaks to two innovative hoteliers about trends within the travel industry.

Alan Faena

Vikram Chakwal

Alan Faena, the man behind the Philippe Starck-designed Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires, is regenerating the city with the creation of a new art district. His ideal is constantly striving and creating for an imagined time ahead, but anchored by a view to the past.

In contrast, young hotelier Vikram Chatwal is firmly of the present, hoping to define and capture the spirit of a time and a place in his hotels, such as the Dream in New York, which has its own Deepak Chopra ayurvedic healing centre, as well as a planned new six-star hotel and members’ club in Manhattan.

Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

Warehouse to be renovated by Faena

“We are trying to construct the future from today,” says Faena, a veteran of the fashion trade in Argentina, of his hotel and property projects in the Puerto Madero docklands area in Buenos Aires.

Working with renowned architect Norman Foster on eight lots in the area (which is just two blocks from the city centre across the river Plate), Faena is striving to create a new cultural centre within Buenos Aires and provide an optimistic beacon for a country that has seen its fair share of political turmoil and financial upheaval.

“We are imagining people working there (Puerto Madero) in 200 years and hoping they will understand that we were smart people thinking for them,” he adds. Plans for a European expansion are also on the cards for Faena hotels.

Faena hotel entrance

Faena pool and terrace

Faena La Catedral entrance

Vikram Chatwal can best be described as an entrepreneur. A former model and actor, he has followed his family into the hospitality industry and heads the Boutique Hotel division of Hampshire Hotels and Resorts, with properties in New York, Canada and the UK.

Having worked on the launch of New York’s The Time hotel, in 1999, Chatwal moved on to the concept Dream hotel, which launched in autumn 2004, as well as expanding Hampshire hotel’s bar and lounge segment, starting with the stylish AVA lounge and garden at the Dream.

Upcoming projects for Chatwal include further Dream hotels in Bangkok, New Delhi and possibly Mumbai, a new hotel in Manhattan called Night and a six-star boutique hotel and Manhattan members’ club called the Lambs Club.

Faena cabaret

Faena Black bathroom

Hotel design and concepts
“Firstly I look at the location, but mostly I’m inspired by the moment,” explains Chatwal about his inspiration for new hotel projects. The Time was launched at the turn of the millennium, when there were Y2K issues, with a focus on strong colours, enhanced by the technicolour location of Times Square and its digital imagery. But the Dream, with its focus on sensory environments, marked a different era.

“The Dream is a about a post-9/11 atmosphere. It’s an antidote to the frenzy of New York. There’s a touch of surrealism to the hotel, with a focus on imagination and spirituality too.”

Located off the main Sukhumvit road on Soi 15, the Bangkok Dream hotel is currently being developed. “I feel Bangkok is an ideal city for a Dream hotel. As for the design, we hope to have some brand continuity but we’ve had to hire a cultural advisor. It’s the first time we’ve ever had to do something like this,” explains Chatwal, about the need to respect traditional aspects of local culture when building the hotel, such as the placement of spirit houses.

Faena el bistro

Faena bathroom

Faena, meanwhile, wants to focus on good lifestyle design, but without the “McStarck” fingerprint.

“Even with him (Starck) I rejected seven projects but not because of an ego thing but because he needed to understand that I don’t want to have Philippe Starck because of Philippe Starck. What I love with him is his way of understanding life,” he explains, adding that his aim was to recreate the old with a thoroughly contemporary designer.

“We arrived to the thinking of how we can reinvent our belle époque, how we can reinvent this so the young people now can really see the old times and they don’t think they are off the map. So they can also live the glamorous way. So they can also feel the richness.”

Faena El Mercado

Faena river suite

Hotel trends
Every part of the Faena hotel + universe is related to a part of old Buenos Aires, from the Cabaret hosting tango evenings to the Mercado restaurant, which looks like an antiques market in nearby San Telmo. The building itself is a former grain warehouse and with grain being the source of Argentina’s past wealth, there’s a certain poignancy to the building’s rebirth.

“Starck was a good filter for reinvention. Let’s recreate the Latin empire so the power will come back to the south. We can turn the map upside down, so there is no north or south America; and Buenos Aires will be on top, above New York! We’re prepared to take the ride and turn that map upside down.”

Ava Lounge Terrace

Ava Lounge Terrace

“I always say try to be as far away as you can from a cool idea,” states Faena, who has a cautious approach to riding the variety of trends within the travel industry, opting for a longevity based on reworking the past.

“We try to be conservative and we try to give a new point of view over the conservative. I don’t believe so much in designers – for me it’s very important that everything is based in the heart and has roots, to survive. It’s difficult for a design without roots to survive.”

Symbols and meaning are prevalent in the hotel’s design – there is always a functional reason design decisions, rather than whimsy or merely for effect.

“You will see a lot of red in our hotel in Buenos Aires. It was not a fashion statement. It’s related to blood and how we survived. And the gold is part of the glory of success, of survival. Red is our passion. I cannot imagine having design for design’s sake – it has to have roots. For me, that colour is part of my process. It’s real.”

Dream hotel exterior

Dream lobby lounge

Chatwal’s next project, the 72-room Night hotel in New York, takes up where Dream left off and focuses on the vibrancy of the 24-hour life of the city. This notion of a conceptual hotel, based on a strong theme or idea relating to a location or the current zeitgeist, is also a novel concept for hotel design.

Above and beyond the design issues, both Chatwal and Faena agree that service is the key issue when is comes to creating a successful hotel, alongside comfort and quality.

Dream bedroom

Dream fish tank

Luxury and the travel industry
“Travellers are more finicky now. They expect everything from a hotel,” says Chatwal about the developing levels of luxury within an increasingly competitive hotel industry. “There is so much choice available to them so we have to make sure we can cater for every whim. We even have a dog concierge at the Dream.”

Chatwal’s Lambs Club project will address this notion of super-luxury, but on a more intimate scale. Aiming to be Manhattan’s first 6-star hotel, it will operate like a members’ club and will include traditional “luxuries” such as a butler service, as well as technological updates, like electronic check-in.

Dream room

Dream room

Dream room

Dream room

“People are more used to technology, but a hotel doesn’t need to add more. Many people bring their own technology with then when they travel, from laptops to mobiles phones,” he adds, noting that a hotel shouldn’t overwhelm with technology but cater to existing needs.

Faena’s approach to luxury is to place an emphasis on experience. “Luxury is like talking about love – I’m tired of hearing about luxury. It’s a destroyed word. Luxury means something to different to everyone. For me it’s trying to create something in people’s minds, trying to give them more. We try to give them a new experience, with service, comfort and quality.”

Vikram Chatwal: five things I can’t live without
Singha beer
My Blackberry
The football (soccer) highlights (Chelsea supporter)
Angelina Jolie
The laughter of children

Alan Faena’s inspirations…
Artists: Jeff Wall, Pablo Pescari
Destinations: it’s not about places its about people – I love the people of London.

Faena Hotel + Universe
Martha Salotti 445
Buenos Aires
Tel: +54 11 4010 9000

Dream Hotel
210 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
Tel: +1 212 247 2000

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