56 new hotels and a casually elegant brand

With a new brand, and 56 new hotels set to open in the next four years, JONNA SIMON catches with Allan Edgar, vice-president of marketing at Hyatt International to find out more. Excerpts:
The Great Eastern Hotel, London, will soon be rebranded as an Andaz Hotel

I understand that Hyatt International is aiming to open 56 new hotels in the next four years. Can you tell me a little about which of your brands these hotels will be operated under?
The new hotels will be a mixture of our top brands – Grand, Park and Regency.

India and China will predominantly have Hyatt Regency hotels. We are keeping the other brands mainly in North America until the end of 2008. We bought AmeriSuites in order to give us some critical mass and we have spent the last 18 months renovating these hotels. At the same time, we have built from scratch new Hyatt Place properties.

Your new hotel brand, Andaz, sounds interesting; can you give me some details?
It is not finalised as yet, but basically, it became clear to us some time ago that there was a market that did not fit the Grand, Park and Regency brands. We engaged a brand consultancy agency, which went around the world to find out what people expected from a hotel. Most of our hotels today are built, designed and operated for babyboomers, i.e. people born after the Second World War. So we asked people from 25 to 55 years of age what they wanted from our hotels and they asked for luxury, but casual luxury, casual elegance. So no staff looking like penguins in dark suits and ties or dressed in uniforms, no queues at the front desk, and an environmentally conscious hotel. So we had to start from scratch. Then we thought, what should we call these new hotels?

So what prompted you to choose Andaz?
All the names were thoroughly researched and the one with the most votes was Andaz, which is a Hindi word for personal lifestyle. We have about 90 days working with architects and interior designers to get the concept right. These Andaz hotels will offer a small meeting room, from which guests enter into the kitchen, which is what people often do at home with their family and friends. In three or four months, we will deliver the whole brand concept for Andaz hotels. The first of the new hotels will be located in New York. The Great Eastern Hotel in London already has several of the environment friendly features, so we will convert that into an Andaz hotel.

How important is it for hotels to be eco-friendly? Is the protection of the environment something which hotels like the Hyatts have to take into consideration, when building or acquiring new properties?
It is very, very important and there should be a lot of debate about this issue. For far too long, we have all said, is this really happening? If we want to be part of a responsible local and global community anywhere, we have to consider the ‘green’ issues. How do you do that with existing hotels? It is admittedly extremely difficult, you cannot incorporate all the elements like in an Andaz hotel, but you can certainly do some thing about saving energy, recycling materials and using bio-products. The latter are a little more expensive than other products, but not that much.

The travel industry seems to be booming again worldwide. What are the main challenges for Hyatt in the next five years?
The main challenge for the hotel industry is to engage and train enough skilled staff to work in all the hotels in the world. All the facilities on offer and brand developments are useless, if we do not have the skilled people to operate the hotels.

Looking at the hotel and hospitality industry as a whole, what do you think will be the main challenges in the future? The airline industry complains about the rise in jet fuel, but what would be your greatest impediment?
We have in the past relied a lot on airlines bringing guests to our hotels and that is still true today, so any restrictions on expansion of air travel will have a major impact on the hotel industry. However, it differs from various parts of the world. If you live in Europe, for instance, you can go by train and there has been expansion in the train industry with the high-speed trains for example. Business has also become less intercontinental and more regional. Government, tourism boards, airlines and the hotel industry need to work together more closely.

Finally, which is your favourite Hyatt Hotel?
The Grand Hyatt Berlin.