By Terry Trucco
It’s time for my annual over-the-shoulder look at the year that was in New York City hotels.
If New York felt unusually crowded in 2013 there was good reason. The city hosted 54.3 million visitors, up from 52.7 in 2012 and nearly 20 million more than in 2002.
And while some of them no doubt stayed with friends, relatives and Airbnb, others helped fill the 30 million hotel room nights sold, up 1 million from 2012. The results? Visitors on average paid a pricey $296 a night, and hotels enjoyed an 87.8 percent occupancy rate.
And more rooms are on the way in 2014. Expect 100,000 by the end of the year, up from 91,500 in 2012.
But how can they top 2013? Last year saw the arrival of the tallest hotel in the United States, a towering Marriott mash-up – half Courtyard Marriott (378 rooms), half Residence Inn (261 rooms) – looming over Broadway and 54th Street (more on this big baby in a future post).
Notable one-of-a-kind beauties opened their doors (The Refinery, The Viceroy, The Quin, The Jade Hotel and The Marlton) as did new, good-looking links in large chains including the Hyatt Times Square and the Hyatt Union Square. It was also a good year for grand-scale renovations, the kind that result in good looks and history (The New York Palace, Paramount, The Belleclaire, Tuscany New York, Affinia Manhattan, Affinia 50, The Lexington).
And what about notable details and trends? I spotted ten. Read on.
Beyonce at the Standard Using hotels as backdrops in movies and TV shows is as common as – I was going to say room service, but I better say hotel Facebook pages. Still, Beyonce went one better when she filmed a video for a track from her new album Beyonce in a room at The Standard New York High Line – the one with the famous voyeur windows (she kept her curtains closed). 2013 brought big- and small-screen turns to The Plaza (The Great Gatsby, American Hustle), The Mansfield (The Great Gatsby), the Tribeca Grand (Blue Jasmine), the Carlton (Smash, Elementary) and the Hotel Carter, of all places (Smash). Still, a pop video rocks, especially one that’s released overnight via social media.
A step closer to free WiFi? Nothing infuriates hotel guests like paying for WiFi – especially at hotels charging $600 a night. But in October, the Mandarin Oriental announced free WiFi for up to six devices. (The hitch: you have to create an online profile and book on the hotel website or through select travel agents. But who books the Mandarin over Expedia?) The Mandarin now joins silky compatriots like The Peninsula, Andaz Hotels, The Standard Hotels and The Gansevoort Group as purveyors of gratis WiFi, along with pioneers like EconoLodge, La Quinta and Holiday Inn Express. Can the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and Fairmont be far behind?
Bedtime e-reading Who wouldn’t want to curl up with a good e-book at the end of a long day? At least, that’s what Atria Books, a promotion-savvy division of Simon & Schuster, and 70 Park Avenue hope. Late last year publisher and hotel teamed up to offer free e-books to guests during their stay. (Hard copies of featured titles are available for guests who enjoy turning pages.) The books – new works by best-selling authors like Diane Setterfield, Spencer Quinn and Jamie McGuire – turn into pumpkins at check-out but guests have the option to buy the e-books when they leave if they haven’t scrolled to the finish. Let’s hope Reads on the Road catches on and spreads to other hotels.
Hotels that grow their own food You expect this at boutique hotels in the Napa Valley but New York City? Well, they don’t grow everything, but five hotels are doing their darndest to offer guests super-fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, organically grown on the roof. The Big Five – the Conrad New York, Crosby Street Hotel, the Intercontinental New York Barclay, the Waldorf-Astoria and the Westin Grand Central – have gardens overseen by their chefs. The Barclay and the Waldorf even raise bees for their own honey. Sourcing doesn’t get any more local than that.
Turning worn-out sheets into tote bags While we’re talking green, a pat on the back to Marriott International. Since 2011, UK Marriotts have rehabbed discarded bed linens, turning them into laundry bags, hairdryer bags and newspaper bags. Last year the company went a step farther, teaming up with Lily and Lionel, a British accessory firm, to recycle dead bed sheets into stylish totes. Better still, the limited edition Sweet Dream totes are affordable (20 pounds sterling, or about $31) with a portion going to the Prince’s Trust, which helps young people find jobs and job training. Export this one to the US, guys.
Year-round roof bars Not every roof bar is built to withstand a polar vortex. But increasingly hotels are winterizing their roof bars, crowning their buildings with brick-and-mortar topknots built to offer jaw-drop views year round and withstand the rain, snow, sleet and hail, as well as extreme summer heat. The Refinery’s romantic roof bar was last year’s template: a spacious indoor living room outfitted with sofas, club chairs and a gas-jet fireplace, a large bar area with a retractable glass roof and an outdoor terrace in the shadow of the Empire State Building. While no one’s venturing onto the terrace when the mercury plunges to 3 degrees, you can still drink in the Emp’s crowing colors from the bar.
Go to the mattresses You can thank Westin and the Heavenly Bed for the demise of the crummy hotel room mattress. Guests now expect – make that demand – a mattress that feels spectacular when you plop. But mattresses remain a way to raise the amenity bar. This year The Quin, a small midtown luxury hotel, opened with a Duxiana bed in every room, a luxury sleep element previously the sole domain in New York of The Surrey, an equally agreeable luxury establishment. The more the merrier.
Minibar makeovers A lot of people hate minibars, and who can blame them? Paying $5 for a stale Snickers bar is no one’s idea of fine dining. While dozens of hotels are eliminating minibars — the Marriott Marquis, Novotel New York and Sheraton New York Times Square for starters — on the other end of the dial are hotels fancying up their minibars with locally sourced delicacies from beers, beef jerky and popcorn to gourmet chocolates, condoms and hot socks. Last year saw a new accoutrement – vitamins, and the not one-a-day horse pill variety. Leave it to the Standard New York to stock packets of Smarty Pants Gummy Vitamins for Grown-ups at 50 calories and $1.25 a pop. (They taste good, too.)
Spiced up grab-and-goes The humble grab-and-go – ground-floor purveyors of coffee, bottled waters and soft drinks and packaged chips, cookies, sandwiches and candies – is a long-time staple of hotels that stop short of full service like the Aloft, Elements and Courtyard Marriott chains. But the grab-and-go is blossoming at full-service properties with good-looking digs and healthy offerings. Credit the Grand Hyatt for getting the trend rolling with its renovation in 2011 (I love their vanilla cupcakes). But the New York Hilton went a step farther. Yes, they dropped room service. But their smartly designed Herb ‘n Kitchen serves up locally sourced nibbles you don’t see everywhere and freshly prepared fast-but-healthy food as well as a bang-up breakfast buffet. And over at the New York Palace, the new Pomme Palais from chef Michel Richard is the ultimate grab-and-go/luxury bakery mash-up. Choose a sandwich, croissant or a spectacular pastry and take it home – the packaging is perfection – or eat at the big communal marble table.
More hotels for catching the parade When the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade changed its route from Seventh Avenue to Sixth in 2012, the choices for visitors who wanted to watch from the comfort of hotel rooms shrank. But 2013 brought good news for parade lovers – two new properties with prime-time views. The Quin looks down onto Sixth Avenue at 57th Street. And the Courtyard Marriott Manhattan/Herald Square is, as advertised, poised over Herald Square and across the street from mother ship Macy’s. Book early.