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Special report: inside LE Miami, the world’s most creative hotel event

By James Wilkinson in Miami, USA

Several hundred of the world’s most creative, design-led and community-integrated hotels converged on Florida for the third instalment of LE Miami last week (Jun 8-11), an event that has once again created future trends in the hotel industry and not simply discussed them.

LE Miami, which stands for Limited Edition, was broken into two parts: the Ministry of Ideas day on June 8 that saw owners and senior executives from Edition Hotels, Sixty Hotels, Salt Hotels, Virgin Hotels, citizenM, Commune Hotels and Resorts, Ace Hotels, Marriott International, W Hotels Worldwide, Hyatt and Design Hotels discuss, share and spark innovations in the travel industry; and then three days of meetings between hotels, travel companies and influential travel buyers that represent music labels, advertising agencies, wealthy hip clients and more.

In between that, LE Miami had a festival atmosphere, from the opening poolside cocktail luncheon with DJs on Monday June 8 at SLS South Beach to the closing party at Miami Beach Edition on Thursday June 11. Each night, the city’s best hotels played host to dinners, parties and events for a crowd that’s the most creative and innovative the travel industry has ever seen.

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Founded by Serge Dive, the man responsible for creating ILTM in Cannes, LE Miami was created to go beyond the average trade show, transforming the conference into a Ministry of Ideas; networking events into electric parties; and dull plasterboard booths into a revolutionary show space.

“[The show] is about limited edition products… people want to be different in a different moment,” he told HM.

“The industry is moving from an operation-driven industry to a lifestyle-driven industry.”

In the three years since LE Miami was founded, Dive has managed to bring together the world’s most creative hoteliers, from Ian Schrager to Claus Sendlinger (Design Hotels), Jason Pomeranc (Sixty Hotels) and Brad Wilson (Ace Hotels) and annually on stage during Ministry of Ideas, they singlehandedly create the trends for the industry.

Some of the key trends to emerge from LE Miami 2015 were:

NEIGHBOURHOOD INTEGRATION: We are now seeing these creative and hip hotels becoming a central hub for their neighbourhood, whereby locals are infused into the hotel through art and sculptures, bars, restaurants and even coffee. These hotels aren’t just a place for guest to rest they head anymore, but they are engaging in the local community and that’s not just through the neighbourhood coming in, but through staff recommending neighbouring bars to drink at or galleries to visit as well.

INDIVIDUALITY & PERSONALITY: From the moment you check in, the standard greetings once and for all are going out the window. The hotel is going to know what you like and what you don’t like – and that could be from the cocktail you’re given when you arrive to how they stock your mini bar. Staff are researching the guests before they arrive through social media and prior guest preferences. This has been an emerging trend for a while and now it’s becoming a reality.

LOCAL DESIGN: The new wave of hotels are now designed with their neighbourhood in mind more than ever before and with that, if you’re at the Miami Beach Edition, you’ll find a cool white feel through the hotel that has many beach elements right through it. Or if you’re in London at a Firmdale hotel in Kensington, it’s been designed to make you feel like you’re staying a west London terrace home. At the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney, the classic 1960s inner city pub is the centrepiece of the property. The creative CEOs say hotels that have a generic style aren’t going to be the most in demand in the future.

EXTRA ELEMENTS: The QT in Sydney has a barber shop and a screening room, the Miami Beach Edition has a bowling alley and mini ice rink and at the Hotel El Ganzo at Los Cabos in Mexico, there’s a recording studio and guest artist sessions are played on the hotel’s TVs. It’s these extra special elements that are making hotels unique and giving them a true x-factor.

This new breed of hotels is encouraging owners and developers to get even more creative and the result is properties that carry an individual personality.

“Everyone needs to have some form of ‘local’ and not copy other experiences,” Pomeranc said.

He said it’s not simply about a booming nightclub, designer restaurant or cabana-laden rooftop pool.

“It’s important to remember people create cool,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to fill in the ‘why’ rather than the ‘who’ and the ‘where’.

“And this is where a lot of brands are falling short,” Pomeranc said.

Edition Hotels’ Vice President of Brand Experience, Ben Pundole, said having the right crowd engaging with your brand was of significant importance – and it’s not simply a case of hundreds of thousands of followers.

“We need to make sure we have the right people in the right places talking about us,” he said. “If someone has a lot of followers it’s not necessarily right for your brand.”

Virgin Hotels’ first property recently debuted in Chicago and the company’s CEO, Raul Leal, said the company was careful to refine it’s offering before launching into the creative space.

“There are a lot of pretenders out there [in the lifestyle hotel space],” he said. “Properties need to be curated every step of the way.

Leal said it was the staff behind the scenes that were the keys to that success.

“Sometimes standard operating procedures aren’t worth the paper they are written on… staff need to put themselves in the customers’ shoes in their own way,” he said.

“If a guest asks them to sing and dance to their favourite song in the middle of the lobby, then that’s what they need to do.”

Salt Hotels’ founder and formerly Morgans Hotel Group’s head of Europe, David Dowd, said it is imperative hotels are designed to fit in to their neighbourhood.

“Guests are looking for a design that is totally appropriate for the local area,” he said. “You need to be very true to the location and hotels need to have a design that allows guests to feel they’re in the location that they are in.

Dowd recently founded Salt, which is a burgeoning collection of boutique properties in the Easten United States (Provincetown and Shelter Island) that Dowd said “redefine the concept of a classic bed and breakfast with a fresh, contemporary approach”.

He said the concept of the boutique hotel in the 1980s, when he started in the industry, hasn’t changed dramatically.

“Boutique hotels were not about the size [of the property], but the experience,” he said. “Nowadays it’s about the guest and what they are looking for.”

Leal said the vision for Virgin Hotels was along those lines.

“It’s about comfortable rooms opposed to a bar with a hotel attached,” he said. “And locally curated artworks.”

Commune Hotels’ CEO, Niki Leondakis, said hotels also need to look at their value proposition.

“It’s going above and beyond and creating a unique experience for the guest,” she said. “But people will stay at something more unique and original that’s also good value for price.”

Ace Hotels President, Brad Wilson, said guests want an experience that’s also a neighbourhood integration, something the company does exceptionally well.

“We’re independent and we’re changemakers,” he said. “Every property is an opportunity to evolve. Each step in the growth is a new opportunity for discovery and if you’re a creative force then you need to be creating.”

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HM flew to Miami with United Airlines, which flies three times daily from Australia (Melbourne and Sydney) to Los Angeles and onwards to Miami. HM recommends flying in Business Class, which features flatbed seats, inflight WiFi, premium Australian and American wines, hundreds of hours of entertainment on demand and excellent service. Visit www.united.com.au

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