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Themed hotel rooms — way chic, or too geek?
Themed hotels seem to be all the rage these days. Recent examples of note include The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, and the Space Suite at the Grand Kameha in Zurich, complete with a very cool “zero gravity” bed.
But are themed hotel rooms a risky marketing gimmick liable to put off guests?
When a themed hotel room opens, it often gains substantial media exposure and bonus PR. For instance, The Batman-themed hotel room at Taiwan’s Eden Motel recently grabbed mass global expose, generating thousands of shares across the web.
Getting featured in popular travel blogs and online lists such as “50 of the world’s most unusual hotels” means on-going exposure is possible.
But once the general media hype fades, what then? Is the added PR value worth potentially alienating a significant amount of potential customers?
Beyond official press and media coverage, themed hotels can generally expect added exposure from guests based on the fact that people like to share unique experiences.
For instance, it’s likely that most guests staying at the Dog Bark Park Inn would want to post photos of their stay on Facebook or Twitter. Afterall, it’s not everyday a person gets to sleep inside a 12-foot wooden beagle.
This increased guest interaction clearly has benefits, and it’s the nature of social sharing that proved the inspiration behind 1888 Hotel in Sydney, dubbed the “world’s first Instagram-themed hotel.” Rooms are covered with Instagram photos, while furnishings and decor have been carefully selected to be as “Instagram-worthy” as possible.
Of course, the failure or success of any themed room involves creating something unique, while remaining widely popular enough to be financially viable. It’s a tricky balance that comes down to judging how niche a niche should be.
Appealing to customer demand
There’s no doubt certain themed hotels have mass market appeal. At the Harry Potter-themed room at The Georgian House Hotel in London, guests can stay in one of the “Wizard Chambers” or “Enchanted Chambers,” complete with 4 poster beds, Gothic arches, cauldrons, and potion bottles—an exciting proposition for the millions of Harry Potter fans around the globe.
But it’s fair to say not everyone would relish staying over at the Alcatraz Hotel in Kauserslautern, a former prison-turned-hotel with bars on the windows, where guests can sleep in former prison cells with shared bathrooms and complimentary striped pajamas.
While such a concept certainly makes for good press, hotel guests have left reviews with both pros and cons. Although many acknowledge the novelty of the hotel, quite a few complain about the poor Wifi, uncomfortable beds, shared showers, and lack of TV—simple amenities expected from every hotel stay.
Simply put, is novelty enough to get guests to come back?
In contrast, a number of hotels are creating themed rooms not so much on novelty, but strictly on customer demand.
Based on specific customer feedback, Tryp by Wyndam decided to create fitness-themed rooms across their portfolio. Meanwhile, all of InterContinental Hotel Group’s Even properties now feature in-room fitness features.
This research-driven approach is clearly less risky. But there’s another way certain hotels manage to reduce the chance of alienating customers.
Theming an entire hotel
Art hotels have grown in popularity in recent years, especially given the trend toward boutique properties and the desire of guests to stay in unique places that have some significance to the destination they are in.
The Arte Luise in Berlin is one example—although there is no cohesive theme for the entire hotel, every room in the hotel has been decorated by a singular artist, who receives a small commission payment anytime someone stays in the room.
Other hotels take a more subtle approach, such as the Pantone Hotel in Brussels, decorated in bright pops of color based off the famous Pantone color system favored by designers around the world.
This broader approach to themed rooms still carries plenty of PR cachet while also providing enough diversity and incentive for guests to return.
Striking a balance
In the end, there’ll always be a substantial number of travelers who have no desire to stay in a themed room, whatever the style. But the potential PR spin-off can lead to substantial media exposure on a national and even global scale. And of course, having a point of difference from the competition can be hugely advantageous in its own right.
To truly benefit, hoteliers must try and find a niche that has wide enough appeal to ensure rooms stay filled. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to distinguish between a fleeting fad and an enduring theme, ensuring long-term profitability once any media buzz fades away.
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