Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ Super 8 brand is getting some unique new guestrooms for groups.
Candice Buttars, an undergraduate design student at Utah State University, submitted the winning concept for the brand’s Room8 Design Challenge, which was announced earlier this year. Working with celebrity interior designer and TV personality Alison Victoria and brand president Mike Mueller, Buttars reimagined how larger economy rooms could be reconfigured to accommodate up to four guests at a time.
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The concept evolved from Super 8’s five-year, $140 million refresh program, which is upgrading bedding and artwork in guestrooms across the brand's 2,900 properties. “One challenge we recognized was that some of our hotels have oversized guestrooms with overwhelming space, but an underwhelming experience,” Mueller told Hotel Management during a press preview of the new spaces. Worse yet, these larger rooms—which might have three queen beds in them—often went unsold or undersold rather than maximizing their revenue potential.
The team began imagining how these larger rooms could be used and started leaning toward the growing trend of shared spaces. “Most of our hotels don't have big public spaces where people can congregate,” Mueller noted. “Why not take some of that valuable space inside the guestroom and turn it into more of a shared accommodation with social space there?” Across the chain scales, he said, hotel rooms are set up the same way: “Two beds facing the opposing wall with the TV on it, no matter what brand it's in. We [wanted] to do something unexpected that makes all this space much more useful.”
Over the summer, the team launched the design challenge, calling on “aspiring designers, co-living experts and urbanites” to submit renderings of an original concept for the rooms. Buttars learned of the competition and was intrigued. “The concept is really innovative and forward-thinking because it's true—as millennials, you do like to go places with friends and do things [but] being a college student, the budget isn't huge,” she said. As a student, she was familiar with the pros and cons of shared spaces and was eager to put her expertise to good use.
Much like a dorm, Buttars’ design put two sets of bunk beds on one side of the room with plenty of outlets and chargers for personal devices, as well as dedicated cubbies and storage spaces for luggage. Like dorm public spaces, the rooms also have a sofa facing a big-screen TV, a foosball table, old-fashioned arcade games, a small refrigerator and a microwave, making late-night snacks easy. “Everyone has their own bed, everyone has their own cubby,” she said of the design. “Everyone has space where they can put [their stuff] and do their own thing and then you can still all be together.”
Her plan caught the team’s collective eye and she began working with Mueller and Victoria remotely, refining the concept to work with the logistics of existing hotels in the brand portfolio. “You can't take a franchise owner and say, ‘Hey, create common space’ or ‘create more of a recreational space that's a full redesign,’” Victoria said. “You have to take what you have and work with that.” The final design met every initial requirement for the competition except one: The TV is not visible from every one of the beds, but that was a small sacrifice.
Given the different layout of rooms within the brand, Mueller acknowledged that the final design will not apply to every Room8 room exactly. “What we wanted to provide was something scalable that had some of the core elements but could be assembled in a way that made sense for every one of those designs,” he said.
Franchisors, Mueller said, have responded positively to the concept. “I have no shortage of franchise owners calling me, emailing me every day, saying, ‘How do I get on the pilot list?’” he said. The first test sites will launch in the Northeast—close to Wyndham’s headquarters in Parsippany, N.J.—and then extend to properties in Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Kentucky.
Once the rooms are available, Mueller expects them to increase the revenue per available room of the spaces 20 percent. Even better, he expects the rooms to compete with home-sharing sites and bring travelers back to traditional hotels. “People like the predictability of hotels, but if we can give them the authenticity of a shared space, I think it solves a problem that the hotel industry, by and large, has not addressed yet,” he said.
Photo credit: Wyndham Hotels & Resorts