Hotel's art enhances entire brand image

In a hotel, art is never just something to see. When used properly, artwork becomes an integral part of the guest experience, enhancing not just the design narrative, but the entire brand image.

Elizabeth Weiner runs a New York City gallery and has curated artwork for Four Seasons Hotels, Peninsula Hotels and—most recently—the new Shanhaitian Resort Sanya, the first Autograph Collection in the Chinese city. For a high-end hotel, she said, “the design and the artwork and the architecture need to be hand-in-glove. The three are seamlessly interwoven in a way that’s new and unique. The artwork is part of the design as opposed to a picture hanging on the wall.”

To achieve that integration, she said, designers, architects, lighting consultants and art curators need to connect early and often. “If not, [the art] looks like an add-on.”

Keeping it local

“Art is part of the unique, locally driven and thoughtfully curated experiences guests look for now when choosing or frequenting a hotel, as the guests feel more relaxed and connected to the hotel experience versus a typical overnight stay,”  said Karl Oates, VP of lifestyle hotels for Tampa, Fla.-based McKibbon Hotels.

To achieve that, company founder John McKibbon works with art consultant Liz Barr to select custom pieces for each of the company’s 80+ hotels so that each property has work from approximately 12 local artists each.  

When the hotel is in the design stage, the team gives Barr the details of its brand and the overall interior-design plan. She then gathers art and detailed biographical information on all the artists. “She may look at anywhere between 50 to 100 local artists before narrowing down that list to about 25 or so that are presented to John McKibbon for review,” Oates said. “From that group, John and Liz will choose around 15 that are picked for the hotel.  In some cases, the artwork is set up in a gallery setting to allow for John to view all at the same time. The art chosen is, of course, done so carefully to connect the hotel to local community, be current and enhance the design features of the hotel.”

Like Weiner, McKibbon considers art to be a fundamental element to the design process. “Having unique and intriguing local art with a story adds to a memorable guest experience in the hotel, which is essentially what lifestyle hotels strive for, but can be equally applied to traditional branded hotels, too,” Oates said. “The guest is drawn to the art whether they are art lovers or not, as each piece of art is connected to the hotels design and local story.”

For Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, the company's project directors work with art vendors to help develop a concept for each hotel that reflects the surrounding area and local culture of the city. "When selecting the artwork, we assemble an internal storyline of the memorabilia and artists that we want to showcase at the property, a lot of the time even commissioning local artists to do work for us," Jay Pecotte, senior director of Hotel Development at Hard Rock International, said. The teams work together to "layer" local elements and Hard Rock's musical culture.  

"Artwork is important for hotels because it’s what guests first notice when they set foot onto a property; it draws guests in and makes them feel welcome," Pecotte said. "I also believe artwork helps tell a story to guests, which in return, helps each brand create its own identity and maintain brand standards."

A Legacy of Art

In Milwaukee, the Marcus Hotels & Resorts-owned Pfister Hotel has the largest hotel collection of Victorian artwork in the world. “When the current owners bought the hotel back in the 1960s they did not realize at the time that the art collection inside of the [property] was actually worth more than the hotel itself,” said Tim Smith, the hotel’s GM. “So it's always been a part of the brand.”

The Victorian art collection has given the hotel an educational component that attracts a distinctive demographic. “We have art books that are guided tours of the 84 pieces as most of these pieces are in public areas of the hotel,”Smith said. “It brings people into the hotel that may normally not have a reason to be in the hotel. It becomes a portal, really, to give the Milwaukee community certainly another reason to visit the Pfister Hotel.” The property also offers an "augmented reality" tour program that guests can download to their mobile devices.

The property has also run an artist-in-residence program for the past nine years. The hotel’s current resident artist is Margaret Muza, who is a local tintype photographer. Muza works in the studio art gallery in the lobby of the hotel and will create a book of the images she captures throughout her year as a legacy piece for the hotel.

“We get guests—whether they're locals that literally could live across the street or people that live on the East Coast, the West Coast or overseas—that are regulars who will come back just to see the current artists in residence,” Smith said. Because of the success of the Pfister’s program, Marcus Hotels & Resorts also established an artist-in-residence program at a few of its other properties, including the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City and the Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Neb.

Art is more than a conversation-starter, Smith said. It’s a way for people to connect. “That’s why art is important to hotels. It opens people's curiosity and it breaks down barriers between guests and the staff that we have at the hotel, and when people ask questions about the artwork or the artist in residence it puts everybody at ease. Everybody now is talking about the same thing. Everybody is appreciative of the same thing. It's a way for our employees here at the hotel to have a great way to relate to the guests.”