As global hotel brands sink significant dollars into gearing their lobbies for a new generation of travellers, one chain is bringing it undefined
to the next level with an experience some say is better than sex.
A lobby experience focussed on giving guests a taste of local culture through coffee has helped the Le Méridien global hotel group make significant gains on the food and beverage front.
A series of brand-wide lobby renovations over the last few years, along with a recently introduced in-house barista program, have propelled some locations to see food and beverage revenue increases as much as 40 per cent.
So what’s the secret?
According to Arnaud Champenois, Asia-Pacific Senior Brand Director of St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels and Le Méridien at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., it’s about introducing guests to local culture through one of the world’s most popular drinks.
A match made with coffee
Walk into any of the Paris-born hotel brand’s more than 100 locations across 50 countries, and you’re greeted by a blend of large-scale art, trendy Parisian-themed music, and a qualified barista ready to cater your drink in a coffee house setting.
With the majority of its properties in the world’s top cities and resorts throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and the Americas, Le Méridien aims to bring local cultural experiences in-house in large part through its food and beverage menu.
According to Le Méridien, it’s a recipe for success when it comes to meeting the needs for today’s social traveller who seeks more time outside the guest room.
Champenois says Le Méridien has been working on re-energizing the brand in this stream for the last seven years.
“We have been injecting a lot of new life (into the brand),” he tells GCR Magazine. “The last five to six years have been to focus on culture and the cuisine.”
The chain stepped up efforts with the introduction of its renovated lobby, Le Méridien Hub, in 2011. The move was designed to help its public space steer away from the traditional lobby into one more suitable as a social gathering place.
In September 2013, Le Méridien announced the launch of a master barista initiative, which has quickly become a staple to the brand’s signature guest arrival experience. Already partnered with Italy-based Illy for its coffee offering, it worked with the company to help find top shelf talent and provide training.
The role of the master barista is to serve as a coffee cultural ambassador, leading in-house coffee-related initiatives and staying abreast of current coffee trends within the destination.
Working from its Latitude Bar, the coffee house offers a menu of coffee selections customised to reflect local culture in each destination.
“We think the approach around coffee is extremely relevant for our brand,” says Champenois. He believes their lobby-focused coffee initiatives are a perfect platform to help guests socialise while providing a taste of local culture. “We have a place where people can mix and mingle and really have a good time.”
Champenois says the brand has already seen impressive financial results through its Le Méridien Hub program. The brand’s location in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia saw a whopping 40 per cent increase since it introduced the new lobby concept.
Champenois says the barista program played a significant part in its success.
“It’s definitely (due to) the new look and feel and the programming,” he says.
While guest feedback clearly shows they value the quality of coffee, Champenois noted guests also find great value in the programming aspect such as coffee learning workshops and tea talks facilitated by master baristas.
“They see the coffee not just as a drink but as a social experience,” he says.
Better than morning sex
Le Méridien doesn’t just see coffee as an important part of the guest experience.
They’ve gone as far as to claim that most people prefer their morning cup of coffee to morning sex.
To find out where coffee ranked on the average person’s priority list, the brand commissioned a telephone survey last year of 7455 coffee drinkers in six different countries including the United States, Dubai, China, France, Germany and India.
The study found that 53 per cent of people prioritised coffee over sex. The announcement of their findings coincided with the introduction of their master barista program.
The study also found that, with such distinct coffee traditions and flavours around the world, most seasoned travellers reported experiencing nostalgia “for a destination due to the cup of coffee they enjoyed while travelling.”
Bjorn Hanson, Dean of New York University’s School of Hospitality, says a hotel’s coffee offering is an important part of the guest experience.
He explains to GCR Magazine that there are several possible outcomes from a hotel’s coffee strategy. For instance, if a hotel does not have coffee available in the lobby or has bad coffee, it becomes a guest “dis-satisfier” and can influence the guest experience.
“It may not be enough to cause a guest not to stay in the future,” he says. “But it could affect their future (decision).”
Offering good coffee is not just an advantage, as Hanson says this has become a norm.
“Guests have almost come to expect some kind of branded coffee or a good coffee experience,” he says.
According to Hanson, the coffee offering with the most potential is the one that provides a “wow factor”.
Hanson explains this strategy as providing guests a special coffee experience either in terms of the brewing process, education process, or just a difference experience overall.
Hanson, an industry expert whose research focuses on statistical and econometric analysis, says a hotel brand like Le Méridien is one where guests could expect a wow factor, such as what is provided in the master barista program.
For select service hotel brands, however, the aspect might be more of a rarity.
Whereas Le Méridien caters to a higher end clientele, select service brands are typically medium-sized hotel establishments that offer limited on-site amenities and market to a specific demographic of travellers.
“(For Le Méridien), the coffee could be an especially relevant compliment to the hotel brand,” says Hanson.
Le Méridien’s Champenois says the brand plans to further enhance its coffee offering in several ways.
It will be working with Illy to provide additional training for baristas and more coffee-related programming in its locations. They are also working with the partner to further customise drink menus with specialty seasonal offerings.
The hotel brand is also exploring partnerships to offer a specialised pastry line to compliment the beverage offerings.
“We’re going to offer to our guests a culinary experience,” says Champenois. He says recipes will be tailored to incorporate local culture for each hotel as part of its concept to help guests “unlock the destination.”