Themed hotels: the difference between stick and shtick

The notion of themed hotels in Las Vegas is almost as old as gambling there. But hotels and resorts in the Entertainment Capital of the World continually rejuvenate themselves bringing on fresh themes if not entirely new resorts. The results from an endurance and customer retention standpoing in other geographical locales is less clear.

Among the new entrants is Legoland's Carlsbad, CA resort slated to go up towards the middle of next year with its familiar pirate, adventure and kingdom themes in rooms including a separate sleeping area
for kids and an entertainment unit. Rooms
are also supplied with Lego bricks and feature a treasure hunt with a
Lego prize. Disney has a long and rich history of resorts based on its theme parks, so there is little reason to second guess Legoland's model. Resorts or hotels in destination cities though have a less unambiguous financial history.

New York City, in the midst of the largest hotel construction boom ever, has seen its share successful and not so successful themed hotels over the years and now has a few notable openings.  Relatively newer (and successful) hotels that have been around a few years include the Library with a theme based on the Dewey Decimal system running through the hotel and the Distrikt which attempts to play on its alleged Dutch origins and the "districts" of the Big Apple with guests traversing different NYC neighborhood depending on the floor they are in.

Nevertheless, a glance at the Trip Advisor sites of Distrikt or the Library reveals near universal praise but almost no acknowledgement on the part of guests of these distinct if somewhat eccentric themes. Ditto for more latter day entrants like The Azure, which oddly pursues a European look and the Eurostar Wall Street which is premised on a Wall Street theme.

Newer still is the Morgan group's Apres Ski Lodge in its "private" park aside the Hudson Hotel. Given its newness it remains to be seen how patrons take to the idea but what ensures that a theme sticks over time and is not just someone's shtick is its execution; something which both Disney and Las Vegas have long got right.  The outcome in a concentrated urban environment, where the cost to both run and refresh the theme can be prohibitive, the historical record suggests that at best, the themes run a couple of decades before they start to wear thin. Further, unlike in destinations like Orlando and Las Vegas, whether they serve to pull in the customer base that ostensibly sets them apart is something that will probably remain hard to substantiate.



Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.