The draw of art in modern hotels

With intense competition within the industry to deliver new experiences, art is becoming a way for hotels to impress while creating a unique environment.

April 07, 2017

Sipping cocktails next to giant Ming vases, sleeping under Regency portraits or finding your bedroom within an Antony Gormley sculpture — these are among the experiences that hotels are now offering their guests.

Hotels have long had links with the arts world but the trend is now accelerating in many countries. “Hotels are becoming more interested in art for two very simple reasons,” says Geraldine Guichardo, Americas Head of Hotels & Hospitality Research at JLL. “These are to help enhance the guest experience and also to differentiate the hotel.”

She points to the Bellagio Las Vegas as a prime example of how guests can enjoy out-of-the-ordinary experiences by staying there — such as the chance to attend exclusive, late night art viewings paired with wine. Having exhibited Picasso and Warhol in the in-house Fine Art Gallery, the luxury casino complex is about to host the “I am the greatest” exhibition of unseen photos and footage of boxer Muhammad Ali.

Surrounded by art

Some hotels develop a strong reputation for what they hang on their walls — such as the 2,000 plus Regency pieces displayed within London’s Lanesborough. The boutique 21c Museum Hotel chain uses its in-house exhibitions as a unique selling point to drive its hotel expansion plans. Now opening up in Nashville and Kansas City, it will soon be operating from eight U.S. locations.

But others go even further to attract a particular clientele through the specific form of art they feature. For example, the manufactured rain in the lobby of the Emperor Qianmen Hotel in Beijing coupled with its giant mural draw guests who like dramatic installations. Similarly, in Israel, the Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel in Zichron Ya’akov attracts music and art lovers through two concert spaces and three galleries.

Other hotels draw guests into the live creative process. The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee is a leader in the trend to appoint artists in residence. The flagship of the Marcus Hotels & Resorts brand is about to start its eighth annual residency in which the artist works at least 30 hours a week in a gallery/studio that is open to guests. Meanwhile in Greensboro, North Carolina, artist Chip Holton uses the lobby of the O.Henry Hotel as his studio to paint scenes of life at a hotel. He was commissioned by co-owner Dennis Quaintance to create works for each of the 131 bedrooms. It becomes a unique selling point for the hotel; as Quaintance tells local paper News & Record “I can just see (guests) coming in and saying, ‘Look at this! That’s where we had tea this afternoon. That’s where we checked in. That’s the porter.’”

With great art comes great responsibility

As much as art may be a draw for guests, hosting valuable and sometimes delicate objects creates practical issues for hotel managers. “You need to think about security and insurance,” says Guichardo. “Some of these pieces have a hefty price and operators need to be mindful of how this will affect guest security.” The Ming dynasty display of tall porcelain vases and other works at Beijing’s Nuo hotel, for instance, is worth some $50 million.

And with Antony Gormley works selling for millions, his ‘Room’ sculpture at London’s Beaumont Hotel is exposed to expensive potential damage each time a guest decides to sleep within this space, which according to the artist, confronts “the monumental with the most personal, intimate experience.”

The extra costs of displaying art will put it beyond the reach of many hoteliers. “It wouldn’t make sense for a budget hotel to feature $1,000 art in each room due to the value-oriented room rates,” says Guichardo. But she adds, “I could imagine some budget hotels working with local college students to feature their art as a way to support community involvement.” Japan’s minimalist and low cost BnA Art Hotel in Koenji, near Tokyo, has found its own formula by featuring rooms “designed and built by a local Japanese artists” — for which they receive a share of the profits on each room booking.

On the plus side, art “can be placed in already existing spaces of the hotel to help enhance its appearance and decor,” says Guichardo. “But, with new developments, discussions should take place with the architect and developer very early on. You shouldn’t use any space and simply throw art at it. You have to be careful that the art doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day hotel operations.”

There’s also no point in buying art for art’s sake. Each purchase needs to be carefully evaluated to fit the hotel’s décor and image, as well as its physical design. “Not every art investment will work out. Given the costs involved, hotels should thoroughly consider the complexities of featuring art within a hotel,” Guichardo adds.

Yet with intense competition within the hotel industry to deliver experiences with a wow factor, art is becoming a favorite way for hotels to impress while creating a unique environment. “The Millennial group is one of the most highly educated generations in U.S. history,” Guichardo concludes. “And they are interested in becoming more cultured through experiences. Finding interesting art will, for many of them, enhance the experience of staying at a hotel – even if it’s not by a world renowned artist.”