Reach for the stars

Marriott International has just opened the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere and the first double decker hotel in the US. It’s also the model for a roll-out of dual pack Courtyard and Residence Inn hotels and an example of how strong brands can be flexible when it comes to art and design. Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson and the hotel owner, Harry Gross of G Holdings, reveal why this New York City skyscraper is such a special addition to their portfolios

Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson opened the hotel on January 7.

Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson opened the hotel on January 7.

There has to be a pretty special reason for a Dubai-based hotel reporter to leave the hype of the emirate’s hotel industry for an overseas launch, particularly when this means abandoning the balmy January climes of the UAE for the west’s bitter winter chill. But, just a matter of days after the world’s largest firework extravaganza lit up Dubai’s skyline at the dawn of another year, I jetted off to New York City and plunged into the polar vortex for the opening of the Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott Central Park, a hotel with enough accolades to rival the records normally reserved for Dubai.

The building is the first double-decker hotel in the US, housing two select-service Marriott brands on top of one another: a 378-room Courtyard by Marriott Central Park, and a 261-suite Residence Inn by Marriott Central Park. Comprising over 370,000ft² and rising 68 floors above street level, it is the tallest dedicated hotel building in the western hemisphere, located right in the heart of Midtown NYC. The hotel cost owner Harry Gross US $340 million, with significant investment into telecommunication meaning it’s the first hotel in the US to offer free international phone calls, while equal attention paid to art and style has culminated in full wall murals created by renowned abstract expressionist artist, William DeBilzan, who also designed artwork for the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

The property is the result of a long-standing relationship between Marriott International and G Holdings, the company headed by Harry Gross, and it’s now set to be the model for a roll out of Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn by Marriott dual-packs. The launch comes at the peak of New York’s tourism trade, with 2013 attracting an all-time high of 54.3 million visitors, including 42.9 million domestically and 11.4 million from countries outside the US. The city is practically a year ahead of schedule of meeting its target of 55 million tourists by 2015. It will also reach another milestone in 2014, with 100,000 rooms due to open by the year end, finally giving this bucket list destination the inventory it so desperately needs.

After all, even in the face of growing supply, last year New York sold one million more room nights than it did the year previous, generating approximately 30 million total rooms nights in 2013. Average annual occupancy rates are the highest in the US, with plus-87% recorded in 2013. The opportunity for investors and operators alike is clear, and Marriott now operates a massive 35 hotels across the five boroughs and is one of the international giants helping to ensure the city offers a diverse mix of accommodation types — with the new Central Park property an appealing option for both transient travellers in the Courtyard and longer-staying guests in the Residence Inn. Owner Harry Gross is confident that at this particular hotel, occupancy will exceed 90% — quite a feat for 639 rooms.

Suffice to say that the launch of this hotel in January warranted an international media presence, with both Marriott and the New York City marketing, tourism and partnership organisation, NYC & Co, keen to show off their new “extraordinary jewel” to journalists from China and the UK through to Middle East and Brazil — despite the arctic conditions forcing everyone to don hat, scarf and gloves even inside of the hotel as the new-build battled against the freeze. Gross was bold enough to joke that “other than having broken pipes every other minute and no heat, and problems with the elevators, we are fine” — and this stoic New York spirit was apparent in every facet of the property. The ambition behind the soaring elevation of the hotel, highlighted in the night’s skyline with horizontal blue bands around the 5th, 35th and 65th floors, was evident, and on a par with the great heights being achieved by the city’s tourism board.

Speaking at the launch, Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson said of the city: “Even as supply has grown, occupancy in the existing hotels has grown too. New York is finally starting to get the number of rooms it needs to have. New York has always suffered from being tight as a drum in terms of ability for folks to get hotel rooms in the city, it’s made it very expensive for folks, it’s made it very difficult to have group meetings, and now I think that as the supply grows, New York not only takes on this new supply and performs really well but it becomes more compelling as a destination.

“This is a city that gets the importance of travel and the importance of the opportunity for economic growth. People from all over the world and from the United States want to come to New York, they want to do business here, experience the leisure sites here, they want to do shopping here, — New York has got it all and this hotel will be an important part of welcoming people to this city.”

The hotel, which is managed by Interstate Hotels & Resorts, a company that operates 386 hotels within North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and which has worked with the Gross family for 18 years, expects to attract 1000 guests a day. They can choose between the Courtyard, housed on floors six to 33 and featuring bright, modern rooms zoned into areas for working, sleeping, relaxing and getting ready, and the all-suite Residence Inn, located from floors 37-65 and designed for stays of five nights or more, with a kitchenette in every suite and the comfort of a complimentary breakfast to eat-in or takeaway, grocery delivery service and onsite laundry room.

Benefitting from their dual pack status the hotels share 6000ft² of meeting space, a fitness center located on the 35th floor with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor sundeck for stretching, relaxing or seasonal sunning, and both have access to the Courtyard Bistro, a casual eatery with a limited menu. All public areas feature flexible seating options; individual pods have their own TVs; sofas surround low tables for casual group dining and there is high bench seating facing the window, for those who wish to watch the city and avoid the common awkwardness of solo dining.

Technologically advanced communications and digital capacity delivers 1.25 gigabytes of bandwidth to every room, the horizontal and vertical fiber optical cable network allows for fast, extensive use on multiple devices in every room and smart TVs feature 60HD channels. International calls are free as is wi-fi as standard, a relief in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Everything is designed around comfort, ease and functionality, with the whimsical work of DeBilzan and spectacular views ensuring a refreshing sense of individuality.

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