Boring Chains Go Boutique: The Hotel Brands You Should Know Now

by  Chanize Thorpe | Jul 30, 2014
Andaz San Diego
Andaz San Diego / Photo courtesy of the property

Stylish travelers, rejoice! Boring chains are going boutique.

In decades past, names like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham were the business travel stalwarts that were always reliable and comfortable--but nothing to write home about. That's not enough for today's travelers, whether leisure or business. These days, we seek something different, something unique to the place we've made the effort to visit. And the formerly cookie cutter giants have responded, looking to independent hotels for style and to local vendors for destination-specific amenities.

Which brings us to a new conundrum. A boatload of new portfolios have surfaced in the past few years, to the point where it's become highly confusing. You've probably heard of the Autograph collection, or Aloft Hotels, or Even Hotels -- but who in the world is who? To clear things up a bit, here's a handy guide of the most notable brands to know now.

Autograph Collection
Parent: Marriott
What’s the Difference: Sense of place 
This brand has gotten a lot of buzz, and for good reason. This special Marriott division is composed of independent hotels that add unprecedented individuality and local flavor to the chain. Each hotel, from boutique to resort, maintains its the aesthetics and amenities that had previously provided a special taste of its destination. New York City’s opulent Carlton Hotel, for instance, keeps many of its original Beaux-Arts touches -- a nod to the Flatiron district's historical architecture -- but has upgraded with iPod docking stations, flatscreen TVs, and Molton Brown bath products.

Parent: Hyatt 
What’s the Difference: Perks galore
The Andaz empire, which just opened its 12th hotel in Tokyo, was the first Hyatt brand to experiment with bolder, more contemporary designs typical of boutique hotels while focusing on comfort. Even better? It offers guests a ton of freebies, including free WiFi, complimentary wine hours, and gratis minibar indulgence (alcohol excluded).

Aloft Hotels 
Parent: Starwood 
What’s the Difference: Upscale value
Closely tied to the LEED-certified Element brand, this hip label appeals to city travelers watching their wallet. It has plenty of flash like the W Hotels, but is more accessible in price and has a heavier focus on technology with next-generation travelers in mind. Prime examples are the new downtown Atlanta property, decked out in neon lights and bold colors, and the Harlem outpost, where diversions await at the sleek wxyz bar and re:mix lounge.

Even Hotels
Parent: InterContinental Hotel Group 
What’s the Difference: Wellness 
This more relaxed version of InterContinental's upscale brands targets the traveler with this slogan: “Eat well, rest easy, keep active, and accomplish more.” To that point, a strong emphasis is put on fitness centers, with a host of workout classes. Dining menus offer many options, from vegan to gluten-free. Even in the guest rooms, hand weights, yoga mats, and weight benches are available for use. The first Evens recently opened in Norwalk, CT and Rockville, Maryland—with three NYC properties coming next.

Wyndham Grand
Parent: Wyndham
What’s the Difference: Local pizzaz 
Wyndhams have been a corporate standby for decades, with properties that are always reliable but rarely worth writing home about. But this had started to change, first abroad with the more design-forward Caribbean posts. Now, the Wyndham Grand collection is taking a purposeful turn to the local community surrounding the properties. The newest opening this fall, the Wyndham Grand Jupiter at Harbourside Place, is intimately sized and has relied upon local North Palm Beach artists and food vendors to liven up the experience.

Radisson Blu & Radisson Red
Parent: Radisson 
What’s the Difference: Modern cool
The Radisson Blu brand has enjoyed a more elegant, high-design reputation abroad, with beloved spas reaching as far as small towns like Galway, Ireland. And it's starting to expand stateside with the same contemporary style. The Radisson Blu in Philadelphia, for example, has an impressive lobby filled with graffiti-like art to frame velvet chairs and banquettes. In 2015, the new Radisson Red brand will be a techie's dream, thanks to a mobile app that handles check-in, room service requests, and even temperature and light adjustments.

Parent: Marriott
What’s the Difference: Design
Thanks to the vision of hotelier extraordinaire, Ian Schrager, Marriott’s cool cousin wows guests with contemporary, but elegant touches that appeal to a variety of visitors. Lighting is always big for Schrager, so expect plenty of whimsical lamps. Istanbul was the first Edition property to open, followed by London. Next comes Miami Beach, NYC and a slew of other locations.

Parent: Hyatt
What's the Difference: Upcycled comfort
Following the success of the Andaz brand, Hyatt launched the eponymous HYATT portfolio. Its hotels' designs purposefully honors its immediate surroundings -- HYATT Herald Square, for instance, will open in October featuring reclaimed wood from NYC's water towers and room signs composed of printing press blocks (a nod to the city's publishing history). The brand is also all about natural comfort, with inviting lounges, espresso bars, and cafes front-and-center in the lobbies.

Hotel Indigo
Parent: InterContinental Hotel Group 
What’s the Difference: Character
It's not necessarily upscale, but each Indigo property adopts the personality of its neighborhood -- in Austin for example, where a 134-room property is currently underway for a late 2016 opening, the decor will likely reflect a heavy music influence. We like the fact that the brand, with style and low prices, plays right to thrifty travelers who don't like to feel like misers. Plus, the staff are usually born-and-bred locals who can point you to the off-the-grid spots you’re dying to find.

Parent: Hilton 
What’s the Difference: Indie chic
There's not much that we know about this brand-new collection, but we're keeping an eye on it. Because the hotels that sign on will be either four- or five-star independent properties -- notice a sub-trend, too? -- we're expecting chic digs with some historical significance. So far, the impressive SLS Las Vegas is slated to be the first to relaunch under the brand, with four to follow in Houston, North Carolina, Rapid City (South Dakota), and Portland (Oregon).

Bonus: Starwood is in the process of claiming major stakes in the super-chic Design Hotels collection, though what that means for travelers remains unclear at this point. But considering the brand has more than 250 properties worldwide in more than 40 countries -- not to mention fantastic season sales -- we're eagerly awaiting more news on this front.

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