In 2020, hotel vacancies soared in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. While it appeared that 2021 might enable many companies in the hospital industry to make a full recovery as Americans swarmed out of town when the school year ended, intent on “revenge summer” vacations and a “hot vax summer,” July 2021 COVID-19 numbers indicated that the emerging delta variant of the virus could throw a monkey wrench into the works. In an effort to combat rising traveler preference for individualized experiences more commonly found in Airbnb and other short-term rental property platforms than in, say, the Hilton, hotels are paying big bucks to install an unlikely attraction: fancy art.
Examples of these installations run the gamut, from a full-size Batman sculpture hovering over the conference table in a ritzy convention center to 120 original pieces of modern and pop art designed specifically for a Palm Beach location. You can even see a Degas in a Savannah, Georgia, luxury hotel and enjoy a fully fictional backstory about the “benefactor” of the hotel who left Savannah to travel the world as a dancer.
So, why does the Grand Wailea in Maui, Hawaii, think $30 million in art might bring in more customers? Well, the answer is simple: They don’t just want more customers; they want the right customers. And according to high-end hotel directors and fine art museum curators, what the best clientele have in common is “discernment,” “social connections,” and “high expectations.” High expectations that may include sleeping in the same room with a Picasso, a Dali, or a Warhol (all for the affordable price of $699 per night for a suite, by the way).
“Art can evoke feeling and create conversation,” explained one hotel’s marketing and social media manager, noting that “the art becomes part of your vacation, part of the experience.” That insight, by the way, is crucial. The reason art may attract customers back to hotels – luxury or otherwise – has as much to do with consumers’ ability to photograph themselves with the art as it has to do with discernment and culture. In fact, it probably has a lot more to do with it since museums generally discourage selfies with the light-sensitive artwork.
Although the biggest headlines are going to the hotels with the big names in the bedrooms – one hotel has a Banksy, while plenty of others have entire suites named for famous artists and filled with works by Picasso, Warhol, and the like – smaller hotels are hoping that they can benefit from the culture angle of advertising as well. As hotels continue to compete with Airbnb “experiences,” it will become increasingly important to make the room an integral part of the story.