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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Canvassing the Art Scene at Hotels

In times of yore, many hotels used art as the visual equivalent to Muzak. But in today’s Instagram world, the curation of hotel artwork is much more deliberate, as properties try to project their personalities onto the crowded canvas of the guest experience.

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Museum 21C Hotel, Bentonville

According to expert curators, art placed throughout the hotel, from the lobby to guest room corridors to the rooms themselves, can serve multiple purposes. It can help sculpt brand image or further claims to a local provenance. Moreover, art collections can create conversations, along with responding to the desire of guests to project who they are by where they stay.
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Artwork at The Drake
For Mia Nielsen, the art curator at The Drake in Toronto, the process of selecting art should begin by asking, “What kind of experience do you want to create for your guest? Is it something connecting to the local environment or broader conceptual ideas?”

At The Drake, hotel art “can be an essential way to celebrate what is going on locally, especially for travelers, who get an entry point into what’s happening locally,” Nielsen said. "There are real opportunities to build audiences at a local level through art." The Drake caters to residents by “creating a new context for them to think about how the art produced locally fits into a bigger cultural conversation," Nielsen added.”

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Gallery Space at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville
On the other hand, properties in the 21c Museum Hotels collection (which AccorHotels recently bought) take a more global approach. “Art isn’t just integrated in 21c, it’s our whole reason for being. The vision was to develop a multi-venue museum, a holistic institution with 80,000 square feet of exhibition space across eight hotels," Alice Gray Stites, the company’s chief curator and museum director, says.

The art selected for rotating public exhibitions "reflects what is going on in the world, and is designed to promote conversation and connection,” Gray Stites said. However, as a nod to the hot hospitality mantra of local, local, local, each guest room floor sports a specially designed alcove adjacent to the elevators showcasing the work of area artists.

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Guest Room at the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City 
The right art can further the guest experience at all kind of hotels, from lifestyle brands to more traditional properties. “Having unique and intriguing local art with a story adds to a memorable guest experience in the hotel, which is essentially what lifestyle hotels strive for, but can be equally applied to traditional branded hotels, too," Nancy Sweeney, principle at Vail, Colorado-based Art Advisory Service, says.

When incorporating local themes, however, Gray Stites warns against “being too literal. Be cautious about being too kitschy. You can use art to tell the local story, but do it in a sophisticated, understated way.”

Beyond establishing local credentials, Sweeney, whose firm has worked with Rosewood, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, believes "artwork helps each brand create its own identity and maintain brand standards." If a hotel is using art to convey the brand message, Gray Stites advises considering how the mission of the hotel intersects with the theme of the artwork. Sweeney adds that the property should select art to reflect its clientele.

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Hotel Arts Barcelona
Both curators agree it’s important take some risks. “By selecting original multi-media, three-dimensional, commissioned works that are singular, you create Instagrammable moments” that  can “show clients how innovative you are,” Sweeney says. Gray Stites adds, “Don’t underestimate your audience. People like to be challenged. When they see places and faces unfamiliar to them, it provokes curiosity and empathy. There's a hunger for people to connect to new ideas through art.”

As hotels ponder beefing up their art menus, it's also important to "define the key sightlines and spaces in the hotel," according to The Drake’s Nielsen. As they select art, hoteliers should "take a volumetric, spatial approach rather than focusing on flat walls. Walk through spaces and consider how a guest can interact with art to create moments of surprise and wonder."

No matter the approach, the bottom line is that art is not only an investment in aesthetics, but also in, well, the bottom line. “If you find work that people connect to, that is iconic, it will get tagged in social media,” Sweeney says. “There’s your free marketing. And that's how you can justify budgeting more money for art."

A version of this article originally appeared on Skift.com, for which I serve as the luxury correspondent.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Japan is Upping its Game in Anticipation of the 2020 Olympics

In anticipation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan finds itself at a pivotal moment—when an effective strategy to attract international tourists could have an outsize impact on the country for years to come.

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) wants to grow inbound tourism to 40 million by 2020. That’s a significant jump from 2017, when the country attracted 28.7 million international visitors.

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In order to achieve this goal, the JNTO has launched a multilingual promotional campaign to introduce tourism attractions to potential travelers in North America, Europe and Australia. It includes a new dedicated website showcasing lesser-known activities and destinations around the country. This is being supplemented by targeted digital advertisements and television commercials in select markets.

According to The Future of Japan’s Tourism: Path for Sustainable Growth towards 2020, after relative stagnation from 2006 to 2010, Japan's inbound tourism grew by 33 percent a year from 2011 to 2015. The report, issued by McKinsey, notes, “Given the exponential growth in tourism income, the Japanese government recognizes that inbound tourism could be an important engine of economic growth and regional revitalization.”

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However, about 85 percent of Japan’s current inbound travelers hail from Asia, whereas long-haul markets including Europe, North America and Australia make up about 11 percent. McKinsey says for Japan to become a "tourism-oriented country by 2020, it must address this visitor-portfolio imbalance."

The report suggests this discrepancy is due to several factors, including a lower awareness of Japan's tourism assets, the country's reputation as a pricey destination, a lack of English infrastructure, and an online tourism portal that could be more effective in catering to users.

Although luxury travelers aren't necessarily impacted by the perception of Japan as expensive, there's still the intimidation factor among this group. “While Westerners are fascinated by both the traditional and contemporary cultural elements of Japan, the majority are intimidated by the prospect of actually visiting," says Rob Stein, senior travel advisor with The Stein Collective by Ovation Vacations. Even among Stein's well-traveled clients, "the general misconception is that Japan is a closed homogeneous society and thus unwelcoming towards foreign visitors.” Part of the issue may be the formality of the Japanese culture. "Japan can better promote its tourism by adopting a more casual and modern approach. Formality is inherent in Japanese business practices, but perhaps a little moderation could go a long way," says Stein.

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The McKinsey report cites skewed regional distribution as another major sticking point. Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka get the bulk of international tourism. Part of the reason for the dearth of tourism to outlying regions, according to McKinsey, is lack of infrastructure and lack of regional cooperation. Without regional tourism entities, the country is “missing an opportunity to redesign routes to feature assets that could attract more visitors.”

Indeed, the luxury sector seems to be leading the charge to move travelers out of the big cities. Several big brands, including Ritz Carlton and Park Hyatt, are opening in less-visited destinations by 2020. Meanwhile, the new Japan Luxury Travel Alliance, made up of Kyoto, Sapporo, Ishikawa Prefecture and Nara City, has recently started a marketing campaign to spread the wealth of Western tourism around the country.

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Nara City

According to Ken Iwata, executive director of JNTO’s New York office, the newly-announced Enjoy My Japan campaign addresses several of these matters head on. In 2017, the JNTO conducted an extensive survey in Europe, North America, and Australia among avid travelers who had yet to visit to learn what they find alluring when choosing destinations.

The survey identified the “passion points” that make up a satisfying trip. According to Iwata, "The passion points we discovered are cuisine, nature, relaxation, tradition, city, entertainment, art and outdoor. We try to showcase each of these points (and any unique combinations of these) in our campaign videos."

What is still lost in translation, though, is language. According to Stein, “There is no denying that English is not as ubiquitous as it is in Europe, and other parts of Asia.” Iwata says the Japanese government is on it. “Recognizing the language barrier might deter those who don’t speak Japanese from visiting the country, the government is installing more English signage," he says.

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In a similar vein, the government has decided that, beginning in 2020, all high school graduates must achieve a moderate proficiency in English. He adds, "On a local level, the travel industry is responding by providing menus and instructions in multiple languages" and regulations on tour guides are being loosened, which will increase their numbers, diversity and style.

Having all of these elements in place prior to the 2020 Olympic Games will serve the country well. According to Sean Hyett, associate analyst for travel and tourism at GlobalData, "For such a large and costly event like (an Olympics) to really be beneficial ... the tourism board needs to incentivize travelers to visit again in the future or visit other parts of the country."

This article originally appeared on Skift.com, a publication for which I cover luxury travel.