June 19, 2012Music strikes the right note with guests

Listening to Robert Habeeb describe theWit hotel in downtown Chicago, it’s easy to confuse the property for a person. That’s intentional, said Habeeb, who as president and COO of First Hospitality Group oversees management of the 274-room property.

“When we were opening the hotel we organized a think group that defined,” who theWit is, he said. The result was a thorough psychographic and demographic profile of the hotel that addressed everything from look and feel—and musical preference.

The latter has been a growing area of interest for hotel operators and developers looking to enhance the guest experience. From traditional mid-scale hotels to chic urban retreats, music has emerged as a can’t-miss component that is driving guest satisfaction as well as revenue at the top line, according to sources.

At theWit, for example, Habeeb and his team took painstaking detail to format the music for every crevice of the hotel. In the rooftop bar, you might hear rock ‘n’ roll one minute and jazz the next. In hallways during the morning, you might hear the soothing sounds of chirping birds. And in the lobby, the playlist is interrupted every so often with a “Wit minute,” a humorous, 60-second comedy piece.

“It’s intended to be ‘thematical,’” Habeeb said. “It makes it kind of fun.”

Michael Talansky, director of hotel operators for sbe Hotel Group, which owns the SLS Hotel and The Redbury brands, described his company’s approach to music similarly.

“The sound that you hear and the music that you hear in the various spaces is critical in creating a certain sense of atmosphere,” he said.

The science of sound
The musical selections at theWit and sbe hotels aren’t simply pulled from the GM’s iPod playlist. Instead, they represent the complex interworking of decades of research surrounding music and its impact.

“It’s a science and it’s an art and a creativity,” Talansky said.

The conductor directing the show in the case of the theWit and sbe hotels is Prescriptive Music, one of several vendors that have emerged in recent years that uses complex algorithms to perfectly tailor a musical program to a given property and the different spaces (e.g. lobby, bar, guestrooms) within that property.

Akhil Jain, president of Landmark Hotel Group, which has 11 hotels in its portfolio, turned to a different vendor, Ambiance Radio, for a similar aim.

“I can’t classify it. It breaks through different genres and eras of music,” he said of the playlists that were generated to improve the guest experience at his hotels in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

The first song might be something from the top 40, followed by a new age selection from Yanni, followed by a jazz tune from John Coltrane. It’s an eclectic mosaic, Jain said, but “it kind of just flows together.”

Music to guests’ ears
The overall aim of music—as with any consumer touch point—is to improve the guest experience, according to the sources interviewed for this report.

“Music has a big impact regardless of the location, regardless of the person, his background. Music connects people. When you walk into the lobby and you hear the music we have playing, it automatically puts the guest at ease,” Jain said.

“When people stay (at theWit) … they always talk about what a great experience it was and how fun the environment was,” Habeeb said. “I think the music contributes to that. It’s like that great attention to detail that we talk about in our business that people really appreciate.”

Jain, Habeeb and Talansky each reported increases in guest satisfaction after implementing the music programs, although none could attribute the gains solely to the music programs. It is one component of many, they said.

“It’s hard to measure. The hotel experience in general is made up of thousands of different experiences from the time you make your reservation online … to the time you check out and are in the cab on the way to the airport,” Talansky said.

In the hotel bar, for example, music is one of many contributing factors that entice guests to stay longer and spend more; but so too is the food, service and design of the space, he said.

“We truly believe based on our experience and our guest comments and our conversations with guests that music and sound is critical,” Talansky said. “We know that a lot of guests approach us and say, ‘Wow! Who does your music? Where can we buy it?’”

“Generally at (the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Virginia Beach, which was the first property in which Landmark installed Ambiance Radio,) our guest satisfaction scores have been moving up very nicely,” Jain said.

“Can I attribute that only to the music?” he asked. “Probably not. But I’m sure it is a component.”

Music strikes the right note with guests

By Patrick Mayock
News Editor-International
19 June 2012