Although he has worked in trade shows for most of his career, I think of Serge Dive as a guide. We bonded in Berlin in the early aughts when, after a full day at ITB, he brought me to Tacheles, a graffiti-covered, abandoned building that had been taken over by artists who opened makeshift galleries and cafes there. It was wonderfully different from anything I'd ever seen.
More recently, he introduced me to the Wynwood arts district in Miami when that scene was still edgy enough that the taxi driver nervously asked if I was sure I was in the right place.
It's a gift to be able to stay on top of now. Tacheles, Wynwood and most nascent art scenes and emerging centers of creativity are a bit like souffles; you've got to consume them quickly before they collapse into, well, popularity. Dive would understand perfectly the malapropism credited to Yogi Berra: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
Dive was the founder of the International Luxury Travel Market, held annually in Cannes, which he sold to Reed Travel Exhibitions.
His next company, Beyond Luxury Media, launched Pure, the high-end show focused on experiential travel (held in Marrakesh), followed by LE Miami, which features design-forward, lifestyle properties, and We Are Africa, showcasing African tourism.
His shows are remarkable for their holistic qualities; he brings his gift for tapping into the here and now into every aspect of the events, from speakers to parties to the trade show floor.
LE Miami was held last week in South Beach, and I asked him where he saw things going in hospitality.
"The main thing to understand is that the hotel model that appeared in the 1950s was based on corporate efficiency," he said. "Those companies focused on systems that could be scaled. In big corporations, talent and creativity were not assets because they could not be scaled. As a result, the customer had very few choices, and had to obey.
"That's over," he said. "The reality now is that we're going back to the way it was before the corporate mentality dominated. When I was young, I'd go to the butcher, and he'd ask how my family was doing. He knew us and cared. That disappeared, but now it's back. We're relearning how to be human. Today, the hotelier is more like a small shopkeeper, but in a global village."
Earlier in the conference, Brad Wilson, president of the hot (and scaling) lifestyle brand Ace Hotels, made an unexpected prediction. He was being interviewed, alongside Tina Edmundson, Marriott's chief global officer for luxury and lifestyle brands, about how lifestyle hoteliers can scale while remaining true to a brand's initial vision.
In a sentiment similar to what Dive had articulated, Wilson asserted that lifestyle hotels are not a movement but represent a fundamental change.
"Tina will end up president of Marriott," he said. "Her brands within Marriott will grow as consumer acceptance and desire for the next step validates them."
Marriott saw potential in the lifestyle brand hotels relatively early, experimenting first with a Bulgari co-brand in 2001. That initiative has remained small, with only three hotels opening in the years since.
The oddest couple in hospitality, Bill Marriott and Ian Schrager, launched Edition to much fanfare in 2007. But it had a slow and rocky liftoff, with the second Edition, in Waikiki, being deflagged in a very public dispute. There are currently a total of four. Ironically, Marriott's most successful move into a related space leverages its operational scale -- distribution reach and loyalty program strength -- by renting it to independent lifestyle hotels willing to tether to its Autograph Collection.
Most major hospitality companies have played in the lifestyle area, with Starwood going in early and often (W, 1998; Aloft and Element, 2008. Tribute Portfolio, Starwood's answer to the Autograph Collection, launched this year).
InterContinental Hotel Group has also been aggressive in the space, coming out with Hotel Indigo in 2004 and the Even brand in 2012 and purchasing the first scaled lifestyle brand, Kimpton, late last year.
Hilton's plans for the Denizen lifestyle brand were disrupted in 2009 by charges that the hotelier had stolen trade secrets from Starwood to develop it. Hilton's Curio collection, similar to the Autograph Collection, was announced last year, followed by the creation of its first fully defined lifestyle brand, Canopy.
After Hyatt created Andaz at the luxury end of lifestyle in 2007, it went fairly quiet. But in January, it announced Centric, which specifically targets millennials in urban settings. The first opened in Chicago in April. The second debuted this month, just blocks from where LE Miami was being held, so I went there to have lunch with its director of market strategy, Alicia Steele.
My first question: Why was all the branding on the hotel Hyatt rather than Centric? I didn't see Centric anywhere.
Steele said that the property had been, essentially, developed and nearing completion when it was announced it would be the first Centric.
Signage, she said, was on order.
This struck me as the inverse of the challenge of staying true to a vision as one scaled up. The property fits the definition of a Centric hotel (well located in an urban destination, marketed to millennials), but the "vision" seems to have been applied after-the-fact.
In reality, hotels change flags frequently; branding often comes after the fact. But if Dive and Wilson are correct and a paradigm shift has occurred, won't that change?
Lunch at the hotel's restaurant, by the way, was excellent, and the rooms I saw were attractive. It fits South Beach. I don't doubt it will succeed.
But the big question is whether Hyatt will use this property to test how the relationship between corporate and creative thinking is changing, or whether its vision is only surface (or signage) deep.