A first look at the new Kayak Hotel Miami Beach

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Layla, the on-site Middle Eastern restaurant at the Kayak Miami Beach, offers seating that overlooks the Collins Canal.
Layla, the on-site Middle Eastern restaurant at the Kayak Miami Beach, offers seating that overlooks the Collins Canal. Photo Credit: Patrick Chin

If you've done a flight search or price-matched a hotel or car rental anytime in the past two decades, you're probably familiar with Kayak.com. Founded by billionaire CEO Steve Hafner in 2004, there's no doubt that the travel aggregator and metasearch website with a database of over 400,000 hotels worldwide has revolutionized how we plan and price out travel in real time.

So it seems inevitable given its nearly two decades of expertise in the travel business that when Kayak opened its first branded hotel, the Kayak Hotel Miami Beach, it would also flex a bit of mobile muscle via the Kayak app in the process.

• Related: Kayak moves from hotel search to hotel ownership

"Covid-19 has made people more receptive to using apps and has accelerated tech-enabled solutions," Hafner said on the hotel's opening weekend earlier this month.

According to Hafner, the vision for the first of what may be many Kayak-owned properties was to not only "level the playing field" for boutique hotels that want to stay competitive with big box brands but to make a stay "ultrapersonalized," with as much (or as little) human interaction as possible.

A Rooftop King Suite at the Kayak Hotel Miami Beach, which opened earlier this month.
A Rooftop King Suite at the Kayak Hotel Miami Beach, which opened earlier this month. Photo Credit: Patrick Chin

Which all sounds well and good, unless the technology doesn't work, making human-to-human contact necessary. Unfortunately, that happened to be the case on my recent stay at the Kayak Miami Beach; I was there as part of an opening VIP weekend for media, influencers and members of the Kayak brand.

Designed in partnership with lifestyle hospitality company Life House, the 52-key boutique hotel officially opened its doors to the public on April 12. Just a few blocks east of the main artery of the city, Collins Avenue, in the spring break capital of South Beach, the hotel exists as what Hafner describes as a "design lab" and "test site" for the company's latest innovations.

Set in a 1934 art deco building, the hotel formerly owned and operated by Life House will no doubt continue to be popular among Miami scenesters and the millennial set. That's thanks to the modest redesign that now offers a mix of "Cozy King" rooms and suites all outfitted in a boho chic-meets-tropical South Beach aesthetic, with rattan furnishings and pops of color primed for Instagrammable moments, pink lattes and all.

The spacious rooftop lounge and indoor-outdoor dining concept, Layla, will surely be a big draw to the property thanks to its convivial atmosphere and unique menu options ranging from mezze platters to Israeli salad and spicy eggplant toast.

Its popularity will no doubt be amplified by the technology that's at the heart of this endeavor by Kayak. However, based on my experience there is a lot of room for improvement on that front.

For example, once my hotel reservation and flights had been booked, I logged in to the Kayak app, where my hopes of connecting the "Trips" feature to my inbox never materialized.

A cup of freshly brewed pink coffee certainly fits the vibe at the new Kayak Hotel Miami Beach.
A cup of freshly brewed pink coffee certainly fits the vibe at the new Kayak Hotel Miami Beach. Photo Credit: Michelle Gross

Upon my arrival, I was greeted in the lobby by two iPads and was able to check in easily enough. However, when an issue arose with the room that required relocating, a hotel manager became necessary to provide an alternative solution.

True to its name, the Cozy King Room I settled into was indeed cozy. I appreciated the Le Labo products in the bathroom as well as the Marshall speaker, which I did successfully sync to Bluetooth.

In-room tech amenities, including on-demand workouts and access to streaming services like Netflix via Apple TV, were a nice touch, although at the time of my visit, there were some technical difficulties rendering my television inoperable.

Some of the features of the app, such as virtual check-in and checkout, keyless entry and contactless room upgrades, are not yet available. A representative for Kayak said those features should be available by late summer.

The app is also capable of integrating everything from a guest's hotel and flight itinerary to booking local restaurants via OpenTable.com (Kayak's sister brand), although those features were not working for me during my stay, nor were they working for a number of other guests that weekend.

The app also was unable to provide any real-time alerts or "organize, manage and share my flight schedule and itinerary" with my travel companion that weekend as it was supposed to.

The lobby at the new Kayak Miami Beach.
The lobby at the new Kayak Miami Beach. Photo Credit: Patrick Chin

Over the course of my visit, SMS capability via the Kayak app did come in handy on a few occasions when communicating with hotel staff. However, wait times for a response hovered around 20 minutes or so, and a spell-check might be advisable (defiantly versus definitely suggest two very different meanings) to avoid potential miscommunication between hotel staff and guests.

"We were focused on the design and getting the hotel up and running. Now, we are laser focused on the technology," Kayak's Hafner said, in explaining the opening weekend snafus.

To be sure, the hotel still has some growing pains to get through. It is a "test site," after all.

Perhaps the best part of my stay was sitting and watching the iguanas sunbathe along the Collins canal from the hotel's patio restaurant. With spotty internet another tech issue on opening weekend, it was much easier to disconnect and enjoy the Florida warmth with a cup of fresh brewed pink coffee. There was always someone on hand to offer a refill and chat. Maybe after more than a year of isolation, less tech and more human-to-human contact isn't so bad after all.

Corrected: This report was updated on April 19 to correct information about Steve Hafner's role with OpenTable.com. Hafner is not the owner of the site; he is a former CEO. OpenTable.com is owned by Booking Holdings.

First Look: Kayak Miami Beach

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