Our Innovations

Hotel as Laboratory? How One Charlotte Hotel Strives to Stoke and Satisfy Curiosity

By Tricia Mirchandani

Interactive curiosity comes to stay in North Carolina.

08 Min Read Time

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Marriott Beta

Artists, like Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton, satisfy their curiosity by engaging with people and digging into their stories. Scientists, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, satisfy their curiosity by setting up a laboratory and delving into experiments and data. But how does an entity like a hotel satisfy its curiosity? It does little of both.

Curious about its guests, what they like, what they don’t and how they travel, Marriott Hotels embarked on a multi-year exploration that put every detail — from the check-in process to the hotel restaurant experience — under the microscope. Engaging with guests to gather feedback and ideas, the brand’s leadership explored the most fundamental elements of the travel experience, looking for the pieces that work and the places where out-of-the-box thinking could change the way we travel.

“It’s not just about delivering an experience. It’s about delivering a culture of innovation,” says Matthew von Ertfelda, Marriott’s Vice President of Insight, Strategy and Innovation.

The team considered questions such as: Why should hosts stand behind a desk? What would happen if we freed them to walk around, using tablets to check guests in on the street, if needed? They transformed the answers to these questions into a renovation plan unlike anything the industry has ever seen. And then they shifted into “laboratory mode” to test their new ideas and collect the data.

The result is the Charlotte Marriott City Center, a space tailored to what the brand discovered customers want, and it shatters the mold of the traditional hotel.

“From top to bottom, we’ve reinvented this hotel,” said Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson about the downtown Charlotte property’s transformation. “We’ve managed to touch essentially every square inch of this hotel and try to meet what customers want.”

Changes include developing spaces like the Stoke Restaurant and Bar, designed around an open kitchen for an immersive dining environment, and the launch of a fitness center offering hundreds of workout programs on-demand.

“Guests want to leave with more than they came with in terms of experiences and exposure to new things,” says von Ertfelda. “We built opportunity for social engagement and learning throughout the hotel.”

Many of those opportunities take place at Coco and the Director, the hotel’s community coffee shop. From pop-up experiences to impromptu educational events, guests can learn about things like local coffee roasting and regional beer distilleries. Or they can relax into less formal experiences like the shop’s Throwback Thursday, which pairs an old movie with wine and beer.

“I sit in that space and watch guests as they walk in and engage,” says General Manager Crissy Wright, “There is such a cool look on people’s faces.”

Are these innovations truly changes for the better? We’re all about to find out, and fast. Marriott equipped its hotel with beta buttons. Placed throughout the hotel, these buttons allow guests to send real-time feedback that satiates Marriott’s curiosity about how its programs are received and help shape development of future features, creating continual innovation within a live hotel experiment.

It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science wrapped up into one living, breathing lab.

Want to see what the future of travel looks like? Take a trip down to Charlotte and find out. Then let us know what you think. We’re curious.

Future Stay

Watch the Marriott Hotels video series, starring the Charlotte Marriott City Center.


Charlotte Marriott City Center

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