Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can I have the Barbie Suite? Hotels play to children's fantasies to sell rooms

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hotels are turning to children's fantasy icons — such as Barbie, Shrek and Snow White — to sell rooms, possibly at higher prices, to attract families.

  • In Paris, the luxury Hotel Plaza Athenee has two Barbie themed rooms.

    Dorchester Collection

    In Paris, the luxury Hotel Plaza Athenee has two Barbie themed rooms.

Dorchester Collection

In Paris, the luxury Hotel Plaza Athenee has two Barbie themed rooms.

Disney, Gaylord and the Dorchester Collection are among hotel operators trying to capitalize on pop culture to fill rooms on weekends when business travelers are gone, on spring or summer breaks, or at locations that attract vacationing families.

Hotel operator Gaylord announced the latest deal last week. It's working with DreamWorks Animation to bring Shrek, Kung Fu Panda's Po and Madagascar characters into its hotels. Under the arrangement, Shrek could show up at a child's birthday party. Kung Fu Panda's Po could appear at a breakfast. And the Madagascar penguins could go down the ice slide in the Gaylord hotels' popular wintertice show.

"If you look at all these reality shows on TV, this stuff is fantasy. People (like to) put themselves mentally and emotionally in different places," Gaylord CEO Colin Reed says. "This is what we can offer folks."

The idea could be a hit in the age of Facebook and Twitter, when people can brag about their encounters to their social network. "People want something unique," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks' CEO.

Gaylord will begin introducing guests to add DreamWorks characters during the holidays, when the hotels launch their annual winter holiday show. The plan is to announce pricing for various packages in July.

Other hotels seeking to capitalize on fulfilling fantasy:

•Disney is converting 512 rooms at a Walt Disney World hotel into princess-themed "Royal Rooms." The rooms are expected to open early next year. Guests might see bathroom faucets in the shape of Aladdin's genie lamp

•In Paris, the swanky Hotel Plaza Athénée will convert some rooms into Barbie- and Hot Wheels-themed rooms for the month of August. Barbie fans will be able to book either the "Fashion Icon" Barbie room, which comes with a computer and designer furniture, or "Modern Princess" Barbie room, which comes with royal linens and a pet grooming table. The hotel is working with toy maker Mattel. Other hotels, including the Palms Resort in Las Vegas, have created Barbie-inspired hotel suites.

•Last summer, Marriott wooed families with Spongebob Square Pants and Dora the Explorer. The less-extensive Nickelodeon-themed family promotion relied mostly on giving children themed activity books and silicone bracelets with Nickelodeon characters as opposed to redecorating rooms or holding live character breakfasts.

The fantasy trend isn't aimed only at little boys and girls. London's chic Berkeley Hotel offers a vintage designer fashion trunk that conjures Carrie Bradshaw's closet in Sex and the City. It's filled with Dior and Chanel jewelry and other vintage treasurers that women who pay extra to use the trunk can wear on the town.

Bringing in fantasy could also help hotels fetch higher prices — up to 50% more — than for a regular room or hotel stay, says Rob Kwortnik, an associate marketing professor at Cornell University.

Relying on fantasy also could snap guests out of malaise about a hotel brand, says customer service consultant Steve Curtin, a former Marriott executive.

Citing research by customer experience consulting firm Beyond Philosophy, Curtin notes that 44% of consumers described the majority of customer service experiences they've had as "bland and uneventful."

"If you're involving somebody with Shrek the character, they're going to remember that," he says.

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