As proven by the success of boutique hotels and Airbnb, the days when travelers were satisfied with ubiquitous, cookie-cutter experiences are gone. AC Hotels, Marriott's lifestyle hotel brand in Europe and the U.S., is seeking to fill that niche by partnering on initiatives that appeal to millennial business travelers with former America's Next Top Model judge, fashion photographer and author Nigel Barker, and Startup Grind, a global startup community.
Barker will be AC Hotels' global brand ambassador and will contribute to the hotels' design aesthetic, providing his photography for exhibits in the hotels and curating the offerings in their libraries and retail shops. He also will help create ads for AC Hotels on airport TV in the fall and host events with Startup Grind, including its global conference in London later this year.
"They approached me because they were looking for entrepreneurs, for people who stepped outside the box, outside of their comfort zone," Barker told Adweek. "Doing a show like America's Next Top Model was somewhat of a risk, because, at the time, the fashion industry wasn't open to people taking mainstream jobs on prime time. Now, I'm into giving back to people who are interested in broadening their horizons and taking risks. I love AC Hotels' aesthetic and the way the hotels are designed, and I'm excited to talk about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it means to choose the right place to stay and foster that kind of creativity."
As an international photographer and entrepreneur, Barker is an ideal spokesperson for the brand, said Dan Vinh, vp of global marketing for Marriott lifestyle brands. "He has a great aesthetic eye, and we thought he could bring the brand story to life. He's a modern business traveler, himself, so he knows what modern business travelers need."
In its partnership with Startup Grind, AC Hotels also will provide free workspaces for startups in its hotels and host monthly events featuring successful local founders, innovators and investors who will share lessons they learned while building their startups. "It's all about inspiring and educating the community on how to start up a new business," Vinh said.
AC Hotels' design-first approach and its partnership with Startup Grind, both speak to the fact that hotels are evolving into destinations rather than just a place for travelers to sleep, he added.
"We're competing more with standalone bars and restaurants in each city versus serving hotel guests, alone. Consumers are looking to hotels as places of inspiration, places where they can come and experience new food and beverages, but also new art and design, and be in a social hub where they can connect with others of like mind. The partnerships speak to the brand pillars for AC Hotels: design and entrepreneurship. They fit really well together."