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How Hotel Indigo Creates a One-of-a-Kind Experience Through Design


Design is a major part of how guests perceive your hotel. From the website to the furniture in the lobby, your hotel’s design can have a huge impact on its online and word-of-mouth reputation. This is especially true for boutique hotels, where guests expect a unique experience with a sense of culture and authenticity not often found in chain hotels.

But how do you use design to create a truly memorable experience for guests? I spoke with executives from the Hotel Indigo chain and experienced hospitality architects to uncover tips for improving guest impressions. Here are the key tactics Hotel Indigo uses, which you can implement at your hotel, too:

Invest in High-Quality Website Design & Content

A traveler’s first impression of your hotel’s design begins long before they step through the front doors: for many, their first experience is through your website.

“[The Internet] is really the front door to any great guest experience, beginning with the visual content of the website,” says Nunzio DeSantis, architect and executive vice president of HKS, a Dallas-based architectural firm. “It creates expectations; it conveys an attitude.”


A look at the Hotel Indigo Midtown Atlanta from the hotel website

As a boutique brand, Hotel Indigo needs to communicate the story and feel of a property immediately on its website. This is achieved not only through professional photos of the hotel itself, but also by including guides to the local community, which list details about the different neighborhoods and nearby amenities like convention centers and restaurants.

The Local Insider section of every Hotel Indigo’s website includes “must-see” and “must-do” activities unique to the metropolitan area, along with a frequently-updated “What’s New” list. Going even further, this section also includes a Neighborhood Guide with local sights, sounds and cuisine that speak to that particular hotel’s story.


The interactive Neighborhood Guide for Hotel Indigo Brooklyn

A website design that highlights detailed local information and showcases striking visuals of the area conveys a deep connection with the location and community. This sets up positive expectations for guests before they arrive, and gives them a head start on planning their trips.

Establish a Consistent Design Theme from the Outset

A good impression is difficult to achieve when, for example, a property’s facade clashes with its interior decor. So, when renovating a property or building it from the ground up, it’s important to have a clear plan that ensures a cohesive appearance and experience for guests later on.

Collaboration between designers and architects helps to avoid any disparity between the building’s appearance and the aesthetic feel of furniture, fixtures and decor.

“It’s much better to have multiple workshops prior to construction to get that feedback, so everyone knows what they’re going to get,” says Sergio Bakas, an architect and senior vice president of Miami-based firm Arquitectonica.

For many hotels—especially boutique properties—this workshopping process is also where the hotel’s unique narrative is crafted.

“That story is the very first thing that happens, and that affects everything down to the color of the uniform the staff wears,” says Mary Winslow, director of brand management for Hotel Indigo.

Bakas also advises against any kind of heavy-handed, inflexible theme (think Caesar’s Palace or a retro Hollywood style). Instead, he suggests a timeless color palette and simple furnishings to keep the hotel looking tasteful years into the future.

Hotel Indigo Brooklyn Guestroom Chandelier Mural

Hotel Indigo locations feature murals in rooms and common areas to carry their theme throughout the property.

Use Interior Design to Tell the Hotel’s Story

Your boutique hotel’s unique story should be told through interior design as well as through architecture. A compelling design story can inspire positive experiences that hotel guests want to share. The story told by each Hotel Indigo conveys the spirit and theme of the neighborhood and its history.

“That’s a big advantage we have,” says Caroline Huston, PR manager for the Hotel Indigo brand. “Since no two [hotels] are alike, that first impression will always be a ‘wow moment’ for the guest.”

Using the Neighborhood Story—a one-page story developed early in development that serves as a style and design guide for the hotel—designers transform the interior to reflect different aspects of the neighborhood’s history and character. Winslow shared one example in particular that highlights the attention to detail and creativity that Hotel Indigo guests have come to expect at each location.

The Hotel Indigo Midtown Atlanta takes visual cues from a historic landmark across the street. Built in 1929, the Fox Theatre is a movie palace-turned-concert hall. It has hosted many influential artists, including The Rolling Stones. Ticket stubs from its legendary performances now form a collage behind the front desk at Hotel Indigo. And the hotel’s signature mural is inspired by the graffiti roadies left scribbled on the walls of the Fox Theatre’s projection room.

Atlanta Front Desk

The Hotel Indigo Midtown Atlanta’s front desk, featuring the historical ticket stub mural.

The story of the Fox Theatre is told through every detail of the hotel’s design: the bar is made of alternating white and black granite to resemble piano keys; seating areas feature musical-clef-shaped couches; the front desks look like pods from a pipe organ.

Garcia Studio, Inc. 933 Fielder Avenue NW Atlanta, GA 30318 404-892-2334

The Hotel Indigo Midtown Atlanta’s keyboard-styled bar

Even if your hotel doesn’t have a historical landmark across the street, drawing ideas from the culture of the area can be enough to drive good first impressions and boost your hotel’s online reputation.

Emphasize Function in Your Lobby

Hotel Indigo’s lobbies are more than just places to wait while checking in. They provide communal and functional space for different activities such as reading, watching television, working or having meetings.

“Hotel lobbies are moving to flexibility in design,” DeSantis says. “No longer is it just lobby; it’s a social exchange.”

It’s important to design your lobby so that the functional purpose of each area is clearly expressed to the guests as they move through it, Bakas says. This gives your customers a clear idea of what activities and amenities are available to them on the way to their room for the first time.

For example, functional areas—such as workstations or the bar—should be clearly separated by furniture or structural design elements; these spaces should be identifiable at first glance.

Good Wi-Fi should also be a high priority for hoteliers; it’s one of guests’ most desired amenities.

Bakas says working Wi-Fi is a major factor in impressing guests: as they enter the hotel, they want to be instantly connected. Many hotels bring in consultants to make sure the lobby’s design facilitates a reliable Wi-Fi connection that enables guests to connect quickly and easily.


The lobby of the New Orleans location contains a variety of functional spaces that guests can immediately recognize

Endear Guests Through Thoughtful Interactions

Of course, good design only goes so far: Employees must show attention to detail and initiative during interactions with guests to make your hotel truly unforgettable.

Winslow gives an example: A guest arrived at a Hotel Indigo location wearing a Yankees baseball cap. While the front desk agent checked the guest in, he made a mental note of the guest’s preferred team. As the guest settled into his room, the agent found the Yankees game on TV at the hotel bar. He called the guest’s room and said, “Hi, I know you’re a Yankees fan. Would you like to come down, watch the game and have a beer on the house?”

This level of service is achieved, Winslow says, by training employees to ask questions and take note of information that can be used to meaningfully engage guests. Employees must be perceptive, enthusiastic and committed to delivering service beyond customer expectations. Consider implementing a training program at your hotel to help employees gather details about guests, come up with unique engagement ideas and initiate thoughtful interactions.

Get it Right, Right From the Start

Using the techniques above can help your boutique hotel meet and exceed guest expectations—which can boost its reputation and potentially its revenue. A great website draws guests in before they even set foot in your hotel’s door. A thoughtfully-designed space that tells a story can enhance the guest experience and make them feel connected to the local community. And unique moments with staff that feel genuine and spontaneous are the ones guests want to share with others.

“A hotel is kind of like a great book; you don’t really get the feel of the whole thing until you’ve gone all the way through,” DeSantis says, “and one bad chapter can kill a book.”

Consistency is what keeps the entire experience from falling apart. By establishing a clear design theme that tells a compelling story with every room, you can create a memorable guest experience that distinguishes your hotel from all the rest.

Thumbnail image, “1388480929,” created by Mike Schenkel CC BY / Resized.

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Taylor Short

About the Author

Taylor Short has worked as a reporter and writer for six years, focusing on local coverage of city governments, businesses, schools and police. Taylor tutored students in English and writing at Austin Community College and freelanced for Reuters News Agency before joining Software Advice in Fall 2013.

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