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HKHotels: Value-added charm, real luxury and TripAdvisor gold

A recent trip to New York City demanded a change. Based upon impressive TripAdvisor scores, I decided to eschew my traditional stay in one of the larger, well-known properties. TripAdvisor’s ratings have consistently ranked HKHotels’ four Midtown boutique-style Manhattan properties among its top 10 locally. This feat is somewhat daunting, in particular given the hundreds of accommodation options available. I was determined to see if I could learn more that would shed some light on this incredible success.

The websites for the four properties that make up this hotel collection were non-descript. What drew me in was a discussion on the home page regarding the value these hotels offered. More specifically, they explained — in great detail — the value-added services the properties offered: breakfast, free Wi-Fi, all-day coffee, newspaper, sports club membership and an evening reception with wine, all included in the price. While the text was small, and the details seemingly repetitive, in an era where “the innkeeper lives to add pennies for everything” as in the Les Miserables theater script, I was intrigued.
I selected The Elysee, location on 54th Avenue near Madison close to several meetings I had that day. The property is small and narrow, so closely wedged between two office towers that it clearly had to be constructed before either one of them reached fruition. The property is 15 stories tall, housing less than 100 rooms and suites.
Unknown to anyone at the property, I was greeted warmly by one of two doorman. Since I only had a small case with me, I declined an offer to take my bag. The front desk had three staff on duty (this at about 3 p.m.), and all seemed eager to welcome me. What was surprising was this staff level — more than what I usually experience checking into properties three or four times this size.
The room was in excellent condition, with a small but well-appointed bathroom. Everything worked perfectly; plants were real and the furniture clearly not out of some Chinese-made-for-hotel catalog. In all, the room delivered more of a feeling that you would get from a small European boutique property.
But what was most impressive was the second-floor “Club Room.” Here breakfast was served, as were all of the complimentary F&B services. The room was sectioned into what appeared to be a library and another area that was a living room. This multi-purpose facility allowed The Elysee to deliver all of these value-added services in a cost-effective manner. Looking at it differently, perhaps, here luxury service was being offered on a self-serve model.
Getting back to the whole debacle over TripAdvisor ratings, my trip to The Elysee raises some very interesting questions regarding the travelers’ appreciation for what we generically consider 5-star service criteria. The traveling jury has expressed their enthusiasm for quality with value. Clearly, one of the critical ranking components within the TripAdvisor ranking is value, so there is an immediate survey bias to value as one of the core criteria.
But ask yourself the question: Is value an important component to your guests? There are few hoteliers that would say no to this question. Henry Kallan, CEO of HKHotels, has gotten it right, at least from the guests’ standpoint. He clearly understands the “what counts” factors for success.
In conversation with a guest while waiting for the elevator, she remarked, “This property feels like home. Friendly staff, comfortable rooms and no one asking me to sign for a few bucks everywhere I turn.”
Maybe we can all learn a little from this unique property.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in HOTELSMag.com on March 27, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyHKHotels: Value-added charm, real luxury and TripAdvisor gold