Back to the future: Hotel developers go urban

Across the country, hotels are sprouting up like mushrooms in downtown areas, offering guests a robust cultural experience in the city in which they’re staying.

Like every industry, the market drives hotel developers to choose more profitable locations to build, and today’s increasing Millennial and Gen X travelers have proven that the urban experience is worth paying for – even if that means certain sacrifices.

In short, the fad of the big-hotel-strip-in-the-suburbs is falling by the wayside. According to, nearly 30% of today’s travelers are under the age of 35, and studies show these younger generations value the experience and community that an urban area offers more than a large, open space.

In response, developers are building in more urban areas ─ because of this, they are spending more and facing more restrictions, but getting less space. In order to balance cost and really get their full ROI, these hotels still must accommodate a healthy number of guests. Smaller buildings mean smaller rooms, so architects and interior designers have had to get creative in the way these spaces are utilized.

Image of a condensed closet and cooking area at Urban Boutique Hotel in San Diego, CA

Through design and flexibility, architects can multi-purpose the fixture plan to maximize space. For example, a bureau might back up to the bed, serving as both a bedside table and as storage.

This kind of design is not new, but rather reflective of an earlier era. A typical hotel room in the 1920s was small, ranging from 218 to 240 square feet. In recent decades, a 280 square foot room has become the norm; however, the trend of “bigger is better” is conceding to location in a walkable, urban area where guests can experience the city. For business travelers, when their work day is done, they can go clean up and then walk to dinner, catch some live music or a show, and see the sights as they make their way back to their rooms.

Anish Hotels Group in Northwestern Oklahoma is a prime example of this phenomenon. With three hotels going up in the quickly developing downtown Tulsa, Okla. they are working to achieve smaller space without sacrificing brand experience. Other hotel groups are doing the same in this area.

King Room at an Aloft Hotel

King Room at an Aloft Hotel

Many hotel brands are even commissioning second sets of brand standards so that franchisees can achieve brand consistency and quality at these urban locations.

Brands such as Aloft Hotels and Best Western have been leaders in this model, allowing themselves to be driven by an emerging market made up of Gen X and Millennial travelers. By developing on more urban sites and creating a smaller brand standards design plan, they are capitalizing on this growing market.

This is just one of many emerging hospitality trends geared toward younger travelers.

Travel will feel very different in years to come, and the trend of developing hotels in downtown areas will transform America’s skyline.


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