BT: Autograph Collection is referred to as a soft brand. What does that mean?
JAMES: A soft brand means that these hotels are grouped together as a collection of properties with their own stories to tell, but each is unique. While there are a few standards that hotels must follow (mostly technical requirements for an internationally branded hotel), they are otherwise free to choose things that set them apart. Each can choose its own design direction and operational delivery of the unique guest experiences we create.
BT: Autograph Collection carries the tag line “exactly like nothing else.” Tell us about that.
JAMES: Since all of our hotels are different and emblematic of their respective destinations, they provide an experience that highlights a strong sense of place. But we wanted each of these properties to be able to stand out in their own way through their own strengths. That’s why we introduced the “Mark of Craft” concept that gives each member hotel in the Autograph Collection the chance to show off something that they do well and gives guests something especially local to enjoy.
BT: What are some examples of “Mark of Craft”?
JAMES: We give hotels the freedom to decide what they highlight for their travelers. For example, Bankside in London has a rotating artists in residence program where local artists can use public space to create their art which guests can view and later is displayed throughout the property. The hotel also provides small guidebooks that walk guests and visitors through each piece to enjoy, helping to show off how the emerging Bankside neighborhood is a cultural hot spot in its own right.
At Academia of Athens, the hotel works with a local professor to recreate a modern interpretation of Plato’s Academy. Through weekly Dialogue Soirees, guests can engage with each other and local experts on a range of topics from architecture and history to romance and life’s greatest questions. The idea is that guests can exchange ideas and discuss universal concepts like friendship and ethics.
BT: Can Bonvoy members expect the familiar benefits they find at other Marriott properties?
JAMES: Autograph Collection is a great brand for Marriott fans because it provides variety in the hotel experience around the world. From The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to Domes of Elounda on the Greek island of Crete, the experience runs the gamut from casual luxury to opulent settings. It’s one of the Marriott brands that delivers the most variety while still committing to popular elite-status perks like free breakfast and the possibility of room upgrades.
BT: What’s in the pipeline for Autograph Collection?
JAMES: Autograph Collection is slated to surpass 200 hotels by the end of 2019, in global destinations including Switzerland, France, Singapore and Italy, among others across the US.