With almost 30,000 hotel rooms within Washington’s borders, hoteliers looking to differentiate themselves have their work cut out for them. Besides location and brand recognition, perhaps one of the best ways they can rise above the rest is through the amenities they offer. And we’re not talking about brand-name soap and shampoo in the bathroom.
To attract some of the millions of visitors who come to the nation’s capital — a record 19 million in 2013, to be precise, according to Destination DC, which markets the city as a choice locale — hotels go all out. Here’s a look at some of the high-end enticements.
The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C.
1150 22nd St., NW
A name synonymous with luxury, the Ritz stands out in the hospitality crowd by wowing guests on arrival by providing them with a slice of home.
“We spend a lot of time customizing amenities,” said Kate MacInnis, area director of diplomatic and international sales. “We really focus on the culture.”
For example, if the guest is from Japan, the hotel provides menus in Japanese, a welcome amenity with tea and a kettle, and a cherry blossom-inspired sweet. It will also subscribe to TV channels and newspapers from guests’ homelands.
“We try to get as much information ahead so it’s a smooth and seamless visit,” MacInnis said. “It’s not just trying to have blanket amenities. Everything is thought out.”
It wasn’t always this way. Guests used to get fruit and water on arrival until hotel workers noticed that sometimes the welcome tray went untouched. Now hotel staff are in close contact with guests before they arrive to ensure they have their favorite treats on hand.
“For a Middle Eastern guest, their expectation is to have a large fruit presentation, but not everyone likes to have a huge thing of fruit upon their arrival,” MacInnis said. “Maybe they just want their favorite energy bar and infused water. Sometimes less is more.”
Overall, eating habits have changed. That’s led the hotel to revamp its in-room offerings — a process that’s about two-thirds of the way done, MacInnis noted.
Additionally, health-conscious guests have access to the adjacent Equinox Sports Club, a popular big-box gym that offers state-of-the-art weight training and cardio machines in addition to popular classes such as group cycling. For more outdoorsy workouts, the hotel has a morning jogging station at the entrance outfitted with towels, water, energy bars and jogging maps.
The hotel recently renovated its three suites based on staff observations and guest feedback. One notable change, MacInnis said, is ensuring guests have ample seating in the living room because most of the business conducted in the suites is diplomatic in nature and requires space for meetings.
“We also made sure the suites have at least one bilateral seating arrangement,” she said. “There are two equal chairs so that if someone is coming with a one-on-one — often you would see the president in the Oval Office by the fireplace and you’d see one sitting one side and one sitting on the other in the same type of chair — we make sure we have that type of arrangement in each suite as well.”
Capella Washington D.C., Georgetown
1050 31st St., NW
Its founding father, Horst Schulze, was president and chief operating officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, so it should come as no surprise that the Capella brand is built on a philosophy of lavishness. A newer kid on the D.C. hotel block, having opened in April 2013, the 49-room Georgetown Capella is staffed by workers who are eager to help.
“We wanted to be able to offer something that had not been seen in the marketplace or experienced by the luxury traveler,” said Michael Katigbak, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
It surveyed travelers and developed a four-pronged philosophy: exclusivity, experiences, loyalty and service.
The first step to exclusivity is keeping the hotels small, Katigbak said. D.C.’s Capella is one room shy of the brand’s usual 50 to 100 rooms.
“That really allows us to create a personalized experience to the guest, create one-to-one opportunities for service and allow our service professionals to really make a connection with the guests,” he said.
Keeping parts of the building off-limits to non-guests is another way Capella helps guests feel special. Its Living Room is a cozy space with couches, a marble fireplace and a chandelier from the French Embassy where guests can hold informal business meetings or families can play Scrabble after a day of sightseeing. The rooftop bar and lounge, including the pool, are also available only to guests.
At Capella, creating experiences means working with local entities on unique opportunities. For example, guests can share a three-course meal in the hotel’s Grill Room restaurant with an astronomer from the University of Maryland, who can speak about the latest developments in the field before going to the rooftop to stargaze using professional-grade equipment.
To usher in winter, the Capella has also crafted signature warm welcome cocktails featuring seasonal ingredients — with warn Darjeeling tea in the Rye Ginger Toddy, freshly grated ginger in the Apple Ginger Fizz and Guayaquil chocolate in the Hot Coco.
“Experiences, although not a physical amenity, are something we want our guests to truly take away,” Katigbak said. He wants guests to leave saying, “I had no idea what was supposed to be on my bucket list.”
To encourage loyalty, the hotel offers perks such as free high-bandwidth Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and complimentary in-room non-alcoholic beverages. It will also press up to five garments on arrival at no charge.
The final element — service — is one the hotel places the most weight on by providing guests with personal assistants. They contact guests a week before arrival to find out how they can help with restaurant reservations, theater tickets, transportation — anything. The assistant is available 24 hours a day and checks guests in so they don’t have to queue up at the lobby.
“This idea of having someone who is truly connected to you and is accessible to you is so unique from the standpoint of being able to execute this hyper-personalized service,” Katigbak said.
Beacon Hotel & Corporate Headquarters
1615 Rhode Island Ave., NW
Santa might have come and gone, but the Beacon still puts out cookies for every guest, said Hector Torres, the hotel’s general manager and vice president of Capital Hotels & Suites.
“Oreo cookies,” he said. “It hits the right spot and is 100 percent consumed by every guest or at least taken home.”
Perhaps that’s because the hotel recognizes that families are an important and significant segment of the leisure market. To that end, the Beacon offers a family package called the Panda Package. It includes entrance to the National Zoo, a coloring book and a stuffed panda.
Amenities evolve over time in response to visitors’ changing preferences, Torres said.
“One of the key changes was not to create pre-made packages,” he said. “Visitors to D.C. are very sophisticated and have clear ideas of what they want to experience, so instead what we have done is create dynamic package options where the visitor can actually create their own package. In doing so, they are able to save significantly and create exactly what they want: flowers, chocolates, wine, dinner, breakfast, Metro passes.”
W Washington D.C.
515 15th St., NW
At the W, where guests can gaze at the White House from the rooftop bar, everyone goes home with a piece of Washington, said Zineb Tourougui, W Insider. That can range from local treats, culinary creations and deconstructed cocktails to unique gadgets, limited music and books and one-of-a-kind pieces.
“Many of our amenities include presidential, historic and local themes,” Tourougui said. “One of our seasonal amenities revolves around the cherry blossoms that are iconic to D.C. It includes a limited-edition book all about the Cherry Blossom Festival, delicious mini cherry tarts, a deconstructed mix-your-own cherry aviation cherry cocktail and, for a nostalgic twist, cherry pop rocks.”
At the hotel where the president pardons a turkey or two each Thanksgiving, pets are welcome — very welcome.
“We use many programs and applications to track, monitor and update guests’ preferences, interests, hobbies and even pets’ names,” Tourougui said. “We are all about knowing our guests; this way each time they stay with us, it is catered specifically to what is enjoyable for them and Fido.”
Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.
1330 Maryland Ave., SW
No luxury is left unoffered at the five-star, Asian-inspired Mandarin. “When our housekeepers notice our guests have a book they are reading, they leave them a complimentary Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C. bookmark,” said Elizabeth Vita-Finzi, hotel manager.
In addition to 347 rooms, 53 suites and a three-bedroom presidential suite, the hotel overlooking the Potomac River also has an indoor heated pool, a private garden and the Forbes four star-rated spa.
Open since May 2004, the hotel addresses amenities continuously. Coming in 2015 is a renovation of the spa, guest rooms, a patio and a new restaurant.
“Over the last 10 years, we continually improve products and services,” Vita-Finzi said. “We will seek from our suppliers the highest-quality products and services at the best value. For example, we’ve noticed a lot of our guests enjoy runs around the Tidal Basin and the National Mall. We now greet them at the door with a fresh towel, water and bananas as well as providing a full running map of the area. At check-in, we have always provided tea. Now we change from cold to hot, depending on the seasons, as well as flavors. We have a number of families that stay with us so to delight the ‘younger fans,’ we provide coloring books, bath toys and a number of other child-friendly offerings and menus.”
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group operates or has under development 45 hotels in 25 countries, but unique to D.C. is the Tai Pan Club. Named after the high-powered executives and entrepreneurs of 19th-century Hong Kong and China, the club is available only to guests in Tai Pan Club rooms and signature suites. It includes the residential-style Tai Pan Lounge with a bar and library. The club’s outdoor terrace offers views of the Washington Monument. Club access also includes daily breakfast, snacks throughout the day, free-flowing beer and wine each evening and personal concierge service.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.