First U.S. Aiden exudes local flair

AUSTIN, TX—After debuts in Europe and Asia, Best Western’s boutique brand Aiden has made its debut in North America here with the locally inspired Aiden by Best Western @ Austin City Hotel.

“We are very excited,” said Brad LeBlanc, SVP/chief development officer, Best Western Hotels & Resorts. “When we envisioned this brand, we saw an opportunity to create something that was special in the secondary and tertiary suburbs by taking an asset and making it something cool and hip that would typically be located in an urban market. Everyone wants to go downtown, everybody wants to go to a chic area of town, but there are lots of guests who would prefer that type of experience that either can’t afford it, or don’t want to deal with that type of congestion, so it is a great opportunity. That is where Aiden fits the bill.”

No two Aidens are alike, according to LeBlanc, but all properties have a “boutique coolness.”

“That is what we are really talking about,” he said. “Though a lot of America has reurbanized itself in every market, there are still going to be cities like Austin, which are full of dense suburban areas that offer that. Certainly, hoteliers who decide to take advantage of that will stand apart from the typical run-of-the-mill franchise prototype.”

With that in mind, the owner, architect and designer of each property have complete freedom for design and decor. “Really, Aiden—and its sister brand, Sadie—both of those brands are developed for architectural creativity,” he said. “An architect can take a box, like this particular box, and they can add what is right for the local market. What is the flair? What is the touch? What is the neighborhood chicness that appeals to people who live, work and play in the Austin market?”

LeBlanc continued, “I think you see a lot of those touches of Austin within this hotel. It is really all about the palette of the architect and owner, and less about the franchise company. We like to know that there are certain amenities—a fitness center, some type of beverage and casual breakfast option, but other than that, it is all about the experience. Whether guests are working in the lobby and it is about form and function, or they are in the room and it is about comfort and a state of excitement, then that is what they design to.”

When the projects are being designed for Aiden, Best Western asks the designers and owners to come up with mood boards. “Where are they going with this box?” he asked. “A lot of these boxes are fitting into spaces that are almost 100% reconstruction. You are taking an older box, a box that has come to the end of its life, or it is so far down the food chain that there is not much left, and you are reinvigorating it again, but you are doing it with a local flair. I see creative hoteliers today, these more aggressive, progressive hoteliers, [having] this feeding their next wave of portfolios.”

Aiden by Best Western @ Austin City Hotel took its inspiration from Austin itself, a city with the slogan “Keep Austin Weird.”

“We are all about Austin because we are a part of the Travis Heights neighborhood, which is an older neighborhood in Austin,” said Debbie Simmons, GM of the hotel. “It is very desirable, but very reflective of earlier times in terms of the architecture in the neighborhood. Rather than converting into something that stands out like a sore thumb, we have always wanted to blend in and reflect some of the design elements of the places that are in the neighborhood. We continue to attempt to do that, but that has always been our goal to fit in here and highlight our uniqueness, instead of trying to cover it up.”

The design also plays on the Austin vibe. “Austin is the live music capital of the world, and we have a variety of things here that reflect that in terms of the decor,” she said.

Each guestroom has wallpaper specifically designed for the hotel that features likenesses of famous musicians Willie Nelson, Billy Gibbons, Waylon Jennings, Lead Belly and Janis Joplin. “That is the theme in the guestrooms, and we carry that all around the property,” said Simmons. “Above our front desk, we have a number of framed albums of Austin artists and, certainly, also the artists that are on the wallpaper. We have a very large guitar out in front of our hotel that has been there for a few years. We redecorated it, but it reflects our love of the Austin culture and all of the musicians.”

While the Austin property is the first in North America, LeBlanc said there are more in development. “We have a pretty significant pipeline of products that we are in design with right now,” he said. “We have an internal design team that helps with some of those if they need help. If not, an architect of their preference can certainly walk them through that whole process. There is one in every corner of the country right now that we are working on. I have five or six going to our approval committee in the next 60 days.” HB