There’s a serious problem with Morgans Hotels’ new Web site , which launches today. It’s such an engaging experience, you may forget to book a room.
Morgans Hotel Group was the crew that originally launched the boutique hotel phenomenon, which subsequently spawned a flock of knock-offs. Now CMO Scott Williams is challenging his competitors to up the ante on hotel Web sites as well: “Our focus is 100% on building and maintaining brands, and branded experiences, that others want to copy," he said."If vibe can be copied...this site's up for counterfeiting”
Creating a cutting edge aesthetic has always been the driving force behind the group, which counts on design and a sexy vibe to lure its target audience. Don’t come to a Morgans Hotel if you want a nice little Mr. Coffee pot in your room or a big desk where you can pore over your spreadsheets. But if you revele in the scene, want to sip exotic cocktails by a see-and-be-seen pool (no maillots, please!), and are willing to pay a premium for design elements that are often more visual than functional, this is your place. Designed to capture the Morgans vibe, the site is packed with video clips of designers talking about the ideas behind their creations, lists of cool things to do in the city in which you’re staying, and luscious photography of the rooms and hotel, all set to scene-appropriate music. Happily, it's also pretty Flash-free.
We tested the site in beta. Here’s what we liked the most:
Designer videos. Hear Wanders talk about how Sleeping Beauty inspired his design for the Mondrian Miami Beach, and Benjamin Noriega Ortiz (above) discuss the role of Alice in Wonderland in the Mondrian L.A. (What’s next in the recession? The Little Match Girl Takes Manhattan?) Be sure to click on Noriega Ortiz’s discussion of how Hollywood’s intrinsic vanity shaped his design. It will explain all those mirrors.
Room selector: Pick your city, click on the hotel, and a list of available rooms for the desired date appears, each with a description of the room’s amenities, and photos of what it looks like. Plus, there's a short list of cool things going on during the time you'll be in town.
The List: MHG partnered with UrbanDaddy to populate the site with activities, restaurants, shops, and clubs curated to the hotels’ target demo (a sampling of which comes up during the booking process). Fittingly, these tend to be heavy on design-themed locations. In London, for example, guests are directed to Damien Hirst’s new mass market shop, the Saatchi Collection, a sing-along for the Sound of Music, and (cool surprise!) the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. Even if you're not planning to travel, you can subscribe to an RSS feed of the list for a specific city.
Here’s what’s less successful:
Shepard Fairey video. We love Shepard Fairey, but this one ran a little too long, and the editing was weird, with too many close-ups of his mouth. OK, so filming a guy just sitting talking in a chair is tough, but this started to make us uncomfortable. Splicing in shots of his work would help, especially for folks who don't know him beyond the Obama poster.
Sparse content on the older hotels: After reveling in the designer's fantasies for the Mondrians, it's a little disappointing to find so little for the Delano, the Hudson, or the Paramount. Granted, now that Starck's gone over to the competition, MHG can't bring him back to babble on about the chandeliers in the Delano's Rose Ba, but the sheer richness of the other hotels' content makes the older ones seem more conventional by comparison. According to Williams, the content on these hotels will be built out over the next few months. And by next week, the site will start featuring "The Recess Sessions," videos of established and upcoming musical artists, all shot in the hotels.
Finally: would this site tempt us to book a room? For somebody who's no longer 26, and tends to arrive with a battered suitcase and a laptop in tow (yes, even, sadly, while on vacation), the sheer cool quotient of the site is almost intimidating. I am not worthy! But if I were younger, richer, taller, thinner, tanner, blonder, and had cooler jeans, I'd be reaching for my charge card.