When did art collection in Luxury Hotels start to become a trend?

Hospitality Art, or when hotels are becoming more like art galleries with accommodations, is one of the fast-rising trends in today’s hotelier industry. From its initial purpose of being mere decorations and space fillers, art pieces have become marketing tools to draw more attention and encourage more guests than ever.

True enough, many drastic changes have happened since the first motel in San Luis Obispo, California opened in 1925. As more and more luxury, boutique and budget hotels all around the world go by the trend and started to house and collect art works, travelers and frequent hotel goers wonder: when did this trend start?

Alex Toledano, a Paris-based art consultant whose clients include Ritz-Carlton hotels, says: “Hotels, especially hotel owners, recognize that the hotel he represents have been spending a decent amount on art for many years without it doing anything special for their property. They’ve realized that the money could be used not only to tell an interesting narrative about their properties but also to make them more memorable.”

Long before art was used as a marketing strategy, it it was utilized by hotel owners for function and added justification to their ‘luxury’ status. Brand Strategist Jean-Noël Kapferer published a paper in 1997 in which presented the semiotics of the word “luxury” as “Luxury defines beauty; it is art applied to functional items,” which emphasize that luxury products as an art form brings more psychological satisfaction, like esteem on the owner, than functional utility.

It is a bold statement piece and one that reflects a trend among top hotels worldwide to fill their spaces with original art. They are acquiring paintings and sculptures that would not disgrace a public gallery and which, even if you can’t afford to stay there, you can see free of charge or for the price of a coffee in the bar.

Macau has even commissioned a Cultural Affairs Bureau, with a Cultural Events Department dedicated to (according to its head) “luring tourists in with top-notch art”.

As time pass by and more trends shaped the industry, luxurious experiences are tantamount to every guest’s ‘hope and dreams’, as Michman and Mazze phrased it. According to their publication, it is an attempt to reach self-actualization and self-fulfillment through greater knowledge, appreciation of beauty, spiritual sophistication, peace, art, culture and aesthetics.

This notion further made art and hospitality subjective, as guests from different parts of the globe have different ethnical belonging, culture of origin, educational background and personal experience.

Hence, hotels saw this as a chance to showcase and derive the luxury experience brought in by art, to showcasing local artist talent, culture and identity. It’s only when you remember how definitively “un-local” and bland luxury hotels used to be that you realize how much has changed, Mark Jones, an editor and travel-writer from The Independent expressed.

Taiwan’s Mandarin Oriental marketing executive Michael Hobson, says the company wants to offer a “contemporary and definitively local experience at our properties”.

“Now, hotels are willing to take more of a risk. That is what is making art in hotels exciting right now. Our clients are asking for a diversity of art that we wouldn’t have expected a couple of years ago,” Toledano notes.

He adds that hotels now have the “desire to ask more of the artwork to make their property unique, rather than resembling many others.”

Some hotels want to establish a sense of place through their art, though not necessarily through local artists. The art they choose to acquire and display depict their culture and traditions through paintings of events, materials and national symbols.

Jeremy King, a hotel owner in Mayfair, London says owners who prefer investing in original art is exposed to the danger of “using the art to attract attention, rather than to enhance the experience. You find that a lot of it becomes too narcissistic, as opposed to harmonious for the clients’ experience.”

In the end, Jones notes that it is probably “the evolving taste of the super-rich, in turn driven by the Saatchi effect, where work that once seemed so alien suddenly became covetable and marketable. It could be the bohemian influence of boutique hotels. Or maybe the displaying of art is simply an easy, and relatively cheap, way to add some much needed interest and personality to your public spaces. Maybe parents will now start encouraging their kids to give up the law degree and head to art college instead. The supply of patrons has never been healthier.”