Digital concierge helps Midtown Renaissance guests discover NYC

NEW YORK—The Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel knows its guests can find the Empire State Building, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and Rockefeller Center on their own. But, the speakeasy you enter through a hot dog stand? The newly opened hotel has teamed up with Time Out New York to bring its guests that information. 

David DiFalco, GM of the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel, noted that the hotel uses Time Out’s magazine in its hotel rooms, and he’s always had great respect for the publication. “Time Out’s brand manifesto really aligns well with what Renaissance looks for; we want to be indigenous and local, and that’s exactly what Time Out is,” he explained. Some 10 months ago, DiFalco approached Time Out about an expanded partnership, which resulted in the hotel’s Discovery Portal.

Described by the hotel as the ultimate insider’s city guide, the Discovery Portal is an interactive, experiential digital platform. Located between the hotel’s 34th and 35th St. entrances, the Discovery Portal enables guests to select attractions based on time of day and walking distance to the hotel. “You walk into the Portal entrance and there are two digital footprints on the floor,” explained DiFalco, noting that guests stand on the footprints and their motion activates the concierge. “Six buckets appear on the ground in front of the user,” he said. (These are 10-minute walk, 20-minute walk, 30-minute walk and then morning, evening and night.) The user stands inside the chosen bucket and nine different pieces of content appears. “When you see one you like, you raise your arm up and point at it with your hand, and a tile will explode in front of you and give you extra detail: how much it might cost to go, how far of a walk, what the hours of operation are, and also an interactive Google map to follow,” explained DiFalco. 

All content is provided by Time Out New York, which updates the portal every morning at 4 a.m. to ensure users have the most up-to-date relevant information. 

The hotel’s navigators also play a part. “Our navigators are not your typical concierges,” said DiFalco. “They’re not going to send you to the Empire State Building. We believe most people these days can find that via Google. If you come to our navigators, they’re going to tell you about the local restaurant where New Yorkers go—not the tourists.

“We’ve explained to Time Out the type of content we’re looking for: interactive attractions and things that are outside the box,” continued DiFalco. “We review it on a weekly basis and make sure everything fits what we’re looking for. It’s a perfect partnership.”

And, said DiFalco, it makes sense to expand the partnership as well. “We’re really hoping this will be a higher level partnership, that Renaissance as a brand will begin to institute things like this in some of our other properties around the country,” he said, noting that the New York property is looking to expand the relationship as well. Though still in early stages, Time Out and the hotel are looking at ways to tie the local events that the magazine puts on—like the competition for the best bartender in the city—to the Discovery Portal. “We want to make it cool, different, something for people to explore and discover without doing a lot of advertising,” he said. “We want it to be word of mouth and social media, things along those lines. We’re still working on that, having conversations around some of these different ideas.”

The GM added that the Discovery Portal is one piece of the hotel’s technology offering. In addition, it features a four-story LED clock at its pinnacle. “When we flipped it on, it really changed the skyline of New York,” said DiFalco. “It changes style, color and design once an hour, every hour, every day. We’ll never do advertising, promotion or marketing up there. We really want that to be a symbol for the city, particularly the Garment District. We’re very conscious about being part of the communities that our hotels operate in.” In addition, the sixth-floor lobby features digital photographs of cityscapes by Nicolas Ruel. “Those images rotate, changing every minute, minute and a half, so you always have a new piece of artwork to see,” he said. The first floor also features a digital tapestry. “We have about 75 different tapestries that changes from things like abstract pieces of art like flowers, to fields, interesting images,” said DiFalco. “The sensors in the ceiling react to your ambient movement, so the tapestry would actually change style and design as you’re walking past it.

“For us, it really comes down to the Renaissance brand experience of us always wanting to be able to provide something new, engaging and interesting for our guests to experience. The best part about the digital technology that we’ve put into this hotel is that it really allows you to expand upon the micro central location of the hotel,” continued DiFalco. 

The hotel is still in its soft open—so only two thirds of the rooms have been authorized—but it has gotten some 110 guest surveys back thus far. “A good 20% of them mentioned the Discovery Portal by name and mentioned how cool it was and how much fun they had,” said DiFalco. “A bunch of people said they found something interesting to do from it. We’re in soft opening, so I expect the pick-up and usage to increase as we get more business in the building.” HB