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mar 06

6 Neat Niche Hotel Brands

At the Yotel in Heathrow. (Courtesy bonnieann1815/Flickr)

Last week, InterContinental introduced an interesting new health-and-fitness-minded brand of hotels called EVEN. But it's hardly the only niche hotel brand out there.

The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is one of the world's biggest hotel companies, best known for brands such as Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, and Holiday Inn Express. The company has also dabbled in the "boutique hotel" trend with Hotel Indigo, and now, it is launching another niche brand, EVEN.

EVEN Hotels, the company announced recently, will be designed to provide "solutions for all aspects of travelers' wellness needs in the areas of exercise, food, work and rest." Specifically, here's what guests can expect in an EVEN hotel stay:

• Exercise– Guest rooms designed for in-room workouts with multi-functional room amenities (e.g. coat rack that doubles as a pull up bar); best in class gym with equipment and group exercise activities; “Wellness Wall” for fitness options in walking distance, tips and equipment rental; personalized guest service to offer advice on fitness options, ideas and/or instruction; all baked into the service experience, at no added cost to the guest.

• Eat– Nutritionally designed menus with a particular focus on natural, fresh, fit and energizing meals – available anytime; an open air café and bar; free flavored filtered water with glass bottles available to fill up and take back to the room; free coffee & mini-smoothies in the morning.

• Work– Rooms with high speed Wi-Fi, multimedia ports, easy access to outlets, ample desk space; and social spaces in the bar and lobby.

• Rest- Rooms offer revitalization and relaxation, including hypoallergenic linens, powerful showerheads, natural lighting, LED dimmers and antibacterial wipes.

Within the next five years, IHG expects to have contracts signed or already have built 100 EVEN Hotels, with the first opening in a soon-to-be-determined U.S. location in 2013. No information about rates has been released, but most likely EVEN properties will fall into the midscale range.

While the EVEN concept isn't perfect for every traveler, it's refreshing to see a brand that has such an easily identifiable personality and focus. Often, it's unclear what a hotel brand stands for, and therefore it's difficult for travelers to tell if the brand is right for them. That shouldn't be the case with EVEN. The brand is designed to appeal to a specific niche, and guests should know what they're going to get.

Over the last few years, several other interesting niche hotel brands have entered the marketplace or expanded significantly. Like EVEN, these brands stand out because they mean something very specific, and they'll resonate with certain breeds of travelers. The list of niche brands includes:

Ace Hotel: Hip, offbeat minimalist style meant to appeal especially to Gen X and Gen Y travelers, with locations in Seattle, Portland, New York City, and Palm Springs.

Cube Hotels: Rigid, unconventional design (giant cubes encased in steel and reflective windows) meets an active, sports-centric feel, with mountainside locations in Europe's Alps that make perfect bases for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and mountain biking.

Element: Starwood's green, sustainable brand, with environmentally friendly features from top to bottom, including use of eco-friendly recycled materials in design and construction; 15 hotels are currently open or under construction.

Omena: Based in Finland, the chain promises a "new, cost-effective accommodation option," mainly by removing the usual hotel staff and amenities such as breakfast (you're on your own there). The guest experience is almost entirely self-service: After reserving (online, of course), you receive a door code and proceed directly to your room, rather than heading to any check-in desk. There are currently 14 Omena properties, all in Scandinavia, and all with city-center locations.

Yotel: The concept combines small, ultra-modern, efficiently-designed, inexpensive rooms with prime locations in pricey cities (two blocks from Times Square in New York) and near major airports (London-Heathrow).

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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