Hotels Are Trying to Spark More Meaningful Connections. Is It Working?

Kimpton’s “Stay Human Project” is the latest attempt at transforming a simple hotel stay into a deeper, more memorable experience.

Hotels Are Trying to Spark More Meaningful Connections. Is It Working?

Kimpton’s Stay Human Project gives guests the tools to share their stories and connect with others.

Photo by Anna Haines

The hotel room is likely the last place you’d expect to have your most meaningful travel experiences. Not so if you’re staying in the “Stay Human” suite at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago, which launched October 1—the latest of 18 Kimpton properties participating in the company’s Stay Human Project.

“With our fast-paced lives, it’s an invitation to take pause and create meaningful shared experiences,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, Kimpton’s chief commercial officer, about the project, which involves the limited run of a single room that’s been revamped with interactive features meant to humanize the guest experience and honor the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

Staple room features include the signature #StayHuman neon sign and a guestbook, along with a Polaroid camera and colorful stationery so that guests can leave their story behind. Each room’s remaining interactive elements are unique to the destination. The Stay Human suite currently available at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Seattle, for example, celebrates the city’s reputation as a coffee hub with a Caffe Vita custom brew offered from the in-room coffee station, while Nashville’s Kimpton Aertson Hotel embraces the city’s musical heritage with a guitar, a microphone, and an iPad loaded with music composition software.

Upon entering the Stay Human suite (room #1111) at the Monaco Chicago earlier this month, I was greeted with an original tea cocktail made with a custom green tea blend by Chicago’s Rare Tea Cellar. An eclectic assortment of hats designed by Tenth Street Hats was displayed in the bedroom with an invitation to take one home—an installation that pays homage to the hotel’s early 20th-century history as the D.B. Fisk & Co. hat factory (both the tea drink and hat are offered to all guests who stay in the suite).

The writer took the time to type up a letter to a friend back home.

The writer took the time to type up a letter to a friend back home.

Photo by Anna Haines

Instead of writing a postcard or defaulting to my phone to connect with loved ones, I used the provided vintage typewriter to type up a letter to a friend back home in Toronto. By engaging in nostalgic activities that forced me to disconnect and slow down, I was transported to an earlier time and I carried an awareness of the city’s history with me as I explored Chicago for the week.

The Monaco Chicago is not the first to realize that travelers are increasingly trading in cookie-cutter hotel experiences for ones that offer a deeper sense of place. A five-minute drive away at the Kimpton Gray Hotel, Chicago’s motto—"City in a Garden”—is brought to life with 10 pop-up, plant-themed rooms created in partnership with the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Marriott’s Renaissance Hotels have also been renovating rooms to better reflect the neighborhoods in which they’re situated, while their “Renaissance Navigator” uses guests’ interests to build curated experiences at local venues. Similarly, W Hotels has reimagined the traditional concierge with their “W Insider”: an on-site expert, available in person or by text, who offers guests recommendations on local hot spots and access to more under-the-radar experiences.

But beyond connecting guests to the destination, hotel brands increasingly recognize that the most fulfilling travel experiences come from connecting with others. Motto by Hilton draws inspiration from boutique lifestyle hostels with interconnected rooms and communal spaces that are intended to serve as cultural-exchange hubs for locals and travelers alike. Marriott’s Moxy Hotels are leveraging technology to connect travelers through their digital guestbook and designation of various Moxy hotels as “BumbleSpots,” where users of the dating and networking app can meet in person.

But are guests of the Stay Human suites genuinely connecting to other travelers if their stories are not shared face to face?

I admittedly felt little connection to other guests of room #1111. But with the Monaco Chicago’s Stay Human campaign running from October 1 to December 31, only one guest had come before me, leaving my guestbook largely blank. In search of answers, I spoke with a former Stay Human guest, Michael Henry, who experienced the pilot “Room 301” at the Everly Hotel in Los Angeles later in its run. He told me the anonymous nature of the room’s guestbook enabled guests to be more vulnerable. “I was amazed with how much people shared despite everyone being total strangers,” he said.

Whether connecting to another person in real time or simply with the sentiments they leave behind, the Stay Human project demonstrates that the hotel brand can act as a source of community and foster genuine connections.

I lost track of time snapping Polaroids and decorating my guestbook entry for future guests—it was the most time I’d ever spent happily cooped up in my hotel room, but also the most energy I’d devoted to considering the feelings of people I didn’t even know. I felt more present and mindful of others as I made my way downstairs to the Kimpton’s complimentary wine hour where silent, screen-lit faces were outnumbered by bubbling conversations that roared with laughter. I may not have connected with anyone in my room, but my room made me more open to connecting with others outside of it.

With each Stay Human campaign lasting anywhere from three to six months, you still have a chance to experience a Stay Human suite at one of nine remaining participating properties—the room is available to book at no additional cost through Kimpton’s Stay Human Project page.

>> Next: The Best New Hotels in the World: The Stay List

Anna Haines is a journalist and photographer. She currently writes about wellness, style, and beauty for Forbes and was previously a travel writer for Buzzfeed’s Bring Me! vertical.
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