An Inside Look at HGU New York

One of the city’s most forward-thinking boutique hotels
Interviewed by Ariela Kiradjian 

A talk with Mike Namer, CEO & Founder of Alfa Development’s first hotel property, HGU New York

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AK: What is the vision behind the reinvented HGU New York?

MN: It’s not so much a reinvention as it is a remake of the original hotel, which was established in 1905. We were very conscious to ensure the history and culture behind the brand remained a prominent part of our existence. We refer to the new HGU New York as a landmark reborn.

The new and improved HGU New York has undergone a complete renovation, and the artistic community of the NoMad district inspires the design work that floods our hallways and hotel suites today.

AK: What does HGU New York stand for? How did you decide on this name?

MN: The HGU in our new name stands for Hotel Grand Union, which was the name of the original hotel. We were adamant we wanted to keep the connection to our origin, whilst at the same time creating a platform for an entirely new brand, which has a more modern feel and reflects our new 4* status.

Shortening Hotel Grand Union to HGU has allowed us to hold a historic brand link, whilst also creating a platform for brand recognition when we go on to pursue plans to expand our presence in other cities across the U.S., and potentially worldwide.

AK: How do you keep strong ties to the community?

MN: Showing support to our local community is a huge part of the HGU New York brand ethos. ML and myself are both artists so we do everything we can to support the many up and coming talented artists in New York City, and keep the community thriving.

All of the art pieces featured in the hotel have been purchased directly from local artists, because we want them to receive the return they deserve.

We also host numerous charity events in our 1905 lounge, inviting members of the local community and hotel guests to support amazing causes.

AK: On your website, you have an entire section dedicated to “Culture.” Why did you create such an emphasis on this?

MN: Our culture is what really defines us, and it’s why our guests choose to stay with us over bigger, chain hotels when they book a trip to New York.

As a boutique brand, our USP is that we provide our guests with so much more than just a place to stay when they’re in town. We want our guests to experience New York like a local, and the “Culture” section on the website is designed to act as a virtual tour guide for everyone who stays with us.

AK: When renovating the hotel and brand, why did you decide to stay independent, and not join a large chain? 

MN: The biggest reason behind this decision is that we didn’t want to be absorbed by a large chain that would suppress our individuality and dissolve what makes us unique.

Boutique hotels also hold a better track record in New York City, in terms of ADR, and traffic. 

A collaboration spotlight interview with ML Perlman, Vice President of Development & Marketing

AK: Who have you collaborated with since opening last year?

ML: Since opening in July 2015, we’ve ingrained influencer marketing into our overall strategy. Our key audience is largely generation Y and Z, so we know that the impact of social media is invaluable. 

HGU New York is a boutique hotel with an artistic flare, and that’s really reflected in our clientele. We tend to attract new up and comers on the art scene, and we embrace that within our marketing approach. 

One of our most successful, and longest standing collaborations is with Gallery 151. Our founder, Mike Namer, established the gallery 10 years ago and our ongoing collaboration with the brand has allowed us to not only raise awareness of HGU New York amongst the community, but also help support the artists who contribute to the gallery. Everyone who visits us is greeted with art from Gallery 151. The artwork hanging in our lobby and all of the guest rooms really defines the unique experience, and the entire ethos of the hotel. It’s what sets us apart from other hotels in the city. 

We’ve also had some amazing talent come through our doors since opening in summer 2015; everyone from former Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo to world-renowned model, Emily Ratajkowski. During New York Fashion Week last year, we collaborated with numerous influencers, including Shea Marie and Caroline Vreeland, who all documented their stay at the hotel via. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. 

AK: How did you reach out to them, or did they reach out to you?

ML: It’s a real mixture. When we first opened, we wanted to get word out that we were the hottest place in town to come and stay, so we reached out to a selection of top influencers and talent agencies we knew could really speak to our demographic. However, as the rave reviews have flooded in, we’ve now seen requests coming in organically from guests who have heard about us, or seen influencers and celebrities staying at the hotel. 

AK: Why, in your opinion, do collaborations help boutique hotels?

ML: It’s all about getting inside the mind of the consumer and reaching the right people. 

From experience, we’ve found that utilizing influencers and being able to naturally market ourselves through exposure to their following has proved hugely successful. 

We accommodated a number of A-Listers during NYFW 2015 and 2016, and the results were invaluable for brand exposure. 

In addition to influencer collaborations, we’ve also worked with a number of innovative brands to enhance our overall guest experience. In 2016, we installed FLI Charge hubs in to all of our hotel rooms to ensure guests never go a minute without being able to document their stay. 

New York is a city for exploring and documenting your travels, so we know how important it is to always have all of your devices fully charged.

Another successful brand collaboration we pursued was with REVIV, the leading global wellness provider of signature IV nutrient therapies and booster shots. During NYFW, when the majority of our guests were embracing the culture of New York’s nightlife, we offered special treatments to help cure hangover symptoms, and set everyone up for another full day of runway shows. The reaction was amazing, and it definitely helped to put us on the map with consumers within the fashion industry. 

AK: Do you agree that collaborations are the next greatest trend in the hospitality industry?

ML: Absolutely! 

At HGU New York, we’ve learned from experience that successful brand collaborations can be invaluable for establishing brand recognition, extending brand reach, establishing new markets, and helping to improve brand image. The caliber of influencers we have collaborated with has also directly impacted our brand reputation and helped to position HGU New York as a luxury, boutique hotel.  

The most exciting thing about collaborations is that different industries and audiences can come together to benefit from one another’s strengths. 

AK: The hotel’s marketing is right on point with what’s trending today as seen on your Instagram page and website. How do you stay relevant in the always changing landscape of the hotel industry? 

ML: Social media, especially Instagram because it’s so visual, plays a huge part in our marketing success. Staying relevant is key because we always want to keep on top of industry trends, but at the same time, we don’t just like to follow the crowd. 

We like to think of our social media accounts as a mirror of our guest experience. All of the content has been developed through the eyes of previous guests, and what we know they have loved about their experience with us. 

Through our Instagram page, we provide a real taste of what it’s like to stay at the hotel. Our founder, Mike Namer and myself are both artists, and it’s our mission to ensure everyone who visits the hotel immediately feels like part of the family. We share a mixture of images of our rooms, all of the amazing art pieces hanging in the lobby, sharing posts from guests enjoying their time with us, suggestions of events and happenings in the city, and everything we believe our audience will value. 

The overall goal of our online presence is to provide an element of discovery, whether that is through discovering a new artist, or a new place in the city to hang out.