According to John Rogers, the global head of Embassy Suites, the company is interested in re-establishing a foothold in Manhattan. Currently there are 211 Embassy Suites hotels worldwide, most of them in the United States — and nine of those in the Washington metro area, according to a company spokeswoman — with 35 more in the pipeline across the country.
And much of what’s driving the expansion is the demand from families, Rogers said. Although Embassy Suites was founded in 1984 to target primarily business travelers who didn’t want to sleep and work in the same room, it evolved a few years later into a brand marketed toward families, he said. “What we find is that people with children, particularly younger children, absolutely love the fact that they can put the children in one room, adults in the other, and shut the door.” To that end, every Embassy Suites hotel has pullout sofa beds in the living rooms, he said.
The invention of an all-suites hotel is widely attributed to Jack DeBoer, a real estate developer from Kalamazoo, Mich., who built the first Residence Inn in 1975, then expanded it into a nearly 100-hotel chain and sold the brand to Marriott in 1987. “He had some extra apartments he couldn’t rent,” said Joe McInerney, the president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
McInerney — who was himself the head of the Hawthorn Suites hotel chain at its inception in the 1980s — said that the concept has always held different appeal for different subgroups. Auditors spending extended periods of time working at a suburban business might want to stay in an all-suites hotel for the comforts of home. Families moving into a new community might want to live in a suite until their homes are ready. “You get more bang for your buck,” McInerney said.
Marriott is the other global leader in suite hotels, with Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and SpringHill Suites properties. Residence Inn in particular does something special, offering two-bedroom suites, so that families with multiple children of different ages can stay together, and the parents don’t have to go on a hunt for adjoining hotel rooms. (Residence Inn offers suites in multiple formats, including studio suites, which have more space but are still a single room, so it’s essential to make sure which kind of room you’re getting).
As newcomers to family travel, we’ve tried branching out to different kinds of hotels, some with fewer suite options. We stayed at the LaPlaya Beach Resort in Naples, Fla., booking a suite on an upper level — only to discover upon arrival that the room, while gigantic and gorgeous, had glass doors separating the bedroom from the living room, thus making it difficult for a toddler to sleep with activity on the other side.
Just a few weeks ago, we stayed at the Club Quarters in downtown San Francisco, near the Ferry Building. The hotel was perfect in many respects: affordable, clean, in an excellent location. But what had been billed as a suite, both online and in phone conversations, turned out to be a single room with just a partial wall separating the sleeping area from the living area.
As we made other travel plans, we discovered repeatedly that many hotels have this same warped notion of a “suite,” clearly designated so by people who have never traveled with children. A “separate living area” with a couch does not a suite make.
A major void in the travel industry marketplace is that there’s no single Web site or mobile app that classifies or grades suites and allows families to book travel accordingly. Hopefully, by the time our babies are out of their cribs, there will be.
In the meantime, we’ll keep compiling our list of true suites — and appreciating doors that close.
Kornblut is deputy national editor of The Washington Post.