SPOTLIGHT ON Audra Tuskes, VP, Global Design Strategies, Luxury Segment, Marriott

In the realm of luxury hospitality, the art of design plays a pivotal role in crafting memorable guest experiences. At the helm of Marriott’s Global Design Strategies within the luxury segment is Audra Tuskes, Vice President. Audra’s role is to bridge the gap between Marriott’s brand vision and the physical embodiment of that vision in the form of beautifully designed luxury hotels. Her team’s mission is to breathe life into the distinct identities of each luxury brand under Marriott’s umbrella.

As the luxury segment thrives on bespoke experiences, Audra’s team takes on the challenge of defining and refining the design strategies that set each brand apart. From the opulence of The Ritz-Carlton to the modern sophistication of W Hotels, these strategies are the guiding lights that steer the course of luxury hotel design.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the dynamic world of luxury design, exploring how Audra and her team stay attuned to evolving guest preferences, the intricacies of executing visionary projects, and the delicate balance between maintaining design consistency and allowing each brand to have its unique voice. We also uncover the collaborative spirit that fuels creativity and innovation, ensuring that design strategies align seamlessly with broader business goals and market trends.

Furthermore, as sustainability and eco-conscious design gain prominence, Audra sheds light on how these principles are seamlessly integrated into luxury segment design strategies, all while preserving the premium guest experience that defines Marriott’s luxury brands. Audra’s insights provide a captivating glimpse into the world where art and hospitality converge, shaping the luxurious landscapes of Marriott’s most prestigious hotels.

Can you elaborate on the role of Global Design Strategies within Marriott’s luxury segment? How does your team’s work contribute to defining the distinct identity of each luxury brand?

Global Design Strategies is a vital intermediary within Marriott’s luxury segment, bridging the gap between the brand’s overarching vision and the actual execution of design in our projects. This role involves translating brand positioning into tangible design strategies and tools that guide the development of each hotel, ensuring they are strategically designed. A design strategy, in essence, outlines the brand’s distinct identity, encompassing elements that define the brand, whether they are the unique features and programming of The Ritz-Carlton All-Access properties or the specific art and styling guidelines that define the ambiance of W Hotels. This strategic approach is particularly crucial in the luxury segment, where each brand is tailored to be distinct, and the design strategy serves as the guiding thread that ties them all together.

Audra Tuskes, VP, Global Design Strategies, Luxury Segment, Marriott

In the dynamic world of design trends, how does your team stay attuned to evolving guest preferences and translate them into design strategies that resonate with Marriott’s luxury audience?

Our team remains finely attuned to shifting guest preferences by prioritizing consumer behavior and trend analysis. We invest substantial resources in understanding these trends, and they often play a role in shaping our design strategies. For instance, our research revealed that approximately 60% of our guests, regardless of the brand, prefer to bring their own water vessels when traveling. Additionally, we’ve observed that Gen Z, a significant segment of W Hotels’ clientele, highly values access to hydration points, making it their top consumer preference. This valuable data directly influenced our strategy for providing hydration options. While some of our luxury brands are anchored in timeless design principles that transcend fleeting trends, our commitment to adaptability ensures that we remain responsive to evolving guest preferences, consistently enhancing the guest experience through thoughtful attention, programming, and service.

Could you share a recent design project within the luxury segment? How did your team balance the aspects of vision, quality, and operational excellence while executing this project?

We’re on the verge of reopening the W Union Square, a project that embodies the brand’s fresh design perspective. What makes this endeavor unique is that it was developed concurrently with the redefinition of the entire brand, so there was no established playbook to follow. This presented a distinct challenge that demanded a full-team effort, both internally – involving those deeply invested in the brand – and with a wide array of external experts.

In terms of balancing the elements of vision, quality, and operational excellence, I must admit that the process was far from straightforward. Striving to fulfill all criteria and satisfy various stakeholders often meant making tough decisions that might not have been universally popular. However, it was essential to push forward with the right ideas, even if they posed challenges along the way. This project underscores the dynamic nature of design in the luxury segment, where innovation and evolution are constant companions in crafting the ultimate guest experience.

Marriott is known for its diverse portfolio of luxury brands. How do you approach maintaining a consistent design philosophy across these brands while still allowing each one to have its unique voice?

To maintain a consistent design philosophy while allowing each brand to express its unique identity, we rely on what we consider our ‘design recipe.’ This collaborative process involves working closely with our design partners to craft a narrative inspired by the cultural, historical, and physical elements of each location. This narrative serves as the foundation and is then expertly interpreted through the distinctive lens of each brand. This approach ensures that even when faced with similar narratives, such as for a W Hotel and a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, we achieve vastly different design outcomes, each finely tuned to encapsulate the essence of the individual brand.

Collaboration often fuels creativity and innovation. How does your team collaborate with other departments and external partners to ensure that design strategies align with broader business goals and market trends?

The process of developing the W Union Square is a perfect example of this. Our internal teams are structured according to their areas of expertise, fostering productive collaboration with a constructive tension that drives us towards excellence. What’s crucial is that every team member is deeply invested in achieving exceptional outcomes.

In addition to our internal collaboration, we lean on a trusted network of external experts. These experts, including design teams, lighting specialists, F&B partners, branding agencies, and trend analysts, play a pivotal role in helping us shape and execute the vision of each brand. This collaborative synergy ensures that our design strategies seamlessly align with broader business objectives and stay in tune with dynamic market trends.

Sustainability and eco-conscious design are gaining prominence. How does your team integrate these principles into the luxury segment’s design strategies without compromising the premium guest experience?

Integrating sustainability and eco-conscious design into our luxury segment’s design strategies is a thoughtful process that hinges on business objectives, guest behaviors and their preferences.

It’s essential to acknowledge that sustainability isn’t exclusive to a single brand; it’s a universal imperative that all our brands must embrace. However, the approach can vary depending on the specific brand and its guests’ expectations.

For instance, consider our approach to eliminating plastic water bottles in guest rooms across all luxury brands. While this is a shared commitment, the execution differs. W guests, for instance, are more inclined to utilize stylish hydration points in hallways to refill their own vessels, aligning with their eco-conscious mindset. In contrast, guests at our ultra-luxury brands often expect a higher degree of discretion and might prefer individually sealed, filtered water provided within their rooms, ensuring a premium guest experience without compromising sustainability efforts. This tailored approach ensures that sustainability remains a core principle while respecting the unique expectations of each brand’s clientele.

  1. W Union Square Lobby (rendering), Rockwell Group (interiors) and mural by Shantell Martin.
  2. W Union Square EWOW Suite (photo) living room designed with both business and social purpose.
  1. The Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad Club Lounge with skyline views

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