As business and leisure travel continues to boom in Austin, the city’s inventory of hotel rooms is rising to take advantage of the demand. Six new hotels opened in Austin in 2015, according to the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, including the 1,012-room JW Marriott Austin, currently Austin’s largest hotel and the largest JW Marriott in the Americas. Two more hotels will open in 2016, and five hotels are set to open in 2017
The Fairmont Austin will open in 2017, adding 1,068 rooms, with 106,000 square feet of meeting space and a deck that will accommodate 1,800 guests. At 37 stories, the hotel will be the second tallest structure in downtown Austin.
In total, more than 2,000 more rooms will be added to the city’s inventory over the next two years.
Three hotels in Austin have also recently undergone renovations or will complete them soon: the historic Driskill Hotel, the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on the UT-Austin campus and the DoubleTree Austin.
Austin sees more than 22 million visitors annually, according to the Austin CVB, and now planners have more options for their guests to stay in the “Live Music Capital of the World” than ever before.
The Driskill, one of Austin’s most iconic and historic hotels, will celebrate its 130th anniversary this year. The hotel’s recent $8.8 million renovation to its guest rooms, public spaces and restaurants pairs the hotel’s rich history with modern comforts, according to General Manager Lance Stumpf.
The design team researched the hotel’s history and drew on the work of German artist and photographer Reinhard Görner for inspiration. The renovation included a complete redesign of the hotel’s guest rooms. Carpeting in each room features a custom design of Austin’s city grid as it was between 1853 and 1890. Each room includes a gilded mirror, placed slightly off-center above the headboard, drawing on Görner’s influence. Trunk-like end tables are inspired by traveling trunks used in the Victorian era. The custom wrought-iron bed frames include the iconic Driskill “D,” and the window valances feature a historical sketch of the hotel as it stood in 1886. Renovations also include new furniture, HD televisions, air conditioning units and bathroom spa toiletries.
The newly remodeled 1886 Café & Bakery reopened in September 2014 with a new bakery and coffee counter. In the lobby, guests will see new décor, furniture and light sconces that pay homage to historical gas lamps previously used in the hotel.
The renovation also included a significant Wi-Fi upgrade in guest rooms, public spaces and meeting rooms. The Driskill hotel provides more than 18,000 square feet of meeting space, which historically has been a favorite meeting place for legislators, politicians and presidents.
The hotel has revamped its menu for the Driskill Grill, changing the look and presentation of the menu items to keep its historic integrity. The grill also has a dry age room, making the Driskill Grill one of the only restaurants in the city to have one inside of a hotel. “That was a part of the hotel when it was initially built, and we wanted to stay with the same thought line,” Stumpf says.
Since The Driskill is a historic hotel, the renovations could not change the physical structure of the rooms, some of which are smaller than a typical modern hotel room. “Some rooms are smaller or some have taller ceilings,” Stumpf says. “But if you come in with that mindset and with the historical perspective, I think you’re really going to enjoy it.”
The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center (ATTEECC) opened in 2008 and just completed a renovation of its 297 guest rooms and suites.
“It’s typically early in the renovation cycle for this hotel,” says Ted Hibler, general manager of the center. “Our grand strategy with the influx of hotel rooms in Austin, culminating with the Fairmont in 2017, was to be ahead of the curve on renovations.”
The ATTEECC is located on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The facility center offers 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a 300-seat amphitheater, tiered classrooms, a 10,000-square-foot grand ballroom and a telepresence room for virtual meetings. The center also includes a four-star restaurant, The Carillon.
The renovation of the center’s guest rooms included new 48-inch flat-screen TVs with DVRs, a wood floor entry, LED light fixtures and a new refreshment area. “The room is designed so the end user is walking into a space that could be their own home,” says Hibler.
All rooms now include iPads, which provide both a guide to Austin and a way to communicate with the hotel. Hotel guests can ask for extra towels, set a wake-up call or order room service on the iPad.
The hotel strove to target common customer complaints in the design of the new room. More lighting was added to the bathrooms and refrigerators have been tucked as far away from the guest space as possible to minimize noise.
The design team looked to the university for inspiration. “The direction of the renovation was to tie it to the University of Texas, and make it a Texas product,” says Tom Rice, hotel manager.
Ceruse finish on the headboards and TV panels is a nod to the ceruse finish found on campus.
The center will also soon add the Robert B. Rowling Hall, which will open in 2017 as part of the University of Texas. The hall will be connected to the ATTEECC, adding a 15,000-square-foot ballroom with 5,000 square feet of prefunction space and a 5,500-square-foot banquet kitchen.
“We’re essentially a big boutique with a total of almost 70,000 square feet of meeting space,” Hibler says. “It’s a dramatic extension of our own meeting environment.”
The Sonesta Bee Cave Austin opened in July 2015 in Bee Cave, a town of about 4,000 people just outside Austin. Bee Cave links Austin to the Texas Hill wine country; the hotel is 20 miles from the Austin-Bergstrom Airport and a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin and is located at the Hill County Galleria, an outdoor mall offering 150 shops, a variety of restaurants, a movie theater and a day spa. The Sonesta provides trolley transportation to the galleria. “The perception is that we’re out in the country, but we’re only 15 minutes from downtown,” says Eric Wimbush, director of sales and marketing for the Sonesta Bee Cave Austin.
As a smaller hotel, the Sonesta Bee Cave Austin boasts a more exclusive feel, according to Wimbush. The 195-room hotel has 10,000 square feet of function space and features Meridian 98, a glassed-in rooftop lounge and small plate eatery on the sixth floor with panoramic views of the Texas Hill Country. It also offers locally sourced food and beverage from local farms, wineries and distilleries. The Sonesta has no Wi-Fi charges, parking fees, resort fees or additional service fees associated with the room cost.
A honey bee theme is incorporated throughout the hotel, from the 5,300-squarefoot “Colony” ballroom to the “Honeycomb” breakout rooms. Groups also have access to the hotel’s courtyard, pool area and the hiking and bike trails on property, which connect to the City of Bee Cave trail system. Austin limestone from local rock quarries is used throughout the hotel, along with hickory wood flooring and redwood tables in the lobby, according to Wimbush.
As downtown Austin continues to grow, the Sonesta is an alternative that’s not too far from the heart of the city. “We’re a value opportunity for a meeting planner to have that fantastic new hotel and contemporary feel—with all the state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and meeting space,” Wimbush says.