Demand for hotel space is at an all-time high in downtown Wilmington, and local businesses are scrambling to cater to a new generation of travelers.
The Wilmington Convention Center, Live Oak Bank Pavilion, and Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center have become attractions for people looking for a place to stay while visiting Wilmington, but the average hotel room is no longer suitable for these guests.
“The lines are blurring between hospitality and experience. Guests are looking for something more with their stay,” said Kylie O’Connor, one of the owners of The Hive at 505 N. Second St.
In addition to the attractions, O’Connor said Wilmington offers enough on its own.
“The historic nature of downtown is a tourist destination for that reason. The city has done a great job downtown being leaning towards breweries and bottle shops at the moment,” O’Connor said. The Brooklyn Arts Center, Front Street, and Riverfront offer any number of things to do downtown.”
David McLamb, Executive Vice President of Poteat Hospitality Associates, spent 10 years searching for a suitable location in the Wilmington Market, finally deciding to purchase the Coastline Conference and Event Center at 501 Nutt St.
Poteat recently opened a new hotel on site – the Aloft Wilmington in the Coastline Center.
“With the expansion of the new convention center and the vision of a void in hotel rooms, we sought to serve this market growth,” Mac Lamb said. “Aloft is a lifestyle brand that fits perfectly in downtown Wilmington.”
The Aloft features smaller rooms but offers a “much improved public space,” according to McLamb, to meet the expectations of today’s travelers.
“Aloft is designed to be fun and is aimed at a younger group; it’s not about age, it’s about lifestyle. Age is not as important as anticipation,” MacLamb said.
To meet these expectations, Aloft Bar WXYZ features a large indoor and outdoor space with pool tables, games and music. The rooftop bar and bistro, aView, provides a space to enjoy the sunset over the Cape Fear River. The Atlantic Restaurant, a full-service, upscale establishment, will open next spring.
While The Hive offers complimentary snacks in every suite, and personalized messages to guests to “set the tone and personality of the brand,” O’Connor said they hope in the future, “to take it outside the room and help guests experience the city a little more.”
To provide guests with these one-of-a-kind experiences in the Wilmington area, O’Connor said The Hive is currently looking for companies to partner with.
“We are looking for key partners within the city that feel connected to the brand with us. From restaurants to entertainment, we are looking for partners who can uniquely meet the needs of our guests. “This is what guests want, and it will be the future of hotels to make it a more immersive experience.”
Touchless is a trend that has gained momentum since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has become a favorite of many travelers.
“We took the approach of using a lot of technology and being a more limited service, and we did that even before COVID,” O’Connor said.
This gave them an advantage from the start rather than having to “adjust themselves to be touchless”, as many other facilities were forced to do.
“Instead of having multiple people at the front desk, our guests can reach us at any time via text message. We’re still there, but we don’t interact with them all the time,” O’Connor said.
Other guests prefer a more hands-on approach to hospitality, and the Aloft Hotel is happy to stick with that.
“Customer service will never go away. We anticipate what guests want and do our best to make it happen.”
The on-site pastry chef offers baked goods such as fresh bread and cake to Aloft guests.
Robert Rosenberg, co-owner of O’Connor and Hive, is expanding their reach with the recent purchase of 216-220 N. Front St. The 10,000-square-foot property will offer six units.
With the Live Oak Bank Pavilion and Wilson Center, the owners of the Hive want their hotel to be “the go-to place for overnight talent.”
“It’s a great choice for high-level talent who are coming to town to get that exclusivity,” O’Connor said.
New guests included Melissa Etheridge and members of the Wide Spread Panic. They also hope to be the go-to spot for talent fans as well. Leon Bridges is the first show to run in the spring, and The Hive is already sold out.
O’Connor said that guests tend to be from areas “such as Raleigh, Charlotte, and Washington, D.C.” The Hive also sees a frequent number of “residents,” who are locals who live in areas other than downtown and who want to experience the center of City .
To cater to guests who want to stay for an extended period of time, the owners of The Hive have purchased 8 acres in Castle Hayne where they plan to build about 20 cottages and annex studios for weekly stays in the Wilmington area.
Medium to long-term stays are an option for people who are building in Wilmington and waiting for their homes to be completed or those who are considering moving to the area and need more time to meet with builders or realtors, according to O’Connor.
She said that since film production in the city has boomed again, a large number of “cine-goers” have stayed at The Hive. “People will only love the movie if they have their own space, and it’s halfway between downtown and [ECU/Screen Gems] studios on 23rd Street,” O’Connor said. “They are good month-to-month or week-to-week options.”