Friday, September 29, 2006

g Whiz: Why it's so important to know your market

A new luxury hotel opened last fall in Galway, so we thought we'd walk out and take a peak. Our Irish friends had told us that it was worth it - kind of.

The g Hotel is the brainchild of one Philip Treacy, a Galway native and, according to the g brochure, "the world's most famous milliner." (I can't think of another milliner, famous or otherwise, so I guess we'll take their word for it.) If you've been to a W Hotel (sleek, black, moderne), well, the g is W on acid. We asked to see a room, which was no problem since there didn't seem to be very many occupied ones. You had to walk down a long, dark, winding corridor to get to the room, but it wasn't bad once we got there - stark and white but not bad. The one hint of color in the room was a hideous picture of a woman in a strange hat, which, from the brochure and public spaces seems, to be a theme. (World's most famous milliner, etc.) The picure would not have looked out of place in an ad for bachelor pad furniture during the Miami Vice era.

It was the public rooms, however, that really boggled the mind. We had lunch in a highly ornate, glaring, silver, mirror, glass, and chrome room that had as it's most singular feature a fixture made up of 100 or so large silver bulbs. Our other lunch option was a Barbie pink lounge that looked like it was designed by the makers of the Groovy Girls. (Don't know the Groovy Girls? If you do any doll-shopping and are looking to an antidote to Barbie and Bratz, check the GG's out. They're a bunch of funky, very cute, very sweet dolls with psychedelic-colored clothing and furniture.)

The most noticeable thing about the g was that it was almost empty. The fellow who showed us the room told us, rather hesitantly, that it had only been open since November, and they were getting guests via word of mouth.... Most of the people we saw appeared to be, like us, rubberneckers, or there for a function.

My overall impression was that the g would not have been out of place in Las Vegas. Or a city like New York, LA, or London - cities large enough to have critical mass for all kinds of taste. But in Galway?

Now, Galway is a very lively, bustling, interesting spot, but it's no g spot. I've been here 9 or 10 times, and the average tourist is: a) a middle aged, middle class Irish/British/Euro/American couple; b) an elderly Irish-American on a CIE tour bus wearing a just bought scally cap (himself) or a just bought Aran knit sweater (herself); c) a student or retro-hippie type who's come for the music/arts/university scene. I just don't see that a town the size of Galway - population, I'm guessing, 60-70,000 at best - can support such a non-traditional hotel with rates that start at nearly 400 Euro. (That's over $500 US.)

There's a marketing lesson here, folks. There are damned few instances of "if you build it, they will come." To some degree I sympathize with Philip Treacy, who just wanted to do something spectacular for the olde towne. Galway now has a hotel that a lot of people will want to come to gawk at once, but where I'm guessing that very few people will want to stay. Between the price and the look and feel, I'd say that this one's missed the market.

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