A boutique hotel in New Orleans is changing the face of hospitality. The Moor is the first in a planned series of openings from Homage Hospitality, a brand co-founded by Howard University graduates Marcus Carey and Damon Lawrence. Boutique hotels are a dime a dozen in New Orleans – and the US – so what sets Homage properties apart are their twin goals of celebrating black culture and catering specifically to the long underserved black travel market. Carey and Lawrence, along with their Chief innovation Officer Chimene Jackson, choose locations in historically black cities and hire local staff and management. Everything in an Homage property, from the interiors to the music to the toiletries, has been selected to reflect the diversity of local culture. The aim says Lawrence, is ”to tell stories through hospitality.”
The Moor, a cozy “Hausotel” that is Homage’s answer to the home sharing boom, contains four suites with custom decor inspired by New Orleans’ cultural history and African American, African and Caribbean heritage. Three days after opening reservations in July, The Moor had received 150 bookings, and Carey and Lawrence are already looking for a second property in the city. A larger, 100-room hotel in downtown Oakland will open in the fall, and future hotels are in the planning stages.
Lonely Planet News asked Lawrence a few questions about The Moor, the hospitality industry and Homage’s plans for the future.
How do you choose the cities for your hotels?
First, we seek markets that are rich in cultural history. We use historical references as our guide to tell stories through hospitality. Also, selfishly we choose cities that inspire us. We take a look at the market and weigh the amount of time we would like to spend in that particular market. I’ve always loved the idea of having hotels in cities I love to visit.
One of Homage’s main goals is to celebrate African American communities that are in some cases vanishing in the cities you have chosen. Do you see your hotels as contributing to culture too?
Our goal is for our properties to serve as time capsules in locations where so much of the culture and essence is being wiped out by gentrification. We will hire our neighbors, create a sense of belonging and inclusiveness along all socioeconomic backgrounds through our event programming, and focus on making each location an accurate reflection of its neighborhood. Music will play a very vital role in our properties, as it always has socially in creating a culture where everyone feels welcome. We envision a world in which there’s a new release of a popular R&B or hip-hop album, you know that there will be a listening party in the lobby of your local Homage location.
You refer to the Moor as a “Hausotel” – what do you mean by this and how is it different from a hotel or bed and breakfast?
We felt like The Moor is in a very interesting sweet spot between a hotel and bed and breakfast. Its four guest suites are within what use to be a single-family home. Just as it sounds, these small properties merge homestyle living with the amenities of a hotel. As we grow and create more of the larger properties, such as our 100-room location in downtown Oakland, we will look to expand these smaller Hausotel locations in the same market. This is our answer to the homesharing boom.
Your hotels focus on the needs of black travelers in ways that the hospitality industry as a whole, frankly, doesn’t – straight down to the beauty products. During your market research for this project or your previous work in the industry, did you come across any places where the travel industry was failing black travelers that surprised you?
Working in Washington, DC, was probably the most telling of a simple way that the industry is failing black travelers: often the hotel staff doesn’t reflect the diversity of the neighborhood it represents, and if it does, [that diversity is] not reflected in management or front-facing operations employees. Part of what allows people to feel comfortable in a space, especially a hotel, is to know that there are people assisting them who look like them. To be frank, you mainly see black and brown faces as bellmen, valets, housekeepers, security or night staff. Diversity is rarely ever seen in positions for decision-makers. In any industry that can be problematic, but especially in an industry that leans heavily on human interaction for the key drivers to success.
If you could launch a hotel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Domestically, I love the idea of having a hotel in Brooklyn. The New York City hotel market is one of the strongest in the world and I feel like once you’ve made it to NYC, you’ve really solidified yourself as a global brand. Internationally, I love the thought of doing a resort on the San Salvador Island of the Bahamas. It is known as the first point west that Christopher Columbus landed. We could tell a very interesting story with that project.