Hyatt's Crystal Vinisse Thomas on growing the Caption by Hyatt lifestyle brand

Launched in late 2019, Caption by Hyatt, Hyatt’s latest play in the lifestyle segment, saw its development progress temporarily slow during the pandemic. Now, however, the upscale select-service brand is quickly making up for lost time, recently celebrating its first groundbreaking, in Memphis, and unveiling plans for another project in Shanghai. Both outposts are on track to open sometime in 2022. Hotels editor Christina Jelski connected with Crystal Vinisse Thomas, Hyatt’s global brand leader for lifestyle and luxury brands, to get the latest on Caption’s expansion and learn why the flag is particularly well-positioned to succeed in a pandemic-era and post-pandemic landscape.

Q: We’ve seen traveler habits shift quite dramatically throughout the pandemic. Did the Caption by Hyatt brand have to change direction in any way in response?

A: Actually, when Covid hit, we realized we’d developed a brand that was already Covid-proof. If anything, this pandemic almost validated the fact that Caption by Hyatt is a brand that’s very relevant to the current changing landscape of guest behavior. For example, pre-pandemic, we already planned to have ordering with QR codes as part of the brand experience. And I remember sitting in a meeting, and someone was like, ‘Are we really introducing the QR code again?’ But fast-forward to now, and my Mom uses QR codes. Even my Grandma uses QR codes.

We were already in this landscape of folks wanting to control their experiences and being connected to their phones and devices, and the pandemic has just sort of accelerated those trends. Sometimes it just feels simpler to do something on my phone than it does to do it with a person involved.

I do think the contactless experience is here to stay. I oversee our luxury brands, too, as well as our more elevated lifestyle brands, and so there’s a different model there, and it’s a different approach with an Andaz or Thompson than with a Caption by Hyatt. But within the select segment, where it’s a bit lower touch, I certainly think folks are savvy, they know what they want to do, and they know how to do it.

Q: With the first batch of Caption by Hyatt properties set to debut in Memphis and Shanghai, can we expect the brand to remain urban-focused?

A: That’s the intention with our vision for this brand. It’s meant to be in primary urban markets. Our guests are folks who want to be part of a community, and they want to align their travels with their lifestyle, their experiences and their intentions. And they want to be in those urban areas.

There’s maybe another model of this brand that could find itself in other types of areas, but we generally want to be in high foot traffic areas in the center of cities. And part of the reason for that, which is a bit different for the select segment, is that we have such a hyper focus on our food and beverage concept. We want to target locals alongside travelers and be that place where you can hang out all day and work, play or get cocktails, whether you’re traveling or whether you live around the corner. So, being located [in cities] will be key to ensuring that that experience can happen and be activated consistently.

Q: Caption by Hyatt has made local hiring and buying practices a core brand tenet. Can you talk a bit about these efforts?

A: Consumers are voting with their wallets. They’re looking for brands to have true substance. So, when we think about all the diversity and inclusion efforts that so many businesses are committing to, we thought it would be such a missed opportunity for us not to integrate that. So, part of those efforts are around hiring, and the priority is going to be on bringing in folks of that community with diverse backgrounds. 

The second part involves the vendors that we work with. As we’re signing on our vendors, they can’t just be going off of a list of vendors that we’ve already been using for however long. It’s about identifying those minority- and Black-owned businesses that come from that community. When you think about a place like Memphis, for example, there’s no reason we can’t find a local barbecue maker who might be from that community and have that diverse background. 

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