This isn’t your grandfather’s Marriott.

By Christopher Tkaczyk
October 12, 2016
Marriott Beta Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of Marriott

The M-Beta, Marriott’s testing ground for new hotel technology and services, officially opened Oct. 11 in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.

The beta hotel is open to the public, and its products and services are meant to morph and change according to feedback from guests. Visitors can provide instant feedback using Beta Button touch pads throughout the building, and digital displays tally the features favored by hotel guests.

"We are inviting guests to be part of the innovation and decision making,” said Mike Dearing, managing director of Marriott Hotels.

At the invitation of Marriott, I flew to Charlotte to get a firsthand look at the new features at M-Beta. Here are some highlights.

Hosted arrival means there no front desk. Guests are welcomed at the curb by associates, who guide them through check-in at tables in the lobby, similar to how Geniuses greet customers at an Apple store. The process is smooth, personal, and informal, without any of the scripted dialogue that once was part of the Marriott customer experience.

The hotel’s fitness center has a studio with a FLEX Fitness program that offers more than 600 on-demand group and personal instructor-led workouts on large screens or in guest rooms via wall-mounted, 55-inch TVs. You can check out the class offerings online, as well as find classes at partner gyms nearby. You can also get suggestions for jogging routes, which can be sent directly to your phone.

Marriott Beta Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of Marriott

Not feeling physical? Use the guestroom TVs to login to your Netflix account or wirelessly connect your mobile device and play your own videos.

Guestrooms at the M-Beta have keyless entry, chaise couches, hardwood floors, and large shower stalls. One floor of Stay Well rooms for health-conscious guests has a purified air system and digitized lighting controls that can be used to help travelers fight jet lag.

Marriott Beta Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of Marriott

The Coco and the Director snack shop and boutique features locally roasted coffee and has stadium-style seating for concerts and shows. There’s also a well-stocked wine shop in the lobby. The hotel’s lobby restaurant, Stoke, features an immersive open-air kitchen and a menu by chef Chris Coleman, who works with local farms to source many of the ingredients.

If you make it to the M-Beta, see if you can find the door to the speakeasy, hidden just off the main entrance lobby. Its rustic feel is a throwback to the hidden drinking dens of the Prohibition Era. It’s also connected to the back-of-house kitchen and is available for private event bookings.

Why Charlotte? It’s one of the fastest growing urban centers in the U.S., so Marriott thought the 32-year-old outpost in the North Carolina city was suited to become an innovation lab.

CEO Arne Sorenson didn’t mince words when asked about his decision to continue with the company’s plans for the M-Beta hotel despite North Carolina’s controversial HB2 “bathroom law.”

“The HB2 law is bad for business,” Sorenson said, at a press conference before the hotel’s ribbon cutting on Tuesday morning. He mentioned the recent cancelation by the NCAA of all its future events until the law is repealed.

“We are eager to see political leaders from both parties figure out a way to bring this controversy to an end, to get out of the social wars, and to get back to North Carolina’s rightful place of welcoming people to the state and have their events here,” Sorenson said.

Later, in an interview with Travel + Leisure, Sorenson said, “We think these are the right policies to enact. We have to walk the talk. We have to make sure that we are embracing all communities, and welcoming the LGBT community.”

Case in point, the M-Beta hotel’s public restrooms have two signs: one for each gender, in accordance with the North Carolina state law, but above them are signs that say “All Genders Welcome Restroom.”