When Hotels Invent Their Own Geography

It’s an old Southern California adage that the name “Beverly Hills” carries such cachet that pretty much any nearby real estate listing will claim to be located in “Beverly Hills-adjacent.”

As the very 1980’s allure of Beverly Hills has faded and Los Angeles as a whole has become more cohesive, I’ve found no one really says “Beverly Hills-adjacent” anymore, though I’ve noticed a few hotels just outside the city limits will attach to the Beverly Hills label, for obvious reasons.

The 1980's called and they want their signifier of wealth back
The 1980’s called and they want their signifier of wealth back

The Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, the SLS Beverly Hills and the Mr. C Hotel Beverly Hills, for instance, are all technically located in the City of Los Angeles, although in each case within a block of the Beverly Hills city limit. So while it’s a bit of a stretch, it’s not an outrageous one by any means.

However, I searched for hotels in L.A. next week for a friend and encountered the “W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills,” which I’d never seen before. The hotel website even advertises itself as a “newly renovated Beverly Hills hotel.”

W Los Angeles - West Beverly Hills, a "newly renovated Beverly Hills hotel"
W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills, a “newly renovated Beverly Hills hotel”

This is, of course, the former W Los Angeles – Westwood. Located in the heart of Westwood, which is a community with a very strong identity. Literally across the street from UCLA. You really couldn’t ask for an easier identifier than “Westwood.”

In fact, I guarantee you if you call the front desk of the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills and you ask them where they’re located, they’ll answer without hesitation, “oh, in Westwood.”

The W Los Angeles, back when it was located in Westwood
The W Los Angeles, back when it was located in Westwood

Now, West Beverly Hills simply isn’t a thing, unless you live in the fictional Beverly Hills, 90210 universe where Brandon and Brenda and Dylan and Donna and Kelly and Andrea and David Silver all attended “West Beverly Hills High School” because the producers couldn’t get legal clearance to use the name of the actual Beverly Hills High School.

(Ben was literally 6 months old when the show premiered and I feel positively ancient right now typing that.)

Distance from the W to actual Beverly Hills
Distance from the W to actual Beverly Hills

But if you go to the hotel’s website, you might be convinced otherwise, given that the hotel has created a whole history of “West Beverly Hills.”

West Beverly Hills: NOT A THING
West Beverly Hills: NOT A THING

Similarly, the Westin Georgetown, Washington D.C.  and the Washington Marriott Georgetown are located squarely in the West End neighborhood of Washington, D.C., but both hotels pretend otherwise. In fact, the Westin won’t shut up about being “in Georgetown,” for instance:

This hotel in Georgetown offers 10 meeting spaces, with the largest just under 3,400 square feet. Stay connected with wireless internet, available in all rooms for a fee.  Redefine your standards with the exquisite event space in our Georgetown hotel. Any Washington D.C meeting is perfectly planned by our experienced staff. With our central Georgetown location, our hotel is the ideal place for your dream Georgetown wedding.

(Bolding mine.)

Westin Georgetown location, compared to Georgetown
Westin Georgetown location, compared to Georgetown

In fact, it’s a solid 13-minute walk to “central Georgetown.” If you’ve ever walked around in Washington in the summer before, you’ll remember that walk isn’t a pleasant one, unless you enjoy the pit-stain look.

TripAdvisor reviews noting the Westin is, well, not in Georgetown
TripAdvisor reviews noting the Westin is, well, not in Georgetown

Next door to the Westin Georgetown is the Ritz-Carlton Washington, D.C., which doesn’t pretend to be in Georgetown because there’s another Ritz-Carlton (the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, naturally) which is legitimately in the coveted neighborhood.

Further kudos (I guess?) go to the Fairmont Washington, D.C. and the Park Hyatt Washington, which are also adjacent to the Westin Georgetown but which seem to acknowledge their location with honesty.

Even more hilariously, the Westin in the National Harbor development in Prince Georges County, Maryland is branded the “Westin Washington National Harbor.” Pity the poor soul who books it thinking they’ll end up anywhere near the city’s sights (which are, in fact, a solid 25-minute drive without traffic).

Should Hotels Be Honest About Their Location?

Obviously, we come to expect a bit of leeway with marketing, but do hotels owe an obligation to be truthful about their geography?

I know Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. quite well, so to me the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills and the Westin Georgetown, Washington D.C. are more amusing to me than confusing.

But I’d think for most people unfamiliar with a city and booking a hotel, you’d have to rely on the hotel’s representations as to its location. Perhaps “Beverly Hills” and “Georgetown” have greater international name recognition than “Westwood” and “West End,” but does that give hotels the right to pretend to be in those neighborhoods to snag unsuspecting visitors?

As ridiculous as it is for a hotel at 22nd and M Streets NW to claim it’s in Georgetown, at least the duped visitor can walk twenty minutes and end up where he or she intended to be. I feel bad for the guest of the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills who thinks he or she is within walking distance, or anything less than a 20-minute drive, from Rodeo Drive (much less the guest who believes that “West Beverly Hills” is an actual place).

Though “truth in advertising” isn’t the rule in every industry in the United States, it’s the reason cheap chocolate-flavored cookies are labeled “chocolaty” and imitation crab is called “krab” (since it’s illegal to call not-chocolate, “chocolate” and not-crab, “crab”).

Should truth in advertising apply to hotel geography, too?

Have you ever encountered a particularly egregious example of “hotel geography” that’s either confused or amused you? Do you think these hotels are simply engaging in brilliant marketing, or questionable ethics?

Comments

  1. On one hand, I do think hotels should be honest about the location, especially for infrequent travelers who want to visit a specific place and may choose a hotel based on the name.

    On the other hand, Google Maps. Because Internet. It’s not hard to figure out where a hotel is, and whether or not that works for the places you want to see/things you want to do.

  2. So I actually live in BH and I find it mind-boggling that the W in Westwood basically decided to use Westwood’s history as that of the fictitious “West Beverly Hills”! Especially considering that it’s not even really adjacent to the westernmost point of Beverly Hills–that, ironically, is the real Beverly Hills High School (hence “West Bev” being so hilarious to locals).
    As for the other hotels, SLS is super-close and Mr. C is really Beverlywood, but whatever. The Four Seasons was a big deal. I don’t know the exact story, but I’ll have to ask my mom. I just know that Beverly Hills rejected the plan to put it in the city so the developers literally walked right outside the borders of the city and put the hotel there.

  3. I thought “West Beverly” sort of was a thing, but not formally.

    I’m going way back (a long way back) to when I was dating a girl in college from LA, but as I recalled, when someone who was familiar with LA would ask her where she was from, she would answer as follows:

    “Where are you from?”
    “LA.”
    “Oh, where in LA?”
    “LA, LA.” [to distinguish from the Valley, etc.]
    “Oh cool, what part?”
    [and here’s where it gets a bit fuzzy]
    “West Beverly (and then she’d say her street, which was reasonably well known)”.

    Again, this is totally fuzzy, because it’s, hrrumph, more than 20 years ago, but my recollection is that the term was used to identify the area in “LA, LA” that was not Beverly Hills proper, but where the kids went to Beverly Hills High.

    I could be wrong, and I’m sure there are people on here from “LA, LA” who can/will correct me, but if I’m making this up, just call me Brian Williams.

    Greg

  4. This is a very good post explaining details with supporting helpful screenshots for those of us not familiar with those areas. It’s just as good as Tiffany’s Delta transatlantic partners post from yesterday. Thank you Nick, very much! This type of content is just fabulous and keeps me hooked!

  5. @greg99: Honestly, I’ve lived in LA for 15 years and never heard “West Beverly” outside the context of Beverly Hills, 90210. Just west of the BH city limit is Century City, and then Westwood beyond that. I think Beverly Hills’ school district is strictly limited to the city proper.

  6. @Victoria: That’s funny about the Four Seasons. It is literally across Burton Way and Doheny Drive from the Beverly Hills city limits, so good for LA’s city planners for allowing them to locate there out of spite! If I have my boundaries correct, the SLS is also just across Clifton Way and Le Doux Rd. from the BH city limits, and Mr. C’s is about a half block south of the city limit. The W, on the other hand… oof.

  7. @ Greg – “West Beverly” can be a thing because we have a street called West Beverly. But “West Beverly Hills” is definitely not a thing, or least I have never heard anyone mention those three words together to identify a neighborhood. Starwood is just making crap up like Nick said.

  8. @Greg, 20+ years ago would have been right in the middle of the Beverly Hills 90210 era, so maybe they started using that term for non-locals. Who knows. Either way, loved this post! And shame on Starwood, in particular, it seems.

  9. The ‘Westin Georgetown’ used to be ‘Westin Grand’ until 2010.

    A decade ago there were 3 Sheratons in Arlington/Alexandria.

    * Sheraton Pentagon South, which wasn’t the closest Sheraton to the Pentagon.
    * That was the Sheraton National.
    * Sheraton National wasn’t the closest Sheraton to National airport.
    * That was the Sheraton Crystal City.

    The Sheraton Pentagon South had been a converted Ramada and left the Sheraton chain in 2005, clearing things up a LITTLE bit…

  10. @Gary Leff: That’s right! I’d forgotten it was the “Westin Grand.”

    I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn becomes the Marriott Georgetown South…

  11. This is why I ALWAYS look at the map before I book any hotel. For me public transport is usually quite important or at least location near the things I plan to see and do.

  12. #Nick. My daughter showed this to me and inquired about what actually happened with the Four Seasons. They actually came to BH with plans for the hotel in what is now known as the Tech Zone (Burton Way to the South, Civic Center Dr. to the north and the library to the west). It used to be known as the Industrial Zone. It turned into a major fight within the city between pro development and anti development factions. Ultimately, the city council turned it down (but not without threatened lawsuits and general community upheaval). The biggest concern, was of course, the increased traffic it would engender. Not to be deterred, the developers purchased the land on Doheny, and built the hotel using the “at Beverly Hills” distinction. So they got to capitalize on the Beverly Hills aura without putting one cent of revenue into the city coffers. This same scenario repeated itself (with different results) with both the Montage as well as the upcoming Waldorf Astoria.

  13. I live a few blocks from the W Westwood…. sorry West Beverly Hills. Perhaps I should adjus tmy own address to reflect this geographical change! I have no idea why the supposed cache for Beverly Hills still exists. I agree that Westwood has an identity of it’s own and is certainly NOT West Beverly Hills!

  14. The Westin “Chicago Northwest” is another good one. At least most of the examples above are in adjacent neighborhoods or cities, but this one is like putting a hotel in Calabasas and calling it Beverly Hills.

  15. I am not sure how much research you did on the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown but they consistently market themselves as being part of Georgetown, contradicting your commendation in the post. If you check out their website at http://www.fairmont.com/washington/ you will find this.

    I stayed at this hotel in December and fully expected it would be located in Georgetown when booking, only to find out it is a good 10-15min brisk walk to central Georgetown. Luckily the hotel offers complimentary car service to Platinum President’s Club members so we were okay, but confusing none the less.

  16. @MWhite: First paragraph of the Fairmont’s website states: “Located in Washington’s fashionable West End and adjacent to historic Georgetown, Fairmont Washington, D.C. welcomes guests in capital style. A sunlit urban oasis that soothes the spirit, the Fairmont is the perfect hotel for business or leisure travel.”

    It seems the Fairmont is definitely trying to capitalize on the Georgetown name, but it’s fairly straightforward about its genuine location.

  17. The funny thing is, the W Westwood did this rebranding just weeks after the Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood only a few blocks away (and very much in Westwood) rebranded as the Palomar Los Angeles-Beverly Hills.

  18. @DWT: OMG, I didn’t know this at all, but this is even more egregious. The Palomar isn’t even pretending to be in “West Beverly Hills” — the website first acknowledges it’s “adjacent” to Beverly Hills and then goes on to say:

    “A Beverly Hills Boutique Hotel In The Center Of It All

    Glitz. Glamour. And a very enviable address. Our Los Angeles boutique hotel is adjacent to Beverly Hills, giving you easy access to the city’s best. You came here to see and be seen, and from our central location you can do it like a true Angeleno. If Rodeo Drive isn’t your bag, go a few short miles to the beach or walk to UCLA. Incredible museums, restaurants and nightlife are just beyond our door.
    We’ll make sure you’re surrounded by style and comfort. Our Beverly Hills hotel has first-class amenities and personalized service that will make your stay memorable, no matter if it’s for work or play. Our generously sized guestrooms and suites are designed to soothe and make life easy.”

    Ridiculous, Kimpton!

  19. Having previously lived in LA a long time and worked in Century City, there is no terminology or vernacular for West Beverly Hills, it does not exist. As others have noted, “Beverly Hills Adjacent” is fairly common in the real estate market, but that never applies to Westwood or even to Century City. Westwood is Westwood and is always described as such; it is generally a desirable location due to the neighborhood and UCLA campus. I would add that Century City and Westwood are neighborhoods in the City of Los Angeles and are not municipalities. Same for Hollywood, but West Hollywood, like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, is a municipality. And Marina Del Rey is unincorporated LA County.

  20. At least it’s only a 20 min drive. I’d be happy if that was the case with Ryanair… The joke here is that if they ever start flying to Amsterdam, they’ll call it London East 😉

  21. One of my favourites is the Four Points By Sheraton San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the context of this discussion it will be clear that this is of course not in San Francisco, but about ten miles away in Emeryville close(ish) to the *other* end of the Bay Bridge, but this factoid might not exactly jump out when you’re booking.

    If the bridge were actually called the San Francisco Bay Bridge then you could defend it as a pedant, but the bridge is the “Bay Bridge” to everyone and the “San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge” officially, so I can’t even defend it on those grounds.

    But hey, it’s only fifteen minutes from San Francisco on the bus. Pity the bus only comes once an hour (at some random time bearing no resemblance to the timetable because it’s already spent an hour doing the back streets of Oakland).

  22. Marriott Residence Inn Central Park in New York. It’s at the corner of 54th St and Broadway. You can see Central Park (quite well in fact) from the north-facing rooms but the name is not entirely honest with respect to the location.

  23. It’s not just hotels that do this. The building where I live is called Summit at Madison Park. Madison Park is a rather toney area of Seattle….but it’s at least 2-3 miles away.

  24. I find this really interesting, and perhaps it irks me more since I live in LA County and know that Westwood is where both the W and the Kimpton are, and that they are most definitely not Beverly Hills. I didn’t know the Kimpton had recently rebranded. What’s interesting is that I used to work in Westwood and we’d regularly recommend the Kimpton for our visiting colleagues. Now if we told them the hotel, they’d think they were farther from our office because of the name.

    And as Carl says, Beverly Hills is a distinct municipality, while Westwood is not. I am aware that the Four Seasons isn’t in BH proper, but that doesn’t seem to bother me as much since it’s just across the border.

    I have noticed when looking at hotel properties, that often the geographic name descriptions are misleading (that’s why I always check google maps). The geographic naming convention to say your property is in Georgetown or Beverly Hills, the examples most cited here, must mean more bookings? Otherwise why do it? Although once travelers arrive and discover they are not “in” Beverly Hills or Georgetown, does that lead to bad feelings about the entire experience?

  25. The only people that don’t know that West Beverly Hills isn’t actually a thing are the exact type of people they’re trying to attract. Gullible tourists.

    The only people who know that WBH doesn’t exist are generally already well traveled or live in LA.

  26. @Gary Leff and @Nick: Gary is definitely right about the Westin Georgetown being the Westin Grand. I was a regular during the time that the name changed and gently ribbed some of the people working there that I knew decently well. Washington Marriott Georgetown is two blocks even further away, and as of 2011 it was still named the Washington Marriott (no Georgetown).

    One of the funnier ‘hotel geography’ quirks in that neighborhood is that the Best Western Georgetown and the Renaissance Dupont are next door to each other (and that block is a lot easier to call Dupont than Georgetown). And maybe a couple hundred feet further from Dupont is the Washington Marriott Georgetown, so you can’t even say its just two companies playing with the geography differently.

    One of the problems though, that Beverly Hills doesn’t really have I don’t think, is that there really are no good hotels in Georgetown, and certainly no chain hotels actually in Georgetown.

  27. @Mike: mostly true re: Georgetown, although the Ritz and the Capella are both luxury chain properties in the heart of it.

  28. How many of the hotels that cluster around SNA John Wayne Airport in Orange County California describe themselves as “Newport Beach”??
    The beach is 7 miles away.

  29. Hilton’s “Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder” is actually in Pojoaque, a solid 20-minute drive north of Santa Fe.

  30. As for the “Westin Georgetown”, the name is a bit inaccurate, but relatively few out of towners would know where a “Westin West End” would be.

    Indeed, I’d rather find myself in the West End, with the Fairmont and the Park Hyatt, over Georgetown. It is convenient to downtown and a pretty serene setting.

  31. I’m with Nick on this one.. esp. with how much effort the W put into “West Beverly Hills.” I don’t mind a little bending of the truth, ie: Residence Inn Times Square is 1 block over from Times Sq. (6th vs. Broadway). Close enough. BUT, it should be a reasonable distance from the location.

    Another bad one is the Marriott Rochester Airport. It’s not in Rochester, nor is it near the airport. Nice hotel, just bad name.

  32. There are a few other hotels in Georgetown proper aside from the major players (the Ritz-Carlton, the Capella, the Graham, the Four Seasons), though none of them are chain hotels. There used to be another, the Latham, which went the way of the dodo due to earthquake damage being exacerbated by over-ambitious parking garage tunneling and almost took the building that is now the Graham with it. (Prior to becoming The Graham, the hotel that had been on the same site had had to shut down so they could *jack up* an entire section of the building that had settled significantly downward, due to the same issues that condemned the Latham.)

    Going north along Wisconsin Avenue out of Georgetown, towards and into Maryland, it seems like half the people in whatever the next jurisdiction northward that is perceived as less desirable have taken to calling where they live “North [Immediate-Neighbor-to-South]” versus where they actually are. People will say they live in North Georgetown instead of Glover Park, people living in Rockville will say they live in “North Bethesda,” etc., to the point of absurdity.

    Of course, you also get every hotel that’s vaguely anywhere in the vicinity of IAD labeling itself with some form of “airport” or “Dulles,” even when they’re at least half an hour’s drive in traffic away from the place, so it’s not as though Virginia hoteliers are without fault.

    I wonder how many travelers get put off by hotels making grandiose location claims?

  33. I’m just West of New York City here in California
    They are nothing more than misleading blood sucking fraudsters trying to persuade unsuspecting naïve guests who may not be familiar with the area
    They are no different then street whores or those that sell lose 20lbs overnight diet pill claims
    In fact the street walkers are probably more honest. Let the buyer beware

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