Independent Commentator on Travel, Hotels and Design.
You spend a lot of time with hoteliers from all around the world. What keeps them awake at night?
There are two camps. e seasoned hotel general managers looking after branded hotels are losing sleep because of the inertia/slow-to-change attitudes of the big chains they are working for. Their CEOs are revising late into the night as the ever-increasing rate of brand segmentation creates new brands that they cannot even remember, let alone define or differentiate. On the other hand there are the innovators, most likely independent hoteliers, who are losing sleep because they are so involved in trying to work out how to bring the latest, “new and next” idea in the hospitality space to life. The management teams from Ace Hotels, 25hours Hotels and CitizenM are always running to deliver a different experience with their next opening.
You spend a lot of time in hotels around the world, working and playing. What keeps you up at night?
A good bar! The bar at the Plaza Athénée in Paris is a great example. The clever design of the recent stunning makeover by Jouin Manku, their second, brings more of the available space into play, even if the crowd are more likely to be wowed by the blue fabric cloud and the smoky resin of the new bar counter. Or, noisy air conditioning. Particularly in a hotel room where the windows don’t open and you have no choice if you want circulating air. Or you’re in the tropics and you can’t open the window for the bugs. But the reality is that nothing really keeps me awake at night. I’m lucky. Once I get horizontal, it’s lights out.
What excites you most about the hotel sector at present?
The innovators. The brave ones who stand at the edge and dare to do something different. Those who are reacting to the variable context of every journey that a guest may have. Those who recognise that the same guest may have very different needs from one trip to the next, and even within the same trip. Those who can react to what they see in front of them, rather than relying on the big data profile of a guest. The “real life” hoteliers. The real hosts who make travel a joy. Design. Design is a given, as the founder of Design Hotels, Claus Sendlinger, has been known to say. Which is not to say that design is not important. It’s just that it needs to be seen as part of the bigger experience. Designers can be part of the innovation, going a long way to enhancing the guest experience. And that can be directly in a haptic or visual way with the guest. Or it can be in a way that smart design creates the environment where hotel staff can better deliver a more memorable experience.
Who is challenging the status quo when it comes to business hotels?
Really what is a business hotel? No one ever went to a business hotel just to do business. With the rise of the bleisure (business and leisure) community and their mixing of work and play, hotels need to react to this dual need. The changing idea of what should be going on in the hotel lobby is in influenced by offers as varied as those from CitizenM and EDITION. Other disrupters include the peer-to-peer lodging providers such as Airbnb, OneFineStay and HouseTrip, and the rise of the designer hostels such as Generator, Superbude and Michelberger. They are pushing boundaries as to what a hotel means and making travellers rethink what they really need. Fortunately for the big, slow hotel groups there are still plenty of punters who want 24-hour room service, a pool and the chance to add to their loyalty programme points balance. I am always astonished by the importance of these schemes to the seasoned traveller.
What new things do you see the next generation of hoteliers bringing to the hotel space today?
Where to start? How about a less serious take on hospitality? Hoteliers and hotel designers having fun! 25hours Hotels do this well. Take a look at the “greenhouse” framework design by Werner Aisslinger for the rooftop restaurant at the 25hours Bikini Berlin, the sailors’ “log books” at the 25hours Hafencity Hamburg or the play on denim at the 25hours Levis, in Frankfurt. It’s tongue-in-cheek, irreverent and raises a genuine smile. Hotel as a hub – mixed-use developments can always do with a hotel component to kick-start the initiative. Just outside Marrakech, Redha Moali has a cultural and arts centre at the heart of his laid-back Fellah Hotel community. Les Harras in Strasbourg sees a techy hub for biotech start-ups related to the nearby hospitals included in the transformation of the city’s Royal Stables. Hotel Fontevraud in the Loire Valley is the keystone to the positioning of a much bigger cultural experience that is already involving loads of really local suppliers – from soap to honey. Specialisation – a focus on a tightly defined audience, be that an artistic one like the Yes! Hotels in Greece or the specialist health care hotel, Lanserhof Tegernsee, catering for the medical tourism market. Similar, watered-down versions of this are coming from brands such as Element in Frankfurt from Starwood and Even Hotels by IHG.