Hoteliers in the lifestyle sector need a "startup" mindset to adjust on the fly to rapidly shifting trends.
BERLIN—To lifestyle-sector hoteliers looking to provide an alternative to mainstream, large-scale brand accommodations, a “startup” mindset means disdaining brand standards, allowing staff to be themselves and knowing that lifestyle trends change even faster than general hotel trends.
Overlaying all of that is the need to continually add value to the brand and asset, sources said, adding that it’s not enough to have a lifestyle idea that fits the current zeitgeist but is not sustainable.
Speaking during a panel at the International Hotel Investment Forum, four hoteliers represented a cross segmentation of the modern lifestyle hotel. Two of them currently have no opened properties; the other two each have only one.
Hans Meyer, co-founder of Zoku and one of the original team at CitizenM, said his new brand is focusing on growing in key European cities, with a substantial tech element. The first Zoku opened last year in Amsterdam.
“We still have to find the optimization of stay length and yield, but we’ve been very well-received by the market,” Meyer said.
Olivia Byrne opened her Eccleston Square Hotel in 20111 with her brother and fellow company director James Byrne, turning a budget hotel in a Grade II-listed building into a property where classic elements merge with the gadgetry many travelers now regard as vital.
Adding tech has to be done with a firm idea as to what is needed and what will last on travelers’ wish lists, Byrne said.
“At the end of the day, we are sleep merchants. We sell sleep, so we concentrated first on the beds, but we were the first to hit all the tech touch points—3D TVs, iPad docking stations, smart-glass walls to enhance space, which is a challenge in a London hotel,” she said.
But, she added, “it is important not to use technology to get rid of staff and service.”
The panelists all agreed it’s important to tailor hotels to meet new, changing lifestyles, while also keeping sustainability, value and classic hotel stewardship at heart.
Chris Penn, founder of SteelHotels, previously was managing director of the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch. His latest project will target what he called lifestyle’s “human form” to create the “first sports performance hotel in the (United Kingdom).”
“We see sport as a catalyst for this, to develop an ecosystem that can be turned into urban hotels … with deep connections to professional sports persons and executives, and physical and cognitive wellness,” said Penn, himself a triathlete.
“This could be in part of an existing hotel, but our preferred method is to own the whole journey, to provide an escape but within an hour and a half from London,” he said.
Jean-Pierre Bandeira, co-founder and CEO of Light Human Hotel, previously served as VP of business development, hotels and residential, for design studio Yoo Design.
His new hotel concept, he said, includes giving space to the staff, and comfort to owners through flat fees and partnerships with spas and other offerings to further take the pressure off capital.
“We are not reinventing the wheel but putting people first to provide the fundamentals to connect families to our properties,” Bandeira said.
“To be innovative you have to think like startups,” he said, adding that he has signed eight owners.
The first Light Human Hotel will open in Corsica in November, Bandeira said, followed in December by a Miami property. On the radar are London, New York City, Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo.
Keys, stays and ages
Because guest fads and lifestyle choices change frequently, the panelists agreed that knowing how to position properties, let alone brands, takes on more urgency.
“What is really important is to think long-term, to when you can add value,” Byrne said.
The challenge, Meyer said, is keeping the integrity of the product over time. Since the inception of Zoku, he said, his team has interviewed guests for an hour and a half each day to gauge their preferences.
That same care needs to be taken in operations, the panelists said.
“It’s old-fashioned thinking to want to (classify people into stereotypes),” Meyer said. “I know very old-fashioned people who are 30,” Meyer said.
“My dad is far more high-tech than I am,” Byrne added.
“New generations are focused on collaboration and sharing,” Meyer said.
In many ways, this new breed of hotelier seems to be less affected by trends than perhaps mainstream brand providers are, the panelists added.
“To be able to change, you need to be on top of your consumers. But in the hotel industry over the last five years, what change has there really been? Free Wi-Fi?” Meyer said, adding that the major challenge centers around design.
Penn agreed, saying “any new concept based around physical design, that can be dangerous. But around the human, that is less of a trend or fashion. What is wanted is an evolutionary mindset, adapting yourself and continuing the journey.”