Three independent hotels in Europe show there is space for entrepreneurs to fulfill all that is adventurous, good and quirky.
LONDON—If these three very unique hotel concepts starred in a Hollywood Western film, you could call them The Adventurous, The Good and The Quirky.
The properties were featured at last month’s Boutique & Lifestyle Hotel Summit.
Five years ago, four entrepreneurs from The Netherlands stumbled on the abandoned village of Borgo di Gello in the eastern region of Tuscany and decided to turn it into a hotel named Novanta 90.
As the name hints, the hotel is open for 90 days a year, although it can be rented out to groups and events in the offseason, during which locals step in as temporary managers.
Leonard Crijns and Mart Hijmans are two of those intrepid explorers who discovered the village left much as it was when the last inhabitant moved away in the 1950s.
Raising capital is an ongoing process, mainly taking place when the hotel is closed during the offseason.
“One local owns the village, and we work with local partners,” said Hijmans, co-owner and founder. “Our ambition is based on what we find in the village. We occasionally find something that could be a new room. It really is organic.”
Investment comes from word of mouth and events staged in Amsterdam and in other markets, including one recent funding drive in Yorkshire, England, said Crijns, the property’s other co-owner and its GM. Hijmans added the hotel’s guests are investors in their own way.
“Guests bring their friends. We want everyone who leaves (Novanta 90) to be an investor in some manner, including monetary micro-investing,” Hijmans said. “Or investing as an artist in residence. Originally, we had no money, so why not swap stays for art. Sometimes the art is really crap, but hey.”
Crijns said plans are under way to grow the property, partly in response to a large group booking in November.
Novanta 90 has 15 rooms, including a tree house in a 200-year-old oak.
“Rooms are scattered around. We want to grow to 25 to 30 rooms, so we can host up to 100 persons,” Hijmans said.
Guest experiences include archery, making bread, hunting for truffles and eating meals at communal tables.
“There is a river, and it is possible to jump off the tops of waterfalls,” Crijns said. “In some of the buildings, we found furniture, and the locals have become engaged, offering cooking and Italian lessons.”
Moored at the edge of London’s Royal Victoria Dock close to London City Airport, the 148-room Good Hotel is a floating hotel concept also launched in Amsterdam.
In 2016, the 17.6-million-pound hotel was towed to London, where it will remain until 2021. An important part of the concept is charitable work, which includes offering long-term unemployed locals hospitality training and using revenue to help fund charity Niños de Guatemala, which is building three schools in the Central American country.
The hotel’s GM Liutauras Vaitkevicius said what started with the small act of buying a girl a pair of shoes expanded as founders pondered what more could be done.
“The founder hit on the idea of opening a not-for-profit hotel,” Vaitkevicius said. “The move to the London Borough of Newham, which was urgently looking for businesses to move in, was an obvious one for a digital-nomad hotel.”
Vaitkevicius said the hotel is doing plenty of good to live up to its name.
“All profits are re-invested in the training, development and future of NGOs,” he said. “We think we are doing good as a hotel, and we (are) quite smug about that. We are hoteliers, a role we take very seriously, but also we are a movement. We do not allow short-term gains to compromise our long-term goals, and we try to inspire others around us to do the same.”
Vaitkevicius said staff turnover can be a problem, although he said the “good ones, the ones who understand what we are doing, tend to stay with us.”
“Explaining the concept in the right way is the challenge,” he said. “One way we do this is to always send a thank-you letter to guests stating how much from their stay has gone to good causes.”
London’s smallest grand hotel occupies a spot on the border of London districts The City and Shoreditch.
Renovated in 2017, The Napoleon Hotel & Bars consists of three bars and one—count it—one hotel room, which co-owner Thomas Aske said came as an afterthought.
“We had the top-floor room and did not know what to do with it,” Aske said. “A fourth bar? No. So we thought why not just convert it into a room? It took a little while to catch on, but now it is mostly sold out.”
Aske has set up bars, trained bar staff and been the brand ambassador for drinks companies.
With the motto “There is room” (literally), the single guestroom comes with breakfast waiting in a dumbwaiter, drink tickets for the three bars and a menu for bar service.
Check-in is at one of the bars, The Devil’s Darling, which is a cocktail bar. Sack specializes in sherry and occupies a room mirroring a Spanish “taverna.” Black Rock has a long oaken communal table and is known for its whisky, having converted to age the tipple and drinks cabinets arranged around taste and style—heavy or light, fruity or peaty, aged in sherry or oak casks, et cetera.
Art proliferates the space, with The Devil’s Darling having a large painting of the coronation of Napoleon and Communist Era-style posters adapted with humorous slogans such as “Stop! This is how to mix a martini!”