by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
The Sharing Economy
The advent of the sharing economy has been game-changing for the hospitality industry with legions of global travellers abandoning what they consider the bland consistency of hotels for the bright “welcome home” of Airbnb. But this denizen of the sharing economy hasn’t been the only game-changer in town. Within the hotel industry itself there’s been a radical step-change, initially evident only within the independent, boutique hotel segment but, increasingly, happening at the heart of global chain hotels as new zeitgeist brands get launched every quarter. Here are 5 relatively new hotel concepts that are riding high on the waves of change and offering a truly alternative hospitality experience for today’s intrepid explorers.
While Ace Hotel dates right back to 1999 – a late flowering of the grunge movement in Seattle – its expansion is relatively recent into the cosmopolitan LA, New York and London. Ace is not formulaic, endeavouring to match hotel style with neighbourhood location. It favours edgy areas and, what it terms “challenged” buildings – the original Seattle property was previously a Salvation Army halfway house. All of this, of course, chimes perfectly with a prevailing hipster culture that’s now becoming more and more mainstream. Initially positioned as an “affordable” alternative, being achingly cool now comes at a high price with the London and New York properties achieving premium rates.
And, of course, Ace is indeed trés cool with a permanent lobby buzz that mainstream hotels rarely witness. It replicates the classic Starbucks “third place” and attracts locals in their droves who lap up the vintage jazz or the ironic easy listening – played on vinyl, of course – while quaffing vegan snacks or sipping craft beer. It has its finger on the pulse of the new traveller who wants local, neighbourhood-style experiences, not dull, sanitized formulae.
I hadn’t heard of Citizen M until a recent conversation with Bryan Davern, GM of The Dean, Dublin’s own brand new hipster hangout. Originating in The Netherlands (where many weird and wonderful things start!), Citizen M offers “affordable luxury” and a “new kind of hotel”. Now in Glasgow, London, Paris and New York as well as The Netherlands the concept pivots around small but perfectly formed rooms that focus on the essentials – comfy bed, rain shower, free movies, free WiFi and ” … absolutely no trouser presses, bellboys, or stupid pillow chocolates”.
The public spaces of the hotel are configured like a “living room” and are crammed with interesting art pieces, magazines, books etc. The brand value proposition is clear: Citizen M is all about replicating how we live at home – we watch movies and sleep in our bedrooms but hang out in the living spaces. It provides a perfect step up for Gen Y travellers graduating from hostels where sleeping rooms are super compact and all life happens around the communal areas.
If Ace and Citizen M emphasise the lobby, then Z is all about delivering a quality guest room experience at a central city location for a truly affordable price. With 3 London hotels (and another opening in Shoreditch this year), along with one each in Glasgow and Liverpool, Z is all about the “urbanite stay”: wet room, bespoke hand-crafted beds, 40” Samsung LED High Definition TVs, docking stations and free Wi-Fi, all for well under £100.
The lobby / restaurant / bar areas that define conventional hotels have been disposed of at Z to be replaced by a communal area where check-in takes place and where breakfast and snacks are available around a large table. Pre-packed food has also been eliminated and replaced by freshly baked breads and croissants, porridge, muesli, artisan cheeses and charcuterie. All locally sourced and organic, of course.
To date Casa Camper is just two hotels, one in Barcelona and one in Berlin. Both are owned by Camper, known predominantly as designers and manufacturers of quality footwear. Both hotels offer minimalist style guest room spaces of 30sqm+ and complimentary access to lounges where healthy snacks are available all day. Bicycles are also available for use by guests. Despite being owned by a global corporation, CasaCamper retains all of the feel and focus of an edgy, independent hotel.
Casa Camper is all about applying to hospitality the core values of the parent company. These values are clearly stated on the website:
Casa Camper brings Camper spirit and values to the hotel world, creating an innovative concept with a high degree of functionality and friendly aesthetics.
At the heart of the Camper philosophy is a robust, strongly worded commitment to sustainability which, clearly, goes way beyond the “green washing” that many hospitality companies engage in:
Camper’s commitment to the environment is reflected in the water management of Casa Camper. A water recycling system cleans shower and bath water purely biomechanically and produces water which is re-used in the toilet. Water consumption is lowered by up to 50%, contributing towards the conservation of a precious natural resource.
But new hotel offerings and experiences are not monopolised exclusively by the independent sector. Practically all of the global chains are busily trying to launch new “lifestyle” brands to meet the requirements of the new traveller. These new brands are being positioned across the entire spectrum ranging from luxury (Ritz Carlton and Edition) to affordable (IHG and Hotel Indigo). I spent a couple of days in Paris this week getting up close and personal with Accor’s lifestyle brand, Pullman. I really liked what I saw.
With Sofitel, Grand Mercure and Gallery M, Pullman belongs to Accor’s upscale, luxury segment but eschews conventional notions of luxury in favour of a much more zeitgeisty fusion of business and leisure (termed, rather unfortunately, “bleisure”). It’s a business hotel for a new business age where traditional boundaries are blurred and oxymorons reign supreme – casual formality, shabby chic, elegant cool, laid back refinement.
Two of the Pullman properties in Paris (Montparnasse and Tour Effiel) are also piloting the brand’s new meeting product “The Business Playground” which sets out to foster creativity and stimulate innovation. Highly innovative in concept, this is a perfect example of a hotel brand that wants to be different and is prepared to invest in mould breaking projects.
Throughout Pullman you get spaciousness, lots of daylight, massive video walls, performance kitchens, high speed free WiFi, contemporary fine art, comfortable hang-out areas.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique marketing consultancy working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy for MICE