by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua
Radical Disruption in the hospitality sector
Lokal Hotel in Old Town Philadelphia is yet another example of the radical disruption that’s been tearing up the hospitality sector ever since Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky used digital technology to rent floor space in their apartment during a busy city wide conference in San Francisco back in 2008.
Initially the poster child for mavens, nomads and mavericks, Airbnb is now a mainstream $38 billion company. It has given the hotel sector a major run for its money and unleashed a plethora of non-traditional lodging experiences on the marketplace, like Lokal in Philadelphia.
Lokal Boutique Hotel, Philadelphia
Lokal recalls Airbnb in that all pre-arrival interaction is via cheery e mails which also provide you with access details to your room. Like Airbnb, there’s no check-in desk just a digital pad into which you enter your various codes. Lokal also echoes the design ethos of Ace Hotel with its hard wood floors, bare plaster walls and high-end in-room tech – Sonos, AppleTV, Netflix etc. So it’s tech savvy and exceedingly cool.
I stayed at Lokal Hotel on 3rd Street and got the additional benefit of a city centre location that’s in beautiful transition from dingy to delightful, thanks to the influx of creative types attracted by the low rents available in what used to be the unloved part of the city. Savvy developers are now all over Old Town foraging for old industrial buildings to turn into apartments and high end design showrooms. Lokal is actually an example of this rejuvenation.
Lokal Old Town is just 6 “flats”, 3 x 1 bedroom lofts and 3 x 2 bedroom lofts. I stayed in Billy which is accessed up a very steep stairwell and located on the second floor. Billy (aka William Penn, a founding father of Philadelphia) has a light filled, voluminous interior thanks to 3 oversized sash widows overlooking 3rd street.
Wide beamed, hard wood floors, unpainted unadorned plaster walls and dark blue skirting boards, architraves and window frames convey a relaxing, uncluttered feeling. The bed is dressed in neutral linens and and the overall design ethos is defined by re-cycled retro furniture paired with a contemporary full kitchen in dark blue.
Lokal emerges in the details
Lokal really emerges in the detail – the brass trimmed light fittings, the monogrammed pour-over coffee jug, the duross & langel bathroom amenities, the well thumbed ancient volumes set nonchalantly on the night stand. The in-room tech is faultless too – Sonos , AppleTV, Netflix and all the information you need on a tablet. I loved the leather-bound guest directory with more dining and cocktails recommendations than you could follow-up on in half a year.
The surrounding neighbour is precisely where you’d love to live if you could afford the creeping rents in Old Town. There are still some ancient merchants selling nails by the pound in a pick ‘n mix that also includes high end design studios, tiny art galleries, artisan liquor stores and top restaurants. To avoid the high cost of alcohol licences, some of the great restaurants are BYOB and you can easily find dedicated wine stores where you can source your favourite dinner tipple.
Lokal does precisely what its name suggests. It allows your business trip to Philly transform into an intriguing destination encounter that enriches you and leaves your refreshed – not the typical outcome following 2 nights in a traditional hotel.
Bleisure – awful word, sound concept
In ways Lokal and its many sisters and brothers (last year I stayed at Wm.Mulherin’s Sons in Fishtown) typify the “bleisure” trend that, despite its appalling name, describes how the borders between business and leisure are increasingly blurred. These days when we travel for business we demand more than a featureless, beige, bland hotel experience. We want to feel the uniqueness of where we are, not be cocooned in vastly over-priced banalities.
Interestingly, “bleisure” is actually called out as a key trend in last year’s Incentive Travel Industry Index, the global bell weather for the future of incentive travel. When asked about the factors having the greatest positive or negative impact on Incentive Travel, “the increased tendency to combine business and leisure” was the 2nd highest ranked positive on the planning of incentive travel experiences over the next two years.
Implications for incentive travel professionals?
So how will “bleisure” impact on incentive travel experiences over the next couple of years? I believe the impact will be far reaching influencing overall event design, destination and hotel selection, type and choice of programme activities. To illustrate this let’s take one component of the progamme, the meeting.
For decades, incentive programmes have oscillated and strayed either side of the mid point in terms of the inclusion of a “meeting” component in the programme. According to the results of ITII 2019, just under half of incentive travel programmes globally spend 4 hours or more in meetings during the incentive programme.
I think this will change as we incorporate more creative meeting formats into incentive travel programmes. So there’ll be “more meetings, Jim, but not as we know them”. The meeting or learning component will be more seamlessly integrated into the overall event design so it won’t seem like a meeting at all.
Accommodation experiences will change too as qualifiers continue to seek the type of local access and encounter facilitated by accommodation providers like Lokal. While Lokal in its present iteration is really an FIT or individual product, it could also work for smaller motivational programmes or Board of Directors brainstorming sessions. I think the point is there’s a new wind blowing and it’s shaking off the dead leaves and branches of old style, lazy planning. A new generation of qualifiers is not incentivised or motivated by yesterday’s glitz and glamour.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist advisory working with destinations, hotels, venues, agencies and associations in the Business Events sector on strategy, marketing and training. Pádraic also serves as Chief Marketing Officer at SITE, the “I” in MICE.