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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.

Ace Hotel

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 07.01.57While 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.

Citizen M

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 15.06.13I 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.

Z Hotels

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 15.34.51 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.

Casa Camper

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 16.03.51To 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.


Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 18.34.13But 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





6 thoughts on “Hotels that do it differently

  1. Elisabeth Martinez says:

    Loved this post and you’re absolutely right in describing new trends and 2015 customers requirements when travelling.

    I did like Casa Camper Barcelona since its opening a few years ago. My colleagues in the industry looked at me as I was weird because I liked the concept change.

    Reading your post makes me feel now as a ‘visionaire’. I was right:)

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for the nice comment Elizabeth.

  2. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    I get so excited when I see spaces like this – esp. those that incorporate art. Remarkably it’s some name brands doing that too – the Hilton at the Conv. Center in Columbus, Ohio, was an absolute delightful surprise! Such intentional art incorporated throughout .. including a panel on the ceiling above the bed. I loved everything about it — the comfort, the appeal to the senses.

    And as an aging Boomer with a disability, I look at all these and wonder if they are truly for healthy, active Millennials only .. with the low furniture, tight spaces, etc. I looked at the food station at the Z and thought: on my scooter – or for a person in a wheelchair – that is not even remotely able to be reached.

    No, I’m not a one note planner. However, I find the note I strike for accessibility for all is one no one else is and someone must.

    So how can we have all this in one? It can’t be that difficult can it?

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Joan – I love hotels that collaborate with local artists and afford them the opportunity to exhibit their work.

  3. Bianca Cuperus says:

    It is so great to see all these new hotel concepts.
    For years the hotel industry was very conservative. Many large hotelchain expanded with borring ‘cookie cutter’ hotels. Times have changed! The industry really started to listen to their guests. What do the want and/or need? How can we be different and offer a great guest experience with extra value without the extra cost.

    In Amsterdam Zoku will open this summer. This new hotel concept is a hybride apertment hotel. It’s a neighborhood with private smart lofts and shared social spaces for the travelling professional. It’s a relaxed place to live, work and socialise – while wiring you into the city. You choose: from do-it-yourself to customised. We support your ambitions and provide you with a base of operations, inspiration and contacts. The longer you stay, the more you’ll get out of it.

    Stay tuned for more information on the very cool new concept: Zoku

    1. padraicino says:

      Bianca – thanks for this. Really appreciate your comment and am really interested in hearing more about Zoku.

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