By Richard Dean
Presenter, Business Breakfast
Here are seven killer ideas for hoteliers in 2015. Thanks to Nikita Sarka (pictured) and the Hotels Innovate team for bringing so many cool people together to share their thoughts!
1. Build Sustainable Hotels – Young Consumers Will Pay Extra
Holley Chant, who heads up Corporate Sustainability at KEO International Consultants, says hoteliers must build sustainable hotels for LOHAS. Who are these people? They’re people who live a Life Of Health And Sustainability. When they go to the supermarket, they don’t buy the cheapest washing liquid – they buy the most environmentally friendly. It’s the same when they book hotels. As such, hotels should embrace sustainable practices – then market this ‘greenness’ aggressively to LOHAS travellers.
Based in Abu Dhabi, Chant has a team of 25 sustainability consultants working in MENA. It’s not just hotels that must embrace sustainability – she’s working on the Zaha Hadid soccer stadium in Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Chant says that FIFA, for all its critics, scores high marks for having strict green building standards.
She concludes: “Millennials will develop brand affinity to hospitality companies that understand that luxury, fun and adventure can have an environmentally and socially responsible footprint.”
2. Embrace ‘CFO Sustainability’
Sustainability can only work if makes money. “Unless you can prove a real bottom line impact to the Chief Financial Officer, it is not going to happen,” says Gundeep Singh, Founder and CEO, The Change Initiative.
3. Build Funky + Informal Hotels to Attract Modern Nomads
Antony Lawrence of Latitude Agency helped developed VIDA, a four star hotel brand for Emaar Hospitality. The first hotel, near Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, is brilliant – the interior design firm LW won best hotel design for the property at the 2014 Commercial Interior Design Awards.
It works not just because of the design, but because everyone involved in developing and running VIDA ‘gets’ the brand values. They set out to attract guests Lawrence describes as modern nomads. Everyone worked and works towards attracting them – designers, managers, marketers, the F&B team and – crucially – HR.
A good example: the service is very different from this “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir” deferential service of Dubai’s five star hotels. Staff were recruited from Eastern Europe rather than Asia, because culturally Eastern Europeans have a more informal, matey approach. Modern Nomads like this. Emaar is planning a global roll out of the brand.
“The boutique lifestyle sector didn’t exist in Dubai,” says Philippe Zuber, COO of Emaar Hospitality. It was a massive renovation of an old hotel that was less than 10 years old but clearly in need of an overhaul. He says the success of VIDA proves several things: the needs of the new generation are very different, innovation can give you an edge in a highly competitive market, and investing in renovation pays off.
Zuber says they got one thing wrong. Emaar thought Europeans and Indians would embrace the hotel, but Middle East visitors would dislike the informal, four-star concept. Not so – Arab travellers love not just the hotel but the F&B outlets.
4. Create Social Media Buzz with A Unique Look & Feel
How do you launch an upmarket cafe in a massively overcrowded market such as Dubai? Sajith Ansar knows how because he’s just done it: The Pantry, close to the city’s Safa Park, has fast become a magnet for high spending foodies. Sajith’s company Idea Spice helped with the branding, while a sister company did the interior design and fit out.
Here’s the secret sauce: develop a unique look and feel through design and materials, with a name and a brand to match. Of course food and service are important, but the look & feel set the tone. “When you’re an independent brand you can’t afford to spend heavily on marketing, so you need to use social media.” If you create a cool-looking venue, people will visit, they’ll take selfies, they’ll post them online and suddenly you’ve got a social media buzz. Job done.
5. Five Secrets of a Successful Master Plan
Philippe Zuber is the COO of Emaar Hospitality, whose hotels include the Armani in Burj Khalifa and the four-star VIDA brand. Emaar creates brilliant mixed used real estate developments, and while they’re not all as spectacular as the world’s tallest tower, they all work well. Philippe says five common factors underpin the success:
i) Architecture creates value. The architecture makes a development visible. Burj Khalifa is an obvious centrepiece to Emaar’s Downtown development in Dubai, known as The Centre of Now.
ii) Create a vibrant community. A hotel should not stand alone; it works best when it’s based on a master plan including residential, retail and offices. This “creates life” and avoids seasonality.
iii) Place making. “The success of the Centre of Now is the dancing fountain,” says Zuber. Emaar constantly strives to create a buzz with live events and performances.
iv) The public space. This means spending time and money on the quality of the parks, the art on display, the quality of the parking. “The hospitality development doesn’t work if the local population doesn’t buy into it.” You need locals in the bars, restaurants and pushing strollers around the pavements.
v) Culture. “Opera Dubai is the last piece of the Centre of Now,” says Zuber.
6. Comfortable Beds Are a Given – Hotels Must Stimulate Emotions
“Having a comfortable bed and good air conditioning and a good breakfast are important, but they are a given. Customers are looking for more than that – you have to stimulate their emotions,” says Emaar’s Zuber. Health and fitness is increasingly important to the way people live their lives. “And art is becoming a big story – we have many projects where art is taking a very important part. We are looking at the emerging market of Emirati talent, particularly in graphics and photography.”
Local F&B brands are increasingly important. “It used to be that Dubai would import restaurant concepts. This is still important, but it’s no longer the only option. La Serre is one example – it was born in Dubai, developed by a local chef in Dubai.” (La Serre is an independent restaurant in Emaar’s VIDA hotel).
The lobby lounge is becoming the most important space in a hotel. With wifi it is becoming the business centre. It is a meeting space. It is a social space. The F&B in the lobby lounge is becoming key.
7. Designers Must Create Memorable Spaces and Experiences
“Make the visit memorable.” So says Filippo Sona, who heads up the hospitality division at Colliers in Dubai. “Only with the best in class architects and interior designers can you deliver that. It is the experience that guests record on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.” Think about what people in their teens and 20s will want from a hotel, because people are getting wealthier younger. These people are digital natives, so integrating technology is key.