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How to move out of the laboratory and on to the global market?

At the 19th edition of the Global Lodging Forum, the theme of new hotel concepts was touched upon at a round table with representatives from innovative products such as The Student Hotel, Meininger Hostel, AirBnB, Yotel and Room Mate.

Hubert Viriot, CEO, Yotel 

Yotel is a hotel brand positioned on the lifestyle segment. The idea of cabins (measuring 15m²) comes straight from airlines which manage to offer a comfortable luxury experience in a very limited space in first class. It all depends on product design and how services are provided to customers. With hotels located near airports, occupancy rate can reach occupation 300%, meaning the rooms can be sold  three times a day! Digital is primordial, before and after the reservation and while providing services. We have extensive common areas (bar, restaurant, social and business centers). While at first we were targeting Generation X and Y, today our clientele is multi-generational and they all share a love for digital. 98% of our guests do check-in by telephone. 

Once we have understood what works and doesn't work in our concept, we were able to export Yotel abroad and to New York in particular in 2011. This was a real leap for the business since we grew from three airport hotels (London Heathrow, London Gatwick, and Amsterdam) to a location in an urban center (669 rooms at Times Square). We also have 14 projects under development on four continents. 10 of them were signed in the last twelve months and we are growing rapidly. 

Kike Sarasola, President, Room Mate 

I lived in  hotels for 25 years when I was on the Spanish riding team (Kike Sarasola was champion of Spain and participated in the Olympics in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney). So I know exactly what I want to find in a hotel. We also believe that the best way to travel is to go visit friends. This is why each Room Mate property has a different fictional name with a well-defined personality. Thus the decor is different at each of our 29 hotels. Our goal is to have 50 by the end of the year.

I am 100% focused on my customer needs. We start from the principal that the most important thing at a hotel is the bed and breakfast. I hate it when breakfast service ends at 9:30 or 10:00: what about those who wish to get up late. Another example, why should one pay for WiFi? It should be free. Thus, in Barcelona we give our guests small routers so they may connect to WiFi throughout the city.

All our hotels are located in city centers and offer affordable rates. With our new product BeMate, we have 300 apartments at our properties and we make them available to clients while offering them traditional hotel services (concierge service, key holding, etc.). We already have competition, so the hotel industry must adapt to the new means of accommodations!

Charlie MacGregor, CEO & Founder, The Student Hotel

Our target is three types of clientele: students to whom we offer five-, ten- or twelve-month rental contracts. Then there are those who already have their diplomas but are doing internships following seminars that last a few weeks (ex: professors, guest lecturers, etc.). And finally friends and family of students who generally come for short periods. And in the summer, when the students have left, we transform to hotel to welcome young travelers. With this hybrid concept, school holidays don't worry me. What's more, I choose locations specifically so there are high levels of passage. Since the customer is our priority, we offer free WiFi and welcoming public areas. We have around 2,000 rooms open at the moment and a pipeline of 2,000 more rooms. Our goal is to reach 10,000 rooms open by the end of 2020.

Nicolas Ferrary, Country manager France, Airbnb

At Airbnb, we don't talk about location. As soon as we experienced growth on several markets, we undertook discussions to see what level of standardization we wanted for our product, all depending on local needs. The web site is generally the same between the United States and Europe but there are adjustments. For example, the French hate to connect via Facebook out of fear that what they do on Airbnb will be relayed to Facebook. This is why connections via social networks is less on the French website. In Asia, standards are different, so the website is different. In order to develop internationally, it is important to know people locally and understand local particularities. Too often Asia is referred to very generally whereas it consists of a multitude of cultures. One does not address Indian and Chinese clientèle the same way.

Another thing to remember, is that when you want to innovate, you must understand customer needs and not changer things to rapidly. If you are confident, then you do not need to ask their advice. If in 2008, the founder of Airbnb had asked people if they were ready to let their apartment while they were on vacation, most people would have answered "no". The most important, is to be convinced.

Eric van Dijk, COO, Meininger Hotels 

Our model falls somewhere between youth hostels and and economy hotels. Our target clientèle are especially school groups who represent 40% of our business. individual travelers follow along with backpackers looking for a night in a dormitory room. Our hotel rooms are very flexible. They align with 3-star standards with TV, free WiFi, desk and kitchenette. The adaptability of rooms (26 m²) allows us to fit them out for six during the week (school groups) and for four on weekends (familles). This means parents don't need to book rooms side by side. With hotels located near airports, we generally have more business-oriented clientèle so we put fewer beds in the rooms. there are no restaurants but there is a lounge area for enjoying breakfast.

We are experiencing rapid growth. We currently have 2,000 rooms, for 7,000 beds. Before goig to developers it is important to check out the real estate market. My goal is to lease for 25-year periods. We have an agreement with Foncière des Régions to buy properties; today we are creating value for the hotel, our partners and ourselves.

Also read:

  • Global Lodging Forum 2015: Advice from Paul Dubrule
  • Global Lodging Forum 2015: promote the destination to encourage hotel development?
  • Global Lodging Forum 2015: Seven work axes of the government to encourage tourism
  • Which strategies should be implemented to activate hotel development?


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