Guests’ tastes are changing, away from pampering and decadence to enriching experiences that match their personal interests. We asked two of the UK hotel industry’s top innovators how your business can adapt to the ‘lifestyle hotel’ phenomenon.
“You need a new hobby!” instructs the Soho House Group e-shot, “From ranching to ceramics, having a hobby is no longer the preserve of pensioners.”
It’s not just Nick Jones’ industry-leading hospitality business that is looking beyond sensual pleasures to attract guests. A start-up on the world’s most notorious party island, WalkingIbiza.com, promises “lungs full of rejuvenating air,” plus kayaking and yoga, and a chance to “discover the real Ibiza.” And Gleneagles, the home of golf and a famously formal, traditional hotel was recently purchased by east London trendies Hoxton Hotels.
What is going on? The experience economy is growing, and it’s not just limited to ‘going out’ treats such as restaurants or live entertainment. Leisure culture is back – and after decades of pleasuring ourselves with cocktails, cuisine and couture, simpler pursuits like sport and crafts are popular again. How does the hotel trade, which often sells itself on if-not-hedonism then certainly pampering and sensual pleasures, cope with this major shift in tastes?
Top writer Ben Machell recently suggested how we can all adapt to the new pastime paradise in his weekly Evening Standard Magazine column. “I’m in the market for a new hobby,” he wrote, “actually, technically, I’m in the market for a new lifestyle trend. Lifestyle trends are like hobbies, only cooler and cleverer and from London. If you play table tennis in Sunderland or Plymouth, it is a hobby. If you play table tennis in New Cross or Hackney Wick, then it’s a ‘lifestyle trend.”
So the trick, it seems, is to somehow retain the kudos and sexiness of the style market while simultaneously catering for people’s interests and diversions.
The clothing industry has already done this. Fashion's latest craze is for ‘lifestyle brands’. Rapha, for example, is an upmarket cycling lifestyle brand. It’s rumoured that Rapha will soon be bought by LVMH, the luxury goods house owned by France’s richest man Bernard Arnault, who has a proven instinct for how the wind is changing business-wise. So if what the fashion industry needs is lifestyle brands, what the hospitality requires is some lifestyle hotels.
And a ‘lifestyle hotel’ is exactly what hospitality entrepreneur Will Ashworth calls Watergate Bay, his lauded beachfront property in Cornwall that actively caters for the water sports market.
The concept came about because “We had an existing hotel in a beautiful coastal setting, and wanted to create a place where people wanted to come to all year ‘round," says Will, "And people want somewhere that caters for their lifestyle. We focus on offering the opportunity to be active as a way to relax, but we are not an activity centre in the traditional Cornwall sense – guests can enjoy the beach however they want.”
Alongside the surfing and paddle-boarding there are gin masterclasses, hook-ups with the rich local restaurant culture, contemporary dance performances and mini-festivals. There’s a full beach events calendar throughout the year, including world class surfing and kitesurfing events and the hotel’s annual ‘Polo on the Beach’ event.
“We’ve played a part in driving Cornwall forwards as a contemporary experience that, most importantly, happens all year around,” continues Will, “We’re as busy with surfers in January as we are in May. There are often better surfing conditions in the winter and we have all the specialist kit to keep you warm. If there’s a storm you can sit and watch it, or lie in the hot tub. Around half our guests are active, and the other half are enjoying the vibe they create. We see ourselves as like a ski resort, offering ‘après-ski’ as much as the activity itself.” Next up for Will is Another Place, The Lake, in The Lake District, opening this summer – “It’s on the shores of Ullswater, where we’ll also offer open water swimming, fell running and biking.”
Chris Penn is the former general manager of Ace Hotel Shoreditch, the hipster mecca where it’s excess-all-areas. But his new project, Steel Hotels, follows a different road to wisdom.
“Our intention is to create the first sports resort in the United Kingdom,” he says, “A ‘human performance’ hotel brand.” Chris is a seasoned triathlete who’s represented Great Britain in the discipline. He’s also swum the Channel unaided (one of only 1700 before him, and it took 14 hours).
“One of the great lessons I learned from the Alex Calderwood,” Chris says referring to the late owner of the Ace brand and hospitality innovator, is “if you’re going to do something credibly, you’ve got to understand your consumer. My lifestyle was very much in synergy for what I want to create. The bigger players understand the importance of consumer choice but aren’t necessarily trying to deliver from the ground up.”
In keeping with Will Ashworth’s own vision, Chris warns against a hotel that dedicates itself entirely to a theme: “Our products are around mental and physical wellness around sport, but we are not a rehabilitation centre. If you deprive yourself it’s not sustainable, so our product is about balance. Fun is a big part of mental wellness!”
That seems to be the number one take-away from our lifestyle experts – don’t forget the hospitality basics. The Pilgrm (note the lack of any second ‘i’) is a new hotel in London’s Paddington that’s themed around heritage and provenance, and is bound to be a hit with both the vintage clothing and spoon-whittling sets. But it will focus just as much on the creature comforts that make a great hotel.
The Pilgrm boasts historical features, like 200 year-old reclaimed parquet flooring, next to expertly-crafted fittings, such as Marshall speakers. But hospitality is still at its core: “We will combine the finest guest experience of today, with the finest British craftsmanship of yesterday,” says Jason Catifeoglou, CEO and founder, notable for his past association with MyHotels and Zetter.
Fashions are fleeting – but, according to some of the most respected names in the UK hotel business, lifestyles will be sticking around for a while.