“I am capable of doing anything,” says our industry’s most well-known representative, Paris Hilton of the Hilton hotel dynasty.
Her quote is popular as one of those inspirational posters for office walls. It might not be such a bad idea to print one out yourself, for the room behind reception. Because hotels are about to become about much more than a place to sleep, instead offering various social spaces.
The phrase ‘Slashy hotel’ itself was first coined by The Daily Telegraph’s deputy hotels editor Jane Conroy: ‘We’ve already had the café/hotel and the hotel/gallery – 2018 welcomes the hotel/perfumery. French perfumier Lola James Harper will open a hotel in Paris’, she wrote, before also citing examples like The Line DC in Washington, which is a hotel/radio station, and The Guardian Art Centre in Beijing, a hotel/auction house.
(‘Slashy’ as a term first came to prominence in Ben Stiller’s seminal movie about the fashion industry, Zoolander, where it refers to model/actors. In the film, male erotic movie star Fabio is given an award for top ‘slashy’, and in his acceptance speech says how proud he is to be an ‘actor slash model… and not the other way around.’)
Independent hoteliers aren’t all in a position to expand their business to include an auction house, or a radio station. But we can be enthusiastic about developing new propositions to both attract guests and local custom. Plus with the death of retail, and the traditional pub trade struggling, hotels suddenly find themselves as one of the few public spaces on our high streets, and in our communities. Becoming the social and commercial centre of the neighbourhood is an exciting challenge, and our sector is ready to embrace it.
Not least because this takes the fight to Airbnb, which is partly popular as it provides a ‘gateway to authentic local experiences’.
“This used to frustrate me,” noted hospitality innovator Ian Schrager told Skift in an interview to promote his new NY hotel Public (which boasts ‘five different food-and-beverage outlets, including a panoramic rooftop bar, and a multi-purpose space called Public Arts where you can attend screenings, art exhibitions, performances, or dance the night away.’) Schrager continued, “but I think, hey, you know how you want to compete with Airbnb? Forget about lobbying to change the laws. Why don’t you come up with something that provides what they can’t provide, like a huge social communal space? Why not come up and do a hotel that manifests the city that it’s in, because that’s what they’re trying to do.” He went on to explain that Public is a “microcosm of the best that New York has to offer,” perhaps not unlike the ‘multiple use spaces’ of Las Vegas hotels – the original slashies – which offer a potted version of Sin City within their own walls.
Here in the UK, the Principal chain is reviving historical city centre hotels for a new generation. Its ‘multiple use’ strategy places forward-facing, destination restaurants within the hotels’ inspiring architecture. Says brand director Simon Willis, “The spaces must be flexible in terms of how people want to use them – or accurately, how to spend money in them. It’s about hospitality. Some hotels are hermetically sealed from the neighbourhood around them. We want to open the door and invite the neighbours in.”
Willis’ masterstroke has been to emulate some of London’s most famous hotels by inviting acclaimed local restaurateurs to play a significant role in the food and beverage operation. In Edinburgh, Principal’s Baba Ganoush restaurant is run by the team behind Glasgow’s widely lauded Ox and Finch. And in Manchester, the Principal’s Refuge restaurant is the latest project from the team behind south Manchester’s Volta, two former club promoters who have turned the city’s restaurant scene upside down by – gasp! – drawing on their home town for inspiration rather than London.
“We sat down with Luke Cowdrey from the Volta team, considered the tribes of Manchester, and imagined a place where they could come together,” says Willis, “We had a hotel that was a big Victorian beast, that was successful but had no love. There’s a huge amount of love for the guys behind Volta, so by partnering with them we were able to share the love.
Willis admits, though, that there can be challenges. “Hotels have to be set up to provide a breakfast space, which must be considered. And of course one expects certain standards of behaviour in a hotel lobby. You can encourage the right behaviour; it’s probably quite a slow process, but it’s about having certain ground rules and being focussed on what you’re trying to do.”
During the day, encouraging a ‘coworking’ style environment where business people and freelancers work and hold meetings – while sampling the F&B, naturally – is another way to take advantage of both your own space and a consumers’ desire for community too.
Even if they don’t spend much, “A room with people in is better than a room with no people in,” says Willis, “us hoteliers used to hate it when people came in with Starbucks coffee cups. Now we take it as an obvious sign that we should serve coffee to the public.”
Central Working is a pioneering cowork company that actively works with hotels, including MyHotels Bloomsbury and The Zetter in Clerkenwell. (The latter is co-branded as ‘Club Zetter powered by Central Working’. Central Working’s members are given access to the lobby where the laptop and espresso lifestyle is heartily encouraged.) Central Working’s CEO, Grant Powell, has a background in luxury hotels.
“Coworking and hotels are aligned,” he says, “Yes, you’ve got to be a good operator. But it’s a wonderful marriage and we’ve been doing it successfully for a number of years. Most hotels have a challenge on the space – perhaps they’ve got a conferencing facility that isn’t being used nearly as much as it was. Coworking can activate it 24 hours a day, with new footfall into F&B.”
Powell uses the wonderful phrase ‘place making’ – creating a space with emotional resonance – and suggests that hotels make the ideal foundations. “Hospitality is certainly here to stay,” he says, “Technology is growing at such a pace that people want the human connection. Hospitality is understanding and providing for people’s needs. Space, community, team… a culture that comes together. It’s not just about nice furniture. If the service is rubbish, and the team doesn’t care, it won’t be successful.”
The takeaways? Collaborate with specialist professionals where possible – for instance, host pop-ups from local traders rather than running your own shop. Remember that you’re a hotel and therefore associated with quality. Always remember the human side, because what’s driving the trend is our human need to be together. And stay authentic, focussing on projects that you have a passion for or are inspired by the locality. After all, the Hilton heiress – a presenter/entrepreneur herself – says her latest venture is virtual reality… something she could certainly be said to be an expert on.