Crowdfunding for boutique hotels: the Amberlair project

BHN talks to Kristin Lindenberg and Marcus Orbe, the founders of crowdsourced boutique hotel initiative Amberlair.

• Please tell about yourselves and your backgrounds.
KL: “My background has been in the tourism industry, ever since my joint Masters in tourism management, urban development and geography. I have also been a freelance travel writer and an in-house reviewer for the TUI group, where my responsibilities included travelling around the world, evaluating destinations and assessing hotels.”

MO: “I have put my joint MBA and industrial engineering Masters degree to good use in the more nitty-gritty part of travel – the airline business. I have worked for Lufthansa for three years, before joining Airbus, where I progressed to a senior strategic planning role on the implementation of the Airbus A380. In 2010, we decided it was time to make a significant change in our lives, so we quit our nine-to-five jobs and started travelling the world together. We felt that wanderlust that so many people feel, and we wanted to explore the world. So we set off on a tour of more than 40 countries across the globe, and that was when our idea for the world’s first crowdsourced boutique hotel began to take shape.”

• Can you explain the concept for Amberlair – how did you come up with the idea and how does it work?
MO: “Before launching the concept of Amberlair, which will be the world’s first crowdsourced boutique hotel, we used our long-term travel experience – of over 600 days – looking for the  best boutique hotels around the world with a view of understanding what works and what doesn’t. We discovered that there are plenty of other well-travelled people out there who share our passion for small, authentic hotels in inspiring locations, and Amberlair’s crowdsourcing process is tapping into that global enthusiasm. Through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, our future guests will be involved from the very beginning, not only financially but also creatively. And that is very exciting.”

KL: “We have been building and fostering our community for almost two years now, and these people, who we call #boholovers (or boutique hotel lovers), will have the chance to put their heart into the process of designing the perfect boutique hotel. We actually crowdsourced our name first – asked people to suggest two words that would sum up our ambitions: amber, which is a unique fossilised raisin and lair, which translates as a ‘cosy refuge’.”

MO: “The great ideas and suggestions we have already received from travellers and boutique hotel lovers around the world demonstrate what our future guests want and – and don’t want – in a hotel or travel experience. And we won’t stop collecting great ideas that will shape our concept as long as Amberlair exists. Crowdsourcing will always be one of the key drivers of Amberlair. This is really at the heart of our hotel concept.”

KL: “After a voting process and shortlist, our #bohoLover community voted for Italy, as the location of the world’s first Amberlair. And Puglia in Italy is where we will set the roots for our first property. We’re excited because we love Italy, and we think it has potential for a truly unique boutique hotel in an incredible location.”

MO: “Our community has already shared a lot of their ideas and experiences with us, but there will be more. The next step will be our crowdfunding campaign, where those who are really on board with the concept and the project have the chance to invest in our company. This will happen mid 2017, so do keep an eye out and watch this space.”

• What sort of investors are you attracting with your crowdsourcing? Is there a typical Amberlair investor?
MO: “There are so many compromises involved with mainstream investment and, in all honesty, we don’t want to give up the power to corporate investors. We would really like to attract investors who have disposable income, love to travel the world, enjoy unique experiences and have, or want to have, a personal relationship with Amberlair.”

KL: “By inviting Amberlair’s online travel community to invest in Amberlair, we’ll make sure that it’s the guest experience that is always the driving force in decisions. The investors will come from around the world, in all shapes and sizes – and our financial proposition is sound and interesting. But I would love to think that we can offer a bit more than just another investment.”

• What are the main benefits for investors?
MO: “Investors get to enjoy the journey of the hotel development. Investors will be kept abreast of the activities, progress and challenges that a hotel developer would normally experience. We will provide regular updates on the development journey, and will use the latest technology to do so, be that live cameras and/or broadcasts. Investors will also be able to enjoy the value appreciation of a hotel investment. Getting in early, the value of the hotel will increase once it is open and operational and achieves a stabilised performance level, which normally takes about three years. Lastly, we will have a program of incentives for investors that will make them eligible for room rate discounts, upgrades and/or other benefits.”

• Your first property is going to be in Italy – can you tell us about it in terms of sourcing, location, purchasing, renovation and opening etc?
KL: “Following the first round of location nominations, South Africa, Italy and Spain were the most suggested countries, which we shortlisted and put to a vote. Our community voted for Italy! We packed our bags and literally travelled around Italy with the objective of understanding what was on offer and which regions would be most interesting – and in need of a hotel concept like ours. We fell in love with Puglia. It is an unspoilt and untouched area with beautiful beaches and vineyards. In the last years, tourism in the region has had respectable growth rates.

“We found a beautiful villa from 1902, that we would love to turn into Amberlair’s first location in southern Italy. Once the crowdfunding campaign is finished, we will start the renovation as soon as possible. It is still very early days, but we can say that the opening is probably going to happen before 2020.”

• How do you envisage the future roll out plans, both in terms of numbers and locations?
MO: “Our goal is to expand into various locations around the world, but first and foremost, our goal is to focus on the first location and make it a true commercial success. Given our base in Europe, it makes sense to concentrate our efforts here during our initial years. However, as we are a crowdsourced boutique hotel brand, we will listen to our strong community – our boutique hotel lovers – when considering new locations.”

• Where do you see the Amberlair project in 10 years time?
KO: “We’d love to continue with our concept and roll-out the idea to other countries and open Amberlair boutique hotels in every great destination that lacks a pretty awesome boutique hotel. Well, we have ideas, but really it is up to the crowd! The crowd needs to support our development and our hotels as and when they open. The world really is our oyster.”

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