Boutique Hotel News catches up with Julie Fawcett, managing director of Qbic Hotels.
• Can you give us a brief career history to date?
I’ve worked at a series of consumer facing businesses, most recently I set up and sold an e-commerce business, but never hotels. I’m the long shot with a digital background, a history of growing things and a consumer champion. Qbic wants to bring other ideas to the table not just ‘ how its’ done in hotels’ so I get to work with a team of absolute professionals garnered from the four corners of the hotel world in ops, development, acquisitions and finance. I get to drive the coach and horses, hopefully in a smart, digital, creative, innovative way. No pressure then….
• Who are Qbic properties aimed at where would your typical guest have stayed before he/she discovered your hotels?
The jargon would have us focused on the Millennials, and we certainly tick all those boxes, but really Qbic is for everyone. We think that a great bed, a good shower, free wifi and an innate sense of curiosity for what is around you doesn’t come with an age tag. If you like urban experiences, appreciate emerging designers and can understand why a business wants to be aware of its footprint both socially and ecologically then you just found a little slice of nirvana right here in Whitechapel.
I would imagine that our guests have probably run the gamut of hotel experiences from the old fashioned B&B to the new-fangled AirBnB. They probably chose something a ‘bit different’ rather than the predictable experience of a chain when they selected us and we expect that to be a guiding light for them in life generally, not least when they select the destination for this week’s mystery tour.
• How did the Cubi room concept come about?
There was and still is to an extent across Europe a significant change in working patterns. The recession combined with more hot desking, flexible working practises and working from home meant that the demand for office space was declining and numerous European cities were experiencing a problem with their office market. Paul Rinkens, the conceiver of the Cubi, sketched out an idea on the back of a napkin for a unit that contained everything you need for a hotel room with every part capable of being taken in through a door.
His idea was that this way old office space could be bought back to life cost effectively and meet the rising demand in the same locations, swapping empty offices for urban hotels. The Cubi was born, an aluminium piece of genius with a rainshower. Over the years we have developed numerous iterations in both design, structure and materials, its’ still evolving and so are we. Catch us if you can.
• What are Qbic’s expansion plans in terms of new hotels and new destinations for the next few years?
We work best in capital cities with strong tourist numbers and a youthful market. Despite my protestations that Qbic is for everyone, we know that the majority of our guests and importantly our returning guests are under 40, which at one point in my life seemed ancient. It now seems like a very reasonable age and naturally everyone below that is young. We have our sights on a number of locations across the UK, Edinburgh would probably be our first choice outside of the capital, but if I could wave my magic wand we, like every other hotel chain in the land, would like to see the London estate building first.
We also have a few feelers out in Europe, we like the look of Paris and a couple of other locations. Qbic Hotels have strong VC backing from Bridges Ventures, who have a good record in this sector, most recently with The Hoxton, and have therefore amassed a sensible war chest in preparation for a roll out. The challenge is finding the right property at the right price. But we are confident that the strong product offer, the strength of our backers and a great sense of humour will ultimately win the battle of the buildings.
• How important is having a hotel which absorbs local character and sits comfortably in its neighbourhood? How does Qbic achieve this?
Well, I think it has to be part of the DNA to thrive. The good old days of travel, when your hotel was a refuge from the strange world outside its doors, are long gone. Now kitted out with smart devices, social media and a personal brand to build, this decade’s travellers don’t want barriers to the city they are in, they want introductions.
I wouldn’t say we have it right but I can tell you a few things we are investing in. The most obvious is the ‘ wonderwall’ or HQ if you go to our website, a big rich repository of cool interesting stuff to do that would not in a million years describe itself as a tourist attraction. And not just places where a hipster beard and fixie bike are just two of the things you will need to get in. We also work closely with numerous community projects where we can see mutual gain -Bikeworks, a charity that provides training and apprenticeships for disadvantaged young people, have supplied us with six bikes – well we paid for them, they also helped us set up some bike tours and we co-brand the bikes. It gives them and us some publicity and something interesting for the guests to do to explore the area and we also raise funds for them with a number of our other promotions.
We work closely with Café Art, who work rehabilitating homeless people with occupational therapy involving painting and photography. Not all of it is great, but there are some absolute stand out stunning pieces they create. We display this in the hotel, sell their works and again raise funds. We work with the local authority and are about to upgrade the facilities and the lighting in the park including installation of a table tenis table (concrete), wild flowers and of course tulips from Amsterdam. The list goes on. We source our food locally – not all of it, some of it comes on a van from Brakes just like everyone else, but where we can, where it makes sense, we do that. How important is it ? Well we’d survive if we didn’t, but we would be just like all the rest and if Qbic is one thing, it is that it refuses to be categorised. Sometimes that does not exactly make my life easy, but it sure makes it fun.