Boutique Hotel News talks to Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Cloud.7 Hotels, a new design-led, affordable hotel brand.
• What is your background and how did you end up in the hospitality industry?
“My background in the hospitality industry goes all the way back to my teenage years; when living with my parents in Valkenburg, a little tourist village in Southern Netherlands, I started working in my friends’ parents’ restaurants, bars and bistros aged 13 onwards. After doing these jobs that I adored for a few years, I got selected to attend the Hotelschool in The Hague where I learned tangible business theory and graduated with the ‘Most Promising Student’ award.”
“I then started my career with Hilton’s award-winning fast track programme, I moved on to senior operational and commercial management positions in Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, leaving Hilton Worldwide in 2013 to become an entrepreneur.”
“Testing the waters, I partnered with a Venetian Contessa and developed a line of Italian products for the American and Middle Eastern market which was a great success. I then decided to return to hospitality where my heart and expertise lies, and so am now developing and bringing to life the new concept Cloud.7 hotels with my fantastic young, dynamic and tech-savvy team. I’m tremendously excited about this journey we have embarked on together to do things differently by working to overcome the hurdles and challenges of traditional hospitality.”
• Can you explain the Cloud.7 concept and how you came up with it?
“In a nutshell, Cloud.7 Hotels is an innovative, independent and affordable new hotel management brand for the next-generation traveller; a contrast concept where the introvert meets the extrovert, bringing together cosy ‘clouds’ – the rooms – with Cloud.7’s unique social and sharing spaces and the latest technology, all individualised for each hotel owner whilst providing maximisation of profitability per square metre.”
“We believe in the power of change, locality and connectivity: the essence of our Cloud.7 proposition, – and so we’re putting all these parts in place to create a meaningful brand for today’s savvy, fast-moving traveller. We see Cloud.7 as a real connection point between our local and global worlds, made more relevant and individual through technology, which we don’t see as simply being a tool, but rather in today’s world, it has become an extension of ourselves, becoming a kind of 7th sense – hence why we are Cloud.7!”
“Our team is united by our determination to do things differently; initially it was a meeting of minds as Antony Doucet, Cloud.7 brand director and The House Hotel Collection brand and marketing director, together with his House Hotel colleagues and investors, identified the mid-market as the new opportunity in the region after having successfully launched The House Hotel Collection in Turkey. Brought together by Michael O’Shea, investor in both hotel projects, we created a fantastic team of specialists to develop the concept and ideas about what the brand should be before transforming it to what is now. Indeed, after many combined years in the corporate hotel world, Antony and I, together with our general manager Onder Gok, had moved on from our various global hotel chain management positions with a burning desire to change the status quo and create a much more interesting and innovative guest experience. Hence, the Cloud.7 concept as it is today was born.”
“We feel that in general, and particularly in our target regions, much of the hospitality world has been slow to adapt to the fast-pace of the next-generation traveller whose worlds of interaction and experience are changing so quickly, but when it comes to travel, can’t find affordable travel brands that cater to or reflect their lifestyle, desires and needs. We believe that it’s not enough to make cosmetic or simply design-led changes, but that what we need today is a real 360-degree approach that is different at every touch-point, so we have examined in detail every single step of the customer journey, and then looked at how we can change it for the better, to make things simpler and more intuitive – and also more enjoyable and relevant to the modern traveller. ”
“Together with lots of innovative features such as our deskless lobby, online check-in and out, ‘Meet the Locals’ platform and outsourcing food and beverage completely to the specialists; what we also aim to do differently with Cloud.7, is to offer an alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional hospitality. That’s why so many of our brand elements, from the design and art to the technology, are building blocks that can be adapted, added or removed depending on the location, culture and travellers’ needs. Our approach is always collaborative and evolving with the times, locations and newest technologies.”
“And this is a very exciting time for us seeing how fast things have developed – to think that we started work on the brand and concept in September last year (2015) and now with lots of hard work, energy, ideas and determination we are opening our first hotel in February this year in Istanbul, with 15 more planned over the next two years in some of the fastest-developing destinations in the world!”
• What will make Cloud.7 different from its competitors, and who do you see as your closest competitors?
“In terms of youthful, design-led hotels, some of our competitors include Mama Shelter, Citizen M, Moxy by Marriott and Tru by Hilton. First, we’re going for something unique in our choice of destinations; we believe there’s so much scope for addressing the demand for new concepts in our target regions of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Caucasus which haven’t been a target for many of the new hotel brands, who are more focussed on establishing in the traditional markets of Western Europe and North America; so that is where we’ll be different with our portfolio of destinations in some of the fastest-growing and youth-driven countries in the world.”
“And although a big part of the Cloud.7 hospitality promise is design, style and affordability we are pushing the boundaries as far as possible with technology and a 360-degree approach to create an intuitive experience at every touch-point. Starting from our deskless lobby, online check-in and out, in-room ‘handy’ mobiles and access to our Cloud.7 team 24-7 via social media channels – through to innovative features such as partnering with ‘Art50.net’ to collaborate with emerging local artists and brands so that guests can buy the affordable art via their mobile device to take home with them. We are currently developing lots of new initiatives to merge technology and fun for our guests, so watch this space for more!”
“We are also focussed on directly addressing the modern traveller’s desires for connection, communication and immersion in local culture such as through our ‘Meet the Locals’ platform where guests can get connected to and share experiences with like-minded locals in the city. We also nurture and support the local initiative that matters most to each of our communities, providing the space, expertise and support for them to flourish; in Istanbul this is the Olive Tree Women’s Craft Collective for Syrian refugee women, who make and sell their jewellery at Cloud.7 with that revenue going directly back to the makers to support their livelihood.”
“We also value change and differentiation, so that as Cloud.7 Hotels grow, we won’t be adopting a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach or creating a fixed template or model that we impose on each of our new properties. Each of our destinations will have its own unique interpretation of the Cloud.7 hotel brand and while our core brand values of will be at the heart of all our projects, many of the features from the design and local art curation to the technological innovations will be adapted to reflect the distinctive culture, locality and even individual property of each of our locations. This we believe will keep things exciting for our guests wherever they choose to stay with us!”
• Your first few locations make an interesting list. What makes an ideal location for a Cloud.7 hotel and where are the hotels in your pipeline?
“In February we are opening our first hotel in Istanbul’s up-and-coming Atakoy district and we will now be moving quickly to open 15 new properties over the next two years in some of the fastest-developing destinations in the world in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Middle East, as we drive to meet the demand for new concepts there currently unmatched by supply. Hotels in general, and in particular in our target regions, have been slow to adapt to the fast-pace of the next-generation traveller whose worlds of interaction and experience are changing so fast, but when it comes to travel, they can’t find affordable travel brands that cater to or reflect their lifestyle, desires and needs. Also, with travel trends changing around the world, modern travellers want to visit these exciting destinations and not to be just tourists; they want to explore the cities, connect with like-minded locals, exchange ideas and get a true sense of what it’s like to live in the city and this is essentially what we are offering; an affordable, cosy and sociable hub to be part of their adventure.”
“Some of our target countries for growth include Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the UAE to name a few. These are regions that are developing so fast spurred by their young population. This is the next generation of global traveller and entrepreneur, not to mention how connected they are on social media. Cities like New York and London are known for their innovation, choice and change, but the world is constantly expanding, and the focus is shifting to these younger dynamic markets which are at the forefront of our strategy. Where we eventually end up will also depend us on finding the right hotel and property owners who are looking for a unique concept that will make a real and visible difference to the market.”
• Who do you admire in the hospitality sector and why?
“Someone I really admire in the hospitality sector is André Balazs, who has developed a group of really exceptional hotels and residences. Although he is focused on the more up-market segment, what I love is his ability to create really unique and eclectic hotels and experiences for his guests, with a freedom in the approach and style that includes a great emphasis on art and creativity. None of his projects are the same and rather than sticking to what he knows best, every project is a new adventure, a bit like us, where he collaborates with the best experts and team for that particular project rather than sticking to the one-size-fits-all approach. I also admire his commitment to working with younger architects and designers who haven’t yet developed a signature style so that he always retains an element of surprise in whatever he creates.”