“The hybrid model will become the norm”: Q&A with Stay the Night’s co-founders, Charlotte Hall and Rosie Willan

BHN talks to Charlotte Hall and Rosie Willan, co-founders of Stay the Night, a creative marketing agency for hybrid hospitality brands, about how they’ve seen the hybrid model evolve during the pandemic and their views and advice for hospitality’s future.

• How do you define hybrid hospitality?

RW: Hybrid hospitality blends different types of hospitality in one unified space.

Hybrids are dynamic, multifunctional spaces where people can stay, work, eat and drink, and socialise all under one roof. They might offer a mix of short stay and long stay accommodation, as well as coliving spaces, coworking spaces, restaurants, bars, and more.

Many also offer a program of activities as part of the overall experience, from morning yoga sessions to cocktail masterclasses. Programming is often community-led and hybrids generally foster a deeper connection with the neighbourhoods they are in.

At the core of hybrid hospitality is community – you are creating a space where people can connect, collaborate and feel at home, together.

CH: To get a clear idea of how the concept is taking off, it’s helpful to refer to the brands who are leading the way. Here in the UK, this includes Locke Hotels who are revolutionising the aparthotel format with exciting programming, F&B and coworking spaces. You can also look to The Hoxton group – their lobbies have long doubled as flexible workspaces for freelancers and they recently capitalised on this interest by launching their own coworking concept, Working From_, at their Southwark site here in London.

• How do you see this concept evolving?

RW: As people’s lifestyles continue to change, we believe the hybrid model will become the norm.

People want an alternative to cookie-cutter hotel brands and younger generations especially crave the community and flexibility that hybrid brands provide. They tend to travel more and spend longer in one place. We know it’s been said countless times, but they also want to experience their destinations “like a local”. Hybrid hospitality offers all of this, and often at a competitive price point.

CH: And the move towards flexible and remote working has been accelerated in recent months. This brings a need for spaces that provide community which is a huge opportunity for hybrid brands who can fill this requirement. There are already a number of hybrids, such as Sir Hotels and Ruby Hotels, offering dedicated coworking spaces on their sites. Leading the way in this space, you have Zoku who were the first to bring the home-office hybrid to the market – their Zoku Loft products provide guests with a real home away from home, plus all the facilities you could want from a business perspective.

Another growing trend that could come under the hybrid hospitality umbrella is coliving. In a world that is becoming increasingly lonely for many – particularly amongst younger generations – the coliving concept creates a sense of belonging that so many are seeking. Brands like The Collective offer both long and short term stays, cultural events programmes, coworking spaces, and more.

RW: Additionally, it makes business-sense for hotels to adopt the hybrid hospitality model – diversifying your revenue streams allows you to maximise profits, provides financial stability for your business and reduces risk. This has never been more important – businesses with multiple revenue streams already in place have been in a better position to withstand the negative effects of the recent pandemic.

For these reasons, we think the hybrid hospitality concept is here to stay.

• Where are the upcoming markets? 

CH: In the past few years, we have seen the hybrid concept really take off in several major cities globally, including London, Amsterdam and New York.

I do think we are about to see the hybrid model grow rapidly across Europe. Brands such as The Student Hotel – who are in 14 countries across the continent – are already describing themselves as a ‘new concept in hybrid hospitality’.

RW: You also have global hybrid brands such as Selina, opening sites across multiple continents and firmly positioning themselves in the remote work-live-play space. And our own client, CURIOCITY, recently opened a hybrid hotel in Cape Town – the first on the African continent.

Many hotels and hostels have pivoted towards more hybrid models and diversified what they offer as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic – it will be interesting to see how many continue operating this way.

There is huge potential and we’re excited to see what comes next.

• What innovative solutions have you seen from hotels during lockdown? 

CH: So much innovation has been born out of this difficult period and there are countless examples of hotels successfully pivoting their business models.

Many have moved towards an extended stay model, converting rooms into serviced apartments. Vacant rooms have been converted into everything from pop-up restaurants to home offices.

A number of our own clients have gone through the transition from hotel/hostel to hybrid over the past six months. One example is our client Code Pod Management who converted one of their Edinburgh sites into the city’s first coliving space.

Over in Germany, 25hours Hotels was forced to cut its overnight stays. In response, they opened up their rooms as Covid-secure offices which you could rent for a day or a week. This not only helped recover some lost revenue, but also built brand awareness through media coverage which helped with their overnight stay recovery.

More recently, citizenM launched a corporate subscription model which allows guests to sleep, work, meet and entertain across all of their sites for one monthly fee. Like many operators, they also launched contactless service at all their locations, allowing guests to check in and out via their smartphones – an innovation which was gaining ground prior to the pandemic and is likely to stick around.

RW: Further to that, the use of technology became more important than ever during this period. Many brands have run virtual programming to continue to foster the community spirit they create onsite and stay at the forefront of guest’s minds. We have also seen both hotels and hostels leverage artificial intelligence to answer guest queries and concerns, levelling up their customer service at a time when people needed such reassurance.

The ability to react quickly and stay flexible – as well as a willingness to take risks – has been vital during this period.

• What advice would you give for marketing a hybrid model?

CH: With a number of different elements encompassed under one brand, marketing a hybrid is a different ball game to marketing a traditional hotel because you are appealing to several guest segments each with their own motivations and interests. Your marketing messaging needs to resonate with the people you want to reach – from the traveller who is looking to get under the skin of your destination to the freelancer who wants to pop in and work for the day.

RW: We recommend having a clear, unified brand narrative that tells your story and treating each element of your brand as a different chapter. The aim is to make your target audiences want to become part of this story. While your strategy should consider the typical demographics – age, location, etc. – it’s also important to go beyond this and really take the time to understand the mindset of your target audiences.

CH: Just as the hybrid model is built around community, brands should adopt this same ethos with their online marketing strategy. Those brands who had already worked on building a community – and were able to continue communicating with this community during the course of this pandemic – have proven the most resilient.

RW: On a practical level, segmentation is key for hybrid brands – we’re talking separate ad funnels for each audience you want to reach, targeted landing pages and personalised emails. It’s important to split your audience based on their interest in your brand in order to achieve a good return on investment from your marketing.

And when it comes to content, there is so much we could say but the key is to focus on how you want people to feel in your space – it’s all about communicating the experience you create onsite.

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