Trailblazer webinar review: Design reimagined, hotel space repurposed

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The third webinar in the Boutique Hotel Trailblazer series explores how space and design is being reimagined for flexible and alternative use.

Hosed by BHN news editor Eloise Hanson, the webinar Trailblazers included:

• Ron Swidler, chief innovation officer, The Gettys Group

• Jacques-Olivier Chauvin, president and CEO, Fauchon Hospitality

• Paul Barrasford, director of hotels agency, Colliers International

• Samantha Trinder, owner, Bingham Riverhouse

To get the conversation started, Hanson asked Barrasford to give an overview of the current state of the hotel market. Barrasford was quick to defend existing hotels by stating “there’s a lot of fantastic things going on before we think about changing the use too much.” He highlighted how rural and countryside properties are “riding high off the back of a very strong summer” and that sellers are reluctant to offload at this time for that type of hotel, with pricing holding up well.

Looking at the wider market, Barrasford stated that deals are still happening but mainly with cash buyers and that lenders are pretty reticent with new lending into the sector. Going forward, he mentioned that there’s “large concerns for the triple whammy that hotels face: if consumer spend drops, yield requirements increase and funding is more difficult to come by.”

Swidler agreed, saying there’s a lot of similarities in the US market. Though hotel projects are still underway, he said they are requiring more equity than before. “We do see some trailblazers out there,” Swidler claimed, “and they’re doing a combination of retail and hotel and residential and care facilities. We’re seeing some creative uses of development, and we’re seeing some fleeing to the brands incidentally. There’s a safety net associated with that.”

Steering the conversation to explore how design is catering to the blurring of lines between work, play and home life, Chauvin explained that Fauchon has been doing this for over a century. “The first Fauchon outlet was retail, the next hospitality, and now hotels. It’s in our DNA to mix everything.” He went on to explain that hotels, by nature, offer a mix of work, play, living and eating all in one place. 

Describing the process of designing the first Fauchon L’Hotel in Paris, Chauvin said: “We did not want a desk, because this is not the most effective way to work in a hotel. In a room, you need a good view more than a desk. You also need proper seating and a table to enjoy your meal. There’s very few hotels which are based on making sure you have a view, and a way to enjoy your room.”

Trinder unfortunately ran into some technical difficulties on the day, so Hanson caught up with her offline to hear her key considerations for transforming the Bingham Riverhouse. Trinder said: “Our refurbishment strategy has been as a small independent boutique hotel with a limited budget but lots of ambition to create a memorable, comfortable, interesting space for our guests and local community, that endures the passage of time (at least 10-12 years) in terms of durability and design.”

She continued: “For the refurbishment to have a meaningful impact we rebranded the hotel from the Bingham to Bingham Riverhouse (small change! But signifying a difference on our overall concept) to have a greater sense of the private house that it once was, bringing to life the atmosphere of the salons that the poet inhabitants used to have. Making the refurbishment more sympathetic with the property and the vibe of the period that was its heyday. So the refurbishment was not just physical and aesthetic but a change in identity, which ran through everything in our brand: from the uniforms, tone of voice, to all our standard operating procedures and updating the guest experience.”

In terms of looking at the value-add for redeveloping properties, Barrasford believes personalisation is key. He highlighted how implementing ideas that might make sense in the short term can be risky, as big investment projects entail sitting on it for a number of years. Offering some advice for repurposing, Barrasford said: “A starting point for an owner is to think about it anecdotally. Most hotel owners are savvy with what’s going on in the local market… and I’d consider a pre-application as this is a much more cost-effective route.”

Asking whether Trinder would approach the refurbishment of the Bingham differently, she added: “Where we were going with the design actually has been a good thing in relation to the knock-on effects of the worldwide pandemic – causing more localisation and ‘working from home’ which we are capitalising on. The massive flux the world has been in over the last few months has shaken up every industry, especially hospitality. These shifts could happen again and as a result, keeping the option of flexibility is definitely a consideration.

“We are also able through the wellness centre and yoga studio to offer more adaptable memberships and a significant amount of content online,” Trinder explained. “The digital space is an area which we are moving into – this is obvious for wellness but we have hosted some events such as cocktail tasting virtually with ingredients being sent to someone’s house. So our investment into the brand and experience means this could be delivered digitally as well as in the flesh, to keep brand awareness and loyalty despite travel restrictions.”

You can watch the full recording of the webinar here.

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