This year’s Sleep Event, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London, was themed around ‘the science of the tribe’ – psychographics essentially, or how people behave according to their interests rather than age, gender, income or other demographic categories.
Before the event got under way there was a video played with comments from Starwood Capital Group founder Barry Sternlicht, who the previous evening had won the Outstanding Contribution Award at the European Hotel Design Awards.
Although Sternlicht is a renowned innovator in the space, he is primarily thought of as a ‘money man’ so it was a welcome surprise to hear him acknowledge the importance of design: “The rate and occupancy of a hotel is a function of the design and getting the details right,” he said.
On the subject of innovators, the morning keynote speech was given by Sharan Pasricha, the founder and CEO of Ennismore – the company behind the Hoxton, NoCo and Gleneagles brands.
Pasricha kicked off by giving an overview of the dramatic changes the hospitality sector has gone through in recent years. “Airbnb is now the world’s largest hotel chain,” he said. “Hotels are evolving to be more flexible, more community focused, and geared up to cater for the growing numbers of self-employed workers. The hotel industry has been stagnant for a long time until now, when brands such as Airbnb and ourselves have come along. I think it’s the most exciting time to be in this industry for a long time.”
He also highlighted how younger travellers have a different set of values from their Baby Boomer counterparts: “78 per cent of millennials seek to splurge on experiences rather than things. Hotels should reflect that and be part of the experience.Hotels should also attract locals – guests want to go to where they are, and to do the things the locals are doing.” F&B is a big part of the experience, said Pasricha: “Mediocre food is not acceptable any more. Hotels need to up their game.”
Design – the heart of the Sleep event – is also increasingly important. “Guests are really interested in design. They give us their opinions and they want to get involved.”
Pasricha also touched on social media, saying that 52 per cent of Facebook users are influenced by their friends’ photos when making their travel plans. He also said that the Hoxton in Shoreditch is themes reviewed hotel in Europe, and that despite of this his team responds to every review, whether good or bad: “If people are taking the time to review us then we should take the time to respond.”
As the head of the Hoxton, one of the most successful new hotel brands of recent years, it was interesting to hear Pasricha saying that “content is becoming the new SEO”. Technology is about enhancing the guest experience without being gimmicky or using tech for the sake of it, he added.
Moving on the Ennismore’s forthcoming budget brand NoCo, Pasricha said: “It’s a brand that appears to the modern mainstream, and was born from the idea of taking the Hoxton out of London – it’s a Hoxton takedown. But NoCo is very different from the Hoxton in that it is designed from the ground up – it’s formulaic and has tons of brand standards. It’s also an asset-light brand, we will solely be operators. The first property will be opening in 18 to 24 months.”
Pasricha also spoke about his plans for Glenagles, and the balancing act he faces in attracting new guests – who are not interested in golf – while raining the already loyal fanbase.
The afternoon keynote speaker was Joanna Walsh, who talked about and read an extract from her book Hotel. Written at a period of her life when her marriage was breaking up and she took a job as a hotel reviewer, the book examines the hotel as a “Utopian project of creating a place where we can live differently for a while”.
Hotels can aim to create idea was of living, she said and like Freud’s idea of dreams, they can allow us to address desires we possible didn’t know we had. “Being in a different environment enables us to be different people,” said Walsh.