Making the normal special – Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit 2014

More than 200 delegates and speakers from around the world gathered at The Montcalm in London this week for the 2014 Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit.

Among the countries represented were Sweden, the US, Italy, Iceland, Australia, Dubai, The Netherlands, Romania, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.

The afternoon of day one saw delegates tour the Eccleston Square Hotel and Belgraves before heading to The Montcalm for a lively cocktail party and speed business card swap.

Day two began with an invigorating keynote speech from “Food Busker” John Quilter in which he urged delegates to “reboot” their lives and businesses.

The conference then heard some recent market statistics from Joe Stather of STR Global. Among the eyecatching numbers revealed were that both Europe and the US are now operating at REVPAR levels above their pre-recession peak, and that oversupply in China is causing a drop in REVPAR there.

A remarkable 38 per cent of the European hotel pipeline is in the UK, the majority of it in the budget sector. There are 18,000 hotel rooms due to be delivered in London by 2016, and 24,000 in the UK regions.

Jason Holley of Universal Designs Studios gave a presentation on the design of the Ace Hotel inShoreditch (an area which would be referred to frequently in the day’s discussions), showing how subtle themes gathered from the area’s history and architecture informed the look of the property. Holley said that UDS – which is based in Shoreditch, acted as “a tuning fork” for US-based Ace Hotels during the process.

A discussion about loyatly and engagement was one of the day’s highlights. Youri Sawerschel of Bridge.Over Group said hoteliers “are fighting with Angry Birds and Candy Crush to get their online message across”. Frank Reeves of Avvio said advocacy is more important than repeat visits in terms of generating loyalty.

Bill Walshe of Viceroy Hotel Group emphasised that communication with your target audience “is not about being cool or trendy, it’s about being relevant”.

A panel called Stripped offered some intriguing insights in to the hotel room of the future, particularly in urban areas. Muriel Muirden of designers WATG said wardrobes and desks could become things of the past as “younger travellers don’t unpack and they go to the hotel’s communal areas to work on their laptop or iPad”. She went on to describe how useful adaptable “chameleon” public spaces can be – multi-purpose areas which change use during the day.

During a panel about spa design and management, Jeremy Smith of Blue Spa and Design said the most important question a hotelier can ask is why they want a spa, adding that the conception, design and installation of a new spa will take about two years. “If the spa is very different from your hotel, you have to establish a completely separate brand – don’t go off at a tangent,” said Smith.

Charles Merchie, general manager of the Feversham Arms Hotel and Spa spoke of the importance of including the spa manager in a hotel’s weekly revenue meetings. “I liken my therapists to my chefs,” said Merchie. “They are creating something and they are difficult to recruit and replace.”

In the F&B session, Mark Fuller of Sanctum Hotels said his properties make as much money from food as they do from rooms, while Bob Puccini of Puccini Group said: “Restaurants today are like mini-vacations – people want an experience.”

A look at ways of improving the bottom heard from Nick Turner of Servest Group who said that looking at utilities and energy supply costs and various building control measures and permits can save significant sums.

A session on country house hotels was told by moderator Tim Smith of HVS that hotels need to “know their brand, know their story, and make sure they deliver that to the guests.” Toni Shepard of Eden Hotel Collection said that weddings and events are a great way for country house properties to establish a relationship with younger customers who might go on to become loyal guests.

The second case study was presented by Sigurlaug Sverrisdottir, owner of the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel in Iceland. A stunning conversion of a concrete building which formerly housed workers at a geothermal power station, the ION prides itself on its green credentials.

Timothy Griffin of The Hoxton told the GM panel that “the size and definition of what a boutique hotel is don’t really matter – it’s the attitude and the atmosphere that count”.

On the subject of in-room technology, Kate Levin of The Capital Hotel said: “I have spent the last two years taking as much technology out of the room as I can. My guests are grateful not to have to fiddle with things they don’t understand,” while Chris Penn of The Ace Hotel Shoreditch said guests need lots of plug sockets, USB ports and free wifi – “and that’s it”.

Penn also advised hotels to employ an HR manager from outside the sector. “They are more open minded – I wanted somebody who knows people, not somebody who knows hospitality people,” he said.

The final session, called Beyond Boutique, heard from designer Ilse Crawford who said: “Airbnb is not a threat to good hotels, but it is a huge threat to the many bad hotels out there.” Commune Hotels CEONiki Leondakis added that “Airbnb will become as critical to our industry as the OTAs have become.”

Crawford then beautifully summed up a special two days by saying: “Hotels are about making the normal special”.

Speaker and delegate feedback

“Great speakers, highly relevant and topical. A real winner.”
Joe Stather, business development manager, STR Global

“It was an inspiring conference and it was full of interesting ideas, concepts and debate, and I wanted to congratulate you and your team for such a stimulating and informative event. It was a privilege to be part of it.”
Toni Shepherd, group operations manager, Eden Hotel Collection

“A great event, thanks.”
Jason Wischhoff, development director, Accor

“A brilliant overview and engaging update on a key sector of the the hospitality industry worldwide.”
Jeremy Blake, partner, Purcell

“There is no substitute for a handshake – that’s how the event was: a warm handshake to a handful of info and networking. Great job!”
Stefanuca Silvia, project manager, Conac Polizu

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