Industry Update
Opinion Article 5 April 2017

Hotel Concept ≠ Interior Design

A few insights on hotel concept development

By Youri Sawerschel, Founder of Creative Supply & Brand Strategist

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To stand out hotels must have more than a pretty face. Yet creating a great concept is not an easy task. Here are a few insights on the challenges and pitfalls of hotel concept development.

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Challenges ahead

Traditionally, hoteliers were mainly concerned about competitors down the road. Today, they have to compete with Air BnB, OTA's commissions and fast-changing customer behaviour. Additionally, the democratization of travel means that a hotel in Ibiza is indirectly competing with properties in Bodrum, Mykonos or even Phuket. This means that to stand out hotels must provide more than a bed, a shower and a breakfast. In fact, they must become lifestyle destinations that connect with their guests at an emotional level. Newcomers such as Ace Hotel, Citizen M and Zoku have proven that well-executed concepts can outsmart even the most established players.

A great hotel concept can do the following:

  • Command a price premium comparable to similar competitors' products
  • Attract and retain talent
  • Streamline communication efforts and generate free press
  • Convince investors and partners
  • Fast-track growth through licensing or franchising

What exactly is a hotel concept?

It is a commonly held misconception that interior designers are responsible for the development of a hotel concept. In reality, a hotel concept goes far beyond space planning. It considers aspects such as the service design, the storytelling and the communication strategy. Indeed, a beautifully designed hotel cannot succeed without a good service concept or an enticing story. The success of a hotel concept relies on the integration of both "soft" and "hard" elements., namely: product, operation, distribution and personality.

What are the steps to develop a hotel concept?

While working with different challenges and objectives, the steps to develop a hotel concept remain similar. Here are below three steps that are essential to the success of any concept project.

  1. Look around
    Take a 360 view of your business and look at its broad context. Review your competitors, cultural offerings and retail scene. This enables you to gather insights about your project and its surrounding. This initial "audit" phase is key to ensure that you create something truly unique.
  2. Bring it all together
    Use the collected insights to define the core "idea" for your hotel. That means deciding if your hotel could/should be a "rebel luxurious property", a "classic French icon" or a "hipster flagship". For instance, the Terrass Hotel in Paris successfully established itself as a "legend of Montmartre" that is the "address of artists since 1911". To make sure that the entire customer experience reflects one core idea, you can use tool such as the Hotel Concept Framework TM. This framework presents the advantage of bringing together the product (physical asset), the operations (service design), the distribution (marketing channels) and the personality (brand story and visual identity). The goal is to develop a narrative that tells a coherent story from the marketing story to the actual customer experience. For example a "classic French" room-service should be quite different than a "luxury rebel one"). Once again, the result should be an integrated experience, from booking to check-out.
  3. Follow through 
    To ensure the concept coherence from theory to practice, follow through on the project evolution. The trick is to make sure that all the project stakeholders (owner, developer, operator, consultants etc.) are and remain aligned behind the same concept throughout a hotel development or renovation. This phase typically includes feedback on architect and interior designer drawings as well as reviews of mock-up rooms and advice on the go-to-market strategy.

With the competition growing tougher, the need for hotels to reinvent themselves will only increase. Simply updating the interior decoration is no longer a good enough strategy. The future belongs to the hoteliers who will manage to create coherent concepts that stand out for something. Otherwise, they risk to remain just another line in booking.com.

Youri Sawerschel

Youri Sawerschel is a Branding Expert and Founder of Creative Supply, a strategic branding agency based in Zurich. Solicited for his creative thinking skills, Youri has been involved with projects focused on creating, launching and managing brands in Europe, China and the Middle-East. He has worked with brands as diverse as Kempinski Hotels, UBS, EPFL and Mondelez.

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