How people and location are at the heart of the new hospitality industry
Changemakers - Christoph Hoffmann
The new hotel Hoffmann is planning for Dubai is based on the notion of the hakawati, the nomadic storytellers who were common long before the printing press was invented. “The theme is manifest in numerous ways,” explains Hoffmann. “We have a floor with curated objects detailing the nomadic lifestyles of today and from different eras, and a grand library full of books that are exclusively Arabic, all related to the history of the hakawati.”
When researching the history of Dubai, Hoffmann wanted to find substance far deeper than the idea of air-conditioned shopping malls and new skyscrapers. “Dubai has a very old core,” he says. “The hakawati was a Bedouin who would sit around the fireplace and bring stories to the next generation. We used that as our core idea. The different generations of nomads are very closely linked to each other. It kind of gave us a red line to follow through the whole design and content process of the hotel.”
In contrast, for evidence of the implementation of Hoffmann’s philosophy that no two of his hotels should be alike, look no further than their property in Frankfurt. This is located in the notorious Bahnhofsviertel, the station quarter, an area whose only virtue is that it is very centrally located and just a few minutes’ walk from the offices of some of the city’s slickest corporate offices. Otherwise, to a traditional hotelier, it would appear to be a zone of vice: prostitutes openly walk the streets, and some of the other characters wandering from bar to fast-food outlet are people most business travellers would (wisely) cross the street to avoid.
However, the area is showing the first glimpses of gentrification – as evidenced by a upmarket supermarket and a couple of juice bars, and also by the 25hours hotel, which is marked by a dramatic and highly relevant mural, commissioned for the hotel. Hoffmann tells the story: “Our 25hours hotel The Trip, Frankfurt is in the very rough Bahnhofsviertel. The area has an eclectic mix of drugs, alcohol, prostitution and, funnily enough, banking as well, so it is a wild mix of a neighbourhood which at certain times almost became kind of trendy. This whole wall was inspired by JR [a French street artist and photographer with a significant social media following].” He says his local business partner “put together very interesting personalities from the Bahnhofsviertel, people who had sometimes tragic, sometimes very romantic stories to tell and this is the result. We put up one huge piece of wallpaper with all the photographs of the people and we also have a book telling the stories behind them. This is about storytelling in Frankfurt amongst many other things.” It makes the hotel that rare thing: an international business hotel that wants to engage its guests with the real, tough lives being lived in the area in which it is based, and not hide them.
One of the biggest differences Hoffmann is planning to make in the hotel industry now pertains to the second pillar of ESG, the environmental, social and governance factors that are increasingly incorporated into corporate strategy.
In the case of 25hours, at the heart of the ‘social’ pillar are the people who work at the group’s hotels. Hoffmann believes the industry’s conventional model of a high turnover of poorly paid staff must end if hotels are to be better employers. To address this, the group’s latest initiative, for example, is to offer all employees the chance to work a four-day week, with one extra hour per day on those days, for the same salary as a five-day week.
“We need to change the culture,” he says. “We deal with so many people in our business who don’t have a chance to grow. They might be refugees from another country, they might face many difficulties. And we have a responsibility to them as our staff.“
“For example, we have implemented [a profit-share scheme] to make our employees a bit more entrepreneurial. So every employee of the company, from the kitchen hand all the way up to the general manager, is profiting from the success of the hotel. This is something which makes them feel part of the overall success of the company because each of them adds value to our company. Work has to offer more meaning to an employee. This will be a global trend – people want more personal value from what they do.”
What distinguishes Hoffmann in the hotel industry is the change he’s bringing about through his selection of locations for new properties. “Previously in this business, you’d have what management would call ‘secondary destinations’, which are not worth considering,” he says. “But I’ve made it clear that things are different now. In the Americas you have somewhere such as Panama, or in Italy you have Trieste, which is a very attractive city but small so it’s not one of the big gateway cities and there is less competition there. These are places that have been ignored by the industry but both have so much history and narrative, and so much to market, that they can offer new business opportunities. A business needs to expand away from what is predictable.”
“We’ve never been involved in trend forecasting,” Hoffmann explains. “Right now, we are going to focus much more on a product that is leisure driven, because we aren’t going to see as many businessmen getting up at 5am to fly to Frankfurt for one night for a meeting anymore.”
Hoffmann is also a co-creator of Bikini Island & Mountain Hotels, with its first hotel in Port de Sóller, Mallorca