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Aparthotels and other hybrid forms of hospitality will dominate the post-pandemic leisure sector. But in what form, where, and what do they want from design? David Thame talks to the Czech expert who has the answers.
Although the UK hospitality sector was nuked by the coronavirus pandemic, one sub-sector seems to have survived the blast. Indeed, is thriving.
Lockdown still had weeks to run when Adagio announced it will expand its Liverpool aparthotel. It already occupies the first, third, fourth and fifth floors of the former Lewis’ department store. More meeting rooms, a reconfiguration of floorspace and a ground floor presence are envisaged.
Meanwhile, in London, Glasgow and Manchester, one of the largest and swankiest aparthotel operators, Native, has proclaimed itself COVID-ready. Their mix of coworking, beds and coffee in a controlled environment is going to be a post- pandemic winner, they reckon. That’s because aparthotels are almost the ideal social-distancing property; well maintained and clean as a whistle, but private and secure. Today, the aparthotel is the flagship concept of an ever-expanding breed of leisure offers that mix the ingredients of hospitality in every possible permutation. What they have in common is the presence of a hyphen. Aparthotels and student- hotels and hospitality hubs, fun hostels and posh-hostels (get used to the word ‘poshtels’). It is a challenge to make sense of a poised-for-growth menagerie of leisure property mongrels.
So meet the guru of hypthenated hospitality, Bořivoj Vokřínek. As leader of European Strategic Advisory & Hospitality Research at global property consultants, Cushman & Wakefield, nobody has a keener eye for what will flourish and what will flounder. Dividing his time between London and Prague after tours of duty in Shanghai and Sydney, and education in Australia and Switzerland, his perspective is uniquely suited to spotting trends long before they reach the UK.
The key to understanding the hyphenated hospitality sector, according to Bořivoj, is to grasp why it appeals to investors. The answer boils down to the familiar issue of residual value.
‘Banks and investors like aparthotels and things like them because the concept is now proven by the coronavirus pandemic to be resilient to major disruption in a way that hotels are not, but also because they see aparthotels not so much as hospitality investments, but residential property investments,’ Bořivoj explains.
The posh boutique hotel meets hostel concept is moving in from the fringe as private equity begins to take an investor interest. Often spaces are hybrid, with bunk-bedded dormitories mixing with private double rooms. ‘The cheap image of the hostel has gone,’ says Borivoj, who suggests Jo & Joe and Generator Hostels as brands to watch. Jo & Joe have two outlets in France but plan expansion into London, Glasgow, Rome, Budapest and Rio de Janeiro. Generator is in London, Dublin, and 11 other European cities, along with Miami and Washington DC.
Forget the idea of the aparthotel as just for visitors. The idea in this sub-sector is that both locals and visitors find something to use in community hubs. Selina, a Latin American operation, is expanding into Spain and Portugal offering space for ‘a digital nomad, a travel-addict, an adventurous backpacker’. In Paris, MOB Hotel is offering a cool music bar, a garden full of happenings and an organic restaurant. ‘Mob blurs the line between local users and visitors, incomers and regulars, and is trying to diversify into a hub for a community. You could stay there, or you could go there to collect a parcel or to work with a coffee or to get a haircut,’ says Borivoj.
Purpose-built student accommodation crossed with hotels or hostels. Pioneer brand, The Student Hotel, has 14 bases around (mostly) northern Europe. Like hostels and community living, the USP is a room in a ‘buzzing hub’. As well as bedrooms for long-term residents, and rooms for short-stay visits, they are coworking, meeting and events spaces.
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Part co-living, part-hostel, communal dining areas replace private kitchens so shared space is important to the concept. Operators include Stow-Away in London.
Don’t forget the evolutionary ancestor of the aparthotel. Hybrid hospitality operator, Edyn, has pioneered smaller, design-led apartments, down from the 40 sq m of the first decade of the century to 30 sq m. The result is beds suspended from the ceiling, or folded away to make desks. ‘The design is challenging, because the first thing you see is not the bed, like a hotel room, but the creation of something more social that looks at first like a study or sitting room,’ says Borivoj.
A wealth of options. But can they all survive? If there is a threat to the aparthotel and hyphenated hospitality sector, it comes from the fairly simple mathematics of land values and labour costs, says Bořivoj – and it goes like this. Aparthotels use a lot more space per room than hotels, making the cost per room higher. But hotels need a lot more staff, making them more expensive per room to run. So if the income per room is roughly the same in both formats, the better bet is to build an aparthotel.
However, if hotels begin to control their labour costs and aparthotels are not a premium product with a higher income, then investors would be better off building a hotel because you get more rooms on the site, and hence more income.
‘If that happens it will become more challenging for aparthotels,’ says Bořivoj. Operators at the budget end will be particularly vulnerable.
Hyphenated hospitality still has a long way to go. Operators are exploring dual branding (putting a hostel, or aparthotel, in the same building as a hotel) and looking at rapid expansion. The pandemic hasn’t killed this part of the hospitality industry. Rather, with its emphasis on privacy and personal control, it promises to make it even stronger.
Serviced apartments have not been immune to the COVID-19 crisis but have shown what researchers call ‘a degree of relative out-performance compared to other hotel sectors’. And they say this difference could become more pronounced once recovery starts to emerge.
Analysis conducted by Savills shows that serviced apartments had already started to outperform hotels before COVID-19. London serviced apartment RevPAR (revenue per available room) grew by an average of 3.9% a year between 2014 and the end of 2019, increasing to an average of 5.2% a year over the last three years. In contrast, London hotel RevPAR growth has lagged behind with an average annual growth of 2.0% over the last five years, and a three year average of 3.3%.
The data will encourage investors to fund new aparthotels in those cities that are underprovided.
Savills’ European Hotels Director, Richard Dawes, explains: ‘Serviced apartments are still relatively under-represented in key European markets, which not only points to further development opportunities, but also a potential mid-term structural shift in pricing outlook as the relative resilience of serviced apartments during this time is shining a light on the sector, which could result in further interest from new buyers, supporting pricing over the medium to longer-term.’
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