Get set for ho­tels 2.0

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Head­phone-adorned creative types clus­ter around a shared ta­ble, overzeal­ously punch­ing at their Mac­books. Fixedgear bi­cy­cles hang non­cha­lantly from walls and the melodic mid­dle-aged mus­ings of Fleet­wood Mac (on vinyl, of course) drift through the air.

This, dear reader, is the fu­ture of the ho­tel as we know it. Gone are the days of stuffy, starched re­cep­tions with bell­hops, faux-wood ve­neers and gra­tu­itous chan­de­liers. Beige bed­rooms and lift mu­sic are out.

This the era of ho­tels 2.0. It be­gan with the ad­vent of bou­tique ho­tels in the 1990s, spear­headed by the likes of Mor­gans Ho­tels founder Ian Schrager and Bill Kimp­ton, who founded Kimp­ton Ho­tels, later bought by In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tels. They’re the guys who opened small es­tab­lish­ments, in upand-com­ing ar­eas, that boasted a whole lot of de­signer flair and in­di­vid­u­al­ity. It was all about per­sonal ser­vice and ex­treme cool­ness.

The prob­lem was that these early bou­tique ho­tels were great, but re­ally pricey. So, in 1999, the “bou­tique bud­get ho­tel” was born, with the Ace

Ho­tel open­ing in Seat­tle, in the US.

The Ace oozed hip­ness, looked amaz­ing, was an in­stant celeb hang­out and, crit­i­cally, was one of the cheap­est places you could stay. It still is, cost­ing about Us$130/night. To­day, there are eco­nom­i­cal Aces in New York, Lon­don and even New Or­leans.

The Ace spawned an en­tire genre: So what does this have to do with busi­ness travel? A lot, ac­tu­ally. In the com­pet­i­tive world of Airbnb and book­ (sorry travel agents, your time is up), ho­tel chains have done their re­search and taken a leaf from the book of their bou­tique broth­ers.

Cape Town’s new R700m Tsogo Sun is a good ex­am­ple. It is two mid­mar­ket brands in one: one half is oc­cu­pied by Sun­square Cape Town City Bowl (a lux­ury econ­omy brand that of­fers 202 bed­rooms and con­fer­ence venues); the other is a no-fuss Stayeasy with 302 bed­rooms.

Lon­don-based ar­chi­tects Dex­ter Moren Associates de­signed the build­ing. Its in­te­ri­ors in­clude win­dows lined with in­door plants, com­mu­nal work ta­bles and a restau­rant that does “di­rec­tional food” like de­signer braaibrood­jies. The ho­tels are aimed at trav­ellers who are watch­ing costs, so they’ve done away with fri­vol­i­ties such as room ser­vice.

Down the drag at the V&A Wa­ter­front, the new Radis­son Red is also tak­ing the hip­ster­i­sa­tion of ho­tels se­ri­ously. Its rooms are de­signer, its foyer is fun — even its in­dus­trial-style meet­ing rooms are about hav­ing a great time. Its OUIBAR + KTCHN (how’s the spell­ing?) cel­e­brates “Cape Town’s craft food and drinks scene”. Its city guide is wor­thy of Mon­o­cle mag­a­zine.

Both ho­tels are good ad­di­tions to the city, and a pleas­ing sign that big ho­tel groups are pay­ing at­ten­tion to in­dus­try dis­rupters and to what their cus­tomers re­ally want. They’ve moved be­yond just of­fer­ing sad in-room cof­fee sta­tions with sa­chets of Ri­coffy.

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