Get set for hotels 2.0
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 booking.com (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.