31 October 2017

Rebels with a Cause HICAP 2017 Panel Discussion

The annual Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific recently wrapped up in Hong Kong, and one of the highlights of the final day was QUO's thought-provoking panel discussion. Entitled ‘Rebels with a Cause’, the panel of hotel industry luminaries was moderated by QUO CEO, David Keen, and discussed how ‘rebels’ in the industry ignore structures and brand standards, focusing instead on creating connections and experiences that really matter.

The panel was a who’s who of industry disruptors: globally renowned designer Bill Bensley; co-founder of Furnished Property and Veriu Hotels, Australia, Alex Thorpe; Emblem Hotel CEO, Japan, Yosuke Irie; CEO of The Small Maldives Island Co, Mark Hehir; and CMO/CFO for Hip and Happening Group, Dorit Gruber.

Keen first asked each panellist to share their underlying philosophy, their ‘reason for being’. Yosuke Irie says he was inspired to create a hostel brand – rather than a regular hotel – because of his passion for socialising and creating experiences where guests have fun meeting each other – and locals. He is committed to offering guests truly local experiences, gathering 140 local volunteers to take guests around to their favourite places.

Alex Thorpe said it was all about giving guests what they want and right now what they want is deeper connections. “We’re driven by the guest and go from there. We don’t take a brand book and say ‘You fit in with us’,” he said. “We created Veriu Hotels with the aim of connecting guests to local communities because they don’t want generic experiences; they want connections.”

Dorit Gruber believes the need for connectivity is particularly strong amongst under 35-year-old millennial travellers. “Loneliness is a huge issue. When they travel, they crave connectivity. They don’t like to be alone, but not enough hotels offer that kind of environment.”

Bensley added that his new hotel, Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection, a luxury camp in the middle of the Cambodian jungle – is being built with the specific aim of connecting guests to each other as well as to local residents. The camp will include an open bar and a long, communal table where guests, Shinta Mani staff and wildlife rangers can enjoy dinner and drinks together.

“That’s the future. That’s the evolution of experience,” he said. “I know that if all drinks are included, people come together; they don’t have to worry about money. The most beautiful part of travel is being together with other travellers.”

Another big question posed by Keen during the discussion: how scalable is disruption? Can you truly achieve the same impact with a 250-room hotel as an 80-key property?

Thorpe believes 150 rooms is the limit, while Gruber said ultimately, it’s about working out how to scale your success. “It’s a business in the end. We have to see what our consumers want and how to deliver on it.”

Bensley agreed. “We just finished a 250-room JW Marriott in Phú Quốc, Vietnam. We re-inhabited an old French university. We found a way of breaking down and reorganising the hotel with an incredible storyline. In big hotels, you need to break down the scale into smaller pieces.”

“Big brands are pretty darn open now,” he concluded. “There is a lot of good energy going in the right direction.”

If you would like more information about QUO or the ‘Rebel with a Cause’ HICAP panel discussion, please contact info.bangkok@quo-global.com.