By now you know we love all kinds of hotels, from country castles to urban boutiques. And some hotels, let’s face it, are simpler than others. Those castles, for example, follow a recipe that was perfected centuries ago, while a so-called “hip hotel” is a bit more of an intellectual puzzle, though a big-name designer or a celebrity chef can certainly help a hotel get noticed. That’s only half the battle, however — creating a hotel that’s an authentic social hub, a place where a variety of interesting people come together in a myriad of ways, well, that’s a task that requires a certain nous ne savons quoi.
Literally. We don’t know. So we’re throwing it open to the floor. In partnership with Jovoto, the online collaborative creative community, we’re issuing a hotel design challenge. Show us your vision of the perfect social hotel: not just a photogenic lobby or a highly exclusive nightclub but a hotel that’s a creative crossroads, where guests and locals make serendipitous connections of all kinds. It’s partly a design competition, but the challenge is as much conceptual as it is aesthetic.
Our judges include industry insiders like Brent Hoberman of lastminute.com, Shuwa Tei, the architect of Tokyo’s Claska Hotel, and our very own Laurent Vernhes. The most promising concepts will join the Tablet collection in virtual form, where they’ll be subjected to a detailed review by the most demanding audience we can think of: Tablet’s travelers.
The brief is online here, along with all the fine print. Click on over there to learn more and to sign up, and whatever you do, watch this space — we’ll be back with updates on the entries at every stage of the process.
A conversation with the man behind the plan to Rethink Hotels,
Tablet co-founder Laurent Vernhes.
Why put on this contest? And why a social hotel?
Because the world of hospitality needs more conceptual thinking. Obviously there's nothing superficial about the proven recipes when they are well executed. It takes talent and hard work. But we want to contribute to the creation of some new recipes, and re-energize an industry that otherwise moves very slowly.
An urban hotel is a point of contact between people who are more available than they are in their everyday lives to interact with people they don't know. I am optimistic by nature, and I believe that a lot of good can come from maximizing these interactions.
What, in your mind, would make this contest a success?
Participation, engagement and passion. It seems we are already getting that. It means that seeds are being planted in many minds, and any one of them could grow into something exciting. I hope it happens within the competition, but I am very optimistic that one way or another the wheels are already in motion.
Are there any previous concepts or actually existing hotels that have come close to what you're after?
There's Ian Schrager, for example, who re-introduced contemporary design in urban hotels after it had all but disappeared, and he had a real talent for nightlife, so he was able to ensure that each one had a bar where something was always happening. But it was only a generational update, as the basic premise was not so different from what Conrad Hilton went global with. Or from the classic grand hotels, with their clubby bar, high tea in the lobby, and what was, in their time, the height of contemporary good taste.
One of the contest's main inspirations is Claska, in Tokyo, which was designed by Shuwa Tei, a member of our jury. The hotel has changed management a couple of times, so the current execution is not as pure as it was. The hotel is organized in layers, and each floor has a different function: shared office space; apartments; events space; hotel rooms; an inexpensive but good bar and restaurant, which means that people living and working in the building go there too; and a well-curated bookstore and record shop.
Could this be a venture into the physical hotel business for Tablet?
I would be lying if I said that we are not tempted to cross into the physical side of hospitality.
We started as editors, reacting to what we see out there in the hotel world. Now we want to trigger more innovations. It is definitely a big step, from commentator to actor. We already play an active role because we handle bookings — we don't just sit back and make judgements, we put our financial neck on the line with regard to our recommendations. It is tempting to go the extra step and take creative control of an actual hotel experience, but it requires skills that we have not had an opportunity to develop.
If we bump into something truly innovative through the contest, we'll put this "virtual" hotel online amongst our selection of real hotels and see if it attracts booking interest. Without altering the concept we can change amenities, prices, location, even the name of the hotel, and collect data on how travelers react to that. This is something no hotelier can do today, because it is simply too expensive to conduct these experiments on real hotels.
And at the end of this adventure, we may feel confident that we've learned enough to jump off that cliff! Who knows? Would it have to be the best hotel in the world? I don't even know what that would mean. But I do enjoy the idea of doing something that did not exist before, something that ends up inspiring others to try the same thing. That's what we did with Tablet.