Parilio Paros Greece

Design Hotels™ - stepping into a realm of infinite experience

Design Hotels™ represents and markets a hand-selected collection of privately owned and operated hotels—each a wholly unique creative expression—in hundreds of destinations around the globe, from world capitals and exclusive mountaintops to hidden beaches, off-the-beaten-path escapes, and beyond. Design Hotels™ unites hotels that reflect the vision of independent hoteliers with a passion for genuine, culturally rooted hospitality and cutting-edge design and architecture. Mr Hudson speaks to Peter Cole, CEO, about trends in travel, the Design Hotels™ brand, his priorities, and some of his favourite places.

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Tell us about yourself

I’m originally from Wisconsin in the US, and I started my career in real estate. I joined Marriott International almost 24 years ago, where I had a myriad of roles – from finance to operations. In 2015 I was offered the opportunity to integrate the Starwood acquisition by Marriott. One thing that came along with that was Starwood’s investment in Design Hotels™, which I got to know pretty well during that period. When that process came to a close the founder of Design Hotels™, Claus Sendlinger, concluded that he wanted to pursue other opportunities, so taking over the leadership position was a natural next step.

What are your current priorities for Design Hotels™?

Our primary focus is on three things. Number one is maintaining the brand strength that we have, bringing it further to interaction with our customers, and helping it lend benefit to our member hotels. Number two is offering the most powerful tools to our member hotels. Some of that involves us taking advantage of tools that Marriott can make available, and some of it consists of enhancing our proprietary technology to continue to market and drive business to our member hotels. Number three is expanding the Design Hotels™ presence with our ultimate customer beyond their stay in one of our properties.

Peter Cole Design Hotels

Peter Cole

Cretan Malia Park Crete Greece

Cretan Malia Park | Crete, Greece

“Our business model is focused on hotels that are independently-owned by individuals, instead of financial institutions”

How would you describe your position in the travel sector?

What we believe very strongly is that the customer today is making purchase decisions with an evolving point of view. And that evolving point of view is strengthening our position in the marketplace. Design Hotels™ doesn’t just mean we have beautiful design in our properties. If you look across the industry today, design and style are reflected in all sorts of hotel brands and properties. Design is no longer the distinctive feature it was when the boutique hotel market formed twenty to twenty-five year ago.

We now look at the purpose behind the design, which is one of the reasons that our business model is focused on hotels that are independently-owned by individuals, instead of financial institutions. Those individuals – we call them the ‘Originals’ – bring their passion to the concept, which is then reflected in the design and the guest experience. That passion is what makes the hotel stand out. And our belief is that in the future that purpose and that passion are going to be one of the table stakes for customers when deciding where to travel. If you don’t have a strong point of view in your hotel, you won’t make that evaluation cut.

K5 Tokyo Japan

K5 | Tokyo, Japan

We love your ‘made by Originals’ strand of storytelling - how did that come about?

The Originals have always been a core component. We have to know who the owners are and what their vision for the hotel is in order to evaluate them for membership and curate their property into our portfolio. The Originals are a great asset of ours, and we wanted to make that clear. The ultimate consumer should expect to feel the owner’s point of view in the hotel. Each of these Originals carves out their distinctive and overt point of view, which means they don’t try to appeal to every person, and we find that very attractive. The world is becoming more focused on travel, on exploring other cultures and identities, which means that people increasingly actively seek out these points of view to engage with.

“The ultimate consumer should expect to feel the owner’s point of view in the hotel”

How do you engage the Design Hotels™ community?

We have launched an initiative called ‘Further’, which we consider a travelling laboratory of co-creation. It came out of the realisation that we have strong connections in the creative industries and that what those individuals stand for and believe is strongly aligned with the Design Hotels™ point of view and ethos. We used it as a way to enliven the physical spaces in our hotels but also found that it helps us vivify other spaces where we bring together owners, travel agents, travel writers and customers and expose them to what we feel are exciting people, ideas, art and culture.

Erick Meyenberg At Further Marfa

Erick Meyenberg @ Further Marfa

What is your perspective on technology?

I see technology as a great enabler. It helps expand people’s expectations on what they can find in the world when travelling by putting content in front of them. But technology isn’t content. Technology just delivers the content. Our website is focused extremely on deep storytelling. Other hotel websites are targeted at “how can I book you a hotel room quickly”. We take the opposite point of view, which is “how long can we get you to stay and listen and read”. The other perspective I have on technology is that while it is a great connector, and distributor of information, it can also be extremely overwhelming. I do believe there is a wave of ‘disconnectedness’ coming. People will be using technology to get to a place, and then not using it when they’re in that place.

Sascha Zeilinger At Further Kazbegi

Sascha Zeilinger @ Further Kazbegi

Cretan Malia Park Crete Greece

Cretan Malia Park | Crete, Greece

“I believe there is a wave of ‘disconnectedness’ coming – people will be using technology to get to a place, and then not using it when they’re  in that place”

How can your member hotels distinguish themselves from competitors?

Where we see the opportunity is to take the local community into the hotel. Many of our hoteliers have found ways to bring local individuals into the hotel and expose them to customers. And that can be in a myriad of ways. It could be to encourage people to come and work in the lobby. It could be inviting local artists to perform. Or it could be through their food and beverage offering that is attractive to local people. And it is food and drink that many of our hoteliers excel at. In several cases, these hoteliers are second career hoteliers. Their first career was in some other field, and many of them were in the restaurant business.

Further Marfa

Further Marfa

What are some of your favourite places that people need to know about?

My wife is from Hungary, and we have a condo in Budapest. There is a lot happening, and there is a big creative movement coming. It feels a little bit like Berlin. Another place to completely disconnect is an up-and-coming destination in Mexico called Oaxaca. It’s a great place to unplug and enjoy the sea and the history of the weaving industry that’s based there. It’s just great. I love the mountains. In fact, my mother in law lives in Zürich, and that’s a fantastic place. Everyone thinks it’s sleepy, but to me, it’s entirely the opposite. There are hidden gems everywhere, and the thing that frustrates people is what appeals to me, such as the train leaving at exactly 11:39.

Another interesting destination that I was completely surprised by, and that really is a journey in all of the senses of the word is Marfa, Texas. It’s a small town that has achieved almost mythic status in the past couple of years thanks to an influx of artists and art institutions. It was started in the seventies by a New York art collector named Donald Judd who wanted to escape the art scene in New York. He bought up an old army base and created this artist commune. Now it has become this haven of artists, and we decided to hold one of our ‘Further’ events there.

Node Hotel Kyoto Japan

Node Hotel | Kyoto, Japan

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