From landlords to building managers to receptionists, those working in and around properties are finding themselves taking on a more service-oriented approach due to the rising trend for 'hotelisation'.
In a nutshell this means the application of a hotel service ethos to other kinds of real estate such as commercial offices and residential properties. It's a strategy that has been the subject of increasingly widespread discussion among real-estate professionals. The pandemic has only accelerated adoption of the idea, as technology and service have become a greater priority for those who want to live and work in engaging spaces.
In a webinar that discussed the trend, Office Concierge's head of commercial Anthony Laser discussed the slow evolution of his firm's approach. He said, ‘Historically, office buildings maybe had a commissionaire, or a grumpy security guard sitting at a desk, and there wasn't a front of house as such. The concept of taking the hotel as an example and applying its practices to offices was unknown ten years ago.
'What started off in premium London corporate buildings is now a global trend, all stemming from a focus on events, engagement and the lifestyle that comes from bringing hotel-style service into office and residential spaces.'
Fellow panellist Chris Carter Keall, chief investment officer of LifeX Aps, a coliving solution that merges independent living with the style of a house share to encourage a closer resident community, explained that the main concern for his company's co-living apartments is attracting and retaining high-value occupiers. To help his clients achieve this, he went to Silicon Valley in San Francisco to research what the offices of firms such as Adobe, Facebook and Google provided for their employees.
He reported, 'What these major businesses and spaces were doing for their staff was primarily centred on well-being. They wanted people to come in in the morning and stay until it was time to go home, leaving with a positive experience of the service.
'This is where I first heard the term hotelisation. As a company born out of technology, we applied this to our strategy. Our tech backbone enables us to reduce the costs of operation on one side, and focus our staff – the expensive element – on the customer experience.'
International Hospitality Media chief editor George Sell believes that hotelisation is part of a much wider trend. He said, 'Properties are using the best elements and best practices from various different sectors and asset classes, applying these to create an enhanced site and customer experience.
'The office and build-to-rent sectors are borrowing from hospitality; but equally, hospitality is having to change as well. It wasn't that long ago that if you weren't a guest at a hotel, you weren't made to feel particularly welcome. But now hotel lobbies are multi-use, so people who aren't guests check in for a coffee and work for an hour.'
Typically, real-estate assets have struggled to put their users first. From construction to facilities to staff, the people who will actually live and work in and around that space are the last to be consulted, if ever.
The growing popularity of property technology and hotel-style provision seems to have prompted a shift from a revenue-driven mentality to a stronger service and well-being ethos. Ultimately a more rewarding long-term strategy, this will develop community relationships and solidify building users loyalty.
Properties that have starting to emulate hotel-style service have first prioritised hiring staff with the relevant experience and insight. Sell for instance observed that a growing number of workers entering real estate specialise in customer experience.
He said, 'We've seen build-to-rent developers in the past couple of years hiring staff with a hospitality background to bring in an events programme and help create a sense of community. On the tech side, we've seen them introduce innovative features such as virtual viewings, app payments, digital reference checking, and a platform for residents to communicate with each other to foster that sense of community.'
Laser agreed that uniting technology and staff is key to providing a first-class service and building a stronger community. He added, 'Through apps and technology, you have the ability to send notifications, event invites, and create a hub.
'From the commercial point of view, technology enables engagement and service. An example would be the visitor experience. Rather than having staff type your name into a computer, QR codes have sped up the process of signing in and out, giving reception the time to focus on the customer service and adding value.'
To future-proof a sector that is evolving at an alarming pace due to the pandemic, real-estate assets must integrate technology into the design of buildings rather than retrofitting it. Only by bringing in customer experience measures such as maintenance management, visitor management and IoT software and sensors that enhance comfort and productivity at an early stage will this be possible.
Hotelisation supports this endeavour by cultivating stronger and more meaningful relationships with the teams who manage the buildings and the people who use them. In the longer term, this should foster loyalty, longer tenancies and, potentially, greater customer satisfaction.