IHS AMSTERDAM: AN INTERVIEW WITH KARIN MEYN AND CHRISTINE BOLAND
The world around us is changing, and the speed and complexity with which this is happening influences our autonomy and daily well-being. Digital techniques such as Artificial Intelligence guide our behaviour; Alexa and Siri have become our new therapists. Navigating in this chaotic, digital existence makes it increasingly important that we take time to stay close to ourselves; being able to set our own pace and limits on what we like or dislike.
As rest, human contact and the occasional need to hug a tree become the new luxury goods, maintaining balance in this irreversible new world order requires a reassessment of our humanity…
For this conversation, Independent Hotel Show partners Severs+Jansen are sitting at the kitchen table with two leading ladies in the world of interior design and trend analysis. Karin Meyn, creative director and owner of Studio Piet Boon (who currently sit in the top 10 best hotel designers in the world) and Christine Boland, international trend analyst.
Creating, gaining and retaining a right to exist in a fluid world is only possible when hotel brands start to distinguish themselves in their attention to human desires, with real love for product and quality. Investing in excellent and genuine attention with a good foundation under everything you do makes the difference today!
How can hotels still be unique and distinctive today?
“In our opinion, this requires an investment in the ‘Sense of Place’. Of course, having a unique design, the right tone-of-voice and distinctive interior design make the difference, but what today’s guests crave is human contact, recognition and appreciation.”
“If you want to be unique but also stay on track with your growth ambitions, you must develop each hotel from the inside out. It is then that they all become different and not just a copy of the initial drawing board.”
“As an owner or the person who puts the hotel on the market, it is advisable to stand on the site of the hotel and shape it from there,” says Christine. “The contents of the hotel and the connection with the place will change at each location providing you approach the design from inside to outside. I really think that an owner can be the owner of several unique hotels, if you have an eye for the ‘Sense of Place’.”
“Paying attention to the environment and looking for a distinctive addition to the place itself should be a standard component in every design brief,” says Karin. “For me, hotels are only unique when characteristic components from the city or neighbourhood can be seen in the design and styling of the hotel. This way, every hotel gets its own signature whilst still being part of the parent brand. What is special is that a guest in every location of a hotel can really experience the location where it is built.”
Knowing Why You Do What You Do
Any story that is going to be developed must be correct; it must tie in with the vision and line of thought behind the central question: What is our why? Only then can you create around the intended story. For example, when creating an excellent briefing for your architects, interior architects or graphic designer Karin and Christine share the opinion that the route from “inside to outside” is crucial to arrive at a genuinely unique concept.
How do you incorporate international trends in your design philosophy?
According to Karin, the answer to this question is dependent on the type of client and the brief you receive from the brand.
“For example, we now work for an international hotel brand that has a core management team travelling around the world to investigate the trends, developments and local relevance for each predetermined hotel location. All facets, from storytelling to brand experience, are examined by this team and put down on paper.
Decision-making about this strategy and detail must be prepared and presented before the owner of the hotel brand, and the owner of the building to give the final go. This means we get a clear-cut storyline with which we as interior designers can get started right away – and which we must strictly follow! Nothing is left to chance throughout the entire design process and, for example, during the assessment of the sample rooms. Every detail is carefully checked against the brief and refined several times if necessary. A final ‘yes’ to these rooms will only follow when the core team has agreed. Before this point, the owner of the hotel brand does not make his voice heard. ”
So, no free-styling with the design?
Karin makes it clear that having a fully elaborated narrative before the start of a project is very important. “Free-styling is not possible as then it goes in all directions! We always start by creating a design vision before we start designing. This vision or narrative forms the basis for the rest of the design. It is the common thread that we stick to and guarantees consistency within a project, especially with long-term projects.
With our design vision, we show that we understand both the customer and the guest and that we are able to translate the customer’s values into a suitable design.”
How do you maintain the energy in long-term projects where the trends and current events are constantly changing?
Christine: “I actually get a lot of energy from the changing spirit of the times!”
Karin: “Although our designs are timeless, I also dare to say that we are also visionary in the field of hospitality design. We are now also among the top [10 of the best hotel designers in the world]. We do a lot of research to determine where our design must be in a few years so that it will be new and refreshing. Regarding the duration of the project, you often know how long a project will take and keep that in mind. Retaining energy is not a problem because although a project takes a long time, it consists of several phases and each phase is new and gives new power.”
Your Objectives vs. The Spirit of the Times
A trend analyst often acts as a ‘support act’ in strategic projects for organisations, but it’s an important role that serves to assist companies by making them really think about the route that they want to take from A to B.
Christine explains; “I am not here to tell companies their strategy. I listen to where the organisation wants to go and I have the spirit of the times in my backpack so then can say: Okay, as a company you want to go there, you are here now and this is what you will encounter along the way. How do you as an organisation deal with that?
“You might have ‘your mission’, a vision or an objective that says that you always want to be the most friendly company. But what does ‘most-friendly’ mean today? Being hospitable means something completely different from five years ago. What do people currently experience as warmth, the human dimension or attention? These are questions that must be asked during the conversations about the identity and the desired route of the company.”
Christine continues her argument: “My story mainly shows companies that they must always test their objectives against the spirit of the times so that ideas are created easily, and insights come together.”
Putting hotels, supermarkets or any product on the market, the strategy is the same. “I am not the guru who comes to tell. I am more the alchemist who, together with business management, matches the objectives of an organisation with the changing spirit of the times. I am a sounding board for an organisation that almost knows where it wants to go, but my analysis of the spirit of the times is added to place the whole in the here and now. ”
You are a frequent traveller, what makes for a pleasant stay?
Karin: “The basics must always be good – a comfortable bed and bed linen really make the difference. Once you have experienced Egyptian cotton, you will never want anything else! The bathroom and especially the shower must also be good.
I can also be delighted with a well prepared and healthy breakfast. This does not have to be much, as long as it is fresh and of high quality.”
“How you measure the experience of your stay depends on what type of guest you are – leisure or business – in both cases, I find it very pleasant when you are unburdened. A hotel should give me the feeling that I have at home”, says Karin ” a feeling of homeliness, warmth and personal attention.”
For Christine, a hotel is a resting place. A base for when she must do her work elsewhere in the city. When travelling, she spends as little time as possible in the hotel, choosing instead to explore the area, visit museums and find inspiration. “As long as the hotel provides comfort and is consistent with the service level, it is good.”
For both travellers there’s an added value when the hotel helps arrange their trip. “For the period that we are using the hotel as our home, we don’t want to have to think about anything. For us, this sense of curation is another pillar on which a boutique or a corporate hotel can stand out!”
How do you, as an independent hotelier, respond to this demand from travellers today?
Christine: “Thinking in context is critical. You may have something new to offer as a hotel, but that is not always the issue. It is better that you are relevant in the context of your guests at a certain moment. What is your story as a hotelier, what is the story of the guest who comes to you? And how do I ensure that both stories connect to each other in the guest experience? With the help of existing data and social media, you can make a better estimate of the guest profile. Hotels can anticipate this with wonderful services to guests when they stay at the hotel.”
Admittedly, this should always be done at an appropriate distance from the guest to respect their (desired) privacy, Christine adds. “Zoom in on the context of why a guest comes to you. That’s what it’s about today. The sense of People, with which employees can really make the difference. Sensitivity and human attention will always be preferred over the services that computers with data can provide. ”
“Hotels receive my loyalty when they understand how they can positively influence my emotion” – Karin Meyn
Imagine you had the chance to collaborate on a hospitality project, what is the dream that will be realised?
Karin and Christine considered this in a meaningful way before saying in one breath: “We would like to turn a difficult, almost written-off area into a beating heart – an area that is “hip and happening” after ten years. That would be a great project for us, being allowed to give content to an environment by thinking differently….
Future-proofing your business is considered a challenge in any industry, so whether you’re considering your next design project or just want to get an insight into the latest trends, make sure to be a part of ‘The Hotel Room of the Future’ session on the Hotel Vision Stage at the Independent Hotel Show for a glimpse into the future of hospitality.
Secure your ticket and join the community at the Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam, 8-9 May at RAI Amsterdam.