Posted in People on 9 November, 2017

Yotel Chief Executive Officer, Hubert Viriot, talks to Can Faik on how the Yotel brand has translated the language of luxury airline travel into smartly-designed cabins…

Inspired by the luxury of first-class travel and uncompromisingly designed around guests, YOTEL takes the essential elements of luxury hotels into smaller, smart spaces and delivers a sense of community with areas for co-working, social gatherings and exercise. Premium Cabins include YOTEL’s signature adjustable SmartBed™ with rejuvenating monsoon rain showers and a Technowall with adjustable mood lighting and smart TVs, multi-power points and easy connectivity. YOTEL was created by YO! founder Simon Woodroffe OBE, who inspired by first class travel translated the language of luxury airline travel into a small but luxurious cabin.

What was your background in hospitality prior to working for YOTEL?

Prior to joining YOTEL, I was CEO of Raimon Land PLC, a leading real estate developer listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET). It was great experience. For four years as CEO, I worked with a successful team to help increase the company’s development portfolio from USD200million to USD1.1billion.

Before working at Raimon, I was Vice President of Investments & Acquisitions with IFA Hotels & Resorts, which owns the YOTEL brand. We have a great relationship with them, as they’ve supported YOTEL since its inception.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Working with likeminded individuals who are passionate and focused on expanding YOTEL globally. Everyone believes so much in the brand and what we’re working towards. It’s challenging for sure, but we have an aggressive growth strategy. Our passion and team spirit, go a long way towards making that become reality.

What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?

We now have a dynamic mix of shareholders and investors. The real benefit of that is being able to tap into a wide array of experts and knowledge. It’s important to us to work closely with our existing partners, listen to their expertise and foster new relationships as we take our brand to the next level.

Most recently, a fund affiliated with Starwood Capital Group invested $250 million in YOTEL. Cody Bradshaw, Managing Director, Head of European Hotels at Starwood Capital Group and Sarah Broughton, ‎Senior Vice President, Starwood Capital Group have joined the YOTEL board of directors, alongside representatives of the company’s major shareholders including the Al-Bahar Group, IFA Hotels & Resorts, United Investment Portugal and Kuwait Real Estate Company (AQARAT).

What are YOTEL’s unique selling points?

There are many high-end traditional hotels offering great services at a high price, however, there is a huge demand for both business and leisure travellers wanting to make the most of their time and money without compromising on luxury. This is where YOTEL excels. Due to our flexibility in design, we can generally fit 50 per cent more rooms into a location. This ultimately translates to higher rewards for our owners, investors and developers, while also providing amazing value to our guests.

Technology and design are key elements of what we do. Whether it’s our trademark SmartBedTM with a bespoke Serta gel-cooled mattress that enables work, rest and sleep, or our proprietary app that enables 24/7 self-service airline-style check-in and keyless entry, we like to deliver a seamless intuitive service that gives our guests ‘everything they need and nothing they don’t’.

Our YOTELAIR cabins are bookable by the hour, offering flexible accommodation and opportunities for our guests to stay the night before an early flight, in transit between flights or to freshen up after a long flight.

What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?

I think knowing that your hotel business model provides a fantastic value to guests, while delivering a great hotel experience is extremely powerful. We have perfected the design of our cabins to maximise the use of space without compromising comfort. We use technology not for the sake of it, but to provide a better user experience across touchpoints. For every hotel operator, space is always a consideration. For YOTEL, our clever design and use of space has enabled us to create a concept that can be replicated around the world and is applicable to most spaces. That’s really valuable from a hotel development standpoint.

What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?

We’ve just opened our Singapore City hotel, which marks a milestone for us being the first YOTEL to open in Asia, the flagship 610 cabin hotel will act as a springboard for our planned growth into Asia.

As mentioned earlier, YOTEL is expanding rapidly, we have more than 15 new hotels under development globally. We’re excited to soon be announcing a new city centre hotel in Edinburgh. Stay tuned for more details on that project shortly… We also have new city hotels in San Francisco, London, Dubai, Miami and Amsterdam under development and a YOTELAIR as part of the Jewel Project at Singapore Changi Airport.

How do hotel trends differ – if at all – between hotels in the US, Asia and Europe?

Globally, there is a movement away from traditional, defined spaces such as bars, restaurants and meeting rooms. People increasingly want multifunctional spaces that meet a variety of needs, whether that’s relaxing, meeting with friends or co-working.

In the UK, we’re lucky as it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s one of the greater economic and financial hubs, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The future in terms of demand is very solid. Similarly, we see the same trends in Europe, and we are always looking for markets that are easily accessible and used by corporate and leisure travellers from around the world.

In the US, we’re seeing a bit of a slowdown in the market generally, however, our New York and recently opened Boston location are both thriving. We also have two hotels under development in San Francisco and Miami to open in the future, so we have a positive outlook.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?

Technology and guest expectations around tech are driving change in the hotel sector. Hotel brands recognise guests value a technology-driven experience. This is a trend we’ve incorporated from the beginning. But, we don’t do fancy gadgets or use technology just for the sake of it – everything we offer adds something to the guest experience. We prioritise added value over thrills. For example, greater internet bandwidth is prioritised over app-controlled lighting (while the former leads to extra maintenance costs, it provides value to guests).

How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?

Hotel design is a key component when launching a new hotel. For example, we try to incorporate local elements into each hotel, such as partnering with local artists and innovators. Public spaces are always designed to reflect the local market and will mirror the personality of the city. I think travellers value this, and it’s a point of difference. We are not a cookie cutter brand, which allows us to innovate and design for the future hotel guest not the current one.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Working with a dynamic group of people and establishing, nearly from scratch, a global management platform spread from Singapore to San Francisco, is exceptional and certainly one the most exciting objectives I have ever had the opportunity to lead and implement. Launching a new hotel and knowing that we’re giving value to guests is also truly fulfilling.

What would be your dream hotel project?

Our Amsterdam City hotel is certainly high up on my list. It’s going to have a significant outdoor space, an outdoor terrace next to the water, boat docking spaces and a unique sustainable water system. We’re working with Being Development to create a unique circular water system that will collect, store, filter and re-use water.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?

After spending so many years in the Middle East and the Far East, skiing is on the top of my list. In particular, I’d like to go to the US and Switzerland, where we will soon launch our first affordable luxury resorts targeting a new generation of skiers and travellers who are looking for flexibility, efficiency and affordability. More to be announced soon.

Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?

Managing a global brand requires significant travel away from home. Thankfully technology allows me to keep in touch with my family and friends easily. I also aim to be home or in London every weekend and never miss important celebrations and anniversaries. When possible, my family travels with me, depending on school holidays and schedules.

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