Video: Why Yotel CEO Hubert Viriot is not afraid of Airbnb

The Yotel London Clerkenwell will open next year.

BERLIN, Germany - As the second day of the 20th International Hotel Investment Forum at the Hotel InterContinental Berlin, Germany, Questex Hospitality's David Eisen sat down with Yotel CEO Hubert Viriot to discuss the ultra-hip brand’s plans for expansion, why technology is vital to hotels and why Airbnb doesn’t need to be seen as a threat. 

Here are five key takeaways from Viriot.

1. Yotel is Booming...

After starting off in airports, the European brand now has several urban destinations. “We were able to create the perfect product for cities,” Viriot said, calling the company’s New York City hotel a “a natural launchpad” for the brand’s urban properties. “Having a 700-room hotel in Times Square was the ideal way to launch the brand.”

In January, Yotel announced a notable milestone with a new London property slated to open in late 2018. The hotel, Viriot said, would be the “first city Yotel not only in London, but Europe.” Like the brand’s other hotels, it will have a communal area for dining and co-working, and this property will also have a restaurant managed by a third party that will focus on attracting locals. “That’s super important for today’s traveler, to be able to see other people, meet other people or stay on your own,” Viriot said. 

2. ...Because Investors Like the Model

Yotel operates its hotels on behalf of investors and developers, Viriot said. “Investors like us because we’ve got a product that’s in tune with consumer requirements.” This, he said, provides the company with a very loyal customer base.
Similarly, he said, “owners like the concept because we do what hotels are supposed to do. We focus on the rooms. We’re efficient at it. Our rooms are compact but well designed, as a result, we don’t consume so much land space. It makes the entire asset much more efficient than a typical hotel.” Many hotels waste space both in front-of-house and back-of-house, he said. “Our hotels are all about return per square foot, and owners obviously love it. Having an efficient piece of real estate [combined] with what the guests actually want generates higher returns. That’s why we’ve had recent successes.” 

3. Keep Innovating

Yotel, Viriot said, was one of the first brands to introduce a number of standards that are now becoming global. For example, when the brand launched, few hotels let guests check in through a kiosk. “It goes against the traditional hotel guest experience,” he said. “Now you see a lot of brands introducing similar services. Why? It’s much more efficient.” At a property like the Times Square hotel can have 300 people check in and out each day, which can lead to long lines and unhappy guests. Kiosks, when used properly, can reduce the check-in time to a single minute. “It changes the entire experience,” he said.

This is just one example of leveraging technology to improve not only the guest experience, but overall revenue. “All the hoteliers, brands, operators need to face one simple matter,” Viriot said. “Hotels are one asset class among the real estate world. We need to be more efficient. We need to consume less energy. We need to consume less space....For that, we need to better design hotels.” To that end, he said, technology is there to support operations, improve the guest experience and create a better real estate asset. 

Ultimately, he said, technology needs to be at the service of the consumer. “It’s not just technology for technology. That’s useless. Innovation is super important. It needs to be incorporated into any brand’s DNA—certainly as part of ours.” 

4. Don’t be Afraid of Airbnb

“There’s space for everyone,” Viriot said when asked about home-sharing services. “Airbnb does a great job for certain types of stays. Not all of them.” While Airbnb makes sense for long-term stays and for groups, hotels can still cater to the independent traveler seeking experience and consistency. “But as I said earlier, hotels need to be very focused on what they provide and be really good at it. That’s why we operate our hotels and we don’t do franchising, for instance. That makes sure the experience is well-delivered to our guests.” 

5. Keep Learning

For a rapidly growing company, the opportunity to learn and network at events like IHIF is crucial. At IHIF, Viriot said, the Yotel team can meet with new developers, new investors and other sources of business to keep growing its brands. 

The educational opportunities at conferences are also important. “We hear what our competitors do, what other design companies do, what developers do,” he said. “The knowledge that we get in such a conference is quite important to  further improve our brand for the next generation of hotels and the next generation of consumers.” 

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