Can hotels surprise us even when we can see everything in advance online?

Rotterdam – What’s driving the developments in today’s hospitality industry? According to Víctor Fernández, CEO of the Room Mate Group, the answer is simple: people. They are the ones who set the rules according to their personal needs.

To meet these diverse needs, the amount of concept and choices in the hospitality scene is growing, especially in the middle-market segment… and so is the Room Mate brand, which is expanding rapidly. The Spanish hotel chain recently opened its second location in the – in Rotterdam, to be precise, a city that Fernández describes as an upcoming European destination that has become a very important business hub.

Occupying a former 19th-century spice warehouse, the Bruno hotel features 217 rooms and is directly connected to the Foodhallen, a food court that is one of the city’s gastronomic hotspots. The newly added top floor looks out on the river Maas and several architectural highlights, including OMA’s De Rotterdam.

We spoke with Fernández, as well as architect and interior designer Teresa Sapey, about how this new hotel and the Room Mate brand are responding to the shifting needs of today’s traveller.

What’s important when designing a hotel today?
TERESA SAPEY: Nowadays hotels must provoke emotional experiences and surprise their users, because customers can see basically everything in advance, online, from their phones. I think the future of the hospitality industry is characterized by comfort and quality on one hand, and the surprise factor and bespoke experience on the other hand.

Hotels must surprise emotionally, because customers can basically see everything in advance online

How have the demands and needs of modern travellers changed over the past few years?
VÍCTOR FERNÁNDEZ: Thanks to innovation and technology, travel options are almost unlimited and just one click away. Consequently, people increasingly want to tailor their experiences to their specific needs. The hospitality industry should adapt to guest’s lifestyles. This is why Room Mate Hotels was born, so people could choose affordable luxury, including all the services they really need, like bed, bath and breakfast, while avoiding costs for the things they don’t.

That’s the same reason we started our serviced apartment brand, Be Mate, which offers the benefits of an apartment but the comfort of a hotel. Currently we are looking at opening a hostel brand as well as a beach resort, so that we can offer even more options to travellers and meet everyone’s needs.

Innovation is not only in technology: there are many ways to innovate through people

More and more, we see hospitality brands expand their services. How do you adapt?
VF: Our innovation department, Next, is constantly looking for ways to improve, to become more service-led and human-centric. One thing we observed is that technology is essential for travellers today. It’s very disappointing for anyone to arrive in a new city and not be able to check an interactive map, locate yourself in the city, hire services through a mobile phone or even post on social media. This is why WiMate – a free WiFi service throughout the city – was born. It gives our guests the freedom to use the internet while travelling, without the need to spend extra money.

But contrary to what most people might think, innovation is not only in technology: there are many ways to innovate through people, procedures and operations. What matters at the end of the day is to make people happy. Our most recent innovation has been the implementation of a digital tool that helps our staff communicate with the hearing impaired through virtual sign language translators.

What’s your target group for Room Mate Bruno?
VF: We expect most of our visitors to be business oriented, because of the wide variety of options we offer to host events and meetings, but we also receive many leisure travellers that visit Rotterdam as a continuation of their Amsterdam trip.

Did the history of Bruno’s building and the city of Rotterdam inform you design?
TS: Of course! I strongly believe in the genius loci. I think any project should have part of the DNA of the place it’s built and set in. Context is fundamental. As a matter of fact, the building was a warehouse used to store spices from the Dutch West India Company. We wanted to retain this strong heritage, its colours, textures and scents.

The design concept has been influenced by spices, the warmth of Spain and De Stijl

Did you do that through the colour and material scheme?
TS: The concept of the design has been influenced by three key elements: the spices, which embody the heritage of the building and the site, and tell the history of this amusing city; the warmth of Spain, its sun, people and culture; and the bright colours of the De Stijl movement. The yellow palette evokes saffron, sun and albero; the oranges represent cinnamon, nutmeg and Spanish citrus fruits; blues are used to recall the sea, the sky and the air.

You created Bruno as a character. What are the benefits of this approach?
TS: Room Mate is known for designing hotels that are characters themselves, showing their visitors and customers part of the city through their own story. In this case, Bruno is a sailor from the Dutch West India Company, who wants to show you this building and introduce you to Rotterdam’s history and heritage.

Using this approach has multiple benefits: it helps develop a design concept that is site-specific; it creates more personal, mysterious and bespoke spaces; and finally, from the very start, it provides a local experience through a contemporary design interpretation.

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