Sleeper Magazine

Claus Sendlinger

Issue 24 May / June 2009

The CEO and Founder of Design Hotels™ spent early 2009 travelling the world to spread the word about ‘Made by Originals’ – a new campaign that puts the personalities behind the group’s hotels centre stage. Sleeper caught up with him on his return to Berlin to find out more...

You’ve just come back from a 17-date world tour to promote the ‘Made By Originals’ campaign. What were the highlights of your trip?

I love travelling and speaking to the movers and shakers around the world. New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico City, Beijing – in three months I visited some of the hottest places on earth meeting extraordinary artists, architects, journalists and other creative people. So you can imagine this trip had plenty of highlights, but one evening I will never forget was at The Box in NYC – it was their second anniversary.
Tell us a bit more about ‘Made By Originals’...
An ‘Original’ is a person of marked eccentricity and exceptional creativity. All our member hotels were created by people like that. Designers, owners, chefs – the creative minds behind the hotels are the Originals. We asked extraordinary characters such as Emanuele Garosci, owner of the Palazzina in Venice, if they would like to be part of our global ‘Made by Originals’ campaign and they loved the idea. 
Why are you focusing on the people behind the hotels rather than their design?
Hotels with contemporary aesthetics were once a novelty, but nowadays design alone is no longer enough to create premium experience. Most hotels today have an element of contemporary design. A designer sofa in the lobby won’t put you ahead of the competition.
It is the originality of the concept and the individuality of the personalities behind it that distinguishes our member hotels from other properties. These Originals are at the heart of our brand. And that’s why we have brought their stories and their passion to the fore across all of Design Hotels™’ communication platforms.
The production values of the films for ‘Made By Originals’ are very high...
Before we started the production of the Made by Originals films we had a close look at other hotel films. And 99% of them showed us what our films shouldn’t be like. Together with the publishing company Gestalten we decided to create films focusing on the Originals, their inspiration, their motivation and their hotel concept.
We want to convey the sensory experiences that guests can expect at our member hotels and also the passion that went into creating them. In stark contrast to the more common “hotel walkthrough” videos or 360° images, the Made by Originals films bring visitors closer to the hotel by allowing them to see, hear and almost feel the hotel.
Interviews with the Originals are underlined with great music and unusual shots of the architecture and design of the hotels and the local surroundings. We invested a lot of time, passion and, of course, money. But it was worth it, and this is just the beginning. Each of our member hotels has at least one Original behind it and we are planning to create more films in the near future.

The picture we’re using to illustrate this piece, is that your new house in Berlin in the background?
It is indeed my new home in Berlin. I created it together with Armin Fischer, designer at 3Meta design. This house reflects my personal take on design and I love it. At the moment we are adding the final touches. By the way: in the picture I am standing in my bathroom.
Of  the new member hotels featured in The Book this year, which openings are you most excited about?
During my time in Asia in January I had a look at the Alila Villas Uluwatu and it looks absolutely amazing. Alila will open another five properties this year and they look very promising. Also new, the hotels in Mexico such as the Distrito Capital created by the Habita group will be fantastic. There is a lot happening in South America and South-East-Asia when it comes to hospitality.
And which architects and designers are doing the most interesting work?
One of the most boundary pushing design concepts on a global scale is The Opposite House by Kengo Kuma and Neri & Hu who were responsible for the public spaces. Furthermore I think Tony Chi did a fantastic job at the Park Hyatt in Shanghai; so did Joseph Dirand at the Habita Monterrey. 
Why did you change from the glossy magazine ‘Directions’, to your newspaper, “New Directions”?
We are following a different approach with New Directions. It is easier to read than the magazine and more focused on the Design Hotels™ brand and on the Originals. New Directions is not only for hotel guests. We want to distribute it in cities that host exciting design and architecture events such as Salone del Mobile in Milan to reach a far bigger audience. That is why we printed five times as many copies of New Directions in comparison to the magazine.
How does your new website fit in with this repositioning of the brand?
We are not re-positioning our brand at all, quite the opposite. With ‘Made by Originals’ we have captured the essence of the brand – the people behind the hotels. The Originals and their stories play a big role in our brand new website. DesignHotels.Com provides you with a mix of experiences and services. It combines film-clips with hotel references and specific city recommendations with interesting packages.

And what are your plans with the Future Forum?
We have decided to establish the Future Forum as our main event in Berlin, with the next one taking place in May 2010. Autumn was never our favourite time for a Berlin event and this year we decided to skip it in favour of a better timing next spring. May is a great month for design events in Berlin – there will be a lot happening such as the DMY attracting a creative crowd.  
Now that Hilton has launched its Denizen brand, every major hotel group has a ‘lifestyle’, ‘design’ or ‘boutique’ hotel brand. Given the distribution network available to the large hotel groups what impact might this have on your member hotels? What makes them different to the chain-operated ‘design’ hotels?
It all started off with ‘W’ in 1997 and now, more than ten years later, Hilton has decided to create its own lifestyle hospitality brand. That just shows how much design has become a given in the hospitality industry. Individually owned, design-led properties apply for membership with Design Hotels™ not only because we have a global distribution network but also because we understand that they need to remain independent to maintain their originality.
We are not interested in heavily branding every member hotel with the Design Hotels trademark. We don’t want every hotel to use the same toiletries. We don’t set standards in every hotel. These are elements that chain hotels have to incorporate. And that is exactly the point that distinguishes our hotels from them. Every member hotel provides a totally different guest experience.

And the inevitable crunch question  – what effect is the current financial situation having on Design Hotels itself, and the member hotels?
You saved the best for last! We have done our homework and are prepared for the current situation. Design Hotels™ offers a niche product which isn’t as heavily affected by the situation as other hospitality groups. However, we can see a decrease in average room nights per booking and average rates.  



Claus Sendlinger
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