Interviews

Embracing market challenges to accelerate growth

Following the launch of the first Yotel city-centre hotel in Europe, VP of Brand, Simon Willis shares insights on the group’s ambitions and ethos

With ambitious plans to double its portfolio to 60 properties by 2023, Yotel is turning challenges into opportunities and reinforcing it’s brand proposition in the process. From embracing industry uncertainty around Brexit to diversifying its offering for secondary destinations, how is this tech-savvy group turning market challenges in its favour? Click. caught up with Simon Willis, VP of Brand at Yotel off the back of its most recent opening in Edinburgh, UK.

Click.: You just opened Yotel’s first European city centre hotel in Edinburgh; tell us about that launch?

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Simon Willis, VP of Brand, Yotel
Simon Willis, VP of Brand, Yotel

Willis: We opened the hotel at the very end of July just in time for the Edinburgh Festival. It was a great time to have it come to market with lots of people in town, lots of interest. But the Festival does tend to drown out other noise so we’ve been hosting lots of neighbours and gone out of our way to embrace the city and be part of it.

We’ll kick into phase two of the launch at the end of September, but in the meantime we’re welcoming lots of people to see the 276 cabins and walk around the public areas including Komyuniti, our hip bar which also doubles up as a co-working space by day and Kohi, our bright and airy cafe. We also have something called Imaginex which is this incredible room with eight 4k projectors that enable us to project 360o around the double height room. That’s something you can’t find anywhere else in Scotland.

Opening a hotel is never as simple as it sounds on a piece of paper. The ambition was always to open ahead of the Festival, make use of that opportunity to integrate with the city and create that goodwill and atmosphere. Hotels take time to find their feet but having so much going on was an opportunity to put the crew through their paces and learn during that time surrounded by a real buzz.

Click.: How do you stand out among the noise in a busy city like Edinburgh and create a unique guest experience?

Willis: One of our mottos is everything you need and nothing you don’t. We put the guest at the centre of this experience and our target market - who we call Generation Yo - are digital natives, they mix work and pleasure, and they are used to technology making things seamless.

So, for example, we have self-service kiosks for check-in and key collection which helps cut down on queues. When you get to the cabins, clever design such as smart beds mean we can maximise the available space and offer really great value for the money. We have smart TVs and Chromecast, so guests can watch what they want, when they want.

It’s never tech for tech’s sake, it always comes down to how we can deliver that seamless experience and put a smile on our guest’s face. We have robots in a number of our hotels and they are as much about guest experience and that Instagram moment, as it is a technological innovation moment.

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Yotel Edinburgh
'One of our mottos is everything you need and nothing you don’t.' Photo: Yotel, Edinburgh

 

Click.: The uncertainty around Brexit is prompting many businesses to approach investment in UK operations with caution, so it’s quite a bold statement that you’ve chosen to Scotland to launch first. Did this ever phase the brand?

Willis: Edinburgh, London Clerkenwell and Glasgow were all in development at the same time, and to have a strong UK presence in key city centres was always part of our plan. Of the 4.5 million people who visit Edinburgh each year, 2.5 million of them are UK based and most of them are going to the city for leisure purposes which means their stays are longer. So, if the doom-masters are correct, we’ll still be alright with staycations and Edinburgh will remain one of the most popular cities for that. There are all sorts of reasons to be proud of being in Edinburgh and confident in that business.

Click.: With Amsterdam, Porto and London on the horizon will you continue to focus on major tourist hotspots or will secondary cities be part of your expansion plans too?

Willis: Yotel will always be our flagship brand [from the portfolio] and so having properties in top tier cities is always going to help in terms of raising brand awareness and making it an attractive choice for people.

Then, the idea is that beyond those destinations you will see Yotel appearing in what you call secondary cities but still places we see a demand. We have a product called YotelPad which will be launching early next year and that’s an extended stay model in locations where there is perhaps less demand. But it’s still very much reflective of the Yotel DNA - clever use of design in relatively compact spaces, using technology to create a thematic experience and multi-purpose public spaces to create more of a social focus.

 

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Hero image: credit to EJ Yao, Unsplash
Takeaway
  • Yotel launched its first European city-centre hotel in Edinburgh this July, with Glasgow, Amsterdam, Porto and London Clerkenwell following soon
  • The group is looking to extend its portfolio to 60 properties by 2023
  • Market challenges such as launching amid Brexit uncertainty haven’t phased the brand, with a strong UK presence being a key part of its growth plan
  • An extended stay model is being introduced to secondary cities from 2020, where demand differs but is still present

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