As global tourism has grown so too has the development pipeline, with Lodging Econometrics reporting record highs in 2018. Coupled with the boom in vacation rentals – the European market alone is expected to grow 73% in the next 12 months – it’s safe to say the accommodation landscape has never been more competitive.
With more properties coming to market there’s growing need for differentiation. One way of doing this is by adopting a theme that gives your property individual character and cut-through.
Merlin Entertainments has over 4,100 rooms across its resort estate of Legoland and theme park attractions, delivered as an extension of the consumer’s day-visit. “By building themed hotels that amplify the themed offer on the park, it allows us to give a much better experience for the customer. From a business point of view we can attract customers from a much broader catchment area and encourage pre-booking so we get greater visibility on that booking,” says Justin Platt, Chief Strategy Officer.
Tapping into trends such as food tourism can help a property align with a theme that already has a captive audience. For Claus Böbel, Owner of the BB&BB Bratwursthotel, a vacant building next to his butcher shop in the village of Rittersbach, Germany, lent itself perfectly to a hotel that would appeal to tourists looking to indulge in local delicacies.
“Bratwurst is the most popular sausage in the world, it was our most popular product in the shop and so I thought it was a good idea to make this the theme,” says Böbel. “I created special decorations on the walls, there is bratwurst soap in the bathroom, bratwurst pillows on the bed. Guests find it very interesting as they have this unique experience in Germany, nowhere else, [the hotel becomes] a touristic attraction not just for sleeping.”
Often the theme is built around the property – consider Sweden’s Icehotel, rebuilt every winter entirely from snow and ice, or the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel in Canada, housed in a restored prison – but in some cases the creative concept is the starting point. For Ben Thijssen the theme was landed on years before the Vliegtuighotel came to fruition. Based at Teuge International Airport, the hotel comprises a singular suite set in a decommissioned Ilyushin 18 airplane.
Thijssen embedded the theme across every element of the accommodation: “The plane still has its original cockpit, everything is there as it was and it’s converted with KLM virtual airlines – the lights are on, you can hear air traffic control speaking, documentation explains what you see. We wanted to have the airplane on an airfield to expand that full experience, so from the balcony you see other planes taxi-ing and it’s possible to book a flight on a Cessna, take a flight lesson or do a parachute jump.”
“There are certain key deliverables. That hotel stay has to be high quality and you need to get that right before you even think about theming.” says Merlin Entertainments Platt. And while the theme is added value, it still has to be of the same standard. “If all you do is have themed wallpaper and attempt to deliver that as an immersive experience, you will fail, the guest will not enjoy it and you won’t deliver on their expectations. We work very hard to ensure that our partnerships are with intellectual properties (IP) that are both popular and engaging, but that are also evergreen – they are not a novelty that will be gone in three or four months, they need to be enduring.”
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