John Wagner, Co-founder of Cycas Hospitality
The rise of double-decker hotels
When Cycas was approached back in 2009 about a potential property within London Stratford's Westfield shopping centre, we persuaded the owner to make what was then considered an innovative step by developing two brands on one single site in time for the London 2012 Olympics.
Fast-forward seven years and dual-branded hotels are now something all the international hotel groups offer in Europe, and likely to become increasingly commonplace as central real estate and top locations for business travellers become harder to secure.
Whilst the USA is largely assumed to have introduced the concept to the hospitality industry, the first multi-brand hotel actually opened here in Europe 35 years ago. AccorHotels were first to pioneer the idea of pairing two brands with distinct price points in one location with their ibis/Novotel property in Paris La Defense.
It then took until 2003 before Marriott began to popularise the concept stateside, opening four double-decker hotels between 2003 and 2007, and bringing their first dual-brand property to Munich in 2011 — the same year Hilton opened their equivalent in Frankfurt. IHG were hot on their heels, entering the European dual-pack market the following year with two openings; one in Berlin and the first dual-branded property in London (Stratford), while last year Hyatt revealed plan to open their first double-decker hotel in Europe in 2020, in Paris.
A look behind the dual-branded doors
Going under many names, from dual-brand and dual-pack to multi-brand and double-decker, the basic idea tends to involve two complementary hotel brands from the same parent family sharing one plot, whether they're built side by side or on top of each other. By coining the term 'double decker hotel', Cycas Hospitality hoped to help make it even clearer to people how our hotels were physically connected.
As a general role, hotel companies like each property to maintain separate entrances and reception areas so as not to compromise the brand identities they've worked so hard to build. And, given the loyalty of many travellers, it's vital that they can still count on a consistent brand experience — regardless of the building layout.
When the concept first entered the hospitality scene, we tended to see full-service hotels combined with a more budget brand, making price the key differentiator. However, over the last decade, as the extended-stay sector has boomed across Europe, one of the biggest evolutions has been the trend to pair a traditional hotel with one catering to those with longer-stay needs.
There's no doubt that the maths behind having two hotels in one building has really helped the concept take off. First conceived to help investors limit risk by maximising the range of customers who might want to stay in one location, the cost-savings start during construction and continue right through to the shared operational facilities and back-of-house functions.
Yet, whilst a more efficient use of land helps make the concept attractive for developers and owners alike, critically it also means that the travellers themselves can enjoy even greater value and increased benefits.
How this new hotel style helps travel buyers
One of the great advantages of having two hotels under one roof is how it can help accommodate two different traveller styles with contrasting needs, price points and lengths of stay in one great setting.
This means that one property - and one sales team - can now help you cater for different guest requests and the wide variety of requirements of bigger corporates, providing a one-stop shop, whether you're finding accommodation for a transient customer for a couple of nights or someone who may need to be in town for a few months. Not only does this ensure you're better able to tailor the guest experience, but it also unlocks the potential to cater for different budgets and travel policies in one location.
Of course, from a brand awareness perspective, having two flags in one property can also open up travellers' eyes to different brands and alternative ways to stay. And, with double-decker properties increasingly incorporating a branded aparthotel element, it's never been more important to understand how the flexibility and extra space offered by hotel apartments might prove a better option for a client.
Keep in mind too the significant advantages for guests, with customers of each hotel able to use the facilities of the other to combine the best of both worlds. Taking the example of longer-staying customers of the new Staybridge Suites hotel in Manchester's Oxford Road area, the dual-branded development means they can take full advantage of the onsite restaurant and room service facility offered by Crowne Plaza on the ground floor — an added-value facility that wouldn't otherwise been available to them. Not to mention the fact that, if a client has their heart set on staying in one place and one of the hotels is full, there are still other opportunities.
When it comes to organising meetings and events, there are clear benefits of having two properties in one location, along with greater likelihood of having conference facilities on site. Other benefits include the increased number of rooms available plus the potential to offer delegates multiple price points - and therefore greater flexibility - in one place.
Catering to shifting traveller trends
Airbnb has certainly helped make people more aware of the alternative accommodation options on the market. And the growing popularity of bleisure travel, coupled with the blurring lines between what travellers expect on a holiday versus a business trip, continue to contribute to the growth in extended-stay hotels, many of which are also pet-friendly.
With millennials expected to account for half of business trips by 2020, corporate travel will continue to evolve over the next few years to cater for a generation brought up around the sharing economy's flexible dream. So it's vital we are well placed to tailor how we respond to these shifting demands accordingly, with the growing popularity of matching a select-service hotel with an extended-stay property one example of this.
While the profile of branded aparthotels rises across the hospitality industry, the different rate structures offered by two hotels sharing the same facilities won't always be immediately obvious to business travellers less familiar with the extended-stay concept. It's therefore important to be able to explain the benefits of the two different accommodation products and how the extended-stay's "the longer you stay, the less you pay" tiered pricing system approach may, or may not, be right for a client.
In summary, while dual-branded hotels may not be an entirely new concept, its popularity has sky-rocketed in recent years, with the emphasis shifting away from pure pricing to product, services and business needs. With a strong pipeline of double-deckers in development across Europe, and the supply of quality extended-stay hotels set to increase still further, it's time for the corporate travel industry to factor dual-branded opportunities into their accommodation mix.