ALL ABOARD THE GOOD HOTEL LONDON FOR PREMIUM HOSPITALITY WITH A CAUSE
So: here we are, stood at the tail end of 2016 – or just about standing, if we haven’t been brought to our knees by the non-stop torrent of mildly-infuriating-to-mind-bendingly-bad news streaming through our smartphones – and I think we can agree that at times, it’s all felt ‘a bit much’. I’ll fully forgive anyone who intends to spend their December finally enacting that ‘digital detox’, burying their head in a pile of Quality Streets and emerging, blinking and a few kilos heavier, into the harsh January light.
However, as we enter this traditional period of reflection, there’s something afoot in the unassuming London Borough of Newham that gives me reason to be hopeful…
This past weekend saw the suitably Biblical arrival of the Good Hotel to the shores of Royal Victoria Docks; a floating ex-prison originally built to house illegal immigrants that has literally sailed across the sea from Amsterdam on a mission to sprinkle its socially-minded magic in the UK. Post-Brexit, the delicious irony of a thoroughly immigrant hotel setting up shop on the banks of the Thames means it’s tempting to see Good Hotel as an Ark for our times, offering redemption through a truly revolutionary concept that puts community at the heart of its business. (It’s for this reason that Good Hotel was awarded the REBEL for GREATEST INNOVATION/DISRUPTION in 2016.)
So what is it that makes Good Hotel a model for the future of socially-conscious hospitality?
The clue’s in the name: far more than just a self-reverential brag, Good Hotel has earned its title by making doing good as much a part of its DNA as creating a high-end hospitality experience. In the words of founder Marten Dresen, “We’re not a charity – we’re a profit for non-profit business. We focus on self-sustainability to create real, long-term change.” In practice, this means that talent is sourced from local unemployed people and 100% of profits are reinvested in the project and local community, transforming the lives of locals and providing a transformative experience for travellers.
The seeds of this idea were planted back in 2006, when Dresen was a student backpacking in Guatemala. He met a young girl, Mirna, who had no shoes, and bought her a pair of All Stars. However, although she was delighted with the gift, Dresen realised that the shoes would soon wear out and that long-term investment was required to secure the future of children like Mirna. After setting up the NGO Niños de Guatemala (which today provides education for 400 children per year), Dresen decided to venture into the hotel business as a natural mechanism for change, despite having no background in hospitality. “I guess you could say I was always a bit rebellious,” he laughs, “But through my studies in law, and working in international shipping after that, I realised how important international trade and open markets are to connect people and develop areas left behind.”
This unconventional rebel had found his cause and in 2012, the Good Group was born. The 144-room Good Hotel Amsterdam opened in June 2015 as a slick, repurposed pop-up dedicated to ‘premium hospitality with a cause’ – that cause being to integrate into the local community through mindful, meaningful collaborations and the Good Training Programme. Good worked with the local council to offer training to the unemployed with the long-term aim of helping them to find full-time employment in the hospitality industry, through a combination of three months’ offsite training and three months’ on-the-job training. One year on, 70 of the 100 Amsterdam trainees have achieved this goal. (Here’s a seasonal warning for you: if you’re the kind of person who tears up at the bit with the placards in Love Actually or gets emosh for Tiny Tim, make sure you’re alone before watching the video below, which shows the progress of the class of 2015.)
Assessment for the Good Training Programme is conducted solely through personality-based questions, based on Dresen’s belief that “People sometimes just need some luck or a fresh start. Hidden talents that all of a sudden turn out to be the best hosts you can imagine. Just by being who they are.” By empowering them to make decisions, hires like 23-year-old Chavelli are motivated to see a different future for themselves. Similarly, at the 20-room Good Hotel Antigua that opened in June 2016, single mothers and fathers are encouraged to realise that they are entitled to have dreams, in addition to finding a way to provide for their families.
The training programme is one of several elements that Good Hotel took on board for the two-day journey from Amsterdam to London: 15 trainees per quarter will make up at least 25% of the overall Good Hotel London team. Although Newham might seem a strange home for a contemporary, creative hotel – a world away from its hipster East London neighbour of Shoreditch – all Good locations are chosen for their potential to make a difference; and with the third-highest rate of unemployment in London, Newham is a responsible choice. For today’s socially-minded travellers, this is an important distinction; when describing Good’s target market, Dresen remarks “We call them the global citizen. They like to explore, enjoy premium quality, unique, tailor-made experiences. Yet at the same time, they want to contribute to a better world and be part of something revolutionary. And now they can.”
This emphasis on ‘premium quality’ is key and global citizens with an expectation of high design won’t be disappointed by Good Hotel London, which has imported the same cosy minimalism it introduced in Amsterdam. Walking in from the docks to the lobby (or ‘Living Room’), guests will be greeted by a casual, open plan space designed for collaboration and conversation, with a coffee shop and several other food concepts created in partnership with local vendors in the works – the feel is industrial, but inviting. Furniture by Dutch designers is joined by custom artworks and photographs of the Amsterdam hotel’s employees going about their daily lives, soon to be replaced by new images of the London trainees. It’s not difficult to imagine Good amassing its own ‘souvenir collection’ as it journeys on, adding elements from each location that tell its unique story.
New for London are huge floor-to-ceiling windows on the back wall overlooking the river; four larger-sized guest rooms; wooden panelling on the exterior; and a rooftop terrace, garden and bar that are sure to be a hit for daytime hanging and nighttime partying, thanks to their glittering view over the Thames. The 148 guest rooms reflect the current trend for smart usage of space, with hangers on the walls and wall-to-wall beds creating a comfortable (if compact) hideaway. Although the four larger rooms that have been added to the line-up give the option of a little more space, waking up nestled next to the window with a direct view of the river is a unique experience reminiscent of lodging in a high-end cruising cabin, but tethered to the heartbeat of London – something for staycationing Londoners to add to their bucket list as well as those from further afield.
When it comes to the future, unsurprisingly Dresen and co. have big plans. Good Hotel London is set to surpass the Amsterdam original’s pop-up past with a five-year stay in the capital; however, the hunt for a permanent location in Amsterdam has already begun, and it’s likely that London will follow the same path. Meanwhile, the Group has plans to open a further eight hotels by 2020 in areas where there is a combination of tourism and opportunity for development. Following a thwarted attempt to launch in Rio de Janeiro in time for the Olympics, it’s likely that we’ll see a Good Hotel Rio at some point soon, with Berlin and Barcelona also mentioned as ripe spots for a Good-intentioned intervention. Wherever they emerge, it will be in ‘upcycled’ properties rather than new builds, in the spirit of socially-responsible innovation. Looking even further down the line, it’s possible that more ‘Good businesses’ outside of hotels could be on the horizon, consolidating Dresen’s view that “Businesses and brands have the responsibility to educate each other. We need to make available products and services that are social, so that consumers can make a conscious decision.”
It’s this insistence that doing good should be at the centre of a business’s manifesto rather than something to tick off the list for later that marks Good Hotel out as a rebel with heart, as well as a rebel with cause. And as we all look towards a brighter future, we can only wish them good luck.