Germany’s first global hotel player captures the times with its lifestyle hospitality and bohemian cool. With their first Scandinavian outpost on the drawing board, GUEST magazine talks to the creative mind behind 25hours Hotels, CEO and partner Christoph Hoffmann.

By Kim Wyon

The first German-born hotel chain to go global is like none other. Opting out of creating ‘boring stop-overs for travellers in transit’, 25hours Hotels have captured the zeitgeist, creating modern, locally-anchored lifestyle accommodations – sometimes cool, sometimes nostalgic, but always with plenty of surprises. Riffing on Nirvana, their slogan ‘Come as you are’ welcomes like-minded urbanites to a quirky bohemian world of hangout-able fun.

The creative cool of the 25hours brand is the brainchild of Christoph Hoffmann, CEO and partner of 25hours Hotel Company GmbH, who sees the success of the hotel chain as a counter reaction to our digitalised age, allowing us to connect with real people, real places and real experiences.

Enjoying exceptional occupancy rates and a unique following among their target demographic (rambling global nomads), 25hours Hotels entered a strategic partnership with AccorHotels in 2016 and now sets its playful eyes on travel-worthy cities worldwide. Newly imagined 25hours Hotels are scheduled to open in Dubai and Florence in 2020. And their first Scandinavian outpost – in Copenhagen – will swing open its doors in 2021.

Closer to their roots than many of the far-flung cities on their global to-do list, Copenhagen is in some ways a homecoming. For it was in the Danish capital, in 2013 during a sabbatical year after graduating from Cornell University, New York, that Christoph Hoffmann was asked to give creative direction to the city’s first art hotel, Hotel Fox (today SP34 and part of Brøchner Hotels) to spotlight the launch of Volkswagen’s VW Fox marque.

There, in Copenhagen, he met real estate investor Ardi Goldman, consultant Stephan Gerhard and hotelier Kai Hollmann. The quartet teamed to open the first 25hours Hotel in Hamburg’s sprawling regenerated docklands just two years later. Revolving around storytelling, the 25hours Hotel HafenCity reflects the Hanseatic town’s seafaring soul and relates the true tale of a hardy local sea captain – rooms are even called ‘cabins’.

Since then, Christoph Hoffmann has assembled a creative storytelling team for the 25hours brand, often consisting of anthropologists, film set designers and design psychologists, and works closely for each individual project with imaginative design studios to create interiors with soul for urban explorers.

For their upcoming 243-room hotspot in Copenhagen, 25hours Hotels has partnered with Martin Brudnizki, a Swedish designer based in London and New York who has created stand-alone interiors for such sassy establishments as London’s Annabel’s nightclub, the Beekman Hotel in New York and The Grand Hôtel Stockholm. How will this match play out in the bouncy design world of 25hours Hotels? And how will their F&B offerings position themselves on Copenhagen’s red-hot culinary heat map?

Situated in heritage buildings right next to the landmark Round Tower and including a swathe of boutique storefronts facing Købmagergade, a busy pedestrian street, the soon-to-materialise 25hours Hotel in the Danish capital offers an exceptional opportunity to study how one of Europe’s most successful lifestyle hotel brands meets the Scandinavian market. GUEST magazine talks to Christoph Hoffmann.

Rendering of the courtyard restaurant at the 25hours Hotel in Copenhagen, which will be designed by London-based Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. Artwork: MBDS London.

How did you personally enter the hotel industry – and what drives your passion?

I was always curious, I wanted to see the world and get inspired by places and people. For me it all started with an internship at a New York-based incentive agency after finishing my apprenticeship as a travel agent. My first experience working in a hotel was at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem; already then, I fell in love with the storytelling component of this wonderful hotel and the progressive Israeli culture.

What do you believe differentiates 25hours Hotels from other players in the luxury hotel segment?

First, we are proud of being upscale and not luxury… 😉 We cater to people that have a distinct approach to luxury. For our guests, time, atmosphere and experience are more important than luxury hardware.

How important is storytelling to the way you develop your hotels – and what are your personal favourite examples?

For us, the story is the script and a basis on which to build. We and our respective partners use it as a common thread throughout the development of a hotel. In our 25hours Hotel HafenCity Hamburg, the maritime theme came easy as we had the location near the harbour. Here we play with the port and the sea, industry and romance, cabins, logbooks and sailors’ yarns.

In our upcoming Dubai hotel, for instance, we were motivated by traditional and modern nomads that gave us inspiration for the different areas of the hotel such as the Grand Library, which will become the centrepiece of the lobby in reference to the hakawati, the Arabic storyteller. All preferably curated by the renowned Institut du Monde Arabe of Paris.

In general, we pay a lot of attention to details and we strongly believe that storytelling can truly create the oft-acclaimed soul of a hotel.

One of the playful guest experiences at 25hours Hotel The Circle in Cologne is ‘Robi the robot’, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn how to guide and provide visitors with information. In your view, what are the wider prospects for using AI in the hotel industry? 

To be honest, ‘Robi the Robot’ was more of a playful intervention than an intelligent digital experience. However, there is undoubtedly a substantial development going on in the area of AI but the hospitality industry is rather slowly adapting. The first signs we are seeing are incorporated in chatbots within the reservation funnel.

Copenhagen and the other Scandinavian capitals are internationally known for their exciting culinary scenes and very strong Nordic design tradition. How will your future Copenhagen hotel complement these expectations among travellers?

Indeed, Copenhagen has a vibrant food and design scene valued as great craftsmanship. At the same time, people in Copenhagen are innovative and have a profound sense of quality and taste. For us, entering such a highly creative and competitive market is both challenging and fun at the same time. We reflect a lot on how to become the new creative, slightly different neighbour and contribute to the city’s overall creativity. Food-wise, we decided to team up with two highly professional partners with a non-Nordic background – our loyal friends, the Molcho family, with their eclectic Mediterranean-Persian-Austrian NENI concept and Melissa Forti, a young and passionate pastry chef from Italy.

For the F&B offerings at 25hours Hotel in Copenhagen, the company has partnered with the Molcho family behind the eclectic restaurant concept NENI, which serves Mediterranean-Persian-Austrian cuisine. NENI is currently part of 25hours Hotels in Berlin, Hamburg and Zurich. Artwork: MBDS London.

Your Copenhagen hotel will feature street-level commercial space. What are the guiding principles behind the way you develop a 25hours Hotel to become a destination that is part of the urban fabric? 

We would like to contribute added value to our neighbourhood in line with our principle: “Come as you are and leave as a friend.” In general, we don’t take ourselves too seriously; our entrepreneurial spirit is still grounded on creativity, passion and humour.

The UK national daily ‘The Independent’ ranked 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin as “Best for shopping”. How important are the in-hotel retail and online shopping aspects of your hotels today?

While hotel rooms become increasingly the same around the world, the brand identifiers become more diverse. For some it is F&B, for some it is the spa, for some it may be special services and of course retail plays an important role when it comes to take a part of ‘your’ hotel home. At 25hours we curate small in-house concept stores and are about to develop our own retail brand 25hours things.

Loyalty programmes are seen by many in the hotel industry as key to generating bookings via brand websites rather than OTAs. What benefits does 25hours Hotels offer its returning guests?

Until now, we’ve run a highly-individualised recognition programme for each hotel. However, with the increasing growth of our group we plan to join the loyalty programme of AccorHotels in the near future and to adapt it to our target audience.

Sustainability is a growing concern in the industry. Which kinds of programmes, eco-labelling systems or specific initiatives are you adopting to address this important issue?

While we admittedly are not frontrunners in this aspect, more and more initiatives are implemented company-wide such as urban e-mobility, responsibly sourced food ingredients in our restaurants, the development of organic cosmetics, and the long-running support of several freshwater projects in Nepal through our partner Viva con Agua.

What made you decide that the time was right for 25hours Hotels to become a global player?

Around 2015, we realised that we had to make a precedent-setting decision if we wanted to expand globally. My partners and I decided to go for the global adventure together with AccorHotels as our strategic partner. And we are still very happy about this decision.

What does the strategic alliance with AccorHotels mean to you at 25hours Hotels – and how does such an alliance support your growth strategy?

We mainly have two pillars of co-operation: development and distribution. AccorHotels enables and supports our global expansion, having a huge network and development hubs in place on all continents. Other than that, we benefit from the vast know-how of such a big cooperation in various fields.

What constitutes the ideal city destination for a 25hours Hotel – would you for instance ever consider smaller Scandinavian cities? 

Mainly we concentrate on vibrant cities, ideally with a soul and culture or we take a chance and go for an adventure such as in Dubai. Secondary cities are becoming more and more interesting for us, in particular in countries with overcrowded prime cities. This can also apply for Scandinavia. For example, we got to know Gothenburg quite well through our friends from Stylt Tramboli and at some point, we can very well imagine having a 25hours Hotel in such a beautiful place.

Where do you see 25hours Hotels in 5 years’ time – and when will we see your hotels in Stockholm and Oslo?

Our goal is to have a 25hours Hotel in every cool city, ‘cool’ being obviously a matter of interpretation… But behind the scenes, we and AccorHotels do have a common understanding and a very clear growth strategy. Stockholm and Oslo are at the top of the list and we are already very excited about slowly entering the highly appreciated Scandinavian market and to connect with – equally to learn from – its wonderful, innovative and inspiring people.