Blurring the lines between hospitality and residential
Who are Zoku?
Zoku was founded in 2008 by Hans Meyer and Marc Jongerius. They state that Zoku, which is Japanese for family, tribe, or clan, will disrupt and create a new category in the hotel industry - a home-office hybrid, also suitable for long stays, with the services of a hotel and the social buzz of a thriving neighbourhood.
To tell us more about Zoku were Hans, who is also the Managing Director, Vreele Donders, Concept and Brand Manager and Lucas Crobach, Development Manager.
Why and how did Zoku start?
Hans: If you look to the world today, you see that personal and professional lifestyles are changing. We see that the boundaries between work and leisure are fading and because of blurring borders people become more able to work in different places and in different time zones. There is also a rise in international project collaboration, independent entrepreneurs and freelancers So there is thus a need for a place for them to meet. The offer of the traditional hotel does not facilitate interaction between the guests. So what we wanted to do was to create a place where people could live comfortably, work efficiently and simultaneously create good connections that get you grounded to the city. We essentially had two founding principles at Zoku:
- How to create more value for less cost, creating a smarter space and a smarter business model.
- To start with a blank piece of paper and build the entire concept around people and in cooperation with the residents and community.
During the process of development we were together with 290 people from the target audience that actually helped us with validating the different prototypes of the social spaces and the type of services that we provide.
By blurring the lines we are saying that a hotel and a home should be one thing and it should suit you rather than the other way around.
What attracted to you to Zoku and what is your role?
Veerle: In the traditional hotel business there appeared to be a lack of innovation with the regards to the use of space. Meeting Zoku suddenly offered an alignment in ambition and values. Focusing on contact with the target audience has led to staying in touch with this group in relation to concept development and guest experience design. The fun thing about it is that they told us “Why can we not stay here for longer than a month? Why can’t we stay here for a year?” So we started asking the question, “Why does a hotel only offer just a short stay option?” By blurring the lines we are saying that a hotel and a home should be one thing and it should suit you rather than the other way around.
Lucas: Starting on the night-shift at Zoku whilst studying how interior design influences specific human behaviour allowed me to witness that Zoku was doing tremendous work in making the job of interaction between people really easy. I have been researching and interviewing the people that are coming to us and stating they would love to live a social lifestyle in a permanent way at Zoku.
What are the different target groups and what is the longest stay?
Hans: The split is between short stay and long stay where short stay is between 1 to 5 nights. This covers around 45% of our customers. The remaining 55% is between 6 to 29 nights, where 29 nights is the average long stay statistic. What this means is that Zoku is not currently used as a place for people to stay for up to 2 years for the simple reason that we are operating on a hotel model which is different to a co-living model. So we are currently working on a smart living concept where we can make it far more affordable for people to live and work at Zoku at the same time.
What is the biggest challenge for you at the moment?
Hans: The biggest challenge is to find sites. From a market point of view we have very high review scores. We are in the top 3 on Trip Advisor in Amsterdam out of 250 properties. We have very high staff engagement scores, and whilst financial performance is good at the moment, the real estate market is a pretty tough one with competition and an affordability gap. So given the fact that there is ongoing urbanisation with the consequences that land prices and construction prices are rising, there is still demand for space which makes it extremely competitive. This really challenges us but we actually see it as an opportunity to be innovative and clever with our business models. We feel that we are on track with that development at the moment.
It is crucial to continue to add value to keep cities liveable and connect people in the places that are being densified.
How are you seeing the neighbourhoods being affected by the developments and projects you are running?
Veerle: The fundamental thing is that in Holland a lot of people don’t see hotels as a place to go to and just hang out in the lobby and have a good time with your friends. They are more seen like fortresses in neighbourhoods. So we’ve been working not only with the community in Zoku but also people from the surrounding areas. We’ve noticed that our residents love meeting locals, so we had to do something to facilitate this. Our social spaces are open to both locals and residents plus we have a co-working space on one of the floors. One of the rituals we have is a coffee and cake break in the co-working space and our community manager will make every effort to invite and include those residents around to join in. So a lot of the local start ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers hangout at Zoku.
The residential market is very fragmented and inefficient. We feel that there is a big opportunity to optimise that so we can create better city living for the people.
Can you share more about how you further facilitate the interaction between the local and visiting communities?
Vreele: Part of our research helped us to understand who would like to meet other people and it was the group staying longer than 2 weeks that expressed this interest. We have a full time community manager who identifies the people staying longer than 2 weeks and he has a little check-in chat with them. He then shows them around the place, introduces them to the team and any person or people that he feels may be a good match. So you become a guest with a name and a known face rather than just a guest with a room number.
What is the future of co-living for Zoku in 2030?
Lukas: I maybe see this as the future of living rather than co-living as the residential market is so big and there is such a beautiful challenge in getting partners involved, municipalities, city policies, getting property developers and building owners on board with the vision that adding real value in urban areas is not solely in constructing in bricks and mortar and square meters. It is crucial to continue to add value to keep cities liveable and connect people in the places that are being densified. We need to realise this together and in Zokus vision in the next 10 years we want to be working with a lot of partners and have a lot of Zoku properties in cities with people enjoying the community spaces that we will be creating.
What is the future for the co-living industry in 2030?
Hans: The human aspect will be crucial. With technology it is important to recognise that just because we are connected digitally doesn’t mean to say that we become less lonely. So loneliness is an important aspect in terms of how we plan for cities in the future. At the same time, because we are blurring the lines between hospitality and residential it is in this direction that we will continue to move in. The residential market is very fragmented and inefficient. We feel that there is a big opportunity to optimise that so we can create better city living for the people.
Why should you go to the Co-Liv Lab summit in Paris in the 11th & 12th October?
Veerle: It is all about meeting people from the industry, sharing knowledge together and bouncing ideas back and forth between our peers. We don’t think that this is about being each others competitors but more about helping each other. The segment is big enough for all of us. Everybody is serving a different niche or a different audience, there are so many nuances, that in the end we are all just trying to make better city living for all everyone.