Leading industry figures: the ones to watch in 2020

Eloise Hanson By Eloise Hanson
Uploaded 18 December 2019

BHN reporter, Eloise Hanson, reviews 10 industry figures who will make the headlines in the boutique and lifestyle sector next year.

Asif Aziz, founder and chief executive of Criterion Capital

Criterion Capital, a property investment, development and management company, is currently repurposing the London Trocadero building into a 701-bed hotel. Located in Piccadilly, it will become the first flagship Zedwell hotel - a lifestyle concept built to create an idyllic environment for sleep and well-being. To be operated by Criterion Hospitality, it will be one of the biggest hotel openings in the capital within the last decade.

Highlights of the Zedwell hotel include soundproofing, handcrafted oak beds, air circulation, rain showers, and absence of in-room distractions such as screens and controls. The Trocadero will also be home to one of London's largest rooftop bars, with capacity for 1000 guests that is set to open in the summer of next year.

Scheduled to open in February 2020, Criterion Hospitality will welcome three additional hotels under the Zedwell brand: Marble Arch (120 rooms), Tottenham Court Road (220 rooms), and Greenwich (122 rooms).

Yoav Gery, president of Selina

Selina, a lifestyle, travel and hospitality platform, has expanded globally since its conception in 2014 in Venao, Panama. To date, it operates in over 50 locations throughout South America and Europe, with plans to debut in Israel next year.

Providing travellers with accommodation as well as co-working spaces, Selina is on track to compete with giants such as WeWork. And given the recent coverage of WeWork laying off around 2,400 employees after its failure to launch a public offering, the market seems ripe to nurture growth.

In fact, according to Gery, Selina is working with the Bank of America Corp. to raise a $500 million investment fund dedicated to US real estate. Aiming to finish the fundraising by the first half of 2020, the vehicle will wield about $1 billion to buy, lease, or convert properties. Selina then plans to expand across cities including Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Washington, New Orleans, and Chicago.

By 2023, Gery said that the company looks to offer 130,000 beds across more than 400 locations. Cogress has already pledged £80 million to fund the hotel group's expansion across the UK and Portuguese markets.

Jennifer May and Colleen Tebrake, founders of Two Sister Bosses

Headquartered in Sedona, Arizona, Two Sister Bosses is a luxury hotel development and management company that focuses on experiences that are in-harmony with the natural environment. Committed to the principles of sustainable travel, the company's debut project is the first of its kind in North America.

Ambiente: a Landscape Hotel, is scheduled to open in Sedona, December 2020. The three-acre site will be designed with the landscape in mind, with 40 elevated atriums built using organic architecture and sustainable methods.

The resort will rely on the site's waterways as a natural eco-system to provide continuously running water, and electric cars will shuttle guests to and from their accommodations. The hotel aims to be the city's leading example of sustainable tourism "showcasing the destinations innovative approaches to the long term vibrancy of Sedona".

Sally Beck, general manager of the Royal Lancaster London

In November 2019, Beck was awarded the Hotelier of the Year by The Caterer. Much of her early career was focused on sales and marketing, having spent 11 years as the marketing director of The Landmark before joining the 411-bedroom Royal Lancaster as hotel manager.

At the awards ceremony, held at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London, Beck made a call-to-change, aimed at addressing perceptions of hospitality careers. "Since winning this award, I have been exploring how a Hoteliers' Charter could be a platform to shout about all of the good things that hoteliers like us are doing," Beck said, "so that potential employees and indeed their parents, colleges and universities, can know that they will be supported and developed in their career choice for the long term".

The charter has gained support from Ed Bracken, chair of the West London Hotel Managers Association, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, and Danny Pecorelli, chair of the Master Innholders.

Rami Zeidan, founder and CEO of Life House

Life House, a hospitality management and development group, was founded in 2017 by hotel and real-estate executive, Rami Zeidan, and technology entrepreneur, Yury Yakubshyk. The company uses an algorithm that analyses guest behaviour in order to incur different costs at different times. It draws inspiration from direct-to-consumer business models, offering an experiential product that contributes to an increase in direct bookings as well as a decrease in fixed operating costs.

Scheduled to open in spring 2020, Life House Ocean Drive in Miami Beach is a partnership with Henley Investments - one of several firms that helped Life House raise £70 million in funding between venture and real estate capital.

Looking ahead, Life House hotels will open in New York, Colorado and Massachusetts, with plans to expand to Canada, Mexico, the UK and Spain.

Nadira Lalji, co-founder of Inhabit Hotels

Inhabit is a wellness hotel brand that is marked as London's first mindfulness boutique hotel in Paddington. The debut property, set across six Georgian townhouses, opened in the autumn of 2019.

Its 89-bedrooms come equipped with ethical furniture, eco-friendly, VOC-free mattresses, and bathroom amenities featuring bio-active and sustainably sourced ingredients. In the communal areas, air filtration systems have been installed and there's even a meditation pod at reception.

A second outpost is slated for late 2020, set in London's Cleveland Square. Aligned with a similar ethos and values as its sister property, the succeeding Inhabit hotel will bring together architects, sleep researchers and mindfulness gurus to embrace the brand's offering of a "restorative escape for busy travellers".

Francis Davidson, CEO and co-founder of Sonder

To date, Sonder - an international hospitality brand - has hosted hundreds of thousands of guests in over 20 cities, and attracted over $400 million in investor funding. Established in 2014 as a short stay, furnished apartment operator, the company signs master lease deals with property owners, and has since been crowned the latest unicorn brand with a valuation of $1.1 billion.

Breaking ground early next year, the first hotel by Sonder will be built in Miami's Wynwood district. The One Eleven Wynwood by Sonder is a partnership with BH Investment Group, Andres Hogg of Hogg Holdings, and Wynwood investor Eduardo Vargas. The property will stand as Sonder's flagship, and the first of many to follow.

It has been reported that Sonder has signed leases to operate 17 hotels in New York, London and Dublin, and is negotiating an additional 40 properties. "Our big edge over hotels is that their model hasn't evolved in the last 40 years," said Davidson, who believes that Sonder will be taking more revenue than Marriott by 2025.

Maria Tibblin, creative director at Maria Tibblin & Co

London-based global interior design studio, Maria Tibblin & Co, was founded by native Swede Maria Tibblin. Having worked with private clients at Ralph Lauren Home and then on high-end residential projects under her own name, Tibblin will move into the hotel sector beginning 2020.

At the 2019 edition of the Sleep & Eat event, Tibblin showcased the first concept design for a guest hotel bedroom. Titled 'The Luminary Room' Tibblin relied on her Scandinavian heritage for inspiration, drawing on the five senses to create an environment that feels "more than your home away from home".

In the first quarter of the New Year, Tibblin will begin refurbishment of a London five-star hotel, starting with the hotel's entertainment areas. Tibblin said: "For me, 2020 is all about sustainable, ethical, and beautiful designs. My inspiration for this hotel is the interaction with the arts, classics and technology. I'm very excited to get started!".

Rishabh Gupta, head of UK business at OYO

Founded by Ritesh Agarwal in 2013, OYO has secured $1.7 billion (£1.3 billion) funding from investors like Airbnb and Softbank's Vision Fund. Ranked in July 2019 as the third-largest hotel chain in terms of room count, the tech-driven group aims to be the largest by 2023.

Following a successful year expanding in the UK, where OYO has committed £40 million in investment, Rishabh Gupta will succeed OYO's current head, Jeremy Sanders. Under Sander's leadership, OYO has brought 200 hotels with 5000 rooms onto the group's platform across more than 50 cities and towns.

Gupta previously led OYO in Indonesia, helping to establish the brand as Indonesia's largest hotel chain with over 2000 hotels and almost 50,000 rooms under management. Rishabh will continue OYO's UK growth in 2020, where the £40 million will be put towards expansion as well as helping to "ensure the highest standards of customer experience".

Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality

Kerten Hospitality, a division of Ireland-based Kerten, is an investment firm behind The House Hotel, The House Residence, and Cloud7 brands. It focuses on operating mixed use projects, branded residences, serviced apartments and work spaces, hotels, as well as food and beverage, and has a large footing in the United States and the Middle-East.

Marloes Knippenberg, at the helm of Kerten Hospitality, has been listed in the Hotelier Middle East Power List 2019, and stands on the advisory board of international events such as IHIDC (International Hotel Investment & Design Conference), HITEC (Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals), and IHM's own ULF (Urban Living Festival) launching summer 2020.

In the pipeline for next year, the company has properties opening in Georgia, Egypt and Kuwait, with additional projects scattered across Europe.

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