Can office workers bring life back to hotels?
Hotels across the country are turning bedrooms into offices to rent during the day. Katherine Price speaks to those who are turning home office workers into hotel office workers and making this alternative revenue stream work for them.
With limited inbound tourism and corporate travel leaving city hotels' occupancy wanting in particular, some businesses are looking to monetise their empty rooms by looking to the home worker.
Work from home guidance is set to remain in place for at least six months in England, and continues to be the guidance in Scotland and Wales, and so there is a band of workers in need of a private room with reliable broadband – or simply somewhere other than a busy kitchen table – to carry out their daily tasks.
The offer from hotel companies varies, but all offer a quiet space as well as the service and food and beverage that a stay at a hotel can provide.
Roseate has recently launched its Work from Roseate package across its Reading and London properties, which includes lunch and a cocktail at the end of the day in the bar. Prices start from £75 per day for the Roseate Reading and £85 for Roseate House London.
Meanwhile, the 165-bedroom Lowry hotel in Manchester has ‘Room To... Work' packages from £70 for a room from 8am-5pm. The rate is paid on arrival and free cancellation is offered up to 24 hours ahead.
Lynn Hood is the chief operating officer at Focus Hotels, which manages 1,700 rooms across the UK. "It's never going to be a fix for the meetings and events market, because that provides a large proportion of our revenue stream, but everything counts, doesn't it?" she said.
While some of Focus's more staycation-friendly properties in the countryside are seeing occupancy in the 80%-90% bracket, those in London remain at 30%.
The group has been advertising bedrooms for use as office space at seven of its properties for several months. At its 87-bedroom Mercure Shrewsbury Albrighton Hall Hotel & Spa, a private room with work desk can be hired between 8.30am and 5pm for £8 per hour or £50 for eight hours.
"A number of us at the hotel were working from home during lockdown and we have a variety of family arrangements. We could see the challenge ourselves, such as having people in the background jumping onto your Zoom calls. Although this obviously adds a bit of amusement, if you're working on something quite serious, it can make it difficult," said Hood.
She added that lead times remain short: "It's more people thinking, ‘I need a space to have a meeting in a private area, or I need the broadband to give me certainty around my online meeting.' It's more likely to be this week for next week or two weeks' time, than further out."
Guests are provided with the usual coffee facilities, fruit and water, and there is some additional F&B spend, although this tends to be speciality coffees and lunches ordered to the room. Free parking is also an attraction. Hood added that the day occupants are given "the best possible room" with a decent view and a good amount of space.
First impressions count
Beverly Payne, general manager at the Conrad London St James hotel, agreed. The property, which was operating at around 20% occupancy last month, launched its Perfect Address private offices at the beginning of September. She said that it's important that guests have a professional background and good lighting if they're doing a big deal over a video call or media appearances.
"We don't use the smallest rooms or the boxy rooms; we choose the rooms for the light, the outlook, brightness – they are good spaces," she said.
Of its 256 bedrooms, 10 have had their beds removed and have been turned into offices, and Payne said they would consider increasing this number if the demand is there. Prices start from £75 per hour or £150 per day and the rooms can be booked for up to a month. Offices come with high-speed internet access, 42-inch satellite HDTV with Chromecast, Bose sound systems and two desk phones. Each office is air-conditioned and has a Nespresso machine and hospitality tray, as well as a small lounge area.
Guests also have access to the business centre and printing facilities, 24-hour concierge, gym and bicycle storage, as well as discounts on food and beverage, laundry services, meeting room bookings and overnight room rates.
Payne said the need arose from the hotel's corporate regulars being conscious of having a professional background to their video calls: "Everybody has had enough of looking at everyone's bookshelves in the background. A couple of guests were doing some very big deals and asked what we could do, so we decided to give it a go. It's very early days but it's been really well-received."
The hotel's PR and marketing manager Robin Noten said the service is tailored to offices in the area that are not ready to reopen, as well as individuals who are "looking for a change of environment".
The bulk of demand has been individuals booking a room and an office for two nights, with some companies interested in booking two or three offices for a month. Demand is expected to pick up now that children are back at school.
"Hopefully it will plug a gap," added Payne. "With the way the world's going, I can't see us selling 256 bedrooms any night this side of 2021, so we're going to give it our best chance.
"Our owners are really supportive and we'll see how this pans out and review it at the end of the year. If we can get four to five people booking every day, I think that's great."
Room to grow
Accor's hotel office concept is available in 250 of its UK hotels, with more planning to introduce it. With a range of hotels and brands under its belt, from Ibis and Mercure to the more high-end Sofitel and Novotel, rates start at £35 per day and vary depending on the hotel.
At Accor, rooms can be reserved for nine hours, with check-in from 9am and check-out at 6pm. Bookings can be cancelled free of charge up to 2pm on the scheduled day of arrival, and customers can book for a single day or a five-day package. Like the Conrad, Accor is targeting both individuals and companies.
James Wheatcroft, vice-president of marketing at Accor Northern Europe, said: "It's an answer to a current need – from employers and employees alike – for a cost-effective, contract-free workspace solution that reduces commute time and increases flexibility and productivity.
"There has been a great deal of initial interest in the scheme from individuals, freelancers, SMEs and corporates and we expect that to continue following the latest government announcements as more businesses try to find their ‘new normal' and increase productivity for the rest of the year."
Wheatcroft added that it is an important revenue stream as well as being "very much-needed in these strange times".
"Workers will be looking once again for safe alternatives to home working, and we can fill that need."
Workers will be looking once again for safe alternatives to home working, and we can fill that need
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In