In this first instalment, meet Imran Hussain – 38 year-old London-based founder of The Hotel Culture (‘THC’) editorial website, and a marketing maven who’s worked with The Pilgrim, Zetter Group, MyHotels and the Great Northern Hotel. An in-demand speaker on the conference circuit, he’s a regular at gatherings like the Annual Hotel Conference, Independent Hotel Show, Hotel Distribution Forum, and Boutique Hotel Show.
What do you love about working in hospitality?
I fell in love with hotels because they’re a form of creative expression. The phrase ‘design hotel’ in itself means nothing, but because the hotel in question is a form of creative expression, it becomes something. People are looking to be in this industry in a more creative way. Hotels are now considered places of art, fashion, design, food, drink… culture, putting it simply.
How did you get into the hospitality trade?
I wrote a hospitality Master’s degree dissertation about launching a design hotel in Shoreditch (London hipster mecca) and talked to the MyHotels Group as part of that. After graduating and a short spell working in Dubai, I returned to London and actually ended up working for MyHotels as a sales representative.
After a while I found myself doing PR; independent hotels create their own reality, and within that workers have the ability to learn new skills on the job. I learned about copywriting, photos shoots and website design.
Sales and marketing are actually very similar. It’s about knowing what’s going on in the building and delivering for your stakeholders. In sales your stakeholders are corporates, in marketing your stakeholders are the public. In PR your stakeholders are publications.
How did The Hotel Culture website come about?
I was working at the Great Northern Hotel in London’s King’s Cross. It was a grand hotel with a boutique key count, created with a lot of love and dripping with narrative. For instance, the hallways were a certain width so ladies in Georgian times [1714-1830] could pass by each other without their dresses touching. It was also intimately entwined with the history of the area, and its modern-day regeneration.
The project gave me a real love of storytelling. At the time, modernism and new builds were the thing, and here was history, created by famous designers and engineers. Now, you could say that the hotel industry doesn’t have a culture -– it’s just places where people go to eat and sleep. But people have been going to these places for hundreds of years. And we in the industry are responsible for what they’re eating, drinking and experiencing now.
This all opened my eyes up to all the collaborations people within the industry had started doing. Like Simon Warrington at W collaborating on skateboard decks with artists. And I wanted to publish long form pieces about the thought and work that goes into those things, rather than the short and snappy pieces the style press did. Fashion has been doing it for a hundred years.
You work on special projects for hotels through The Hotel Culture’s agency wing. What have you been most proud of?
The Zetter has a special place in my heart. We involved Central Working, a coworking group, with the lobby space and programmed a series of progressive, intelligent panel sessions that were really well attended. To take a brand like that, create a narrative for it, and have it inspire people and have them react to it, was very pleasing.
What are you working on next?
My new project is The Fellowship, which is best described as a vehicle to help hotels and help communities. It’s an initiative to get to the heart of a neighbourhood’s pulse, whatever that may be. It creates a brand that’s greater than the business model, and positively impacts the local community. It’s about understanding where you are geographically and finding a narrative that suits it now and for decades to come. A great example is the watch brand Shinola in Detroit. People will understand your neighbourhood far quicker than they’ll understand your hotel.
How do you see hospitality evolving in the coming years – what’s the next big trend?
It’s suddenly become cool to be nice, and you have to ask why it hasn’t been like that before. The hierarchy between the ‘innkeeper’ and the ‘guests’ is dissolving. I like that sense of ownership.
Go to The Beaumont and see how Jeremy [King] and Chris [Corbyn], top restaurateurs turned hoteliers do it. You’ll see Jeremy walking through the lobby shaking hands or introducing himself to people in the restaurant. More luxury never made anyone a nicer person; try being nice to the guests for a loyalty scheme.
Get in touch with Imran via thehotelculture.com