Tearing down the remainder of the Berlin Wall?

Berlin Wall

Huge news coming out from Berlin the last few months was regarding the plans for the destruction of the remainder of the ‘East Side Gallery‘ section of the Berlin wall. Can you believe it?! When i heard i was shocked, but not surprised…

I was recently in Berlin for ITB again… the last two years I have happily stayed wt PLUS Berlin, which is just a few minutes walk away from the East Side Gallery. Great location, right near Kruezberg and hot clubs like Chalet and Berghain/Panorama.

Berlin Wall

While I was there, my good friend living in Berlin was telling me how these German property developers wanted to build river side apartments, right where the wall is. So, that was that – the wall was meant to be coming down, much to the disgust of many locals. An uproar was of course brewing back then (a month ago), so no surprise when at 5am this morning, when two hundred police turned up to ‘protect’ the developers (builders doing their dirty work) and protesters – it quickly filtered through to news around the world. Especially when a chunk of the wall was removed!

Berlin Wall

I don’t personally know all the details…but I can’t help think – wtf?! What are these guys thinking of starting the process of demolishing a unique part of Berlin’s history. Something that has become a major tourist attraction.. something that has brought art to the community and city… colour to grey… life to oppression. Is it simply better to erase and forget the dirty history for some, rather than having to be reminded of it daily? I think for the majority – NO!

Berlin Wall

Leave the damn wall alone. It was already iconic when it stood, a legend when it fell…. and now the remainder is an institution. Why plan to put it in a museum somewhere, or in a ‘retirement’ art park elsewhere in the city? Why not let it live where it has stood, live where it belongs… where visitors from Berlin, from Germany, who are connected in some way to its history – can come and visit and reflect. Where tourists and history buffs can wander freely, can touch the wall of former division, take photos of the iconic images in natural settings. Why make way for ‘gentrification’ and erase an important part of WORLD history. An important freestanding tourist attraction and multiple human interest story.

Berlin Wall

I will be watching the news keenly for how this story unfolds… and my friends and clients in Berlin will be keeping me up to date of course. I can’t image visiting Berlin and not driving or walking past a hugely relevant piece of its history.

SAVE THE WALL!

Berlin can be reached by Ryanair or Easyjet

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Big hostel brands set for European expansion in 2013

Hostel chains expanding in 2013: News keeps on breaking of big, well-known, award-winning chains expanding to all parts of the globe.  This is especially true in Europe – where student, family and budget travel for business and independent travellers shows no signs of slowing down.  A demand for trusted and cool budget accommodation is literally hitting new highs!

This is possibly fueled by the global financial crisis that we still find ourselves in…. ironically, somewhat complimenting our budget accommodation industry who are left asking ‘What GFC?!’ People still travel and it seems that what was not an option for some previously, now is… the rise of the hostel, or the concept of what a hostel should be and offer, keeps on adapting in these hard times and is reaping the benefits. People from hotel backgrounds are cashing in on the hostel product, bringing their expertise to the market.

For most the prominent chains, bookings and revenue are strong – making new openings possible. However, the news of the chains or ‘big boys’ coming to town has left a lot of smaller, independent properties quaking while they wait to see just what kind of impact the introduction of extra beds from brand expansions will have on their business. A great example is Barcelona, who this year alone are set to be inundated with a few thousand extra dorm beds.

logos

As Product Manager at HostelBookers, if I look at the three brands that have recently won the ‘Best Chain’ category for our Awards for Excellence, I can see that 2013 is going to be a big year for expansion for them in particular. Recently while in Berlin for ITB, I managed to catch up with some of these brands…. and more.

So – the first three from our recent Awards:

GENERATOR – Berlin & Barcelona.

I went to a cool party they put on the night before ITB started. They billed the party as ‘ for one night only, rising from the foundations’ of the new property about to open in Berlin Mitte… and what a property it is set to be! It’s on the same strip as Meininger and well placed in a backpackers hub of town. However, this is just one city set to benefit from a Generator opening….. Barcelona will have two, a hostel and a hotel (same building, two entrances and receptions)…and other cities with strong, rumored interest include Rome, Milan and Amsterdam… no sign of slowing! Their new logo and re-branding is epic….. forget what you once knew…. Generator has jumped a few levels!

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/barcelona/

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/berlin-mitte/

EQUITY POINT – Prague.

They have secured a prime location and building and renovation work and just about finished, with their newest property set to open just after Easter. A great location, just over Charles Bridge in the Mala Strana district….. an area screaming out for a classy hostel and boost of youth to its historic area under Prague Castle.

http://www.equity-point.com/en/hostels-prague/equity-point-prague/hostels-prague.html

PLUS – tbc…

Currently riding high off the huge success of what is PLUS Berlin, which really upped the ante of their overall product and brand offering two years ago….. the PLUS crew are scouting for new locations and are set to make announcements soon…. speaking to some of the managers, it is clear that they are after steady growth, with the plan to open up a new property every few years… so I guess that time has come! Keep an eye on their website for their latest, exciting news http://www.plushostels.com

Now, other big brands about to expand that you probably know of if you travel / work in the industry:

ST CHRISTOPHER’S – Paris.

A second hostel for them in this beautiful city set to open soon, around the corner from Gare du Nord station….. how central can you get?! The recent opening of their Barcelona property has seen them rise to the top of Barcelona bookings and ratings quickly. They even won ‘Best Newcomer’ for the Barcelona property in HostelBookers Awards for Excellence… as well as ‘Most Popular’ for the Prague Mosaic House – so expectations ride high for what they can achieve in 2013…. expect more openings other than the immediate Paris open this Spring! http://www.st-christophers.co.uk/paris-hostels/gare-du-nord

MEININGER – Brussels & Barcelona.

They won ‘Best Value Hotel’ in HostelBookers recent ‘Awards for Excellence’. Interestingly, there has been a very recent shift in the ownership and management of this company – with Eric Van Dijk (previously overseeing the Generator expansion) being hired as part of the new Meininger line up. Meeting with a rep recently at ITB, I can confirm that there is strong focus on acquiring openings in London (more) and Amsterdam (new). Their Brussels property was the latest to open… an excellent budget choice hotel / hostel for the numerous business travellers the city attracts.

http://www.meininger-hotels.com/en/expansion/

WOMBATS – Milan…. This is most likely set to open early in 2014…. as stated on the bottom of their email signatures. Their newer Budapest property has been a big success…..also picking up an Award for Excellence for Cleanliness. But don’t expect them to stop at Milan in 2013/14 either… great properties, giving travellers exactly what they want! http://www.wombats-hostels.com/about-us/investor-relations/

A&O Hostels – Vienna & Graz. By far the biggest ‘hostel’ chain…. Vienna opens this month and is massive at almost one thousand beds! Just look at their run sheet of locations they are scouting….if you were ever thinking of  getting into the business, now is the best time

http://www.aohostels.com/en/about-aampo/new-openings/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Top Hostels in Western Europe

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Western Europe for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Amazing, huge hostel in an old textiles university

PLUS Berlin – Amazing, huge hostel in an old textiles university

The winners in Western Europe include the following:

Most Popular

Top 3 Accommodations

Best Atmosphere

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

One80° Hostel Berlin win ‘Best Newcomer’

one80

One80° Hostel have picked up yet another award – this time from Hostelbookers in their recent Awards for Excellence. I met up with some of their managers at ITB today to congratulate them of their win. Stella Lindemann, Guest Relations Manager for the property says of the win, ‘Wow, we did not expect to win anything, being new and not established….but now it feels like we made it! All the work, the blood and sweat, it all makes sense!’

Asked about the brand philosophy of One80°, she continues, ‘We are all a team. We all live and breathe One80°…it is love, positivity, kindness. It is a love for Berlin that comes from the staff, the knowledge….being informative and helpful.’

Walking into One80°, one could easily expect to be in a hotel. High spec finishes, high quality materials, vast communal spaces and am amazing basement nightclub and band room. Part of the Azure hotel group, they are quick to add, ‘we are definetly a hostel! This is part of the philosophy. We are a hostel, but from a hotel background. We bring a different perspective – a high customer focus but easy atmosphere’. Stella should know, her title says it all… Its not something that a typical hostel provides, but something found in four and five star hotels.

Asked about the biggest challenge faced when opening, Stella says, ‘It was to get people to see and recognise something new. For OTA’s to see us as a serious player. That, and the size – over seven hundred beds is big..we were so surprised at how many beds we sold…. A huge amount…even before we had opened. It was a high anxious energy when we opened. The first few days, all of a sudden it was all hands on deck….there was chaos, but in a beautiful way, where everyone worked together and it just became normal…it gelled.’

Already under an investor group of hotels, I ask if the One80° ‘hostel’ concept will be pushed further. I’m happy to know that their investors are already scouting for other locations. Where this will be is anyone’s guess, although Prague and London seem to denote a positive response. Wherever it is, the location must be central to attract a young and funky crowd – something which lent to the success of the current stand alone property in the heart of the city, Alexanderplatz. You know you are in Berlin when the looming view is the iconic TV tower ‘Fernsehturm!’

‘What about the name – there must be something in that?’, I ask. Of course there is a story which encompasses the response already given. Stella states, ‘Yes – One80° was thought of by the investors…. As they worked in hotels and wanted to open a boutique conceptual hostel, it was a one eighty degree turn on what they did, on what they thought a modern hostel should now offer…a hotel approach in a hostel environment…so, the brand is born!’

Brand?! Yes, confirming the brand again is exciting – a brand that is set to grow quickly off the back of the current success of one of the best new hostels opened in recent years. Not just in Europe, but worldwide. A feat that all Berliners should be proud of – party and highly desirable travel capital of Germany.

Get your photo taken in their photobooth after partying in their nightclub!

Get your photo taken in their photobooth after partying in their nightclub!

So what next for the current product? What has been missed that could be introduced? What other strategy is there for 2013? Both girls giggle and talk of how cool it would be to have a rooftop terrace, an infinity pool or rooftop lap pool, but these are most likely ideas for the next hostels. For now, the concept is perfect. The strategy revolves more around pushing the club facilities and promoting bands and dj’s, who they are happy to give a few free nights stay to in exchange for service and talent.

Julia Schroeder, Sales Manager adds, ‘All of us, the owners and investors, are really happy with the awards we receive. To see everything come together, from the design, to the customers, to the atmosphere created in our communal spaces where people are working, socialising, having fun….its amazing! We just didn’t realise the affect it would have.’

Chatting with the girls, I can see the passion and enthusiasm they have for the business. Julia has excellent experience in hospitality management, which she studied and worked in places such as the London Ritz Carlton and the Holiday Inn Berlin, before being snapped up by the Azure group. On the other hand, Stella comes from a teacher background, bringing the nurturing and caring side into the customer relations mix. They are a dynamic duo, riding a high wave of celebrated success.

So, who knows what is next? It seems like anything is possible for the One80° concept. Philosophy and strategy aligned, the Azure group’s next projects sound set to be touched and turned to gold…this could be the new brand to take on the likes of current ‘best chain’ winners Generator, PLUS and Equity Point in future years! Congrats!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/