Interview - Eric Jafari, CDO of SACO Property Group
Updated: Aug 17, 2019
Throughout the past month we were focusing on European cities that give you all - history, architecture, lifestyle, sport, art, food and fantastic community. We brought you closer to places such as Edinburgh, Manchester, Porto, Budapest, Berlin, Hamburg or Rome. Not accidentally, there is one very dynamic property company that builds their presence in places like that. SACO has started a quickly expanding emporium of very unique properties. They are the true pioneers of aparthotels - a concept that marries standard of a luxury boutique hotel with the comfort of own apartment. It also creates community of young, creative and inspiring people you could once have met in a vibrant hostel lounge. Lockes, which are now popping out around Europe like mushrooms after rainfall, are a sign of new times to come for hospitality. What inspired the concept and what makes a perfect modern city? We asked the brand’s Creative Director, and Chief Development Officer - Eric Jafari.
IG: Europe is amazing for its cities, they all have amazing stories to tell. There is history lurking in every corner. So many breathtaking and inspired architectural styles, art galleries, concert halls, markets, and most of all such a great mix of rich and powerful cultures. But what makes a great traditional city one that is important and desirable today?
Eric Jafari: One of the signs of our times is the change of the way people travel. Travelling used to be either an escape from everyday routine, or it was the curiosity and the urge for learning something new that made people visit new places. The ideas for destinations would come from television or from friends. There is also another side to modern travelling which comes from the way people try to impress others. Humans have this coherent need for showing off, and in the past this need was usually realised with spending money, for example by buying expensive champagne in night clubs etc. However, after the Lehman crisis it became socially unacceptable to flaunt. So now the social media have created the space where everyone can share their experience. This way instagram raises the common awareness of cool places. The modern cities need to be instagrammable to be exciting and desirable. Lisbon, or Tulum in Mexico are great examples of it.
Finally it is also about things that used to be in a niche. If you had a unique taste in something in the past, you would have felt quite isolated, but today internet connects people from all over the world and brings the likeminded together. This way it also raises the common awareness of unique things that are exciting or thought provoking and it also brings forward places where these things are happening.
IG: In some projections of the future, cities change their roles. Some say that with the rising number of flexible working patterns, decentralisation of corporate offices, and the trend of people escaping cities (like in Paris) will influence their future role. Would you agree with this? Will cities become emptier?
EJ: I don’t really think so. The cities are changing because of the living costs. Life in central zones is just increasingly expensive, and it is so mostly because of the property prices as well. More and more private apartments are being dedicated for Air BnB. And, although there is more and more place for remote working, nothing will really replace face to face working. So companies will continue operating from the cities. Let’s not forget that vibrant and eclectic metropolis is still the most attractive environment for young and ambitious. If you strive for intelligent and creative staff members you ought to look in the cities. Innovation is the engine that pushes everything forward and creative people are drawn to cities. So no, I don’t think there will be any drastic change.
IG: Tell us more about the Locke concept. We see the very rapid rise of the private residence segment, big luxury hotel brands invest more and more in building hotel serviced private apartments. You are planning to open a great number of aparthotels all across Europe very soon. What is driving this change in hospitality? Is it the change in tourism or in lifestyle?
EJ: I guess it is both really, as it is the lifestyle change that drives the change in tourism. People travel more nowadays and stay longer in one place. Working is not glued to a place, so they can often combine work with leisure. Until very recently the accommodation choices were either giving you high service standards - hotels, the comfort of a homely apartment with own kitchen and fridge - Air BnB, or vibrant community - hostels. A modern traveller however needs them all, so it was very easy for us to find a right market place for aparthotels. We have it all - the high service standards and homely feel to the apartments. Last but not least, we also create common spaces for the use of locals as well as our residents. Many hotel brands forget how lonely might their guest feel if he/she travels frequently and has relatively long stays. Some brands try to emphasise the relation between their staff and their guests, but I don’t think this is really what our guest needs. I feel they want to connect with local professionals, people like themselves, and we are trying to encourage this kind of networking by the way we design our co-working spaces.
IG: Who is your target then, are you aiming to attract millennials?
EJ: No, our targeting doesn’t relate to age. We think about certain lifestyle, we respond to life of an urbanista. A forty odd years old app developer from London’s Soho might have more in common with a twenty year old programmer in New York, than with his similar aged neighbour. Their lives will be based on 24hr patterns, they would start with a 10 min meditation before heading of to the gym, they would grab a healthy meat free breakfast, they would spend the working day creating, connecting, getting inspired, they would go to grab a drink in the evening, eat out in a casual restaurant that serves modern conscious dishes, and then they would chill with Netflix before going to bed. Despite breaking out of a place when travelling, they would still want to live the very similar 24hr days when in a different city, and we aim to make it easy.
IG: How are you choosing your locations? What makes your perfect city?
EJ: We invest in the cities that have a specific leisure to corporate travellers ratio, and then we go into micro markets in those cities. We very often find ourselves investing in properties that are located in the areas on the verge of gentrification. For example our hotel in Berlin will be the only property at Berlin Wall, just next to the East Side Gallery.
IG: You are a young and very dynamic brand, do you focus on fitting in your target’s expectations or are you willing to risk with innovation that potentially will create a micro climate of your own?
EJ: We still start with looking at the basic requirements and we start with the sensory experience. We want our products to be nice in touch, so we put a lot of attention to the materials we use. We want things that smell nice, so we developed our own toiletries range. We need everything to be pleasing to the eye. We want the taste buds to go crazy too, and it is the thing many hotel brands trivialise. Finally, we also look at the importance of self actualisation with arts and wellness being in the core. We know how quickly things change in modern world so we are revisiting our concepts every few months. No Locke is the same. I don’t believe in timeless classic - it is the old school way of doing things that seems a bit lazy to me. A lot of luxury brands are now moving towards the experience, so we do follow what we believe being an experiential luxury.
IG: Do you then reflect the local authentic character of the places where you are, or would you rather be more universal?
EJ: ‘Local’ and ‘authentic’ for me are words that are a bit over exploited. Most brands nowadays use them as a basic they need to adhere too, but not many execute the ideas very well. They end up just putting an odd exposed brick wall here and there, then some industrial steel beams and vintage industrial lamps... how authentic is this? When Van Gogh arrived in Provence he saw it with a fresh set of eyes and discovered a totally forgotten beauty. He got inspired by things others took for granted and created one of worlds’ most beautiful paintings that are now undoubtedly representative of Provence. People who strive to be local and authentic very often fall for replication of things that are already there. We want to create things anew. We always work with talented and well accomplished designers and we send them to the place where we plan the investment. We ask them to walk the streets, to live the life of the district, to take the climate of the place in and then get inspired by it.
IG: What are Locke’s unique selling points?
EJ: It would have to be based around the fact that our guest travels more frequently and have longer stays - we combine the idea of AirBnB comfort with hotel standards and at the same time we create a community.
IG: You are truly a young and very unique concept, do you have any direct competitors?
EJ: Brands such as Hoxton, Ace, The Standard, although we target similar - we don’t see them as competition. The same guest would chose the hotel for a night or two as an experience, but then they would still stay with us when they would have a longer stay planned. Zocu from Amsterdam is probably the only one I could name now as someone who does the same concept. There is obviously Citizen M as well but they are in a different price range. We are quite confident with the place we have in the market, every Locke is different so we are not really worried about competition. We are not afraid of putting several hotels in the same city.