Sincerely, BLLA

The Artisans: Eric Jafari

The BLLA Team sits down with Eric Jafari, Chief Development Officer and Creative Director at edyn, as he delves into his experience as a boutique hot...

The BLLA Team sits down with Eric Jafari, Chief Development Officer and Creative Director at edyn, as he delves into his experience as a boutique hotelier.

BLLA: What is your company’s mission statement?

EJ: “At edyn, we believe in soulful hospitality. We believe that travel should be a rich journey of discovery, rewarding curiosity with knowledge and inspiration. Our vision is to create sanctuaries across European cities which provide a sense of belonging to the free-thinking urbanite in all of us.

BLLA: How did you enter the hospitality industry?

EJ: “By accident. 

“Despite hospitality being a passion, my path began in real estate. During the first part of my career, I was sector agnostic: I worked for an investment firm that invested in student housing, healthcare, residential and hotel development. The hotels that we invested in at that time were branded because we had been conditioned to believe that the big flag and/or operator was a safer investment. 

“Investing in big-brand hotels eventually became problematic for me when I came to the realisation that my consumer habits did not coincide with the investment thesis. I went out of my way to stay in boutique hotels, and hated staying in the big chains, but was advising our investors that the latter was a better investment strategy. 

This eventually came to a head 10 years ago, when I realised that I could no longer invest in a manner that wasn’t congruent with my beliefs.”

Schwan Locke | Munich, Germany

BLLA: What does “boutique” mean to you?

EJ: “For me, “boutique” is less about size and more about the thought process associated with the hotel’s sensory experience.  

“Boutique should convey that the respective hotel is ideally a brand of one, and ideally one that reflects either the micro-locality, sub-culture and/or tastes of the brand guardian.  

“Staying in a boutique hotel should give one the insight or glimpse into the mind of its creator(s).”

BLLA: Why do you celebrate the path of independence?

EJ: “I wouldn’t per se claim that I deliberately celebrate the path of independence. 

“In my personal set of circumstances, I tried to find an operator that could deliver an experience that met my personal travel needs. And for one reason or another, I came to the realisation that many of these operators were prisoners to a set of brand standards that weren’t rooted in logic nor relevant in the regions that I was looking to invest in. 

“In response, despite having no background in hotel operations, my team and I were forced to create and launch our own brand. We wanted a brand that was both experiential and accommodated the optionality of extended stay – and for one reason or another, most operators could not get their heads around this.  

Consequently, we created an experience that scratched our own itch.”

Whitworth Locke | Manchester, United Kingdom

BLLA: What advice would you give to first-time hoteliers?

EJ: “Take your time to shape an experience that caters to the tribe that you best identify with and be willing to make bold decisions, even if other hoteliers have never tried to.  

“One of the reasons for why larger brands struggle to recreate boutique experiences is because that brand gatekeeper isn’t the consumer. They care more about the brand features (i.e. room size, common area dimensions, etc.) than they do about the evolving needs of the target consumer. 

“Everything from the design to the art, to the food, to the music, and toiletries should ideally reflect what you are most passionate about. Take the time in advance to articulate the tribe that you are catering to and once you have done this, assemble a team around you that identify with this same tribe.”

BLLA: What would you say to hotel lenders & investors reading this?

EJ: “The Economist recently released an article mapping out two types of consumers: those that seek unique experiences and those that associate anxiety with trying something new. At the expense of over-generalising, the latter tends to apply to those that live in the regions whereas the former tends to apply to those from gateway cities.  

“If one is seeking to invest from a longer-term perspective and is investing in gateway cities, I would caution against the perception that a big brand is a safer investment and against the historic approach of bifurcating real estate from the flag and the operator. I am not entirely certain that within gateway cities, the big brands are going to generate enough of a premium to justify the fees that they are charging, especially as urbanites grow increasingly sensitive to identikit hotels.”

BLLA: What’s next for you?

EJ: “My personal aspiration is remain at edyn for as long as possible and that this is hopefully just the beginning. 

“Savills commissioned a study a few years back (just before Covid) analysing the average length of stay of leisure travellers visiting London and they were surprised to discover that the average length of stay had increased from 2.5 days in 2008 to 5.4 days in 2018.  

“From my perspective, Covid may further lengthen this period as we have all discovered that for many of us, it is a lot easier to work remotely than ever before – and yet the traditional hotel isn’t suited to accommodate this increased length of stay. 

“The consumer behaviour and needs of a guest staying 10 days are very different from that a traveller staying two and since every Locke is technically a brand of one (unique in design, food and drinks.), we gain greater insight into this behaviour with every opening.  

“Our eleventh Locke looks nothing like the first – and I suspect the twentieth will look nothing like the eleventh, as we experiment with every Locke and learn from each of these experiments, which is a very privileged spot for me to be in.”

edyn is a member of BLLA.

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