• Scandic bids for the hip set

Scandinavian operator Scandic has recently announced two initiatives to refresh its brand, increasing the group’s appeal to a new, younger audience. The company is making progress with its new HTL brand, with a May opening promised in Stockholm. And it has teamed up with UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, to launch his Italian restaurant brand in the Nordics.

HTL is Scandic’s take on what the new, younger and more mobile band of travellers really look for in a hotel, aiming to offer “only what's necessary and only the best”. Smaller rooms, city centre locations, and keen pricing are on the agenda. The first hotel will open in May, a 274 bedroom property on one of Stockholm’s central shopping streets. And a second property in Stockholm is already signed, with a target of having 20 HTL hotels open in the Nordics within five years.

"The idea behind HTL is to provide a modern and individualised hotel experience without having to pay a fortune. By combining great quality, location and price with space saving room solutions, we offer the essence of a great hotel experience without compromising on quality or comfort. Our guests only pay for the space they use", said Joachim Högefjord, managing director of HTL Hotels.

Significantly, the brand is being run separately with its own CEO and board, will be marketed separately from the Scandic parent’s existing offerings.

The new concept will use new builds and conversions. Rooms are just 12.5 square metres, with the Swedish architects promising “a calm and peaceful space, that together with elements of modern and technical materials create an active energy. Kind of like a cashmere sweater with an edge.”

“We have seen similar initiatives emerging internationally, but we are consolidating our position in the Nordic market by developing our very own concept,” said Anders Ehrling, former CEO of Scandic, as the brand was launched last September. “Few, if any, other providers could do the same due to the challenge of achieving the right contract models and the resources to create a strong concept and brand with which to build up a new chain.”

“Things are going well for us and this is one project of many that we have in the pipeline. In recent years, we have invested many billions in expanding Scandic’s hotel portfolio and we intend to continue with that, but we have also spotted an opportunity to grow through a new brand in a partially new segment. There is good potential at the moment, as we know that many property owners have empty office blocks that would be ideal for conversion into an HTL. It is also the case that our Nordic capitals still need more hotel capacity to continue attracting the major international conferences.”

The link with Jamie Oliver sees Scandic as his exclusive partner for his Italian restaurant concept in the Nordics. The relaxed dining concept, launched in the UK in 2008, now has 35 UK outlets and 9 international restaurants, from Dublin to Sydney. The first restaurant is promised for Stockholm later this year. Oliver has been providing input into menus at Scandic hotel restaurants since 2009.

While it is unclear whether restaurants will be purely within Scandic properties, or as standalones, incoming Scandic CEO Frank Fiskers explained the group’s thinking: “Our ambition is always to expand our offering and provide extraordinary services to our guests. As part of this ambition, we also want to focus more on our restaurants and bars, creating more inspiring experiences and work with those who share our commitment to quality, service and values. We are very excited about the partnership and our plans for the future with Jamie's Italian.”

Said the ebullient chef: “We've worked with the guys at Scandic for nearly five years now across a number of projects and I'm incredibly excited to be teaming up with them to launch Jamie's Italian into the Nordic region. I can't wait to kick start things by opening our first restaurant in Stockholm. It's going to be epic – watch this space.”

Oliver has worked on a number of joint ventures to expand his brand portfolio, some more successful than others. Recently, it emerged three of four Union Jacks restaurants in the UK would close, having failed to perform. The brand was set up in 2011 by Oliver in conjunction with US pizza restaurateur Chris Bianco.

 

HA Perspective: [by Katherine Doggrell] Branding and Scandinavia is currently all about the cool. Go down to Shoreditch and quiz a hipster about their shoes if you don’t believe me. But while magazines so hip I’ve never heard of them are publishing lists of the top 10 Scandinavian brands, this has not translated into its hotel flags.

Scandic has suffered under changing ownership since debuting as Scandinavia’s version of Holiday Inn in the 1960s and it is now in need of a similar revamp.

Say what you will about Jamie Oliver the man, but, Union Jacks aside, Jamie Oliver Holdings knows how to make money, with Jamie’s Italian the cornerstone of the company’s growth strategy. There was talk two years ago of the brand being floated, but is thought to have sold a stake instead, with an IPO still expected within the next few years.

In the year to 30 December 2012 the Jamie’s Italian brand saw revenue increase by 30.3% on the year to GBP93.9m and last year it announced plans to expand its overseas sites from four to 20, using the franchise model, but looking to partner with groups which have a strong track record in hospitality (in Russia it is partnering with the Ginza Project, which has100 restaurants).

The High Street has started to make its way into hotels, as they realise they need to import expertise as well as give the consumer the brands they want. Starbucks, Costa and Wagamama are all popping up in an effort to keep guests and their wallets on site. While a luxury property may look to Jamie Oliver himself, a midmarket chain can have a taste of that and maximise what for many is dead f&b space.

In recent years hotels have learned to outsource more, from moving out of property investment to distribution. Bringing in a restaurant brand leaves more time to focus on the core business.

 

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