What’s it like to manage Urban House Copenhagen by MEININGER
Thomas Bagger is the hotel manager of the soon to be Urban House Copenhagen, meaning the number one person running the show.
Me: Why “Urban House”?
Thomas: We had a lot of ideas for the place, but it was important that we came up with a name that first of all included ‘house’. It makes sense that it’s a house, it’s not a hostel or a hotel, and the whole feeling that we want the guest to experience is as walking into a house would be. I think to me it’s that it has that ‘homey’ feeling, and you can get that in a boutique hotel somewhere, but this has all the features that a home has, like a lounge and so on. ‘Urban’ came in later on, it was again something we thought about because of the area, the look of the place, the furniture, the rooms, everything – ‘urban’ says it all. There has been a lot of different names, like ‘Urban Hub’, ‘Urban Cabin’, but in the end ‘house’ was the most important, and then ‘urban’ + ‘house’. Made sense in the end.
Me: Is Urban House ‘hipster’?
Thomas: Along the way I’ve said no, but I would say yes, Urban House is ‘hipster’, but it’s also a 100 other things, it’s for hipsters, it’s for whatever term there is out there at the moment, hip hopers, skaters, painters, artists – it’s for everyone. I just think it’s a label you get when you place something in Vesterbro, which has been labeled ‘hipster’ for many years, but now ‘hipster’ has become a dirty word. There’s nothing wrong with being a hipster, but like with everything else, when something is picked up by everyone, no one wants to be that anymore. I personally hate putting labels on things, and that’s where I think I want to get to: I don’t want to put a label on Urban House, but it’s very easy to put a label on it if you want to, opening it up in Vesterbro with the kind of things we focus on. But I don’t think it’s until when we open that they will see that, yes, it can be hipster, but it is also for everyone else. It can be people living in Vesterbro, or the young international travelers coming from all over the world.
Me: Who is Thomas Bagger? Tell our future guests a little bit about your experience in the hotel business.
Thomas: When I got into the business, I probably had the wrong image of what it would be to work in a hotel. People have this kind of “pink dream” of working in the travel industry, that it’s all about going on holiday, it’s going to be a beautiful life style, but it’s really really hard work. Then I also found out about the way we organize ourselves in the industry – and this is in general – that you have a reception, you have a bar, you have a restaurant, and everyone seems to have a script saying you have to do this and that. That’s where we want to break down the barrier and just say that, instead of having a receptionist at the reception who stands there, they should stand on the other side and meet the guest. I’ve worked at a reception for many years, and when it’s 12 o’clock and people have checked out, there’s not a lot of guests coming; but then you look into a restaurant where they are super busy and people are working really hard. Instead of having this barrier, which I see a reception being, we should not have that and be on the floor with the guests. That’s what I’ve always tried to do in my recent jobs in the hotels is to find a new way. Often you have hotels thinking they are on top of things and are being innovative – like when one of my ex colleagues said that their hotel has been innovative by folding the toilet paper in the bathrooms… What the guest wants is for us to be present when we’re there, and that’s the thing that I’ve always tried to do is to figure out a better way of being there for the guest. I think the way we’re going to do it with Urban House is that everything is online, you’re checked in as soon as you walk in the door, the payment is done, you have your code, making it easy for the staff to be there for the guest. The guest doesn’t understand sometimes what it is that’s going on when they enter a hotel, but here they are going to be greeted by someone basically at the door.
Me: Is that how social media will be used at Urban House? Is that how we’re also being present for the guest?
Thomas: I would say yes because you have to be there 24/7, and for me that’s one of the other dreams I have about customer service and guest experience. Social media is going to drive our whole customer support, it’s going to be where we focus everything. One thing is what we’re going to do, but then we also want the guests to interact. I have no doubt in my mind that that’s going to be huge, because we’ve already built a good platform, but when we open and the guests start sharing their experience, then everything is going to just flow through the social media. Of course we will also rely on guest reviews, but if the guest feels that they are also part of it and share their tips with the next guest coming or the other guest staying at the house, then you suddenly get guests interacting as well, and that’s what we want with the live walls and everything that we do. I think, let’s step away from how things are always done with calls and emails; this way, if the guest has a question, they can ask the question on Twitter. Our hosts in the hotel can be the ones answering. Then the guest can see the answer, and they can also keep asking questions, so you get this continuous conversation going. That’s what I think is really important for guests today, that you don’t send an email that takes 48 hours to get a reply. This way something happens instantly.
Me: So you see a relationship developing between the guests as well, and not only between the hotel and the guests?
Thomas: I think social media covers a lot, and I wouldn’t say it’s new in the hotel industry, but it’s an area that is just now starting to really pick up, and hotels are moving their time, energy, sales, marketing, and everything to social media. So one thing is Urban House communicating with the guests, the guests between each other, but it’s also brought up other interesting things like our friends from the hood, as we call it. All these local businesses around Vesterbro, it all connects somehow. If we get to that point where everyone interacts with each other, whether it’s a bar, restaurant, whatever, then I think we’ve succeeded.
Me: Who are the friends from the hood? How has our relationship developed with them?
Thomas: When we created this friends from the hood, it basically started with Recycles. They were the first ones that we thought we wanted to get on board – they are in Vesterbro, they do recycled bikes, they were part of the video and everything, so it just made sense to build on that relationship. We didn’t want to just sign a contract saying OK, you’re going to have a bike shop here, this is what we agree on, see you later, and we’ll just send you an invoice every month. But how do you do it differently? I think when we started approaching them like we did is when I could see that it’s a different way of doing it, it’s a different way of creating a relationship than what we have done before. You can actually create some relationships online instead of having to go and visit them, sit down and have a meeting with them; of course you do it at some point, but the way that you touch base with some of these businesses and you help each other online, that’s going to benefit all of us very much. I think it’s the best way of getting a close relationship with these local businesses in Vesterbro, because we’re not approaching them with a commercial mindset, we’re very honest and transparent about what we’re doing and don’t really sit down with an agenda in our mind. We have this product, you have that product, no reason to beat around the bush, it just makes sense for us to work together. The kind of relationship that we’re building just brings up a lot of ideas that I would never have thought about. Sitting down, getting to know them, yeah, becoming friends, both professionally and also on a private matter, for me these two things kind of just go together. Then when you sit there and they can see that you are really excited about your project, then they become excited about it as well, and makes their ideas start to flow as well. That’s where these guys came up with the idea that we’ll ship the bike home to this person, even if they’re coming from Sydney or Sao Paolo or wherever they’re from. If the guest falls in love with this bike, of course we’re going wrap it up and send it home so it’s standing in Sao Paolo when they get home from their holiday.
Me: A day in the life of Thomas Bagger, the hotel manager
Thomas: I get up, I eat, I go to bed. No, I would say that a day in my life has been for the last six months that I’m up very early, but that’s how I am as a morning person, I probably should go to the gym, but I don’t, and I turn on my laptop even before I leave my home. That’s a part of the whole journey I think, the kind of person that I am, where it’s something that co-exists with my lifestyle. That’s where this project also personally matched me, and it still does. When you start off with a project like this, of course you are nervous about where it’s going to lead. Now we’re 6-7 weeks away from opening and I’m still as excited about it as I was the first day. Not to sound cliché, but it still makes me jump out of bed in the morning, because I have no idea what the day is going to be like – I can try and plan my day but there are always new things. So I’m up early and quick out the door, I like to be at Urban House early in the day, and then I think I have a plan and I have some things in my calendar, but at the end of the day all these 100 things come up. But it’s also fun. Yes, it’s many hours, but if you think that this is your dream job, then you are willing to spend the extra hours. But then recharging your batteries is also important – coffee is not enough.
Me: Will you be around the hotel yourself along with the other staff members? Will guests be able to meet you?
Thomas: I think that since I’ve been building this concept with everyone else from scratch, it would be very weird if I didn’t want to be a part of it. I’m never going to be the kind of person who sits behind a fancy desk somewhere hidden away. The idea is that everyone, all the staff, including myself is going to rotate positions in the hotel, and from my side it means that I will be sitting in the hotel working, one day I’ll be sitting in the lobby, another day at the bar, I’ll basically be sitting wherever there’s a free chair. In order to know if we have succeeded is, one thing is to look at the numbers at the end of the month, and another is to feel that the guests are appreciating everything we have built for them. Because it’s for them it’s been built. So yes, I’m not going to be some stranger, where you have to ask, is he there today – I’m there. It’s something that I think is related to how I see and how I’ve worked in the industry, I wish it was something that more managers would do.
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