If there’s one thing that sets entrepreneur Rami Zeidan apart from other next-gen hoteliers, it’s his well-honed aptitude for storytelling. Zeidan is a big-picture guy with a deft understanding of the building blocks of any good piece of literature or film—plot, theme, point of view, setting, and character development. It’s only natural that those same elements dictate how each boutique property in his portfolio of award-winning (and fast-expanding) hotel brand Life House comes to, well, life. HAP chatted with Zeidan to learn why providing guests with a locally-inspired sense of place—and optimizing back-of-house operations—are both key to reinventing the boutique hotel experience.
Life House is best known to our audience as a portfolio of design-driven boutique hotels with a ton of local flair. How does the brand aim to stand out from the crop?
That’s a great question, especially with the amount of money being thrown at boutique hotels these days. I think at the core of it, we always strive to reach for more depth in the overall experience. You’ll stay at a Life House not because it’s the most luxe—though we take our linens, blow dryers, and shower water pressure seriously—but because it’s a perfect balance of great design that’s comfortable and reliable; a brand story that resonates with your deepest self; a great place to work, relax, dine, and entertain—all at a sensible price point. And while we try to be photogenic enough for Instagram, we’re also the place you’d stay if no one was looking.
What some may not know is that there’s a whole other side to your business—the hospitality tech that’s used by numerous independent hotels—that preceded your venture into creating your own branded hotels. Can you describe how that tech continues to evolve and be used by other properties?
We believe that modern discerning travelers want to be connected to experiences and brands rooted in narrative and substance. While we seek to tell stories that have richness and depth at our Life House hotels, there are many hotels in the world that have interesting and true stories to tell. But the staff and/or owners are often spending much of their time on redundant back-office operational tasks, and consequently, struggle to serve guests and run the hotel. The result is a cute hotel that has loads of potential, but one that travelers don’t trust when they’re booking online, which translates to lower revenues and profits and poor operations.
We solve this problem with software tools that automate the complex back-office and redundant functions—such as accounting, finance, pricing, and housekeeping scheduling—and optimally merchandise and market their hotel online through beautiful conversion-optimized websites, metasearch marketing, and more. It also enables on-site staff to focus more on manifesting their brand story and delivering a great guest experience.
The result is happier owners (with more profits), happier staff (with less annoying work), and ultimately happier guests.
How do you scout which destinations will be the home of future Life House properties? Is it as granular as starting with a particular neighborhood that’s already on your radar, or do you pick a city and narrow it down from there?
Actually, it’s not as straightforward as that. Since we don’t own the hotels, we often get called by hotel owners wanting to make a “Life House.” We try to help, though oftentimes say no unless it’s a great fit. At the end of the day, Life Houses are quite adaptable to different locations as our whole approach is “being responsive” to the environment we inhabit, which is why we’re able to be in markets like Nantucket, Miami Beach, Little Havana, Lower Highlands, the Berkshires and fit in wherever we go.
What are the most robust ways to create a sense of place and authentically imbue the location into the hotel, for example, design, cuisine, or scoring a historic building with good bones?
It depends. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the word authentic has been overused recently. To us, authenticity is not necessarily about re-telling a “local story,” but rather telling a story that reads true from start to finish.
Locations have so many stories to tell and I find that trying to encompass it all into building results in a low-resolution story that lacks depth. In my experience, the best “authentic” places are connected to a person’s story rather than a location’s story. In that spirit, our approach is to develop a character before creating a design language. We think of ourselves as screenwriters more than hoteliers. We try to develop this protagonist and empathize with this person and only then can we begin our creative process through their lens. We create a hotel by asking: “If I were this person, what would my hotel look like?” If you can deeply empathize with the character, the resulting spirit and sense of place become a true story rather than a contrived script with missing links.
Many indie hotels and restaurants come close, but then there are things that are just off, like a strange bulky computer in the way or the back office located in the front office. Our software helps other hotels tell their story as well as it seeks to make the hotel hardware “invisible.”
Are you excited about any particular travel trends being forecasted for 2023? And what details can you share about any upcoming property openings and expansions?
Personally, I steer clear of trends and look for places with few other tourists to travel to. That said, I’ve been excited about motel conversions in nature-oriented destinations. Especially in the face of an upcoming recession, I anticipate people will need to be more value-conscious with their travel decisions. An old motel reimagined into a boutique hotel is an elegant solution to maintain discerning travelers’ behaviors while focusing more on the locale, and the community, and less on the luxury Instagram post.
We actually just converted a motel in the Berkshires into our Life House, Berkshires property. It’s tucked away in the mountains and is quite a cozy place to be year-round. As it is a bit secluded in nature, the sense of community is also stronger as our guests tend to gather in public areas, where there’s a greater propensity for conversation rather than scurrying off to the next destination.
This spring we’ll be opening Life House, Palm Springs, a converted motel reimagined as a desert-dwelling botanist’s chic mid-century modern house. The design is inspired by the motifs of 1965-era geometries and desert botany, as it steps away from Moorten Botanical Garden, the world’s first Cactarium. The house also features a cafe, bar, restaurant, and pool deck.
Finally, are any exciting travel plans coming up?
Canouan. It’s a tiny little island in Saint Vincent & Grenadines with a clear blue ocean and the largest reef in the Caribbean. I just can’t wait.
Head to LifeHouseHotels.com to learn more.
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