Christoph Hoffmann was looking for a small hotel in the south of France or in Switzerland. Instead, he found three great partners, and has gone on to shake up the entire industry with 25hours. Next up? Expansion to Italy, France and England. Hoffmann’s recipe for success: individuality, experience, team work.
text: Silke Becker // photography: Lucas Wahl
Anyone who sees him like this – relaxed, tanned, beachy curls, in shorts, plaid shirt and sneakers – would find it hard to believe that “The Christoph”, as the 25hours employees call their boss, has roots in distinguished, formal, conservative luxury hotels. The famous Hamburg Hotel Atlantic and refined Louis C. Jacob were his world. “I always was the independent, non-conformist type and at some point just had this feeling that I wanted to break free,” he says. The then forty-year old resigned and gave himself a year to find a new outlook on life. Hoffmann dreamt of a small, cute hotel, ideally in Switzerland or, even better, in the south of France. Christoph, originally from the south of Germany, always had a love for France. As a student, he even had a French wine shop for a year.
During his sabbatical, he came up with an idea – just as a little detour, on his way south, of course – the Fox Hotel in the centre of Copenhagen, today the SP34 by Brøchner Hotels. On behalf of Volkswagen, to launch the VW Fox, the predecessor to the VW Up, Christoph Hoffmann commissioned artists to design the 61 rooms individually, in line with the young, non-conformist image of the small car.
For this project in 2005, he brought together real estate investor Ardi Goldman, consultant Stephan Gerhard and hotelier Kai Hollmann. With the Hamburg Gastwerk hotel, Hollmann was the first to open a design hotel in the Hanseatic city and, in 2003, went on to open the first 25hours “Number One”, reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s retro style of the former office building. Over an “evening meal that was heavy on the wine”, the concept of 25hours was systematically developed and made into a brand, initially in Frankfurt, simply because Goldman just “happened” to have a suitable property there.
“We didn’t want to just create another standard, off-the-rack hotel, but to tell stories and offer experiences,” says Hoffmann. These individual concepts, he explains, are developed through intensely focusing on the building, surroundings and city. For example, seafarers from all over the world tell stories from their lives in the Hamburg 25hours located in the HafenCity; in Vienna, the 25hours in the Museumsquarter, everything revolves around a circus theme, whereas the Frankfurt 25hours, The Goldman, was inspired by famous international personalities. Christoph Hoffmann loves this thrilling phase at the start, when all the options are still open. “A hotel is the nicest thing you can create.” But opening day is the worst. “That’s when I always see so many mistakes and shortcomings, so much of it is so far away from what I dreamed of.”
But it’s exactly these individual, unique stories that bring soul and thereby also success to the 25hours hotels. And it’s through this concept that Hoffmann, over recent years, has had a lasting influence on the entire hotel industry. According to his own figures, his hotels have an occupancy rate of over ninety percent, in some sites, significantly higher. Even a major fire, started by a forgotten candle, which forced the recently reopened Hamburg 25hours HafenCity to close for a year, just two months after the 2016 opening, couldn’t stop its triumphal march. Various awards followed for this success story; most recently, Christoph Hoffmann was named Hotelier of the Year 2016 in Germany.
That which is celebrated today as innovation, is, according to Hoffmann, just the revival of long-standing tradition, which has somehow been lost by the industry over the years through efficiency increases, cost reduction and digitalisation. “The stories, the stars, the myths of the old grand hotels have always fascinated me,” he says. Who hasn’t heard of hotel legends such as the Ritz, the Hotel Astoria, the Adlon and all the other places of longing, fantasy, dreams, places that tell stories? Today, that’s what 25hours is doing once again in a new, modern way.
This is how the son of an auditor originally started his career in the travel industry. After training as a travel sales person in 1989, Hoffman spent three years working at an incentive agency in New York, generating contacts in the industry. “The travel industry itself doesn’t make my heart beat faster.” Back in Europe, at the start of the 90s, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the renowned Swiss Glion Institute and took further courses at Cornell University in New York. He then went on to work in traditional hotels in New York, Jerusalem and Switzerland, before love helped him find his “home base” in Hamburg, where he held senior management positions in the luxury hotel industry for over ten years.
Yet luxury in the classic sense of golden taps, thick carpets and liveried servants no longer interests Hoffmann. “Luxury today is not money, but time, peace, quality.” His guests ought to feel like they are “at home with good friends”, the design, rooms, music, in short “all these touch points” should guide the guest to a “warm feeling”.
As a hotelier, Hoffmann places a great deal of emphasis on ensuring his hotels are integrated into their districts. “International guests will come regardless, but it’s about reaching people in the neighbourhood.” The 25hours hotel bars and restaurants are trendy city hot spots, often booked up weeks in advance, rather than sterile, boring stop-offs for people travelling through who don’t know what to do with their evenings. “It is about the need for individuality and emotionality, for a local world, where real people meet, as a counter-trend to the standardised, digitalised everyday.”
Christoph Hoffmann is not a lone wolf with ingenious ideas, but a team worker with a great network. It takes him almost twenty minutes to take a few steps to a table in his restaurant, because he stops to greet people left, right and centre, chats for a while, clarifies what's-what with the head chef, and checks his smartphone every few minutes. “I was always good at bringing people together.” And it’s exactly this talent that makes the success of 25hours possible. “You have to orchestrate many people in the best possible way for such a project to work.” At the end of the day, the interior architect would love to style everything perfectly, without thinking about costs, but the investor wants it to be as cheap as possible, and then there are the conditions imposed by the authorities. “The greatest danger is simply letting a designer run loose because the end result is a sterile design hotel and not a 25hours,” he says. To ensure that the uniqueness really shines through each time, Hoffmann employs a special creative team. An anthropologist, design psychologist and various designers work together here, focussing exclusively on the stories that the hotels tell.
Yet the individual history that each of the (currently ten) hotels shares in its very own way is only the second step. The first is of the location and of course, the money. “We look very closely at the micro-location, think about how the building could be sensibly used and whether it actually adds up.” And last but not least, the management team’s “gut feeling” is what makes the final call. That also applies to the financial aspect. “We don’t just work with anyone, only with investors that value our brand and really understand.” Such as Accor Hotels, who climbed on board with 25hours around a year ago, acquiring thirty percent of the brand. “The condition was that we got to keep our culture.”
Hoffmann sees the collaboration as a “great opportunity” to set the company up on a more international scale and “take it positively into the future.” After all, no one lives forever and can bear the responsibility for what will soon be one thousand employees. Projects are currently planned in Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Dubai, Florence, London and Paris. For this reason, the 52-year-old is constantly jetting from project to project – despite his fear of flying. His day is scheduled precisely, his agenda jam-packed. His success has “exceeded” his wildest dreams.
Yet the freedom, the independence that he once searched for – did he really find it? “Yes and no,” he says. “Of course, I have many freedoms that I didn’t have as an employee. But in a certain sense, I am also a driven person, it’s a constant internal pressure, because I simply love creating and discovering new things.”