In his Koncept Hotel Zum kostbaren Blut, Martin Stockburger is aiming to “redefine the hotel industry” in his approach to resources, employees and guests. So as to be able to afford to go that extra mile in a top destination such as Cologne, he is digitalising processes across the board.
text: Astrid Schwamberger // photography: Cornelis Gollhardt
Everything is a little different at the Koncept Hotel Zum kostbaren Blut. Take the name for starters, which is a reference to the former inhabitants of the establishment, the missionary sisters of the ‘Charitable Order of the Most Precious Blood’. They took up residence in Cologne’s old town in the 1950s in order to pursue their charitable mission – right next door to the very band of shady figures who gave the city its nickname of the time: ‘Chicago on the Rhine’. Those times are long gone. There are only a few establishments remaining in the once famed red-light district, such as the Hühnerfranz gay bar on the Hühnergasse. And the nuns have left, too!
Martin Stockburger, who took out a lease on the establishment in a bid to “redefine the hotel industry” gives a rather tongue-in-cheek nod to the building’s past with a number of charming features. One the one hand, there are the alcoves in the stairwell with their rather kitsch figurines of the Virgin Mary, or the twenty rooms named after their former occupants. On the other hand, the photographs and abstract art on the walls are reminiscent of the old neighbourhood and its wild past. Together they make a tantalising combination.
This is exactly what this marketing and sales professional, with his many years of experience in traditional hotel management, had in mind. Something that stands out. But he got even more than he had bargained for. This lively quarter of the city centre also offers a view of the cathedral, and on Carnival Monday the procession passes right by the front of the hotel. “This location, this size, with this history: it was an absolute jackpot”, says Stockburger, who carries neither a title nor an operative function in the establishment. And that is exactly what today's guests are looking for. They want to be totally immersed, in the thick of it, and fully part of the local community for the entire duration of their stay. The more exciting, the better. You might recognise certain hallmarks of the sharing economy here, and as Stockburger admits, “We are really angling for a share in Airbnb's market.”
Of course, this hip location comes at a price, but that’s not all. The concept encompasses another element – one that entails higher costs: fair resource and employee management. This means, for example, that only socially responsible, local or charitable suppliers are used. The furniture, which exudes a slightly retro air, was made by local craftsmen and the bed linen comes not from a low-wage country, but from Belgium. The laundry bags in the rooms are made from sustainable cotton and are printed by disabled employees at a workshop that supports their integration into mainstream society; they are intended as a souvenir for guests to take away with them. “Each one costs us three euros fifty. If they were made of plastic, they would cost three cents,” Stockburger calculates. On top of that there’s the green electricity, shower gel free from palm oil and climate-neutral organic soap from the Alps – “all of this costs a little bit more, but it’s exactly what our target group like about us.”
In order to keep things authentic you have to be consistent, and occasionally grasp the nettle. However, Stockburger had a bright idea to ensure that the money going out through one door came back in through another. His solution is based on digitalisation of processes across the board. He knows from experience that “there are so many processes that guests just don’t like having to do”. For example, waiting at reception just to collect their key or pay their bill. In such situations, guests are only after one thing. They want to get to their room quickly and easily or pay without a fuss.
At the Hotel Zum kostbaren Blut, all this is done via an app. This app can also be used to pay the room bill or any additional costs such as breakfast. The invoice is sent automatically. So what’s the point in a reception desk? Get rid! In order to try and map out all of these processes, he is currently working with the start-up company Conichi.
Not all guests are comfortable with this unusual procedure at first. Some still call just to say they are leaving, as guests also contact the hotel using their smartphones, via WhatsApp, social media and telephone. In this way, Stockburger aims to provide for those guests who want to voice their concerns using a channel of their choice. It is also promised that the duty manager ‘Zampano’ – the big cheese, as it were – will be available at all times. Unlike the main character in the cult film ‘La Strada’, the Zampano in this case is a friendly fellow who is happy to help anyone who calls. “After 6 p.m. I sometimes step into the role of Zampano too”, laughs Stockburger.
Even in this role, he doesn't speak to guests as a hotel director, but as a friend. This is to make them feel like part of the concept, so that they are less bothered by the neighbourhood getting a little noisy at times. Stockburger tries to speak to his employees on an equal footing too; hierarchy is not his style. In actual fact, he almost sees himself as a Jack of all trades, willing to pick up the pressure washer and chip in from time to time. “It really has to be a two-way street,” he says, “and it makes no difference whether I'm the one paying wages or receiving them.” Of course, staff need to be paid fairly. With many in the industry complaining of not being able to find or retain new employees, Stockburger advocates fair pay.
This approach seems to be paying off. His employees are willing to go the extra mile for him, and are even prepared to stay after hours if needed. “That wouldn't be the case if I were paying minimum wage.” Guests, too, are aware of the benefits of his premium price offering. “In order to do a good deed, they are happy to pay more than the additional expenses we incur.” Another thing that puts a smile on the face of the man with no title is the brand benchmark for Cologne. Both in terms of occupancy and room rates, the Hotel Zum kostbaren Blut sits “just above four stars”. He also says he has received “outstanding” reviews that “exceed the industry average in the city”.
The model that is working so well in Cologne is now set to be rolled out in four further locations. The new establishments will also be cultivated on the three-tiered basis ‘fair, local, digital’. However, each new hotel will have a different name and its own identity. “The idea is again to develop an interesting back-story for each local area”, says the part-time Zampano, not giving much away. The only thing he is willing to reveal is that the story behind the four new establishments will be “far removed” from that of their cousin in Cologne.