We spoke to Brøchner Hotels CEO Nickolas Krabbe Bjerg about how the company is not just trying to attract its neighbours but to assist them as well.

‘Hotels’ and ‘locals’: the two have been trying to hold hands for a while now. In 2017, we dedicated a section of our Sep/Oct magazine to the topic, looking at how hospitality spaces were striving to be local in every sense of the word, from the food they offer to the plates on which it’s served. Back then, going local was about sustainability – using what’s around you – and trying to create a so-called ‘authentic’ experience for guests. A shift away from the cloned spaces of chains across the globe, providing visitors with a sense of place instead.

Post-pandemic, hotels are facing a much greater challenge. How can they treat tourists to a genuine experience when there are barely any walking through their doors? Research from McKinsey & Company ‘suggests that recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels could take until 2023 – or later’. In the meantime, going local has taken on a new meaning. With visitors from abroad no longer guaranteed, some hotels are focusing on the audience in direct reach: their neighbours. With this in mind, we spoke to Brøchner Hotels CEO Nickolas Krabbe Bjerg about Go Local, the company’s bid to not just attract its neighbours but to assist them as well.

How have COVID-19-related restrictions affected your occupancy rates and other areas of your business?

NICKOLAS KRABBE BJERG: Over the peak tourism months of summer, Copenhagen was governed by restrictions that forced visitors to book a minimum stay of six nights. Naturally that was a game-changer for many, and it has been a challenge for the hospitality and experience industry altogether since tourists chose other destinations over Copenhagen.

The lockdown and following restrictions resulted in cancellations, which unfortunately meant that we had to say goodbye to some of our dedicated colleagues. That has been the toughest challenge of them all. Additionally we had to temporarily set four out of five boutique hotels in low demand during the lockdown, meaning they closed overnight and opened up gradually when guests returned. Today, we are back in full service with four out of five hotels. Looking back at this summer, we have been lucky to keep our occupancy rates above average for the industry in Copenhagen. But I would be lying if I said that we are satisfied with the numbers we see. Normally, our boutique hotels generate occupancy rates above 80 per cent and that has naturally not been the case this year.

On the positive side, this situation has challenged us to think innovatively. We’ve offered hotel rooms as day-to-day office rentals, reconceptualized our Good Morning. It’s Organic! breakfast concept as portion-sized, offered staycation getaways and launched our Go Local campaign. The Go Local partnership supports 30 local players including restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, wellness experiences and cultural institutions by offering discounts and other benefits to hotel guests and local members. Through an interactive map in each hotel lobby bar, guests can scan the local neighbourhood for each of Brøchner’s five hotels to see what Go Local partners are offering.

Recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels could take until 2023 – or later

Is Go Local a direct response to the COVID situation, or something you were already conceptualizing beforehand?

Go Local is actually not a new idea. We have been wanting to guide our guests and our Hey Neighbour! members [a free perks programme for Brøchner’s neighbours in Copenhagen] to some of the absolute best spots in the city for a long time. I think we can all recognize that feeling, that when we travel, we want the local’s recommendations. That’s the idea behind Go Local – we wanted to offer our guests cool experiences in our boutique hotels’ neighbourhoods and add value to their stay with us.

With that as a starting point, it has been a natural next step to formalize the concept – especially in light of the situation right now. Our 30+ partners are all in the same boat as us – we are looking to attract more guests and offer them something extra when they visit. This was a way for us to reach out with a helping hand.

We received very positive reactions when we first presented the Go Local concept to some of our partners, which was a good indication for us to proceed with the idea. And I must say that we have seen a sense of unity, that ‘we’re all in this together’, which I believe is a huge advantage for us and the entire industry going forward.

How did you decide on this direction?

Brøchner Hotels has always been anchored in local neighbourhoods and invites the community in. We introduced the Hey Neighbour! Concept back in 2014, and we also invite our neighbours to concerts, vernissages and other events throughout the year. A hotel stay is much more than a bed to sleep in; it’s also a dinner at one of our partner restaurants, a good cup of coffee and a place to work for the day. And it is especially the local surroundings that contribute to extraordinary experiences for our guests. Go Local is a natural extension of that.

With visitors from abroad no longer guaranteed, is this a strategy you’d like to continue going forward, even if things return to ‘normal’?

Yes, for sure. Our neighbours in Copenhagen get an incentive to visit the cool local places around town, and the same thing goes for our visitors from abroad that are looking for authentic, local tips. Local support is a trend that I think will continue – it will be the ‘new normal’ for travelling. 

A hotel stay is much more than a bed to sleep in

Lockdown restrictions are continually shifting in many places. In Amsterdam, for example, restaurants and bars were first closed, then reopened, and now closed again. How does your concept adapt to potential shifts in restrictions?

Many of our restaurant and café partners in the Go Local concept quickly responded to offering takeaway menus and other alternatives when the first restrictions affected their operations. I believe we will see the same reactions if restrictions increase in Copenhagen. And the Go Local deals can easily adapt to that too, as the campaign is based on a Google Maps guide that we can adjust. Go Local also includes galleries and shops that would be similarly affected if restrictions should increase, but as most of their sales and products are accessible online as well, the Go Local offerings could move online, too.

How else can hotels connect to locals as an important audience, rather than just to visitors?

I believe it’s a long process to change the locals take on hotels. In metropolises like New York City, London and Paris, visiting a hotel for dinner, drinks and social activities has been natural for many years. Things are slowly changing in Copenhagen. In recent years we have seen more and more walk-ins for breakfast, friends visiting our bars for drinks, and locals working and having meetings in our social areas. But it takes time.

I think it’s all about offering our neighbours a welcoming atmosphere and inviting them in exclusively for events and happenings. Our boutique hotels act as gallery venues to changing local artists that display their works in our lobby bars and other social areas, and we host events with local live acts and DJs. These initiatives serve to attract our neighbours. So far, we have seen very positive reactions from our local guests, and we hope to see that interest develop further – also in the ‘new normal’. 

Hero image: Hotel Ottilia is one of five boutique Brøchner Hotels in Copenhagen.