In an era when time, distance and our attention spans are increasingly compressed, there is one constant that still draws people to visit a particular place – its ability to connect them to a higher purpose. To German hospitality entrepreneur Claus Sendlinger, slowness helps foster this sense of connection. As a co-founder of Berlin-based creative laboratory SLOW – a literal and figurative name, as it’s an acronym for sensitive, local, organic and wise – Sendlinger advocates for a more considered, purposeful approach to hospitality. The project was born in 2011, nearly two decades after he established the Design Hotels collection, which today boasts 319 boutique properties around the world.
At Frame Awards 2020, Frame founder and director Robert Thiemann interviewed Sendlinger about his stepping down as Design Hotels CEO to explore the future of slow hospitality. What was meant to be a sabbatical for Sendlinger had turned into a six-year adventure that ultimately landed him on a beach in Mexico, where the idea for SLOW began to germinate. After having spent time going between urban and rural environments, Sendlinger connected the dots between demographic changes and analyzed what ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lifestyles really meant in the scope of hospitality. ‘I was fascinated by slowness and started to do research,’ he explained. ‘The most well-known slow movement is the slow food movement – but now you see it [impacting and becoming relevant for all industries].’ He realized after this that didn’t want to merely consult or advise on the topic: he wanted to build these hospitality spaces himself.
We are overusing the word authenticity
That’s how a farmstead in Ibiza and treehouse in Tulum came to be. Soon, a campus in Berlin and noble house in Lisbon will follow. Each are, or will be, operated in parallel to the tenets of SLOW’s name – they’re conscious stays, designed with built-in, localized experiences which help guests achieve a state of being that travel inherently promotes but too often does not deliver on. Tulum Treehouse, with an artist residency and studio, ‘uses the artisanal traditions and craftsmanship of the Yucatan region as a blank canvas for creative expression and collaboration.’ La Granja Ibiza offers travellers an opportunity to learn more about ‘biodynamic agriculture through a series of workshops, classes and community-based projects.’ Sendlinger had founded Design Hotels on a license-based model, its members individual hoteliers selected by the company. SLOW’s estates, alternatively, are owned outright. From the selection of the property comes the process of curating a purposeful experience that harmonizes with the location.
There is a fine line between lodging and hospitality
This is what Sendlinger believes the design industry is lacking in when it comes to the hospitality sector – purpose. ‘We are overusing the word authenticity…There is a fine line between lodging and hospitality. I think lodging is like: “I need a room, I need something, it needs to be clean, I need to get from point A to B and I get some food if I need some food.”’ ‘I think 90 per cent of what we see in hotels is lodging. Hospitality for me, is where you care; where you’re generous, where you're happy – not because a textbook tells you to smile when you check someone in – but where you’re just happy because you love the job.’ Prioritizing individuality and creativity to ensure that stays can be classified as the latter and not the former is a strategy that Sendlinger has carried with him and practiced since the start of his career.
I think we all want to slow down – I don't think that this is a question
What can he advise to hospitality designers looking to do the same? ‘Challenge your client,’ he said. ‘You need to challenge your client on who he wants to have in this place – and to do it from different angles. You will find very often that they haven’t finalized the salt, that there’s [a bit too much]. There are lots of people who don't like what we're doing – it's fine, you know, as long as you know the images and the experiences speak for the people who really appreciate this.’ In the end, it’s all about doing more with less to find greater meaning: ‘I think we all want to slow down – I don't think that this is a question.’