Interview: Christine Boland


APTO: Which developments that already existed before the corona crisis, have now been accelerated?

Christine: That was actually the most important take away of my webinar ‘Being Human’. Every year I make a zeitgeist analysis. What is happening in the world and what does this mean for the people that live during that time and which note do you have to strike to reach them?

Being human becomes a verb in a time where we move from a biosphere to a technosphere. It’s almost like the world around us, technology, sits under our skin. Where it directs and influences our behavior. We all know this feeling when you have searched for something and you log on to another device, and it shows you similar things. The essence of the story is that what differentiates us from technology, is where the opportunities for innovations exist. First I thought I could throw out all my findings because they seemed irrelevant. They were places where people meet each other or products and services that we are not allowed to use now. But then I found out that the developments that I am describing, really got the wind in the sails because of the corona crisis. Paradigms are shifting. Shifts of zeitgeist that were already happening for a little while and that go really slowly but because of the corona crisis have gained momentum. 

APTO: What type of things for example?

Christine: The impact of stillness on our society because of corona. The stillness happening now has a tremendous impact on nature and environment. Since 2006, the CO2 emission hasn’t been as low as it was in April. De solar energy that we can harvest is at an all-time high. We are forced to face the fact that if we behave differently, the world can recover very quickly. Of course this is good news but it also shows what a negative impact we as human beings have on the environment. Because of this crisis it is exposed. Also at the personal level we have all experienced what it’s like to not be able to go anywhere. People start to realize who are important to them and start to reconnect with those people. It turns out that those people are not the 3000 followers on Instagram, but that cousin or friend. You consciously search for contact with those people that are really important to you. It’s even measured that we started calling more.

That’s where there is an opportunity for hospitality. The most important is a sense of place: what does this place do for me so I feel seen, heard and valued? Even though you are closed as a hotel, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work on anchoring your concept. What you see with the Rijksrestaurant is that it now sells thousands of meals a day instead of the few tables they had. I can also imagine now that restrictions are eased, you approach an invite your loyal customers or give them a voucher to get a breath of fresh air now that it is still quiet. So creating that sense of place for a selected group of customers because you can’t invite more. They will never forget that. It might not be direct revenue but it creates what I call ‘heart space’. You really earn space in the heart of the customer and won’t lose it anymore. The corona crisis thus invites us all to invest in real relationships. 

APTO: What about the identity of people? People start to overthink their identity now that there are a lot of things that are closed. Do I really need this, does it still suit me? How can you respond to this as a hospitality brand?

Christine: There are three principles of progress. The first one is, reclaim inner direction for a sense of self. This is the gesture that I just made. One that makes you think, I am gonna push away everything. All that technology, I am gonna create my own bubble to get to know myself again. At my own pace and where I decide who enters. I already saw this shift happening before the corona crisis, but the corona crisis has reinforced this, simply because we didn’t have a choice. Especially in the beginning of the corona crisis, I advised the companies I work for, that this is the moment to turn inwards. To assess, what is my right to exist? What is my mission, my vision? Does this agree with how the world goes round and could I add an extra layer to this? What you often see in processes like these, also in hospitality, is that you really start thinking who you actually are and what you have to offer to the world. You start thinking, you can find this in our hotel and the spaces are like this because of this reason. Or you think, yes we always took measurements to cancel noise or offered pods. If you do it right, you become so enthusiastic that you will propagate this and naturally pass on the story of your business. It sounds like this doesn’t have any effect, but during a crisis it is hard to earn money and the only thing you can do is make sure that you get out stronger and that you shine when you can reopen. 

APTO: Yes, so having a clear proposition

Christine: Exactly, that is the essence. Literally because what you give attention to will grow. It’s like taking one step back to take two steps forward. 

APTO: Yes you are forced to as a company, just like everyone basically. Are there any other trends you see accelerating?

Christine: Another shift in paradigms is the shift from looking good to feeling good. First we were shining with our photo shopped self on social media, look at me! Now there is a shift towards, I live healthy, I went on a retreat. People that take care of themselves look better and actually that is much more beautiful than being photo shopped. A lot of big influencers that were posting from their beautiful homes that they had such a hard time, lost a lot of followers. Just because it doesn’t resonate with the average person that lives in a small apartment with little children that need extra attention because they are bored or need to be homeschooled. It’s a far cry from the average person. What you see now is that where normal people are open about their feelings towards the other normal person on their struggle with this new reality, that is where true mutual empathy arises and new initiatives take place. People help each other out with clothes, cook for each other, exchange stuff. That is a lot different from an influencer that receives yet another present from a beauty brand.

The hospitality sector can respond to this by thinking about why people come to their hotel or restaurant. Maybe because it makes them feel good, they can get a decent meal and they feel seen. The reason of going to a place sits usually in the details, that a hotel remembers that one detail about you or sees what you need. I believe a lot in this sense of place. Plus, it starts at home. Because you book from home. How can you surprise people there, how can you be relevant there? Whilst packing your bags, how can you be surprised? As a brand you need to think like an octopus: you have a solid body that needs to be trustworthy, it’s the core of the business. But you also have all these tentacles that you need to use to be relevant in the context of you guest on several moments. This is also a very interesting exercise to do from a building perspective but also from a hospitality perspective. 

APTO: So basically the translation of the customer journey to the spatial. The journey that already starts at home, the coffee that you order through an app that is already waiting for you upon arrival. When you arrive, what do you see, what do you do and what is the reason you decide to walk into the shop a bit further?

Christine: Just like you mention, that you can order something at home to consume at a later time! It’s so simple but so genius! That’s when I think, yes they ‘see’ me. I am packing my bags, will arrive in two hours and then the sandwich that I pre-ordered is waiting for me in the room. Yes then you steal my heart. It can be that easy but therefore you need to come up with the idea first.