The Brief: Hybrid Hotel Seeks New Experiences

Welcome to the X Challenge: where we invite brands and businesses to submit a challenge they’re facing and seek ideas, insights and solutions from the WXO community.

For the first ever X Challenge, we have a hybrid hotel brand seeking new, experiential ways to utilise its spaces in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Read the brief in full below and if you think you can help, click here to let us know how.

The Brief, in brief

  • The brand: Zoku is a hybrid between a home and an office, suitable for short or extended stays and combining the services of a hotel with the social buzz of a thriving neighborhood. Its live-work rooms are aimed squarely at today’s digital nomad and startup community.
  • The challenge: like so many other hotels, coronavirus devastated Zoku’s usual mode of business in 2020. The pandemic has destroyed demand for hotels, many of our own homes have become versions of the Zoku Loft, and the demands of social distancing require placing limits on shared spaces and have temporarily put a stop to day guests. Zoku now needs to figure out how to bring in business without any customers.
  • The story so far: Zoku staged a live and streamed theatre experience in their Amsterdam hotel in November 2020, which met with great success and which they will be looking to repeat as soon as government rules allow.
  • The brief: They are now looking for imaginative ideas for other ways they could use their spaces to bring in new business, both now and post-pandemic.

The Brand

ABOUT 20 MINUTES’ walk south from Amsterdam’s Centraal station, between the canals Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, Zoku feels like a cross between a hip hotel and a co-working office. The official line is that it’s a hybrid between a home and an office, suitable for short or extended stays, and combining the services of a hotel with the social buzz of a thriving neighborhood. Its live-work rooms are aimed squarely at today’s digital nomad and startup community.

Each live work room – known here as a ‘loft’ – is designed with the essential furniture and fittings for work and leisure. Beds are hidden in small attic rooms on top of cabinets. Stairs pull out from the walls. Cubby holes double as work spaces. You can host a small meeting around a coffee table, lounge around on a sofa watching TV, or do pull-ups on gym rings that hang from the ceiling.

Zoku Amsterdam has 133 of these live-work units in five variations. The main feature in the ‘standard rooms’, the Zoku Loft and Zoku Loft XL, is a four-person table.

The smallest room, the Zoku Bootstrap, fits a private bunk bed and bathroom into 130 square feet. The largest, the Zoku Loft XXL has 500 square feet of living space,with space for three adults.

Zoku’s restaurant, The Living Kitchen, continues the startup co-working vibe, with bench seating and a terrace. Menus offer healthy food like braised chicken with apricots, and pan-fried mackerel with golden beetroot and orange salsa.

There’s also an outdoor terrace that can accommodate 40 people while maintaining distancing protocols.

The Challenge

Reflecting the trend to flexible working and digital nomadism, Zoku Loft’s live-work offer was the right idea at the right time.

“The Zoku Loft distinguishes itself from 99.9% of the hotel rooms where the bed is the most dominant piece of furniture. With us the kitchen table is paramount and the bed is hidden. Therefore it’s easy to also invite people into your room without it becomes awkward when people need to sit on the bed.”

Hans Meyer, Zoku’s co-founder and managing director

So Zoku had been buzzing, with locals and visitors, since its opening in 2016. Buoyed by this success, the founders confidently planned a larger roll-out, to open in cities like Vienna, Copenhagen and Paris in 2021.

But then along came the coronavirus.

The pandemic has destroyed demand for hotels. Who’s travelling right now?

The irony is that coronavirus has meant many of our own homes have become versions of the Zoku Loft – hybrid spaces for work, leisure, and sleeping.

Add to this the demands of social distancing. Zoku was built to cleverly slot people and things into close quarters. The lofts provide privacy, but shared spaces now require limits on capacities. COVID concerns have temporarily put a stop to day guests, who were once a staple of the business coming through the Living Kitchen.

So the Zoku Loft team has a problem: no customers. How to bring some business in?

The Story So Far

A typical entrepreneur who understands the importance of pivoting, Meyer remains upbeat. “Given our flexible product, we’ve learned that we can be successful in different ways,” he says. “In April we launched the WorkLoft for people who need to work from home but don’t want to work from home. Everyday we’re selling these. People are also using the Zoku Loft as a meeting room.” 

“In May we worked together with a famous Dutch chef and converted 50 Zoku Lofts in 50 Private Restaurants where couples were served a four course Michelin Star dinner in their Loft, they were all connected via Zoom and at the end of the evening there was live entertainment in the corridor.”

That experience meant they were ready to step in when the Netherland’s biggest theatre festival – called De Parade – was cancelled due to coronavirus. So Zoku offered one of the acts that would have performed a three-night residency.

“Zoku x de Parade took things to the next level,” Meyer says. “We had people finalizing their own three-course dinners in their Zoku Lofts and these incredible performances in the corridor.”

  • A limited amount of live guests were welcomed and given the candy normally associated with the festival.
  • The show was streamed to a live audience over the internet.
  • It was successful enough that it was repeated in December.

Here’s how they promoted December’s Zoku x de Parade on their website:

  • After receiving an introduction from the Parade via Zoom, there will be hallway performances by talented dance group LucyONES and music from singer/guitarist Stan Vreeken. With benches placed in the doorframe of your Loft, you’ll be all set to watch the acts perform live at a safe 1,5m distance from your friends and neighbors.
  • Knock knock! Throughout the evening, we’ll have the famous Parade hosts, “De Snoepmeisjes” stop by to guide you through what’s to come so you don’t miss anything.
  • Feeling like a Top Chef? Get ready to show off your cooking skills. A 3-course DIY menu, curated by Parade chef Merijn van Berlo, will be all set and ready for you to prepare from right inside your Loft. Don’t worry – it’s easy and Merijn will virtually show you how!
  • So you can keep up the party vibes safely from your Loft, you’ll also receive an exclusive Parade themed wine from Grapedistrict and a fun and (virtually) interactive Silent Disco.
  • Available for 2 nights only, get ready to join us on Friday 18 December, or Saturday 19 December, starting at just €162 p.p. (based on 2 person occupancy per Zoku Loft).

Guests were assured of their safety in a simple (and brilliant) video:

The Brief

The collaboration with De Parade whetted the appetite of co-founder and managing director of Zoku, Hans Meyer. “Now we have proven that we can use the Zoku Loft as a micro-theater,” he says. “Our next challenge will be to stretch the possibility of the Zoku Lofts even further.”

Meyer has already had some success hosting meetings and presentations, operations that are adjacent to the hotel’s initial purpose. The Living Kitchen has also been rented out as a private dining room. We should note: the hotel is still open for guests looking for short or long-term serviced apartments, private office space or a simple hotel room.

Meyer thinks there are other options that would be a natural fit for Zoku Loft. He’s especially interested in events that can combine revenue with bespoke experiences similar to the live theatre nights that recently worked so well.

Zoku Loft’s versatility works in its favour. For instance, if four people need to sit around a table in privacy, they have rooms for that.

Curated markets or art exhibitions could take place in the shared spaces and on the terrace. (Timed tickets could help too.)

Finally, a message from Zoku’s Meyer:

“We’ve learned that the only limitation is creativity and therefore I am so excited that you’re willing to use the Zoku Loft as a case study.”

So now, over to you: tell us what experiences could be hosted in Zoku. The more imaginative, the better.

Now, CLICK HERE to tell us your ideas. (Not sure if your idea is worth sharing? Read our 3 essential rules for sharing ideas.)

We will publish the best here on the WXO and, of course, credit the creative people who came up with them.

UPDATE: 4 solutions have now been proposed. Click here to see what you think of these solutions.