I had the pleasure this week of visiting Brussels.
No - not for that reason. Instead, it was at the behest of the JLL Hospitality team for its annual Benelux hotels conference. A great example of JLL cross-sector collaboration, it was an opportunity to explore with clients and colleagues the literal space between our sectors.
Whether it’s the animation of ground floor space in multifamily blocks, more effective use of hotel lobbies, or soft-testing that cool new F&B offer in a beta location, the traditional real estate sector lines are blurring.
Most of us have had that soulless experience of a dead business hotel lobby in the middle of the day. Cue flex office space. What about that right space for afternoon casual meetings. Your choice can’t obviously be a bar, or shouldn’t obviously be a chain coffee shop, but absolutely must be a reflection of your impeccable taste? Cue that new coliving residence. Is it a hotel? Collaboration space? A niche gin bar? The best Ethiopian roast north of Addis Ababa? Someone’s living room? All of those things? Who knows? Who cares?
The traditionalists among real estate professionals are sucking teeth and wondering about the fundamentals. How do I value that? What fund would it suit? Will it still be here tomorrow? Who knows how to operate it? Will it scale???
There are also different breeds among you who can see the potential and are completely relaxed about the blurred lines. Moreover, they are already building strategies around space optimisation and monetisation that stretch well beyond the old property silos.
Take a look at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, The Student Hotel in Amsterdam. Very different operating platforms, but a clear common thread - people. Lots of them.
The animation of the space between sectors is about understanding people. What they want, what they don’t want, can they afford it, is it interesting, can I get there. In a real estate world where the lines are dissolving, the basics remain the same. Give‘ em what they want and you won’t go far wrong.
So I come back to the JLL Hospitality conference. The fresh take, from the experts in understanding the customer, was revealing. In a high turnover hotels environment, the opportunity to try new concepts is much more comfortable than in multifamily. It is also more important, as higher traffic means faster obsolescence. Experiment, fail, learn, iterate.
As we build our own blurred lines in JLL Living out of the former student, residential and elderly/ healthcare sectors, I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences that are already reshaping our client advice. What is retirement living, if not the original coliving product? Can we improve the lives of elderly residents by ripping up the rules and creating more vibrant, more enjoyable spaces for the wider community to enjoy? Of course we can, alongside countless other ideas that are shaping our Living advice to clients.
I learned quite a lot in Brussels by stretching across the divide to find some common ground. At least someone made progress there.