Amsterdam-based hybrid hotel workspace Zoku is gearing up for international expansion as it targets the world’s growing army of ‘digital nomads’.
The brand’s first and so far only property, based in what Zoku does not mind admitting was once voted Amsterdam’s ugliest street, opened almost two years ago.
Marc Jongerius, the former PwC auditor who co-founded and is now managing director of Zoku, says the firm is poised to announce new properties within months.
The operator is targeting the main European cities like London, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin, a well as US cities like Boston, Seattle, Denver and Austin, and eventually Asia.
Jongerius said with many of these cities experiencing visitor overcrowding and spiralling rents for locals due to the Airbnb effect, the Zoku model could provide an answer.
“The vision for Zoku came from a trend which we saw becoming apparent of work becoming more and more independent from time and space,” he said.
“Because of the mobile device we now all have it has given us this extreme flexibility and ignited working away from home and global travel for work.
“So, we looked at what the frustrations are of our target audience of digital nomads when they are away from home doing work, what do they want and what is the current offering.”
Zoku’s ‘loft’ style accommodation is designed so co-workers travelling together can do so in their room because the kitchen table, not someone’s bed, is the focus.
There is also a strong communal ethos to the public areas so that the long periods of “dead time” Zoku’s target audience said they experienced can be filled meeting likeminded people.
Jongerius believes this approach to offering something between a flat and a hotel for professionals can help overcrowded cities better cope with the influx of visitors.
The 133-room Zoku Amsterdam property is converted office space, so isn’t encroaching on valuable real estate that locals need.
Plus, it is a more efficient use of the finite space major cities have available and for local authorities offers them the chance to better manage and regulate the visitor economy.
Jongerius said Zoku will to look to establish properties in appropriate hotel or visitor zones within cities that provide good connectivity and links to centres of business.
And he said bringing a Zoku into a neighbourhood can help to reinvigorate and reactivate once rundown areas.
“In Amsterdam we did a conversion of 150,000 square feet of office space and now it’s lovely and full of life again,” said Jongerius.
“We have a co-working place next door and food and beverage on the ground floor. We are bringing life to the area.”
Jongerius said corporates like the concept because they get a product they can rely on and be included in managed travel programmes – 85% of guests are travelling for business.
The longer stays, up to five or six times the conventional hotel, offer good value, he says, with the four star product generally available at the equivalent of a three-star rate.
And he sees only growing demand for hybrid work and stay accommodation as work patterns continue to become more flexible and international.
“We will have achieved our goal when we have successfully landed in a few continents around the world.
“We are at a very exciting stage, working on designs for other cities. It really cool to see how our designers are really putting the Zoku brand in every property.”
To date Zoku has been privately funded through family and friends but €300,000 was crowdfunded in just 21 minutes from people in its target audience.
“It’s not about the money, it was more about the involvement of the target audience,” said Jongerius. “They have a young mindset and a global mindset.
“This is a market that is only going to go up, and big cities need smarter solutions for how they make use of the square meters they have.
“From an owner perspective we have seen a few decades of reducing yields – at the moment they can’t get any lower.
“You need to look at how much cashflow you will make from every square metre.”