Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Zurich startup Le Bijou wants to compete with luxury hotels – according to the Uber-principle
The start-up Le Bijou courts well-paying hotel guests. The luxury apartments are located in the heart of Zurich, offer a digital butler and cost far less than a classic luxury suite.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung about Le Bijou and luxury hotels
The hotel of the future, as its makers call it, is located at the Münsterhof in Zurich. In a top-quality location in the middle of the Old Town, with a view of the “Zunfthaus zur Waag”, to a fountain and the pedestrian square, as central as inconspicuous. Looking for a nameplate at the building is in vain. Also, there is no reception desk, rather you have to enter a code at the wooden door on the ground floor. The same applies to the lift, which takes you directly to the only room on the fourth floor. We have no code. But that does not matter. The elegantly dressed chauffeur, who also has picked us up from the airport with his black limousine, knows the numbers. Silently, broad-shouldered and with earphone, he leads us upstairs – the accommodation seems to be special even before we enter.
Inside, an upmarket maisonette apartment presents itself: Chalet chic on 180 square meters and over two floors, lots of wood and angular design; artificial fire in the fireplace, real firewood beside; flat screens, all recessed in the walls; a fully equipped, open and modern kitchen. In the lounge and in the sleeping area are original paintings of a Swiss artist. Noble furniture, noble materials, noble ingredients also in the “Big Bar” – we taste some canned truffle popcorn. A whirlpool on the roof terrace and an extendable sauna next to one of the double beds on the upper floor offer additional relaxation. And the apartment has its own scent, Arve, which also can be taken home in phials.
Yes, Sir, consider it done!
„Our guests want more than a nice hotel room, they want to experience something“, says Madeleine Fallegger, the hostess at Münsterhof and co-founder of Le Bijou. Since 2015, the young company is on the spot with luxury apartments in the city-district no. 1. They promise an exclusive stay in the Limmatstadt. There are now 23 apartments to choose from, each rented and redesigned by the startup. There are 19 accommodations more with the same concept in Bern, Basel, Lucerne, and Zug. The properties appeal to both, private and business travelers who only stay a few nights, as well as families from the Arab world, for example, who spend up to three weeks in Zurich in the summer to escape the great heat in their home country, as Fallegger tells. The Münsterhof can accommodate up to eight persons. Two more double beds can be folded out.
But exclusivity, stylish design in old buildings and postcard settings alone do not make the apartments an experience with which the former art student Fallegger and their two business partners persist on the market. Privacy and an almost-at-home-feeling can also be found in suites of the well-known five-star hotels in the city, which even more have a room service that satisfies every wish.
The start-up company, on the other hand, wants to be different and – forward-thinking – is breaking new ground. The apartments have neither a real concierge nor other assistants in the building; instead, there is a digital butler “James”. His voice from the speakers in the apartment emanates from a computer, but it sounds deceptively real with a pleasant British accent. “James” is always there, and he can do almost anything. He is a good ambassador on his own account. „Welcome to Le Bijou, the first hotel experience that works with augmented intelligence – oh, and without the other guests!”, he says at the very beginning. He dims the light, he turns on or off the music if you ask him clearly, and yes, he is even able to reserve a table in a trendy restaurant in the city “Yes, sir, consider it done! “ and to make recommendations “I recommend their sushi, it’s amazing”.
Sometimes, however, the butler remains silent during our visit. His speech and hearing functions are not yet fully developed. But his services can also be accessed by an app via chat. Therefore several tablets are available in the apartment. The computers also know the name of the guest. And not only that: For families with children, the TV automatically runs the children’s programs of the respective countries on the first channels. “Our guests appreciate the individual service,” says Fallegger.
Lots of services, limited staff
What sounds like a gimmick for tech lovers is more – it reflects the business model of the start-up company. Le Bijou wants to offer its guests similar services as a luxury hotel. At the same time, the startup relies on lean structures. Fallegger, the sales manager, Alexander Hübner, the managing director, and Renato Steiner, the computer scientist in the background, are the only permanent employees of the company. Cleaning staff, deliveries ordered at the surrounding restaurants by the app and also the driver, for example, is called on demand and invoiced accordingly.
“We act according to the Uber-principle”, says Alexander Hübner – our guests request and receive various services and attendances by the butler and other digital channels. Partner companies of Le Bijou also are informed about these wishes electronically and fulfill them on demand. This is efficient and saves first of all personnel costs. Also, the bookings and the assignments of the codes for the apartments now are working exclusively digitally. “We are not least a tech company,” says Hübner, the creator of the business idea, who as well as Fallegger has no touristic background. Both, the 29-year-old former promoter and his 26-year-old partner acquired host qualities when check-in and check-out were still causing problems and the two could not do otherwise but caring for their guests personally by phone or on-site.
Success proves them right. According to Hübner and Fallegger, the occupancy rate of their “hotel” is over 90 percent – at a price of 1200 Francs or more per night (which is still low-priced compared to a suite in a luxury hotel). The rental costs of Le Bijou should be between 5000 and 8000 Francs per apartment and month. After the refinancing of the equipment at least, this would yield returns that classic hotels and other companies can only dream of. Business meetings and private events, which take place in the apartments as well, also prove to be lucrative.
The rivals quite appreciate the ideas of the young competitors. Laura Amanzi from the Hyatt says: “We think that´s exciting, such apartments are added value for the hotel industry in Zurich.” But the media spokeswoman also refers to the “residential style” in her house – in terms of living comfort and privacy in the city the five-star hotel at the “Beethovenstraße” does not need to hide. Furthermore, the cuisine of the Hyatt is also individual. “Occasionally, guests arrive with their own cooks and eat their specially self-prepared meals exclusively in the suites,” says Amanzi.
On their part, the creators of Le Bijou have built up a pool of cooks and bartenders, who offer their skills on request directly in the apartments. At the Film Festival in early October this network was very beneficial, as in the duplex at “Münsterhof” an exclusive after-film party should get started and the prominent organizer suddenly required a professional for the drinks. Madeleine Fallegger sent a few SMS, and only minutes later, several bartenders had confirmed already – no wonder, you might think: After all, it is not every day that you are able to serve the Swiss Hollywood director Marc Forster at a private party over the rooftops of Zurich.
Airbnb – annoyance and opportunity
The para-hotel-industry in Zurich is experiencing a boom – the number of rooms and apartments rented by individuals on the internet is rising and rising. The booking platform Airbnb, for example, recorded a growth of 88 percent, according to a statement by the data analyst Airdna. As per statistics from the City of Zurich, about 15 percent of the guest beds now interfere via Airbnb. Hotel companies do not enjoy the new competition, for several reasons. Thus private “hosts” do not pay any visitor’s tax but benefit from the marketing of Zurich as a travel destination, financed by this fee.
Besides other platforms Airbnb is also an important shop window for Le Bijou. CEO Alexander Hübner, however, says: “We pay the tax voluntarily – we think it’s good to have a partner like Zurich Tourism behind us.”
Source: NZZ – Neue Zürcher Zeitung