8Hotels reinvents the boutique hotel for the Air BnB age.
Story: Christopher Holder
Little Albion Guest House:
21 Little Albion St, Surry Hills NSW
(02) 8029 7900 or littlealbion.com.au
“I’m a fan. It’s cool.”
Paul Fischmann, Founder and CEO of 8Hotels is talking about Air BnB and I’m not entirely surprised.
8Hotels’ latest offering, Little Albion Guest House, is shaking up the boutique hotel paradigm. And in many ways Little Albion’s biggest competitor is Air BnB, and not other boutique hotels.
“I love the impact Air BnB is having,” continues Paul Fischmann. “For many years the large hoteliers have waved away Air BnB — ‘nothing to see here!’. That’s what large corporations do when things are scary. Then they’re trying to regulate Air BnB, or taking a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach with Air BnB-style businesses.”
But that’s not the Marriot or Hilton’s sweet spot. But it could be 8Hotels’.
8Hotels has always been somewhat of an enigma. It’s owned some properties; managed some properties; and in its short life time has had a hand in 20-plus properties, including the 1888 Hotel, Diamant Hotels, The Kirketon, Limes Hotel… 8Hotels even managed some apartments in Paris for more than seven years.
Now? Well, there’s the Little Albion and the the Felix Hotel at Sydney Airport.
It all sounds a little scattergun, but Paul Fischmann has a plan.
“I fell into the accommodation business. At the start of my career, I worked for a property developer and learnt a lot. He had a hotel as part of his portfolio and I enjoyed the hotel management and operations side more than residential development.
“I thought I’d have a go. I started my own business — leasing a backpackers.
“I then leased an existing hotel, which led me to building a hotel management company.
“Hotel management is all about getting more rooms under management — it’s a numbers game. 8Hotels was running as a boutique hotel management company, and really that meant we didn’t have the resources to do anything sizeable.
“That experience made me realise I wanted to operate my own hotels. What’s more I wanted to design and develop high quality and interesting properties.
“So I divested a number of hotels to have the capital to develop Little Albion.”
ENJOYING THE RIDE
You get the feeling Paul is enjoying the ride, even if it’s not been without its challenges.
Paul Fischmann again: “I wanted to be in Surry Hills from the start. And this is the first site I had the opportunity to get.”
Little Albion Guest House is designed around an old (1901) convent.
Paul initially had designs on turning the building into a traditional-style guest house.
His vistas expanded considerably when he was granted council approval to add a floor to the heritage building and a modern extension to the rear.
Paul and his team spent three years driving the design process, working with the builders, architects, interior designers, artisans and fabricators to create a totally bespoke building filled with in-house designed art works and one-of-a-kind fittings, finishes, furniture and fixtures throughout.
The design of the heritage ‘yin’ of the building has a 1920s flavour, while the more modern ‘yang’ has the splendid heady whiff of the ’70s. Whichever way you slice it, the detail and the fun Paul and the designers have had makes a stay in Little Albion a delight.
Paul Fischmann: “Little Albion Guest House was created with the needs of today’s luxury travellers in the front of our minds, which are the authenticity of a local experience, alongside world class boutique hotel service and ease of booking. To do this we had to redefine the whole hotel category by imagining a modern guest house, developed with the same attention to detail that a home owner has in creating their dream home, resulting in this truly one of a kind property.”
TAKING THE GUEST WORK
Or to summarise Paul’s strategy more candidly: Little Albion takes the best of Air BnB and combines it with the best of a boutique hotel.
Which leads us back to Paul’s musings on Air BnB: “I’ve used Air BnB all the time. Air BnB is great for a truly authentic local experience — as much as the big hotel corporations try to create that, they can’t.
“Air BnB manages it because each property is, by definition, unique — for good or for bad.
I mean, I’ve had some amazing Air BnB experiences and some bad ones — it’s a lottery like that.
“A Paris host we’ve used in the past… the last time we stayed the TV and the internet wasn’t working.
“What we’ve done with Little Albion is create something authentic but added a luxury level of service on top of that.
“It’s the next extension of what people want. Someone’s house but with the backup you need — 24 hours a day.”
AMENITIES: AIR APPARENT
There are some new-school touches that intrigue me about Little Albion. For example, there’s the self-service bar with an honour system. Rather stocking in-room bar fridges, one communal bar is stocked (with some very desirable miniatures along with a handy selection of wines and beers). Grab what you need. Check the appropriate box on the form and pop it into the pigeon hole or settle up at the end of your stay.
Another example, is the approach to in-room dining. 8Hotels acknowledge the fact that there are at least 20 amazing restaurants within a few hundred metres of the hotel. So rather than maintaining a kitchen to supply your midnight club sandwich, you can have your order biked in using a meal delivery service. Little Albion staff will take care of the details, so you don’t need to get out of your robe and slippers.
Interior Design: Connie Alessi of Archemy & Cressida Kennedy of Space Control
Architecture: Terence Yong of Terence Yong Architecture and Chris Haughton of SHED Architects
Art: curated by Vogue photographer Nicholas Samartis