Zoku: new cool kid on the extended stay block

Business travel that drags on isn't so much fun, but Dutch brand Zoku is looking to change that. Pamela Whitby interviewed co-founder Hans Meyer for a recent white paper

Hans Meyer, the co-founder of Zoku, which means family, tribe or clan in Japanese, is pretty cool. It seems he doesn’t have to say his company is the ‘Airbnb of the extended stay business travel segment’. He doesn’t bother too much with CVs when looking for prospective employees. For Meyer, hiring somebody comes down to whether he would want to introduce them to his best mates and his family. In the early 2000s, he was involved in developing the CitizenM concept, the Dutch ‘lifestyle’ brand that continues to innovate in the affordable luxury hotel space. And now he is heading up Zoku, which launched in 2016 and looks set to shake up the segment for extended stays.  

Meyer, who was interviewed for a recent EyeforTravel white paper on cracking the customer experience, understands better than most what Zoku's audience - business travellers on the road for extended periods – are looking for. Aside from speaking, in the first instance, to 150 people from the target group, Meyer took to the road for six months to live like a potential customer. After spending two months in Buenos Aires, Washington and Bali respectively, he was clear that innovation for extended stays was long overdue.

According to Meyer, although the segment is “incredibly big in the US and growing at a fast pace in Asia and Europe”, when Zoku launched less than two years ago there was no innovation at all. “What was on offer was a double hotel room with a microwave,” he says.

With the trend towards blurring leisure with business travel becoming more common, boring functional spaces are no longer enough. “I believe more and more that people want something that goes beyond the traditional space,” says Meyer, and this is what Zoku is aiming to deliver. The result is that the firm has created a home-office hybrid in the 24-square metre space of a typical double hotel room. And that is just for starters - for more on what Zoku is doing download the free whitepaper.

Building from the ground up

Like many travel brands, Zoku is also exploring the role of things like artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and the like, and even mobile electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which measures customer emotions, in order to improve the customer experience. However, while Meyer is excited by new technologies, he is clear that everything needs to be developed with humans centre stage. In fact the entire concept, and every protoype, has been built from the ground up with potential customers engaged at all stages of development. The result of these efforts is a home office hybrid - essentially micro-apartments - where people can also stay for longer periods and where Zoku provides the social buzz.

“We actually help people to build social lives within a few days rather than a few months. We help them to ground in the city and act as a jumping board to connect them to all relevant networks,” he explains. This is also that he believes people are willing to pay a premium for. 

Currently in Amsterdam, the firm recently announced that Zoku's will open in Copenhagen and Vienna in 2020 and is geared towards accelerating growth in both Europe and the US.

Could this be, in the words of the tagline of a successful Zoku marketing campaign which had 4.2 million views in two days, the ‘end of the hotel as we know it’?

Hans Meyer was interviewed for the white paper, which includes a more detailed Zoku case study, along with the CEOs of Best Western Hotels & Resorts and Meetings.com and the GM of the international rail arm of Ctrip

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