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Conversation with Angelika Taschen

Written by
Martin Kunz
June 8, 2016

A publishing icon, Angelika Taschen brings with her over 25 years of experience, having produced more than 150 titles since her career began. Her immaculate style and sense of adventure has made her a go-to expert on design, art, photography, architecture, fashion and travel. During her 20 years as publisher of Taschen Publishing, she helped the company establish itself as the leading coffee-table book publisher worldwide. In 2011, she founded Angelika Publishers in Berlin and uses her expertise and passion for design as an interior consultant

Where was your most recent hotel stay?

I just came back from Tanzania, where I went on a safari. We stayed in a lodge that consisted of canvas tents that follow the migration path of the wildebeest, changing location every month or so—obviously a completely different experience than staying in an urban hotel. This was the first time I actually went on a real safari.

We paid a visit to the Serengeti, one of the most enchanting nature reserves on the planet. I also visited The Plantation Lodge, situated one mile above sea level on the edge of a ridge, which is close to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Lake Manyara National Park. Though the scenery really does steal the show, the rooms at the lodge are nothing short of indulgent.

How was your experience visiting Tanzania?

I’ve had the privilege of visiting a lot of hotels and seeing many different things in the hospitality industry. There is a lot of potential for criticism when it comes to hotels, but this most recent trip was truly special. I would consider it the perfect experience—I really cannot suggest anything that could have been done better. The sheer beauty of the nature we encountered was beyond anything I could have ever imagined myself. It really reminded me of how wonderful creation is. I can highly recommend this kind of travel.

Which was the last urban hotel you stayed in?

Before embarking on the safari on the mainland of Tanzania, I visited Stone Town on Zanzibar. Though there are some beautiful small hotels in the city, this time we stayed at the Park Hyatt. I’ve generally had a strong aversion to chain properties in the past. There is a new trend towards individuality, however. Chains don’t feel as stuffy and as stiff as they used to. The architecture and interiors are becoming more unique, often incorporating design elements and materials that reflect the local culture and tradition. I welcome this development.

Does this mean that you’ve begun to prefer chain properties?

Not at all, though I am certainly less averse to them now. I usually vacillate between bed and breakfasts, small boutique hotels, or large properties. It varies according to my mood and the purpose of my stay. There are times when I appreciate the intimacy that a smaller property provides and other times when I wish to remain anonymous.

During my visit to Zanzibar, my family and I wanted to stay at an oceanfront property. There are only two options: the Park Hyatt and the Serena Inn, which I had been to before. It is a wonderful hotel, but I wanted to see something new, so we chose to stay at the former. As an explorer, you always love trying out new things, even if there is a risk of disappointment. In this case, we weren’t disappointed at all.

Of course, Stone Town is not limited to these two properties. There are so many fantastic boutique hotels there, such as the Emerson Spice or the Mashariki Palace Hotel, to just name a few. My favorite place for great coffee is at the Zanzibar Coffee House Hotel, which is housed in one of the oldest buildings in town. The coffee served here comes from the owners’ estate in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. It is truly marvelous.

What is necessary for you to enjoy a hotel?

In case you haven’t noticed, good coffee is a prerequisite for me to enjoy my stay anywhere. There is nothing worse than to start your day with bad cup of coffee. I also like there to be a certain sense of effortlessness wherever I stay. I need my hotel to be comfortable. I like sitting on a cozy couch, sipping my coffee. Authenticity is also important to me. I like to feel the people driving the hotel, to see their concept realized in every detail. At the end, a hotel is all about its ambiance, its soul. Places either have it or they do not. It’s hard for me to describe. I think a hotel reflects the passion and effort of the people behind the scenes. You can tell if comes from a person or from a handbook.

What would be a reason for you to turn on your heels and get out of a hotel?

If the bathroom is dirty. I do not need a luxurious bathtub or over-the-top amenities, but I want to have a clean sink. I visited a hotel in London once where I couldn’t turn off the air conditioning. It was really awful—like being captured in prison and being tortured. These would be a few reasons for me to leave a hotel, or to change rooms, at the very least. I also don’t really understand the purpose of complicated technology. Why not keep things simple? I don’t like it when a place is superficial. If you’re trying too hard to be cool, it often backfires. A lot of places might have a glitzy façade but no soul. I also don’t like staff with attitude. If you aren’t service-oriented, then you shouldn’t work in hospitality. Unfortunately, too many hotels have issues with staff, often in places that claim their service to be paramount. I really don’t understand this.

What advice would you have for hoteliers looking to create a unique hospitality product?

Believe it or not, I’m recently consulting a hotel. I think a hotel shouldn’t just consist of rooms planned around a staircase, but it should be about the personal travel experience. Every hotelier should imagine being a guest at his or her own hotel. It’s the details that make the experience. Guests don’t care about the brand of the television in their room or whether their bathtub has jets in it. They care about their overall experience. A hotel should feel good when you arrive.

Once you find out how to do this, then you can start calculating and creating a business plan. Location is also crucial. I think a hotel should be an ambassador of its neighborhood. The atmosphere and the concept should be coherent. If your hotel has a restaurant, hire a chef who specializes in healthy food. We spend so much time sitting, so people really need a different diet than if they were still hunter-gatherers or working on the field all day. A hotel concept should be well worked out and authentic—you should bring as much experience as possible to the table and gather a creative team. Some might assume the main factor is money, but it really isn’t. The most important factor is creativity.

In which direction do you think the industry will move in the future?

If someone had the answer to that question then they’d be incredibly rich! I do think though that hotels will become more diverse. There won’t be many major trends we haven’t already seen—instead, we’ll likely see proven concepts given a breath of fresh air. There will still be old-school grand hotels, over-the-top luxury properties, design hotels, romantic retreats, cozy, theme-oriented lodges, comfortable, budget-friendly chains, motels, chic hostels, and so on. I believe all of these will continue to exist parallel to each other and each will have its own authority and client base. Everyone can choose what best suits his or her needs. Of course, with the abundance of options, it can be difficult to decide which “piece of chocolate” you should choose.

There is also the trend of private accommodation.

Yes, indeed. I understand why people use platforms like Airbnb. Their success confirms that there is a big demand for alternative options. While traveling, especially on city trips, I definitely prefer hotels, though. It would drive me crazy to browse through a website or app with millions of offers. It’s not only terribly time consuming but also a lot of what is available is really not appealing from a hospitality perspective. Many of the spaces posted on these platforms are aesthetically challenged. That puts me off completely. Then there’s always a risk of finally finding something that looks like it could be nice but not knowing how it will turn out in reality. I just think there is a lot more potential for disappointment than with hotels. There are so many other factors you have to consider as well—how suitable is the space for my needs? What is the neighborhood like? How do I get there? How do I get the keys? What time do I need to arrive? Will I have to carry my luggage up ten flights of stairs? And so on. You have to sacrifice many of the comforts that are provided at hotels, and the chance of me getting a good cup of coffee upon check in is pretty unlikely. This is why these outlets do not attract me at this stage.

What about vacation rentals?

This is completely different. I see no advantage to owning a vacation home. I think sharing homes for vacations makes a lot sense for all participants. I’ve rented homes on several occasions with family or friends. We’ve been very lucky with our choices in the past. The best locations usually come through friends or word of mouth. To find a suitable property without personal connections, it would be essential to use a highly curated platform that caters to my needs.

Sites like BoutiqueHomes are perfect for this. I like that it reflects my own style and taste—that it is clearly created by people with passion. It’s so much easier to find great places without weeding through countless properties. This wouldn’t have been possible in the past. If done correctly, I think there is great potential.

How does the Internet and the share economy influence the way you travel and live?

Internet and the rapid development of mobile devices have had an enormous impact on our lives and also change the way we travel—for better and for worse. The development of the so-called share economy has opened the door to in numerous possibilities. As I mentioned before, the possibility to share a vacation home is a great example of a positive development. If you travel a lot and spend your time between locations, then it also doesn’t make a lot of sense to own a car. I believe there is a lot of change happening in the way we consume and there will be many creative solutions we cannot even begin to envision in the future. Global car sharing, perhaps? So instead of having to rent a car at each destination you visit, you can drive away with a vehicle at the click of a few buttons in an app you use at home. Or perhaps a self-driving car will come and pick you up as needed. I think there so many possibilities. This increase of competition will hopefully work out well for consumers. As far as home sharing is concerned, there is certainly an increase in demand in this sector. To fulfill my personal needs, I need clearly curated offers. But I believe that more and more niche products will develop in the future.

BoutiqueHomes and a few others already target a discerning clientele. I think there is a lot of potential for these platforms and I look forward to seeing them flourish in the future.

Photograph by Anna Kovacic

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