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Profile image of Joel Butler, Co-founder of HIX

In the HIX seat: is London still a design & hospitality hub?

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
In the HIX seat: is London still a design & hospitality hub?

London is the theme of Joel Butler’s second column for Hotel Designs, as we ask the co-founder of HIX Event to use pedal power to explore the current hospitality and design scene in the big city…

“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love London town!” The theme of this article takes me back to my roots, and should therefore, in theory at least, should be a relatively straight-forward piece to write about.

Profile image of Joel Butler, Co-founder of HIX

I was born in West London, and I have lived in the East End for 20 years. My work places have zig zagged across town throughout this time. And yet, I feel completely in the deep end writing about the capital at time when the city doesn’t feel like itself – but it is arguably more important to write about it now than it was pre-Covid.

“London is Europe’s beating heart of hospitality and design because…” A wave of hackneyed words envelope my mind: “diversity, history, innovation, fast-paced, energy and culture.” I realise that as valid as these words may be, they’re already very much accepted by everyone within our industry. I strike a line through these cliches as I think of the wonderfully quotable yet horribly over-used Samuel Pepys’ line: ‘A man who is bored of London…something something something” – I vow to not use this Pepys quote in the article.  

Following Lockdown 2.0, and as we drift into the uncharted territories of Tier 3, we are in an extended lockdown that doesn’t feel quite like the first one. There’s now light at the end of the tunnel yet the days seem colder and darker than the first time around. In short, there’s not much hospitality in London to write about so I get on my bike to look for it.

London is a collection of villages: lots of neighbourhoods connected – even the city’s square mile is a village. I set off from my East End village of Leyton and hit the canal, graffitied walls overlooking water make for a huge, damp art gallery that delights and challenges at once. Through Victoria Park and Bethnal Green and there’s no hospitality design to write about because it’s all essentially (or ‘non-essentially’) closed, independent cafes: closed, local pubs: closed. I speed into Old Street and hospitality offerings become lifestyle and boutique, but the doors are locked for now.

“It’s a Tour de Hospitality but I’m the only one racing.” – Joel Butler, Co-founder, HIX Event.

My route zooms past me at speed, Clerkenwell to Midtown, across the bridge to Waterloo, Southwark and into the city. I can’t help but notice the hotels that I pass. It’s a Tour de Hospitality but I’m the only one racing. The Zetter, The Hoxton Holborn, Rosewood London, ME London, crossing the bridge is like a low-budget zombie film where you might glimpse the odd bus or taxi ruining the idea of the apocalypse. Down into Lower Marsh and past the Ruby Lucy, The Hoxton Southwark, The Mondrian, Citizen M and Hilton London Bankside, and across the bridge back into the city to pedal past The Andaz, Mama Shelter, and back into the East End to pass the same closed pubs and cafes but in reverse.

This article, which is all about London being a major hot spot for hospitality and design, isn’t going too well and that hackneyed Pepys quote presents itself again as the easy option: ‘A man who is bored of London…’ I’ll google it when I get home. 

The sun is setting as I free-wheel home and at this point it’s my home of Leyton that single handedly writes the article…

“Londoners design, provide and demand hospitality that reminds us that we’re alive” – Joel Butler, Co-founder, HIX Event.

A restaurant that has been closed since March has suddenly metamorphosised into a pop up takeaway over night, serving really delicious Indonesian food. The queue is socially distanced and snakes 20 deep down the street. The beer and wine shop next-door is taking orders from those queuing and serving drinks, including mulled wine. Drinks are firmly categorised and consumed as takeaway. It smells like winter and the sky is turning orange and pink. People are talking through masks and across 1.5 metres gaps. A man sits on a bench and plays The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset and it hits me: it’s Friday and I’m in London. The simplicity of this statement is joyous, so I join the queue and write these words on my phone: “Londoners design, provide and demand hospitality that reminds us that we’re alive, we’re in London and it can always feel like Friday.”

It’s a start, and those hotels, design studios and supplier showrooms that I cycled past today are literally bursting to re-open, and there’s no doubt that they’ll be back stronger than ever because of the enduring fact that London keeps going. Pepys’ quote comes to me in a flash as I order a signature lager, brewed just down the road: “A man who is bored of London clearly hasn’t cycled around town for his allocated daily exercise during lock-down.”

HIX Event is the Networking Partner for The Brit List Awards 2020, and Hotel Designs is with HIX every step of the way, as it prepares to launch in November 2021. Between now and then, we’ve scooped Joel Butler up as our resident columnist to inject our pages with a bit of fun and allow our readers to see the industry from a slightly wider perspective.

Main image credit: HIX Event

An image of Joel Butler and HIX Event animations

In the HIX Seat: the journey back to ‘in real life’

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
In the HIX Seat: the journey back to ‘in real life’

Joel Butler, Co-Founder of HIX Event, has become a monthly columnist for Hotel Designs. In his first published opinion piece, Butler contemplates challenging times and asks ‘what’s next’ for the industry and its much-loved series of trade events…

An image of Joel Butler and HIX Event animations

I was on a zoom call last week with a designer. We were discussing vaccines, tests, curves and tiers (I think he meant tiers and not tears) when he informed me that our respective products were the future, ‘because we both do IRL’, you see. Excited by the dynamism and mystique of this fresh acronym I asked what it meant. “‘In Real Life’,” he replied, “events, hotels, travelling, shared experiences…it’s what we do!”

And he’s right, of course, both bizarrely and tragically the 50,000 year-old activity of face-to-face communication has been reduced to a futuristic concept, and hospitality, travel and ‘tangible’ togetherness have all hit ‘pause’ in the process.

So how can we understand the current hotel landscape and the hospitality experience that waits for us in our brave new world? We have industry pipelines and reports, the wonder of social media and the insightful views of experts, but of course it’s not until we all get back to ‘In Real Life’ that things will begin to become clear.

“In answer to the question, ‘what’s next?’, people’s views may vary from the apocalyptic to the utopian.”

As event organisers we consider ourselves to be ‘in hospitality’ so we’ve been following these discussions with interest. In answer to the question, ‘what’s next?’, people’s views may vary from the apocalyptic to the utopian. A popular consensus is that Covid-19 has pressed fast-forward on the trends that were already happening anyway, then there’s the ultimately pragmatic view that it’ll be a case of ‘as we all were’ but with cleaner hands. Many design details have also been discussed, the check-in experience, social distancing and F&B and the death of the buffet. My 10 year old daughter has already expressed fury at this last prediction.

But beyond the detail shines a star of optimism that the entire community can see and universally agree is worth following – responsible travel. Travel that is respectful towards ourselves, the communities we visit, and to the planet Earth. 2020 forced peace, quiet and reflection onto us all, and as we had no choice but to accept these gifts fish began to swim in the unusually clear water of Venetian canals. The world felt like it was resetting. So here’s our biggest hope from what has been an incredibly challenging year: that truly responsible hospitality can be universally demanded by the guest, imagined by designers, championed by owners and delivered by operators. If this new-normal (and we extend these ideals to the events that we create) allows us to share experiences, travel and to explore the world in a way that allows our kid’s kids to enjoy the same privileges then all of the details will take care of themselves.

So, here’s to the big picture and all of the design details, to all who are virtually attending and all who are shortlisted for The Brit List Awards 2020! As we raise raise our glasses to celebrate community and your incredible achievements in such challenging times, we look forward to seeing you ‘IRL’.

HIX Event is the Networking Partner for The Brit List Awards 2020, and Hotel Designs is with HIX ‘IRL’ as it prepares to launch in November 2021.

Main image credit: HIX Event