A hybrid guest house with perfumery shop and artisanal studio in Tulum, a bakery in Berlin that “sets out to recover the true flavours of ancient grains”, a restaurant with a surf club in Portugal, a farmstead in Ibiza, thematic retreats around the world, these are just some of the projects of Slow - new hospitality venture launched in April 2021.
Dreamed up by the renowned hotelier Claus Sendlinger, it has been in quiet gestation since 2016. What was initially thought to be a very niche offering, became the answer to an increasingly mainstream yearning for the slower pace of life with purpose and consideration for places we inhabit.
The endlessly quotable website with nature sounds alongside cinematic visuals and immersive stories ranging from an encyclopedia of farming to avant-garde collectives of the past offers a glimpse into the concept but what is the actual business behind it?
Hospitality Insights talked to Serdar Kutucu, CEO of Slow, to find out more about “a collective of people, places and projects that reframe the way we live and interact.”
What exactly is Slow, as a movement and as a brand?
What started a few years ago as a thought experiment exploring new modes of travel and hospitality has grown into a collective of people, places and projects that reframe the way we live and interact. Drawing on the insights of slow movement, adaptive reuse, and regenerative agriculture, Slow takes a localized, conscientious approach to every element in the creation of integrated environments designed to enrich wellbeing and model a more sustainable future.
How are you deploying Slow philosophy at the employee level and on a personal level?
We embed the culture and philosophy as much as we can in our work environment and let our team participate in our places, projects, and the people we work with.
It’s a working culture that feels very natural and encourages every member of the team to express their thoughts, ideas but also disagreements. It involves a lot of empathy and trust, within the team and beyond, and definitely leads to better success and growth for many reasons.
“Cultivating arts, crops and inner gardens” is such an intriguing combination of words. What is the thinking behind it?
We build and nourish locally rooted Places that offer a deeper, more conscious form of hospitality—not a “pit stop” away from the hectic pace of daily life but a continuous journey of reconnection, of learning to live in harmony with nature, our community and ourselves. Through year-round and seasonal programming, each place has a central discursive focus linked to its natural and cultural context. Tulum Treehouse centres on the pre-Hispanic craft and culinary traditions of the Yucatán, while our creative campus Marina Marina amid the post-industrial riverside Rummelsburg area of Berlin focuses on urban development, sustainability and creative collaboration, and Casa Noble in Lisbon’s artistic Graça district functions as a year-round cultural salon. Through workshops, artist residencies, exhibitions, performances, community projects and joint activities with local arts and environmental organizations, our explorations reach into the social and cultural fabric of their environments.
How do you dream up such diverse projects - do you start with the drawing board first or do you find a place and then decide what to transform it into?
Well, there are many ideas we want to come true in one or the other place but in reality, the inspiration is always found in the location itself. Every place and every ingredient is well thought through, strangely most of the time things naturally come together. All of these ideas connect with each other and our community in many ways, for example, what we call the creative campus is a 1.5ha land riverfront in Berlin where we are in the process of establishing the Slow foundation and academy, allowing our community to participate in classes, workshops and further programs in line with the slow philosophy and movement, the entire campus is built around such idea with its facilities and experiences.
Do you acquire properties, lease, operate, franchise?
Yes, all of them, except for franchises which I hope we will never do as we do not believe in two of the same [to be] equally good. In most of our projects and future growth, the strategy is to own equity, develop and operate. In fact, we do have individual business modelling in almost all our projects, but I think that’s a strength in many ways, it gives us some flexibility but at the same time always participation in the value we create in the real estate, develop what we want to provide as the product without any compromise and operate our way, again no compromise.
What are the key revenue sources given the diversity of projects?
Our business model is built on hospitality operations and the value we create on the assets as part of such. Key revenue sources are in hospitality operations, but also further layers such as a small affiliation model soon to come and a community membership program.
Who is your target audience?
It’s hard to articulate as characteristics are not related to origin, age and household income as it has been in the past, however in our case I’d say it is about people that share the value and vision of Slow, mostly experienced in travelling and living a sophisticated but humble life. There is a certain definition of quality, but the quality of life can be about the simple things that let us enjoy good emotions in a social environment.
How do you approach building communities or catering to existing local communities?
It is a combination of different emotional and rational values being found in such a community program one wants to belong to. Identification and shared values are truly important today, especially as we lose trust in our governments, authorities and lots of brands we may have been loyal to. Authentic and true values and a shared vision are mind and heart openers, to be part of a community. However, it comes with cultural programming which is not only about the content but also bringing people together, such connection creates unbelievable energy if curated well. Further, we create special facilities and access in each of our places locally to the community only, especially on events, educational programs and collaborations.
One of Slow’s aims is “resetting of values in hospitality and beyond”. What values should the industry reset?
Well, it's an industry that hasn’t seen much innovation over the last 25 years, I’d say. While many industries such as retail are looking into learnings to apply from the world of hospitality, I’d say it’s time for hospitality brands to open their mind, look into other disciplines to learn from, be open for collaborations and stop competitive thinking. Challenge the status quo.
Where and what’s next, and what is the decision-making process?
We are continuing to explore new concepts at new places, looking into specific locations in Italy, Greece, the US, Mexico and Bali but we also want to offer our community a good composition of experiences. For example, none of them currently is a destination supporting winter activities, so that’s one of a few more we are looking into - finding a place in the mountains.
We also continue to innovate by creating new hybrid concepts, collaborations and cross-disciplinary thinking. One of our projects is how to merge hospitality and the virtual world with our own cryptocurrency.
Through my background and network, there is a good connection to many destinations in the world so many interesting projects find us naturally. It's hard though to say “no” sometimes as we can’t do everything but there are so many great ideas at the same time.