Making Newcastle the one

April 5, 2016

In 2007, Daniel Müller joined Motel One, the German hotel chain founded by his father and has helped drive forward the company’s new ‘budget design’ concept and dramatic European expansion. Now head of operations, Daniel oversees the running of the group’s 53 hotels, including the new Motel One Newcastle on High Bridge, which boasts 222 rooms priced from just £59 per night. He spoke to Alison Cowie ahead of the Tyneside hotel’s official opening last month

What is your background and what attracted you to hospitality?

My father established a four-star hotel chain in the 1990s which he sold to a Spanish group, NH Hotels, in 2002. Meanwhile, he founded Motel One with two other partners, his former board members, in 2000. I was studying international business at the time and after I finished, I joined a resort hotel which offered an internship scheme. I worked in every department for half a year, working from 5am to 8pm. I then joined AccorHotels, eventually becoming responsible for sales of all the hotels in Berlin and Eastern Germany.

When did you join Motel One?

When I was at AccorHotels, my father said to me: ‘Daniel, you are experienced, do you want to join me at Motel One?’ I didn’t want to because I was working with one of the biggest hotel chains in Europe and, at the time, Motel One was offering basic accommodation in out-of-town locations. But then he told me that Motel One was changing its strategy to something it called ‘budget design’. This meant offering very affordable hotels but equipping them in a very luxurious way with modern furniture and décor, and locating them in city centres.
My father asked if I would manage the first hotel offering this new concept, which was opening in Berlin. It sounded very creative and innovative and I joined Motel One in 2007. I was general manager of the Berlin hotel for three years before returning to Munich to work at the company’s head office. I was offered the job as operations manager at the beginning of 2010, joined the board and took charge of Motel One Group’s whole operation two years later.

What have you achieved in this role?

Since 2012, the company has opened a further 35 across Europe, including the UK, the Czech Republic, Belgium and the Netherlands. We now have 53 hotels in the Group.

How important is the UK market?

The UK is the second biggest economy in Europe, behind Germany, and so is very important to the group. Our first hotel outside Germany was in Edinburgh. When we opened, it was pretty much successful from the very beginning and gave us the confidence to open other projects in the UK, including London and Manchester.

Why Newcastle?

Newcastle has recently changed a lot and now has a good combination of industrial heritage with a big cultural offering. It’s not just all about partying anymore, there are theatres, museums, music venues and art galleries; this is what Motel One guests are looking for and so it was a perfect fit for the group.

The Newcastle hotel scene has become increasingly crowded. What will make Motel One stand out?

I think Motel One Newcastle has three crucial success factors. One is the central location. Grey Street is a few metres away and you are within walking distance of Central Station and Metro links to Newcastle International Airport, as well as the city’s nightlife and cultural offering.
The second factor is the interior. At Motel One, we offer very high-quality décor that is individually inspired by the location of the hotel giving a greater impression of a high class hotel compared with a standard top end hotel. In our Newcastle venue, we have incorporated a lot of 1950s and 1960s design, reflecting the city’s industrious past.
The third factor is the price. A room costs from £59 a night, meaning they appeal to a broad range of people, from football fans to travelling business people. But we also want Motel One to be a destination for locals, too.

What does it mean for your staff to work for Motel One?

We put a very big emphasis on our people. We have a special atmosphere in our company which we call the ‘Spirit of the One Family’. We were awarded the best employer in the tourism industry in Germany last year and have some of the highest employee satisfaction ratings.
The group set up its own training academy called One University in Munich last year, where employees from all of our hotels visit. They get to meet the board, including myself, and we have dinner and I chat to them. This is really important to me and helps staff identify with the company. We also have an incentive system for all of our employees. Everyone from managers to the waiting staff and those who clean the rooms participate in the same incentive scheme.

What are your plans for the Motel One Group?

We want to be bold and will continue to expand. We have around 25 new hotels coming up in Europe, including projects in Paris and Barcelona, Glasgow and Manchester. In the UK we are also looking at locations in London, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham.

What about expanding outside of Europe?

Our dream would be to open a Motel One in New York and three years ago we were close to signing a contract; unfortunately, it didn’t happen. But we know we can’t get emotional and must expand at a responsible pace.
Opening in America means a large time difference, as well as differences in regulations and culture. But the group does see it happening one day.
The group’s CEO and Daniel’s father, Dieter Müller, was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 19th International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin.

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